Making the Grade – From Addiction to Academic Achievement

Whoo-hoo! Midwestern Mama’s son has successfully completed a semester of college – sober and with good grades.

Until this week, my son had taken college classes here and there. A few he took as part of our school district’s PSEO (post secondary education option) program – mostly because he’s gifted in math and had taken all the courses available at high school. A few he took after high school graduation, but these he either didn’t complete or didn’t meet minimum grade requirements to continue.

When he graduated (just barely) from high school in 2010, his addiction was full on and he had no interest in going to college in spite of a wonderful scholarship and opportunity to play on the men’s tennis team. Instead, he enrolled in community college and then proceeded to skip classes and within a month or so dropped out without paying the balance of his tuition.

In 2011, he decided the college opportunity was better than what he was doing at the time, so he gratefully thought he’d get his act together and start up for spring semester. That didn’t go so well. Readers of this blog know that the first weekend on campus landed him in the ER and detox, and soon after in getting kicked off the tennis team and out of campus housing.

A year later, one of the treatment programs he attended encouraged us, and him, to go back to community college. Same old, same old. He was using drugs, didn’t do assignments, didn’t go to class. While he technically completed two classes, his grades reflected his lack of commitment and the college placed him on academic probation.

Fast forward, at age 22, as his childhood friends were graduating and getting “big-boy” jobs, he embraced sobriety and recovery. He decided to go back to college for spring semester 2015.

With hopeful trepidation, he addressed academic probation with a heartfelt letter of appeal and asked for admission. It was granted and he signed up for the maximum number of credits allowed as part of academic probation – 8 credits, two classes.

He took the placement exam and scored well but it indicated that he should go back a course or two in math. Stubborn as always, he decided proceed with the next course anyway – differential equations and linear algebra. Tough classes regardless of having completed the prerequisites … even tougher when that was five years ago.

The first week, he realized he was in over his head. It’s like taking a language but not speaking it for five years and then thinking you can pick up right where you left off. Instead of dropping the class, he put in long hours and took out a highlighter as he used “Calculus for Dummies” to reacquaint himself with the topic. Night after night, he struggled.

Social anxiety precluded him from connecting with the teacher or other students, and he failed the first test miserably. At this point it was too late to drop the class, and being on academic probation from his addiction days meant that he might not get off it if he didn’t get a B or better in the class.

Of course, I went into problem-solving mode. (Old habits, right?) My son said he was well aware of his options, including getting tutor. (Old communications style, right?) Being aware of options and taking action are two different things, so he continued to struggle.

Shortly thereafter, another mom on Twitter turned me on to tutoring source, so I signed up and found local options for my son. My husband and I said, this is our gift to you – here are names, contact info and we’ll pay the fee. To our surprise and delight, he took us up on the offer.

The first tutor he met with was a dud. I encouraged him to try another. He did, and this one turned out to be, “awesome.” They have worked together several times now and my son’s grade and confidence have soared.

He continued to put forth significant effort – hours and hours each day to mastering the material. The final exam is today, and while we don’t know what grade he will receive, we do know that he’s learned something of infinite value and we are confident that he will be off academic probation.

Never in 22 years have I seen my son put forth such effort and discipline. I am proud. More importantly, I know he is proud, too!

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2 thoughts on “Making the Grade – From Addiction to Academic Achievement

  1. Congratulations to your son and to you for not giving up!

    Some habits (like going into problem solving mode) are not bad in this case, as you saw your son struggling and found a way to help. It was up to your son to accept the help, and to his credit he did and look at what he was able to achieve.

    He now knows that even when things get really tough, not to give up and that it is okay to accept help when it is offered in the right way 🙂

    1. Nadine, thanks for reading and commenting. You just gave me new perspective on help – the parameters do change depending on the situation. We are learning how to help in new ways now that our son is a sober adult who is slowly making the transition to independence. I’m also glad he is learning that he can count on us to offer solutions and that he can choose to act on these or figure out another option on his own. All in all, positive growth.

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