From 2009 to 2014, I oversaw the day to day operations of the Rutgers Recovery House. It was both a pleasure and honor to do so. Rutgers was the first school in the world to offer specialized housing for students who are in recovery from alcohol and/or drugs. Immediately after I was hired, I began collecting data on the outcomes of our students. Three facts are particularly impressive
1) Students that live in the Rutgers Recovery House have a 95% abstinence rate from alcohol and drugs
2) Students graduate or return the next semester at a 98% rate.
3) The average GPA of a students in the Rutgers Recovery House is around 3.2.
The data is spectacular and those numbers hold true almost two years since my departure from that program. But the data does not capture the tremendous amount of fun that students have in recovery (hiking, going to plays, late night pancake dinners, biking trips along the canal, karaoke and softball events with alumni), nor does it capture the amount of service work that they engage in. The Rutgers students speak at a number of high schools each year about their experiences, and the hope is that those that hear them either (a) avoid abusing alcohol and drugs or (b) know that they can get help at an early age and rapidly turn their lives around. Some of the students engage in advocacy work and public service announcements. Two students appeared with me on 101.5 FM back in the summer of 2012 when we discussed the problems with prescription drug abuse. I have not figured out how to accurately collect long-term data on the Recovery House Alumni, but they are an extremely impressive group that have long term sobriety (multiple years, multiple decades), a plethora of graduate degrees, high powered jobs, and happy and stable families.
One recent alumnus (that engaged in the aforementioned PSA work) has anonymously written his story. He is the first of my Recovery Housing students to appear on this site, and I am ever so grateful for it. Without further ado, here he is:
I was raised by a lovely family who instilled a sense of morals and values into me; if you looked at my upbringing, you never would have guessed that I would wind up addicted to drugs – either prescription or illicit. Aside from the fact that my parents divorced when I was 10, I couldn’t have asked for a better childhood. When the divorce happened and my life changed, I no longer felt like a normal kid. I was now the new kid in school. I didn’t fit in, I didn’t make friends very easily, and I didn’t know how to cope. I turned to what was familiar, what was comfortable, and what felt good.
At first it was food, then fantasy books, video games, porn, women, and a combination of all of the above. The problem was that each comfort stopped working and I had to find something new and exciting to get that ‘rush’ that would make me forget about what it felt like to be me for a few minutes. I was peer pressured into my first drink at 14 and I loved the effect. Shortly thereafter, I tried marijuana and loved that even more. I experimented with whatever I could find in anyone’s medicine cabinet that the internet told me would get me high.
My family life fell apart and I found myself slitting my wrists at 16 not as a cry for help, but as a malicious act intended to hurt those who loved me. I couldn’t love myself, and if I couldn’t, then nobody should. After some therapy and a particularly bad prescription drug abuse episode, I promised myself I’d stop drinking and using for good, which lasted about a month.
Despite my moral failings, I always performed well in school. I didn’t have to try as hard as other kids – I put in a few minutes of work and got good grades. As a result, my subpar effort landed me in the school of my dreams – the #1 party school in the country at the time of my application. I white-knuckled my way through high school and let loose in college. I smoked marijuana and drank every single day, and after a month or so I was regularly using Xanax, ecstasy, prescription painkillers, prescription amphetamines (Adderall), and cocaine. I was arrested twice for possession and I skipped more classes than I went to, although I was somehow able to maintain good enough grades to make dean’s list every semester.
Making money to support my thrill seeking habit became difficult – I had to lie, cheat, and steal on a more and more regular basis. Shortly after my 18th birthday, I found myself using heroin because prescription painkillers were too expensive and I needed higher and higher dosages to achieve emotional and cognitive equilibrium. I was arrested in the spring of 2010 for felony burglary, felony theft, criminal trespass, and criminal mischief. I went to jail, had a family member bail me out, and got high the minute I got home. The thought of not getting high had never crossed my mind as the thought had very literally never occurred to me that I might have a problem with substance abuse. My life spiraled out of control and I found myself reaching out for help when I feared for my cognitive ability because of the lingering mental effects of a methamphetamine overdose.
I withdrew from school, went to a 28-day rehab (most of which was spent stabilizing my drug-induced bipolar demeanor), and enrolled in a one-year extended care/transitional living recovery facility. I got a sponsor, attended 12 step meetings, and didn’t work the steps. I found myself in the psych ward when I was suicidal with a few months sober. I got a new sponsor, worked a few steps, got a job, attended classes, stopped taking medication, and my life improved incrementally. At about 10 months sober, I enrolled at Rutgers University and was accepted into the Recovery Housing program. I attended meetings, got a new sponsor, worked a few steps, and my life improved yet again.
I became able to form meaningful relationships with other human beings, perform with academic excellence, and rebuild relationships with my family. Through recovery and through the 12 steps, I learned how to live as a productive member of society. I showed up to every class, attended funerals for those I got sober with who relapsed, and learned that addiction necessitates (for me anyway) that the 12 steps are a life and death errand. Like a good alcoholic, I postponed the difficult steps. I studied abroad in a European country and had experiences I wouldn’t trade for the world. I attended 12 step meetings in a dozen countries, and met fantastic people.
I graduated Summa Cum Laude with two-hundredths-of-a-point away from a perfect grade point average and a technology job in hand. I received a plaque at graduation for having the highest academic achievement in my competitive major. This is a far cry from the young man who feared that he had permanently fried his brain as the result of drug abuse. I drove a nice car, had a phenomenal girlfriend, great relationships – everything external was ideal yet internally I was still unhappy and unsatisfied with myself. What gives?
I started my new job and showed up to a 12 step meeting and heard a well-accomplished man talk about his experience with finishing his stepwork and the fourth dimension of existence. I made a commitment to finish my steps as thoroughly as possible, and asked this man to sponsor me and guide me through the steps at 3 ½ years sober. Having had my own spiritual experience as the result of finishing my steps, I have had the distinct pleasure of sponsoring over a dozen guys who are just like me. I have been to an international 12 step conference, gone on 12 step calls in Asia, been promoted after one year in my career, competed in powerlifting at the national level, and have found the true and deep meaning of happiness and freedom.
Happiness is not what we have – it is giving to others what they wouldn’t have otherwise and might not know that they need. Today I have over 5 years of continuous sobriety and have accomplished quite a bit at the young age of 24. I look very much forward to what the future holds, because the more that I give, the better my life gets – and I couldn’t imagine life being any better than it is right now.
Without treatment, stable housing and recovery support services, this man’s life and story would be very different. The story of his family would have been radically altered as well, because he possibly would be on the streets, incarcerated or dead. Instead of attending another court hearing or a funeral, his parents were able to attend his graduation from college (it wasn’t the year in the link, but the story gives you a strong idea of what the recovery graduation ceremony looks like). Because of early intervention, treatment, housing and recovery support services, this man has been sober for over 5 years. He has not been arrested in that time. He helps other people get and stay sober. He has a job and pays taxes. His recovery has been an awesome return on the investment of those services. People don’t just get better; they can become extraordinary.