Recovery During College

 

Coming to St. Cloud State University was a little nerve racking, says Guest Blogger Thaddeus Rybka in part two of his story.

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I’d be leaving the Twin Cities where I had made a home the last two years, and was nervous about what others were telling me about SCSU’s “party school” reputation. Would I be able to make this program a success in what I perceived to be a hostile environment? Little did I know of all the great work that was being done at SCSU to address the high-risk drinking culture that existed in the past, the measurable changes that occurred, and the incredible administrative support for the new collegiate recovery program. Needless to say, my fears of SCSU were lifted immediately once I arrived on campus and was welcomed into the Husky community.

I quickly connected with the campus. It has a true college feel to it; large but accessible with the mighty Mississippi right next door. I discovered an appreciation for the outdoors especially with the abundance of water nearby. I realized that being by water, especially with a fishing rod in my hand, is where I find my serenity.

Having that accessibility to recharge and meditate really strengthened my recovery and in turn allowed me to do my best work.

We began our collegiate recovery community (CRC) the fall of 2012 with one student.

That first year was unique because here we were, two guys spreading the message that recovery works and fun can be accomplished without the use of substances; challenging the national college drinking subculture glorified by the media. I vividly remember promoting our community in the Atwood Memorial Center (main hub of campus) and initially getting odd looks, but after a while, students began to approach us asking about our community.

The stigma associated with recovery prohibits a lot of us from embracing our identity and seeking out others for support. Our exposure on campus allowed students to come forward and be comfortable sharing their story. “You really have a community for students in recovery?! I thought I was the only one!”

That’s where S.T.A.R.S. was born.

Students Taking Action in Recovery and Service (S.T.A.R.S.) is a student organization I helped create not only for students in our residential-based CRC, but for anyone who wanted to find purpose in their recovery. Not only did I see students in recovery from chemical dependency want to get involved, but also those with mental health challenges, eating disorders, PTSD, sex addiction, as well as supportive allies.

They wanted to be part of a healthy group of students who were working on bettering themselves and overcoming their previous challenges. S.T.A.R.S. offers opportunities to get involved with service work, advocacy initiatives, and fun social events.

Every week we bring an AA meeting to an adolescent treatment center in town and share our experience, strength, and hope with them. I cannot stress enough the importance of getting out in the community and giving back. Service work is crucial! By giving back to those new to recovery we are actually enhancing our own recovery.

Over the past 5 years, we’ve established a campus AA meeting, NA meeting, SMART Recovery meeting, and the first Crystal Meth Anonymous meeting in St. Cloud (started by one of our former CRC students). Also, the St. Cloud Alano Club and its 30 meetings-a-week is right across the river. We are very blessed to have accessible support group options for our students.

After our first year, our CRC started to blossom.

Slowly, our community has started to grow. The next year, we welcomed 8 more students and the next year we welcomed more and so on. Our CRC is located on campus in Coborn Plaza Apartments, where students enjoy fully furnished 4-person apartments with a private bedroom, walk-in closet, and private bathroom.

What’s really neat is that students don’t have to pay extra for the additional support services we provide; in fact, CRC students receive a scholarship of $1,000 each semester if they continue to meet program requirements which include being a full-time student, attending weekly individual and group support meetings, and remaining abstinent from alcohol and other drugs.

We acknowledge our students are busy balancing their recovery with school and work life, so a scholarship is meant to help them out financially.

Our CRC is unique. We offer multiple pathways to a degree by admitting students from either St. Cloud State University or St. Cloud Technical and Community College (SCTCC). So, whether you want to pursue one of the 200+ majors SCSU offers, complete your generals at SCTCC then transfer to SCSU, or pursue a certificate or trade at SCTCC, we have you covered and you can live in our community.

To qualify, prospective students must be accepted into SCSU or SCTCC. The students must then complete our application with references and treatment records, if applicable. After the application is processed, each student is interviewed to assess his or her commitment to sobriety and readiness for academic work in a Recovery Community setting.

When students move in, they are immediately connected to a peer and campus support system designed to help them succeed in their recovery and in their academics. By having a balanced routine and staying busy, our students are able to create positive new habits resulting in better academic performance and strong recovery. In fact, our students achieve a higher GPA than the overall student body, and are more involved with campus life.

If you’re not having fun in recovery, then what’s the point?

Part of that balanced routine is to take a break and have fun! As Coordinator, I facilitate social events and advocacy initiatives for our students to participate in.

For example, every month we co-host a recovery celebration called Recovery Rocks! with students from the Rehabilitation and Addiction Counseling (RAC) program.

The event features live music, milestone recognition, food and sober fun. We designed the event so we can bring the community together to support those in or seeking recovery while encouraging help seeking and reducing stigma.

We go fishing, snow tubing, bowling, and to the movies. Our students also have potluck dinners and simply enjoy hanging out with each other. They ask each other for help, celebrate accomplishments, and hold each other accountable. My goal is for them to have the same college experience as anyone else, just without the use of substances. Maybe sometimes we have too much fun. I’ll give you an example. We started on the 4th floor of Coborn Plaza Apartments and were moved down to the 3rd floor because students below us were complaining we were too loud. The next year, we were moved down to the second floor because below us were offices.

Today, we are a leader in the collegiate recovery movement.

When we started our collegiate recovery community in 2012 there were roughly 40 CRCs in the country. Today, that number exceeds 150. We are honored to have had various institutions visit us to gain insight on how we run our community. Whether it’s a residential-based program or a drop-in center, I strongly believe a CRC should be on every college campus.

According to SAMHSA’S 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 15.3% of 18-25 years olds meet the criteria for a substance use disorder.

That is an alarming number and shows the need for resources available on college campuses for this at-risk population. Everyone should be given the opportunity to pursue a higher education!

My time at St. Cloud State as a graduate assistant and now as its Coordinator has been special, to say the least. To have helped lay the foundation for a program that has helped so many students in recovery pursue a college degree has been truly priceless.

Heck, I never thought I’d see the age of 28, but here I am with a master’s degree, my parent’s trust back, genuine friends, and a job that allows me to help others and spread the message that recovery works. It doesn’t get much better than that!

For more information about the Recovery Community visit:

http://www.stcloudstate.edu/reslife/recovery.aspx

Like the Recovery Community on Facebook: https://facebook.com/scsurecovery

Follow SCSU Recovery Community on Twitter: https://twitter.com/SCSU_Recovery

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.

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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The first time I ever got drunk was when I was 9 years old from an anise-flavoured drink we call Aguardiente. I come from a Colombian-born family who immigrated to Southern California and naturally, Colombian’s like to party. I was a curious kid and I loved how it made me feel but things escalated. At age 14 I smoked marijuana, at the age of 19 I tried meth and at the age of 23, I ended up arrested in Idaho on drug charges and was given a two-year sentence. I came from a loving family, my parents worked hard to provide for my siblings and I. So when I entered rehab and came out, these are 4 important lifestyle changes that turned my life around to help me stay sober:

I changed my sleeping pattern

Having a healthy sleep pattern helped a big deal to have a much better life. Our bodies require an average of 8 hours of sleep a day and depriving it of this amount can lead to severe consequences in the future. Heart problems and focus problems are some of the many effects that sleeping less than what’s recommended can bring to us.

By having a good sleeping pattern I was able to better concentrate on my daily tasks and my work. I was more focused on my priorities and this allowed me to improve my performance at my job and my own personal life. It also made me feel healthier, awake, motivated and eager to take up on new challenges.

I changed my diet/exercised regularly

Adopting a healthy new lifestyle is what changes your attitude towards life. Eating better and exercising were 2 of the main things that improved everything about me making a huge difference on my everyday. By starting a healthier diet I felt energized and was able to have a much more balanced life-rhythm. Healthier food meant better moods and overall better acceptance of the person I was turning into. Exercise helped me to feel fit, work on my self-esteem and gain more respect towards my mind and my body. Working out has a unique effect on how we perceive life itself. We become more positive and happier, this is due to the fact that by embracing a daily routine, our brains release the same chemicals as when we’re happy or in love, making us feel a lot better about ourselves.

I learned what gratitude was

When I was using, I was self-centered and blamed everyone around me for my problems. Reliving and dwelling on my past was counterproductive but focusing on a new healthier life was what helped me become sober. Becoming grateful for my friends, family, job, lifestyle and all around what is “good” in my life helped me stay on track with my sobriety!

I found new hobbies

By discovering new interests that were both healthy and productive, I got to work on my life as a big project built on milestones that I myself have set. Finding new hobbies meant using my free time in much better and more productive ways.It also allowed me to get passionate about new things and in the same way, learn new things that I’ve found very useful at some points in my life. Growing a passionate interest in an activity allowed me to see that I am capable of things I didn’t think I was, it also taught me that with motivation and dedication I can produce amazing results that made me be proud of what I did and also made me feel happy and useful.

When recovering from addictions, finding out how to properly invest your free time is perhaps one of the most relevant aspects to progress into a new healthy-sober-and-happy life. When combined with a healthy lifestyle that includes a good sleeping pattern and a workout routine, you start immediately feeling a lot better about yourself. Adopting new hobbies allows you to see progress in small projects that you consider important and entertaining. When you invest your time wisely, your priorities fall into place and relapse opportunities and temptations become scarce within time.

If you have any questions or would like to suggest any other lifestyle changes that you consider important to a better life please let us know in the comments below.

About Our Guest Blogger:

andy Hi, I am Andy! I was born in Bogota, Colombia, but raised in Los Angeles, California. I have been clean for 9 years now! I spend my time helping others with their recovery and growing my online business.

 

 

 

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.

What it Was Like Then, and What It’s Like Now

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Today’s guest blogger, Benny Emerling, got sober at 19. It’s valuable for parents and professionals to have this perspective in mind when working with young people. MWM

As a young kid I always felt like everyone around me was given a golden textbook on life. Mine must have gotten lost in the mail. I was different, but not an outcast, in fact. quite the opposite. I had many friends, a loving family and a decently smart head on my shoulders. However, my idea of fun was different from most of my peers. Misbehaving, stealing and bullying were some of my favorite activities. I was always a happy jokester and had a smile on my face the majority of the time.

Having three older sisters and a younger brother, it was easy to slip through the cracks and get away with murder. In middle school, my behavior got worse and worse. I grew up in a primarily Jewish area, so when I was in seventh grade every weekend we had a bar or bat mitzvah party to go to. Virtually, every weekend there was a different elaborate party to go to. After a couple, I noticed the adults at the parties drinking. Curiosity grew inside me, it looked awesome. It was not long before I tried drinking.

I was 13, one of my friends at the time made me a delicious alcoholic beverage. By delicious, I mean repulsive, it was a combination of anything he could grab off the adult tables. This included wine, beer, a shot and a mix drink. It was the most disgusting beverage I had ever drank but at the same time the best. I felt the buzz of alcohol for the first time in my life and I was instantly ready for more.

Drinking at these parties became the norm for me and a couple of friends. Weirdly enough, none of us ever got caught. Then the summer hit, growing up every year I went to sleep away camp in Northern Michigan. And this year at summer camp was monumental, one of my cabin mates brought weed to camp with him and I smoke it for the first time. Drinking was a blast, but weed was a different type of fun. I finally found the missing piece to my life, and it was drugs. After my first experience getting high, I never wanted to be sober.

I became a huge pothead by ninth grade. I had drug hookups because my sister was older, and I was friends with kids who sold pot, among other drugs. Smoking weed became an everyday habit before school, at lunch, sometimes between classes, and always after school. Weed took over my life. I quit all after school activities I once did because it got in the way of me smoking weed.

Smoking weed is an expensive habit, so how could I afford it? I stole, manipulated, worked little jobs and sold drugs.

My first job was at an elite men’s fashion store that sold thousand dollar suits and top of the line shoes. I couldn’t stop smoke weed and I dabbled a little with taking prescription pills. I didn’t want to get fired, especially because of speculation about me being high at work was on the rise. I came up with what I thought was a brilliant lie: I told my boss who knew my stepmom that I was allergic to wool and that was why my eyes were constantly bloodshot.

I didn’t last long at this job, to say the least. I picked up a caddying job that summer, but no money compared to selling pills. So after a couple of months I made my money exclusively selling prescription pills and little amounts of weed. My supplier? My family. Members of family were prescribed prescription pills for medical reasons. I looked at these pills as dollar signs. My family gained suspicion. They knew I didn’t have a job, but they also knew I had a lot of money. Oh yeah, and all of the pills in the house were missing.

It didn’t take long for my parents to catch me red-handed. I was forced to take my first drug test, which  I failed miserably.

It was then my parents started looking up local rehabilitation centers. When I was 16, I was put into my first outpatient treatment center. I was told I had to stay sober and there would be drug tests once a week. I tried to stay clean for about a month and decided it wasn’t for me.

My high school career could be summed up pretty easily, I got high and partied, then ended up in outpatient treatment. Maintained decent grades and did what I wanted, when I wanted—I thought it was  the greatest time of my life. However, I knew the best years were still to come…college.

I chose to go to the biggest party college I got accepted to. The first couple of weeks were exactly how I wanted them to be. Huge parties every day, drugs whenever I wanted, and unlimited freedom to do whatever I wanted, without any consequences.Or so I thought…

The fun lasted about two months then I hit what most people would consider a bottom. I didn’t sleep, eat, go to class, and barely left my dorm room for five consecutive days. I ended up going insane from all of the Adderall I took, and it wasn’t long before I overdosed and ended up in the psych-ward.

By this time I hadn’t talked to my families in over a month, and everyone assumed I was either dead or in jail. My close friends stopped calling me because I betrayed all of them in one way or another and I was basically alone, miserable and physically and mentally broken.

I remember the exact moment when I realized I needed help and that I needed to get sober.

I was sitting in the psych-ward, I hadn’t slept for two days straight, and then I looked in the mirror. I was 40 pounds underweight, my eyes were sunk into my face and my body was bruised up from trying escape the hospital. At that very moment, I made the decision to get sober.

What’s It Like Now?

This was over six years ago. I was 19 when I admitted myself into treatment. I thought my rehab stay was only going to be three months, but I ended up needing a nine month stay. Rehab was great because I learned how to be a human again. I learned how to maintain relationships, grocery shop and take care of myself. I was taken to AA meetings and I actually learned from them and received hope from them.

I finally started feeling good for the first time in over six years.

After my rehab stay I moved back home. My mom was very skeptical of me living in the house because my teenage years were a disaster. I assured her that no matter what, I will not use, steal or lie to her. She slowly began to trust me again, which I never thought  possible. I started paying back the people I owed money to,  and I kept up with AA meetings. It didn’t take long before I found a friend group,  all young, sober adults.

I realized the more meetings I went to, the more I hung out with my sober friends and the more time I spent helping others, the less I obsessed about myself or getting high. It was an incredible realization, for over five years, every waking moment I thought about my next fix and how I was going to achieve it. But after I came to terms with the fact that I will never be able to use like a normal person, my life was shot into what I call the fourth-dimension.

I got sober when I was 19, I am currently 25 years-old and couldn’t be in a better place.

The disease of addiction took me to the darkest world imaginable, but at the same time blessed me with an amazing one at the same time. Suffering from addiction has made me a better person. I wake up every day knowing that as long as I stay sober, I can accomplish anything.

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.

©2016 Our Young Addicts   All Rights Reserved.

 

Peanut Butter & Jelly Recovery

Food, nutrition and eating habits are important to parents. We want to feed our kiddos the things we perceive as the healthy stuff. That’s often influenced by our own upbringing, other parents, the media or even social-media posts that purport the be-all, end-all expertise.

Let’s face it. In infancy, we have control – or choice – over what our children are eating: formula or breast milk. When they are ready for solid foods, we start by spoon feeding rice cereal and then advance to other cereals, fruits, vegetables and perhaps meats. Later come the finger foods: Cheerios, Saltine Crackers, slices of banana … you remember how it goes. That’s the way it’s always been done, so it must be right.

At some point, our kids either become adventurous or picky in their eating, and from that point forward, we have influence but very little control. They are growing, maturing and making decisions on their own.

My son was somewhere in the middle between adventurous and picky. He liked a variety of foods but had his go-to favorites. When he was in high school, he dated a young woman whose family was from Afghanistan. I was amazed at the variety of foods that he tried without hesitation, out of respect for her mom, and ended up finding that he enjoyed these unfamiliar ingredients. At home, he might have turned up his nose if I’d served those same ingredients.

Let me relate this back to addiction and recovery.

During addiction, my son’s appetite and diet changed significantly. Part of this had to do with the change in activity – from playing on a varsity sports team to leading a somewhat sedentary and transient lifestyle. Some of this had to do with periods of homelessness, when he was part of group-living environments, or simply when he had no money. Some of this had to do with choosing or needing the drugs more than food.

From reading this blog, you know that our family reached out to my son daily and that he joined our family every week of so for meals. Ravished, he’d eat just about whatever I had prepared. It made me feel good to fill his tummy with nutritious, home-cooked foods, and as my husband wisely pointed out, it nourished his wounded brain. We hoped it might provide a teeny, tiny spark of possibility that he’d make a wise decision toward help for sobriety and recovery.

In time, yes. Interestingly, as he stopped using drugs – especially constipating opioids – he found that he couldn’t eat everything that he wanted to. Many foods, including lifelong favorites, no longer agreed with him.

Recovery Routine

These days he leads a fairly disciplined and routine lifestyle: college classes, work, going to the gym, taking the family dog on “adventures,” reading and watching TV/playing video games. He still loves a nightly bowl of ice cream or a big ‘ol burrito from Chipotle, but his go-to meal is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. As #SoberSon says, “Why mess with what’s working?”

I’ve stopped buying foods he used to like or things I think he might want. Instead, he puts a limited number of things on the list – ingredients for non-dairy fruit smoothies and whole wheat bread, peanut butter and grape jelly. If I buy other foods, these will likely sit untouched; so, I don’t. More often or not, he stops at the grocery store on the way home to pick up the items he needs and takes pride in paying for his own food with hard-earned money from his job.

In many ways, this sums up recovery for parents and twenty-something kids:

  • Support without enabling
  • Provide options without bias or judgement
  • Be open to their choices and preferences
  • Drop preconceived ideas of what’s right or best
  • Love unconditionally
  • Find peace and happiness in “what works”

#SoberSon will soon be two-years sober and in recovery, so Midwestern Mama asks, “Why mess with PB&J?”

Midwestern Mama

©2016 Our Young Addicts            All Rights Reserved

Twelve-Step Rebellion

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This week’s guest blogger is Jay from @OneMindDharma who writes about finding serenity through meditation after years of trying to find it through traditional 12-step programs. It’s important for young people in recovery to find an approach that works for them rather than what works for people quite a bit older. Thank you, Jay, for sharing your experience with the #OYACommunity. MWM

I can give the story of my life quite simply. I was 12 years old when I started to drink. I would show up to punk shows drunk because I felt self conscious about being so young around older kids and hoped that the smell of booze and the forced stumble would make me appear as cooler than I felt. I grew up to be addicted to opiates quite young and found heroin at 22. At 26 I decided to stop using drugs, was hospitalized and stayed in sober living for many months.

One of the things I can relate to with young people is the resistance to a 12 step program, and I congratulate you on this discovery. The fact that anybody has gone to something enough to realize that they like it is extraordinary if you think of the different tasks that acquiring drugs or alcohol entails. We become mindless when we’re going through the motions of getting high, that even a small fire wouldn’t have inconvenienced me much while I was loaded. But sober, the initial resistance is to be expected and deeply encouraged to push through.

The problem however is once you’ve gone to your first few meetings and you see the word, “God,” or you look around the room and there isn’t anybody similar to you. I was 19 at my first meeting and spent many nights in diners with folks who talked about their mortgage or even put on music in the car that made me want to jump out. I understand feeling misplaced, and so I commend you for this observation. This means one is aware, not simply “going through the motions.”

I would estimate that I went to 2,000 twelve step meetings before I turned 25. I tried to force myself to believe that “this would work for me.”

I tried to see drugs as this vacuum that could steal my soul by simply thinking about it– reciting, “brick wall,” for fear of being possessed. I would call my sponsor to ask permission to go on a date or to leave work early to catch a concert I wanted to see. He would ask, “is this Jay’s will or is it God’s will?” The idea was that any decision I was making was most likely harmful and going to lead to me getting loaded or with a needle in my arm. I appreciated this — this was the father figure I longed for for so many years.

Eventually though my life resembled somebody else’s life and I found little joy in my daily activities. The lack of luster I could live without, however I began feeling more and more alone. I started thinking in two different thought patterns– the 19 year old who wanted to be 19 and skip class to skateboard like any other 19 year old versus the 19 year old young man who was focusing on interest rates, responsibility and work ethic.

Neither is worse than the other, but I felt the focus was slipping from not wanting to get high into being a clone of my sponsor and his 40 plus years of life experience. So I began to rebel against his suggestions, and a satisfaction would come when I broke these rules. The same feeling, in fact, as getting high, which eventually led to me getting high.

And so for years this cycle would continue. I would push my drug runs to the brink of death so that I could feel this “bottom,” that they would all tell me I wasn’t finished using until I felt and experienced. The reality is that I was done and I didn’t need to feel ostracized or shamed for being a kid. Instead, I began to search for different methods of getting clean without the help of AA. One of these for me was NA for a short while. I liked the fellowship– it seemed to be a younger crowd. I didn’t like the steps, and I started to realize that that was okay. I believed for myself if I were to tell my deep dark secrets to anybody it should be a therapist, as that was who I felt comfortable telling these to. I didn’t mind paying for it, since my life was on the line.

My therapist eventually would say things like, “You have so much going on up there Jay, have you looked into meditating?” I had not.

And so my journey of meditation began. In the beginning I had candles and incense and would focus on the fronts of my eyelids and my breathing. In time, I found guided meditations and Buddhist principles.

I knew that quieting my mind and observing my thought patterns were both important, but I also wanted to grow as a person. I didn’t want to change who I was, I wanted to become a better version.

I finally met my teacher at a meditation meeting in Hollywood. He seemed to like the same music as me, could identify with my anger and my rebellion, and began to help me implement different principles and practices into my personal life.

One of the big ones was what the Eightfold Path refers to as “Right speech.” This, to me, means not to speak ill of anybody, and unless it’s absolutely necessary not to speak about anyone who isn’t around. Of course people have to be mentioned, but the way I mentioned them became a focal point. Even the way I said things seemed to have an undertone I wasn’t normal aware of. I began thinking before I spoke, and being mindful of the intentions behind my words.

Slowly, I meditated more and more frequently, and I noticed that the urges I had to use and to act out weren’t as prevalent. I also noticed that I started doing things in my free time that I enjoyed again, and surrounding myself with other people my age who didn’t care how I got clean, they just enjoyed the fact that I was myself.

Eventually I started working for my teacher, and am now the outreach director for his meditation company. At 27 years old I have over a year clean from everything, I bought my first car, I have two jobs, and

I’m becoming the version of myself I secretly knew I could be. For the most part I don’t do anything I don’t want to do or am required to do.

I live a life that I choose to live and it no longer feels forced.

We can choose to be who we wish to be in this world and anything truly is possible if the effort is there. So long as you’re trying you have a chance to make the change at anytime that you wish. Rebellion is the catalyst of change and true rebellion begins when you make the effort to change yourself. Meditation helps me, and if you’re struggling with finding your place in AA or any program utilize the wonders of the internet and find different means of recovery. There are meditation websites, there are online recovery communities, and there is meaning if you search for it. You’re too important to give up hope, and your place in this world is out there somewhere. I wish you well and hope you find it on your journey.

About Jay:

Jay is the community outreach director for Www.oneminddharma.com He works on an animal rescue ranch and enjoys playing music in his free time.