Community, Recovery, & Allyship
Addiction recovery has always been a part of my life even though I didn’t know that or understand it for most of my life.
My dad has been in recovery for 30 years. I’d heard him mention it, I’d heard him describe friends as “in recovery”, and I think he tried to explain it to me but, as a kid, I just thought it meant they didn’t drink and use drugs. I had this sense that it was kind of cool because it seemed like he bumped into people he knew everywhere we went, and he’d take me to events like talent shows and holiday dinners where everyone seemed to know each other and seemed happy and kind. There were A LOT of hugs! He was also involved with a treatment center and would take me to events and volunteer.
As I got older and learned a little about addiction, I started to understand a little more about what recovery meant but it still didn’t quite sink in. All of my dad’s friends were so happy and seemed to have really good and normal lives. I’d ask some questions and learn that Mark* had been in prison when he was younger and Jake had overdosed 3 times. Even my dad had been arrested and kicked out of school and was in a hospital for a month when he was 19. It just didn’t connect with what I was seeing, they all seemed so normal and had good lives, but I didn’t give it much thought.
I still remember very clearly the day it all sunk in. I was around 13 years old and my dad took me to volunteer at detox. We spend the morning doing landscaping — ripping out old bushes, planting flowers, and moving rocks. It was hard work, but everyone was having fun, laughing, and helping each other. We went inside to have lunch in the living room and there was a small woman on the other side of the room sitting all by herself. She looked sadder than anyone I’d ever seen. It hurt me just to look at her. She looked broken in a way I’d never seen. I asked my dad about her and he said she was probably in detox and wanted to get out of her room for a while. I went over to sit next to her. I said hi and asked if she was ok. She said that she was and we started talking. She told me that her name was Jamie and she had been in recovery for a few years, was just graduating college, and had been engaged. She recently learned her fiance and a friend had betrayed her and relapsed. The relapse was bad enough that she ended up in the hospital and had been released to this detox program. She said she stopped working a program and didn’t have the support she needed when something went wrong.
I couldn’t stop thinking about her and started asking my dad a lot of questions about addiction and recovery. I learned that it’s a chronic disease that requires life-long maintenance. He also explained that recovery is fragile for the first five years and that it takes a lot of work to protect it. He also talked about a lot of things that never occurred to me, like the importance of recovery support from family, where we live, where we work, and where we go to school. I also learned that my dad’s friend, Mark, runs a collegiate recovery program.
I found all of this interesting and it completely changed the way I saw all the recovery I’d encountered. I’d never really understood that all of these people had once been in a place as dark as Jamie. It was really hard to believe that all of the wholeness and joy I saw emerged from something like Jamie’s experience of brokenness and isolation.
That fall, we went to a fundraiser for the treatment program and I saw Jamie again. She looked like a completely different person. She looked happy and healthy. I was so relieved and happy for her. I’ve kept asking my dad about how she’s doing and he recently told me that she’s sober 5 years again, got a master’s degree, and is dating a really nice guy. I asked him if she was maintaining her recovery and he said that if he was seeing her and knew how she was doing, she’s probably doing the work required to maintain recovery.
I will be starting college in the fall and I intend to major in computer science, possibly software engineering. I don’t use drugs and alcohol and it’s nice to know that the university I hope to attend has a collegiate recovery program and I can participate in some of their social events as an ally.
One of the things I learned from my dad about addiction treatment is that systems of care are not designed to help get people through those fragile first 5 years of recovery. I want to use my education to help develop apps that can do recovery check-ups, help keep people connected to their recovery support system, and connect them with help quickly and easily when they are in trouble. The Seasons in Malibu scholarship would help make this possible.
* All names changed to protect anonymity.