The Importance of Early Awareness, Support and Education

One of my best friends, “Mike”, has a son who is in college. I’ve changed their names in order to protect their privacy, but for the sake of this blog, I’ll call his son, “James”.

Actually, James used to be in college, but is not currently enrolled anywhere.

James was a good student in a rural high school. He’d been psyched to have the “college experience” in the big city of Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth University. VCU is considered one of the top party schools in Virginia, and it has plenty of press to prove those bragging rights.

James started out strong with 5 As and 1 B during his first semester. Then he wanted more social opportunities, so he pledged and got involved with a fraternity. He spearheaded their big charity event and eventually became President of his fraternity. They even won National Chapter of the Year.

James was taking on a full load doing extra service projects, leadership seminars, volunteering, and leading his fraternity. He felt the pressure to do it all. He started mis-using Adderall, which took over his life. This led to him taking more and sleeping less and less.

He was drinking on top of using the Adderall, and had two alcohol related offenses. James had fallen in with the party crowd. He drove while intoxicated and got busted.

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.Luckily he did not hurt anyone else or himself.

James’ dad was supportive through it all. They had many conversations about judgment, choices and risky behavior versus his future.

After the second offense, James had to choose between going on probation or going into rehab. He chose rehab. He completed 3 weeks of intensive rehabilitation, which was great.

AND here’s is where an even bigger miracle happened!

James realized that he needed a deeper foundation for his sobriety. He made the decision to withdraw from school, which was painful, especially on finances. He told his dad he wanted to work on his sobriety more, so he went to a sober living community in Florida for 5 months. This decision was hard for his dad, Mike, to wrap his head around. I kept saying to him: this is good. School will always be there.

James did his required community service and passed all of the random drugs tests. At this place, if you failed one test, you were out. He had no car, so he rode his bike to 12 step meetings and to his restaurant job.

James is now 200 days clean! That is a huge deal! His family has a history of alcoholism on his mother’s side. One of the great things about treatment is that they teach you about the disease of alcoholism. With knowledge comes power. Now he can make more informed choices, because he is more aware.

James is also in the best physical shape of his life and he has reapplied to college, but to a different school this time and with a different mindset. He wants to work with kids in the future, to make a difference.

I was grateful to be there for my friend. I’ve had a lot of experience with addiction in my family, myself, and among friends. I could see the pattern clear as day, and so could his dad.

AND it’s still hard to tell. Many college students go to college to get a degree and to party. Especially with social media everywhere, the social aspect of college has become even more important than ever before.

Although lots of students do binge drink and engage in risky behavior, a majority of them, thankfully, are able to let go of that lifestyle once they leave their campuses. They “grow” out of it. But some of them don’t make it out of college. Or in my case, I continued to party like I was in college long after I’d been out for years.

I was in tremendous emotional pain from my abusive upbringing. I don’t write that to be dramatic, but to make a point. I had no other tools to deal with the rejection I’d felt from my dad for choosing his new family over me, over and over.

I believed that I deserved the horrible things my stepmom said to me and the disgusting things that other family members had done to me. I’d internalized it all and it had manifested into layers of self hatred.

Even though I’d been out of the house for years, I’d continued the abuse with drugs, drinking and laxatives. And, of course, I’d attracted the kinds of jobs, men, and “friends” who were just reflecting back on how lowly I thought of myself.

I’m very clear that I was doing the best I knew how to do. I’d grown up being told:

Elaine, take a pill, be quiet.
Elaine, don’t be angry.
Elaine, you’re fat, you really need to lose weight.
You better marry a rich man because you’ll never be able to take care of yourself.
Elaine, you’re depressed, there is something wrong with you.

I wonder if I had been educated about alcoholism and what happens to the entire family, if I could have made better choices, earlier. Honestly, I don’t know. I was a willful child and I still struggle with turning my will over to the care of my Higher Power.

I am happy for James and for Mike. I hope that James can continue on the path to sobriety, which is such a gift. Because of awareness, support and education, James was able to get help at a much younger age than I did.

This is why I speak on college campuses and really anywhere where I can reach our youth. We must start talking about our addictive culture and making healthy choices earlier in young people’s lives. This is why I was put on the planet! This is why I am passionate about creating a cultural paradigm shift.

I want to start a movement! And I am starting a movement. So bring me to your school or group now. Let’s save lives and change the world!