From College Drop-Out to Graduate: The Gift of Collegiate Recovery Communities

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When your kid is using drugs, it may seem like sobriety – let alone college -is impossible. Today’s guest blogger, Teddy Rybka is proof that it’s possible. He’s a young person in long-term recovery and the program director of a popular, growing collegiate recovery community. Enjoy his post. MWM.

I was introduced to recovery at a young age, 18 years old to be exact. I had been an active user since 15 and the summer after high school graduation I decided to reach out for help. Two days later I found myself in inpatient treatment. I immediately regretted fessing up to my parents that I was chemically addicted as it meant I had to miss my first semester of college. What a bummer. I was all set to study business management and play upright bass for the college’s jazz ensemble, and here I was in a facility with other young junkies.

After inpatient treatment and a subsequent outpatient program, I found myself on a college campus. I was so excited about school. Finally, no more living at home with my nagging parents! I remember vividly standing outside my residence hall after my parents dropped me off and screaming at the top of my lungs, FREEDOM!

I was serious about staying clean and sober.

Well, sort of. The clean part, yes, but not the sober part. I could admit drugs were a problem, but I had a hard time grasping being powerless over the alcohol bit. How could I really be an alcoholic? I wasn’t even legal to drink nor had I ever had a drink in a bar. I figured I could control my alcohol use on my own and drink socially. How hard could it be? Little did I know the effort I needed to put into recovery, the support needed, and how recovery was an all or nothing deal. Within a week I started drinking almost every day again and a week after that I was back on my drug of choice. It was so sudden. Within a month of “partying” (in my case isolated drinking and drugging), I knew I needed to give it all up in order to survive in college.

I tried to stay clean AND sober. I realized that drinking led to my drug use and once I picked up that drink there was no telling when I would stop. I sought out help. However, the university I was attending had no support for students in recovery. The counseling support didn’t have any resources besides area AA meetings filled with old people I couldn’t relate to. I tried outpatient treatment again and also hooked up with a therapist who ended up telling my parents that I was a lost cause because of my continuous relapses and excuses based on endless lies.

I managed to complete 3 semesters of college. I got passing grades, but I was a wreck physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I knew I couldn’t go on so I dropped out, and for three years I bounced in and out of treatment centers. I put my parents through the merry-go-round of deceit, lost a lot of friends, and destroyed my self-esteem and motivation.

I never thought college would be possible.

Despite my out-of-control behavior I knew deep down inside that I was better than this; a testament to my parents and their unconditional love and support. A college degree was my dream, but my previous attempt had traumatized me. I thought the temptations around me would be too strong to overcome. How could I find friends who were also clean and sober? How could I have fun? These thoughts almost destroyed any hope of becoming a college graduate.

While at an inpatient treatment center in Minnesota in the fall of 2009, I learned about Augsburg College’s collegiate recovery community called StepUP from a couple of students who came in to share their testimony. A comprehensive program on campus where students in recovery can receive an education while enjoying college life clean and sober?! I was so overwhelmed with hope that I knew right then and there that was where I needed to go to obtain my college degree.

I was sent to California after treatment for after-care which was a great experience. My sober living roommate was a celebrity, we went to meetings in Hollywood, and for the first time I really started to have fun in recovery. Everything was going great until my best friend, and using buddy, was sent to the same place where I was for aftercare. Bad idea.

Within a week of being together we had relapsed and were kicked out of our sober living home. His parents took him back home, but mine would not. To this day my parents say this was the hardest thing they have ever had to do; to stop enabling me and let me go 2,000 miles away from home. I found myself with three options: homeless shelter, the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center (ARC), or suicide. I chose the Salvation ARC, but soon after getting admitted I contemplated suicide. Here I was, going through withdrawal, the youngest in a facility of 110 men – the majority facing 10+ years of prison time, and stuck working 9 hours a day in a rat-infested warehouse.

That was my rock bottom; but instead of jumping to my death I got on my knees and prayed. I had an overwhelming sense of relief and calmness come over me. I had a spiritual awakening, surrendered to my disease, and have been clean and sober ever since.

I ended up hand writing my application while in the Salvation Army and was accepted to Augsburg College and the StepUP Program. I had never stepped foot on campus, but I knew that’s where I needed to go. I needed 6 months of sobriety so I really immersed myself into my recovery. I went to 4 support group meetings a week, and worked the 12 steps with a sponsor. I really had a goal which made it easier getting through the initial few months of sobriety. I went back to school in the fall of 2010 and immediately hit the ground running.

People in recovery are the most perseverant people in this world.

I am a testament that if you put just 50% of the energy you put into getting your drink or drug into something healthy and positive you can achieve anything. For example, I decided I wanted to get into shape and play the sport I love most again, a sport taken away from me from my addiction. I accomplished that and played baseball collegiately. I wanted to take on a leadership role and become a Residence Assistant and mentor for a group of students in recovery. I got the position and thrived. I wanted to graduate magna cum laude and I needed to get straight A’s my senior year. Success.

Before graduating with my degree in Marketing, I heard that St. Cloud State University was starting a collegiate recovery community and needed a graduate student with residential life experience helping students in recovery. What an opportunity! I could use my experience mentoring students in recovery while the university paid for my master’s degree. I got the position. Little did I know those would be the 3 best years of my life.

To be continued…

About our Guest Blogger:

Thaddeus “Teddy” Rybka has been a person in long-term recovery since February 2, 2010. Hailing from the Chicagoland suburbs, he has lived in Minnesota now for six years. He currently is the Program Coordinator for the Recovery Community at St. Cloud State University. In his free time, Thaddeus enjoys fishing, listening to music, exercising, and spreading the message that recovery works.

Guest blog posts are welcome additions to the content on this website. Guest blog posts represent the views, opinions and experiences of the author and do not necessarily represent Our Young Addicts. Together, we provide parents and professionals with a variety of perspectives and information.

©2017 Our Young Addicts      All Rights Reserved

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U.S. Surgeon General’s Message; Addiction Prevention Programs Work

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Among the most welcome for mental health professionals, policy makers and parents to hear as they battle the escalating social and personal tragedies of drug and alcohol abuse is this:

There is now a new national policy commitment to preventing abuse of alcohol and addictive substances, and with it, emerging new approaches to preventing youthful experimentation and dabbling in mind-altering substances from progressing into mental health crises.

Public Health Approach: Prevention

The new muscle behind the prevention/intervention message comes from the first-ever U.S. Surgeon General’s report on Alcohol, Drug and Health, Facing Addiction in America. It not only declares preventing use from escalating to abuse to be the mission—it emphasizes prevention works. “Evidence based programs have a 40% – 60%” success rate in terms of reducing the onset of addiction and associated behaviors,” says A. Thomas McLellan, Ph.D., the renowned addiction scientist who helped co-author the report, speaking at the landmark Facing Addiction in America conference in fall 2016. Dr. McLellan is chair of the board and co-founder of the Treatment Research Institute, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Reason 1 Prevention Works: Tested Scientific Model

In the U.S., the public health prevention model has more than 100 years of study, data and positive outcomes of widespread improvements to the health of Americans. Diphtheria, tetanus, poliomyelitis, smallpox, measles, mumps, rubella are among the public health victories of the 20th Century.

“The public health-based approach called for in this Report aims to address the broad individual, environmental, and societal factors that influence substance misuse and its consequences, to improve the health, safety, and well-being of the entire population,” Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, M.D., M.B.A. Vice Admiral, U.S. Public Health Service Surgeon General explains in his November address and elaborates on The Surgeon General’s web site.

Reason 2 Prevention Works: Brain Science

In the past ten years, the medical and technological advances that yield insights into the brain on drugs – the emerging discipline of neurocognition and the biology of addiction—are yielding a level of proof never before available. And it’s persuasive.

Now, with the advent of technologies such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and other lower-radiation imaging studies safer to use on youth, researchers can observe brain tissue responding to drugs, map the molecular pathways that are activated or shut down by drugs and alcohol – and at last understand cause and effect.

The brain can be hacked by drugs; neurotransmission systems that normally regulate healthy behaviors such as judgment, motivation, decision-making and well-being can be negatively impacted by the disruptive input of chemical modulators that drugs and alcohol bring.  This is especially true for teens where their brains are not fully developed.  Brain science now shows that that use of addictive substances hacks and hijacks the brain’s functioning, while excessive and continual use can rewire the developing brains of teenagers in a damaging way.

Helping the Developing Brain

Making prevention a national mental health priority is exactly the right public health move. We believe that not every teenager who experiments with drugs or alcohol needs treatment—they need tools and a guide to navigate the new world of possibilities.

By promoting a conservative prevention/intervention mindset, which includes addressing substance use that has already started the goal is to help correct missteps that developmentally can be a natural part of adolescence—risk taking, including experimenting with mind-altering substances.

This is why we developed Gobi, a set of online tools, surveys, exercises, scripts, prescribed excises—such as parent or care-giver and youth going for a focused walk discussing prescribed questions—Gobi encourages reflection and connection to self and family. Available via a smartphone or other device, Gobi can help support, clarify, reconnect, redirect.

We are encouraged by the response to the early testing of the Gobi tool set. Our research shows there is ample evidence that young brains really are at risk—and no one sets out to make that happen when they crack their first beer. So yes, we’re out to save brains—and kids and families with them. That’s what Gobi’s about.

Contact Gobi: http://www.gobi.support/

Guest blog posts are welcome additions to the content on this website. Guest blog posts represent the views, opinions and experiences of the author and do not necessarily represent Our Young Addicts. Together, we provide parents and professionals with a variety of perspectives and information.

©2017 Our Young Addicts   All Rights Reserved.

Crushing the Myths About Drug Rehab

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Anybody who has been to drug rehab will tell you that it wasn’t a planned vacation. There are many ways to end up in rehab, but I guarantee nobody has said “when I grow up I want to take a 30 day trip to California for drug rehab.” Although, some drug/alcohol rehabilitation centers are very much like a vacation rehab a time for recovering. How to help a drug addict with addiction starts with rehab, but drug treatment facilities have a lot of negative stigma behind them, and most are untrue. From a personal perspective of being inside the closed doors of rehab, I am going to explain some of the common myths and truths behind rehab.

Rehab is a Punishment

This is one of those 50/50 scenarios depending on how you look at it. In my case, it was both a punishment and a reward. When I was younger, I was forced into outpatient rehab programs. My parents had a strict rule on substance abuse like many typical parents of teens, yet I never obeyed the rules. If I got caught under the influence, my parents would often threaten rehab and even send me to outpatient programs from time to time. At that moment in my life, it was a punishment. Whenever I got caught with drugs or alcohol it was instantly a trip to a treatment center. But I always relapsed.

However, I reached a point in my addiction when drugs and alcohol completely ruled my world.

Getting high was the only thing on my mind and I would virtually do anything to get my fix. While using, I surrounded myself around bad people, I was constantly in fear of my surroundings and I couldn’t stop getting high.

I was a danger to myself and everyone around me, I needed to be in a safe place. I finally made the decision to take recovery seriously.

It took some time but I finally reached a point of pure surrender. It was at the darkest moment of my life when I finally admitted myself to rehab, but completing recovery treatment  was the most rewarding feeling I have ever experienced. I was finally in a place where I was safe.

You NEED to Hit Rock Bottom

The term “rock bottom” is merely a figurative speech.

In my opinion, hitting “bottom” is when you decide to stop digging.

The addict or alcoholic’s true bottom is a casket. During my using times, there were plenty of times where I thought I hit “bottom,” however, I kept using.

An  alcoholic can often slide by without any serious consequences, then suddenly get smacked with a DUI. That instance may be enough for that person to get sober. On the other hand there are those who can take way more of a beating. For example, five DUIs, suspended licenses for multiple years, maybe a divorce and thousands of dollars in debt from drinking, may seem like a bottom to you, but that person might still not be ready for treatment.

This myth about an alcoholic and addict needing to hit a bottom is simply a myth. If someone has experienced enough pain and suffering from this disease then treatment, followed by, recovery is then possible. If you are waiting to hit your bottom before entering drug rehab you might as well begin digging your own grave.

Treatment for Drug Addiction Should be a One Stop Shop

I can attest to falsely believing this claim. How many times have we heard an addict or alcoholic say, I’ve been to rehab and it didn’t work? For many people, rehab doesn’t keep someone sober past those first crucial30 days. But usually, this first trip to treatment plants a seed. A seed that shifts the concept of getting high and drinking alcohol, in addition to informing that person that sobriety is possible.

There was nothing worse than getting high after rehab knowing that I shouldn’t be getting high. I was in rehab seven times before I was 20 years old. After completing treatment each time, I learned something knew and after every relapse I wish the relapse never happened.

Rehab is a wonderful place if you take it seriously. My two final rehab stays changed my life.

I was ready to learn the concepts of recovery and willing to apply them to my life. After a while, it became second nature to me. Staying sober was possible.

About Today’s Guest Blogger:

Benny Emerling got sober at age 19 and has written about his journey to recovery: https://ouryoungaddicts.com/2016/11/03/what-it-was-like-then-and-what-its-like-now/

Guest blog posts are welcome additions to the content on this website. Guest blog posts represent the views, opinions and experiences of the author and do not necessarily represent Our Young Addicts. Together, we provide parents and professionals with a variety of perspectives and information.

 ©2017 Our Young Addicts   All Rights Reserved.