Rutgers: The Birthplace of College Recovery

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An alumnus and student during the 2012 Alumni vs. Students Recovery Softball Game.*

My last day as the Recovery Counselor at Rutgers was on July 31, 2014. Six weeks earlier, I informed my bosses, Lisa Laitman and Polly McLaughlin, that I would be leaving Rutgers at the end of July in order to pursue a few other opportunities (I will be writing about some of them in the very near future). The Rutgers Recovery House is both the prototype and the paragon of recovery programs on college campuses. Over 600 students have lived in Recovery Housing since 1988. During my five years at Rutgers, I organized (and attended) 571 activities. It is my strong belief that people in recovery need to fill their time and have fun. At Rutgers, we do that better than anyone else. 571 activities in 5 years. That’s 114.2 a year that were attended by a licensed staff member.

 

 

 

 

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Lisa Laitman, me and Polly McLaughlin while setting up for the 2014 Rutgers Recovery Graduation.*

Rutgers is known as the birthplace of college football (whatever). It really should be known as The Birthplace of College Recovery. It started with Lisa when she created the Alcohol & Other Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) in 1983 and had the uncanny vision to create the first Recovery House on (or near) a college campus in the world in 1988.

I could easily write 20,000 words about Rutgers, Lisa, the Recovery House and the amazing people that have gone through the program, stayed sober and built incredible lives (I’ll save that for the book though). Instead, I’m going to link to my five favorite articles about the Rutgers Recovery House from the last five years, share a few bits from my farewell letter to Rutgers staff and show a couple of pictures. I would like to post some pictures of my students, because they would show you the joy that can be attained when someone recovers and then turns around and helps others. Alas, I need to protect their anonymity.

Without further ado:

(1) I wrote Building a Campus Recovery Community for Addiction Professional in the spring of 2011. It details the history of the Rutgers Recovery House a little and discusses our activities and alumni a lot.

(2) The Next Big Step In Recovery was published by Rutgers Today after the 2011 Recovery Graduation. It captured the mood and spirit of the ceremony very well. If you haven’t been to a Rutgers Recovery Graduation and this is something that you care about, you should move mountains in order to attend one some day. The 2015 graduation will take place on May 19.

(3) In the fall of 2011, a New York Times reporter told me she was doing a story on addiction and recovery on college campuses and that she would like to include Rutgers in it. I urged her to visit Rutgers and meet with our students. The piece was originally supposed to describe about a dozen different schools, but after her visit to Rutgers, the author wrote basically a feature on our program and mentioned the other schools in passing. Lisa felt bad for them, but I was proud and unabashed. I know what we have. The story was published in January, 2012 and was titled A Bridge to Recovery.

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Ben’s mother presents him at the 2014 Rutgers Recovery Graduation.*

(4) Ben Chin is one of our super-duper stars and has worked publicly as an advocate for several years. He has a difficult backstory and acknowledges the mistakes of his youth. He graduated from Rutgers with a 3.9 in 2014 and won both the Truman and Luce Scholarships.

(5) In 2002, my close friend Fraser died. His death partly pushed me into this line of work. Rutgers did a wonderful piece on what it was like to lose him and weaved it into a narrative about how students in the Recovery House overcome these type of challenges. You can read about it here.

 

 

 

Below are two paragraphs from my goodbye email that I wrote to Rutgers staff. I’m happy to share them here.

I'm a kid from Rutgers. I arrived at the banks in the fall of 1997 fresh out of the Army and had 4 wonderful undergraduate years here. I met Lisa early on, and she introduced me to Gail Milgrim at the Center of Alcohol Studies. Gail gave me a scholarship for the 1998 Summer School of Alcohol Studies and thus began my career path. I graduated in 2001 and then returned for my MSW in 2004. I graduated from that program in 2006 and then returned to work at CAPS in 2009. My time at Rutgers isn't over though, as I am finishing up a Masters in Public Policy this December. I will also continue to teach at the School of Social Work and at the Center of Alcohol Studies. 

Writing about Lisa is extremely difficult. I've gotten a lot of attention and compliments over the years for my work at Rutgers, and it has led to a number of other opportunities. Taking students out for activities and hanging out at the Recovery House late at night was a tremendous amount of fun for me - I was basically paid to be me. I am fully aware of my abilities, but I could have never created ADAP or the Recovery House. Lisa was the perfect person at the right time. I am continually impressed by her work with students that are resisting treatment and recovery; again, she does things that I cannot do. The Recovery House was the first program of its kind on a college campus in the world. Since 1988, a lot of other schools have created programs, many modeled on Rutgers. No one measures up (although I do like Augsburg in Minnesota). I decided to work at Rutgers in 2009 because I wanted to be a part of something so incredible and so unique, and I knew that it would provide a number of opportunities for me at Rutgers and beyond. Without the Recovery House, I wouldn't have been named to the Governor's Council, Chaired the Opiate Task Force, been hired to train people around the country or gotten my latest trio of opportunities. In short, I owe Lisa my career. Thank you Lisa.

I wore a pink bunny suit (from A Christmas Story) while singing at the 2013 Recovery Karaoke event. I wanted to show students that one can take themselves less seriously.

Fitting movie clip: You’ll Never Have To Say ‘Thank You’ (for the work I did at Rutgers)

Fitting song: Time of Your Life

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* if you click on the pictures, they’ll get larger (except for the bunny suit)

** you should listen to the song while looking at the pictures

 

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