The StepUp program: Supporting students through recovery

Names and personal information have been redacted per author’s request and Echo staff approval.

started on “Animal House” having just finished another “American Pie” movie. It was 3 a.m. and, although my mom would awake soon, I risked the punishment. Tantalizing images, to a curious teen, saturated me and my naïve ideas about college. Before I even tasted alcohol, similar influences, like Asher Roth’s “I Love College” and my friend Charlie’s older brother — a boy turned hero through stories of drunken antics at UT Knox., had me ready for first-year orientation at 12 years old. Fortunately, I exhausted all my partying before graduating high school.

College, a once idyllic hope close on the horizon, dissolved when I dropped out of high school in 10th  grade. Where my parents used to talk of scholarships for prestigious institutions, they now hoped for scholarships to fund another trip on the merry-go-round of rehabs and sober living. My sister was graduating from nursing school when I was graduating from my final stint in rehab. The future was bleak, and college was the last thing on our minds. Yet I am a student at Augsburg, and I am recovering.

Considering Augsburg is a small institution and I am from [redacted], it’s curious to consider how I became an Auggie, curious to me but even more so to inquisitive classmates. Incidentally, while I was receiving treatment in [redacted], students from our StepUp program shared their experience of recovering in college. 16 years old and still immature at the time, sobriety and college mixed like oil and water in my mind, but subsequent visits to the same hospital and hearing the same students injected hope into my hollow dreams of college. Now, I regularly speak at the same treatment center about StepUp.

After a necessary six months working a simple ice cream–shop job and submerging myself in recovery groups, I needed to grow more, and college was the next indicated step. I was already very familiar with StepUp. Being something of a 30-day-treatment connoisseur, I had been hospitalized with many of StepUp’s constituent students. I’m grateful to those students who inspired me to apply — you know who you are. My experience thus far in the StepUp/Augsburg community is a sacred gift, more fulfilling than anything I could have imagined at 12 years old.

Although my life in recovery felt normal around 12-step groups and out-patient treatments, shame shot through me when I ventured into the “real world,” not missing my ideas of college. Classes, studying, orientation — ordinary to most—  seemed like alien and empty concepts when juxtaposed with my life-and-death battle against addiction. Fear gripped me. How could I bear a full course load when six months ago I couldn’t leave the house without pills or powders? How can I fit in with “normal” students? I guessed I’d have to blend in, change and camouflage — like when I returned to high school in sobriety, one of a kind.

Preparing my respectful charm, an act I mastered [redacted], I interviewed for StepUp. To my surprise, her first question was as frank as the answer it demanded. I, and most everyone, wouldn’t dare mention overdoses and drug abuse in a college interview, but [redacted], my interviewer, created a genuine dialogue that follows me into the greater Augsburg community. I have done no hiding and pretending.

StepUp protects its students not by shielding us from what should destroy us, like drugs and alcohol, but rather by providing the substrate new lives flourish out of. Recovery from addiction isn’t about hiding away in the shadows. It is about coming together in a community so we can face life’s adversities and pleasures with an awake mind and spirit. We don’t set out each day with a monotonous will to not drink. We set out to live every part of life equally, and in the process, we no longer have to drink or use.

This article was originally published in the March 1, 2019 issue.