I recently reconnected with some friends in the collegiate recovery community, and I’ve been thinking a lot this weekend about a young man I met, only by phone, when I was freelancing for a magazine called Recovery Campus. As he told me his story—how he smoked marijuana at 13 just to see what it was like and his drug use escalated over time until he wrecked his academic career and almost died—it was all I could do to keep asking questions because what I really wanted to do was cry. It was just so heartbreaking. I found myself thinking of his mother. If I had been the mother of that 13-year-old boy, embarking on a dangerous path, I would’ve had no idea that I needed to be concerned.
Why? Because he didn’t show any of the typical “movie of the week” signs of drug use. He wasn’t a loner or an outcast. He wasn’t bullied. He didn’t hate his family. He loved them very much. Not only did he love his parents, but he liked them. He enjoyed their company. He had an older brother that he looked up to. He played sports and was popular in school. But he heard his brother’s friends talk about how great marijuana made them feel, and he wanted to try it. Unfortunately, his particular brain chemistry—and we’re all different—was such that he couldn’t stop there. He told me he was lying on the floor, beaten by a drug dealer, when he realized he had no friends left and nobody to call for help—except his mother. He called. She came. He heard about the collegiate recovery program at his dream university and turned his life around. It didn’t happen overnight. It was a challenging journey. But he made it. He's still making it and always will be—just like the rest of us. We all have our demons to fight, our journeys to make, and it's a lifelong process.
As we talked on the phone, and he politely (yes ma’am, no ma’am) told me his story, I was so shaken by it that I called my mother when the interview was over. To think that such a kind and thoughtful human being could’ve been lost and almost was. I listened to many recovery stories back then, but this one stayed with me. It just made me realize how fragile we are—and how resilient. Once we go so far down the wrong path, surely there’s no turning back? But no. We can always turn around and right ourselves with God’s help.
My publisher recently sent me a questionnaire about my second book, and one of the questions was something like, “What do you hope readers will take away from your story?” I listed several things, but the last and most important to me was, “that the hardest person to forgive is always yourself.”
Some amazing young people in recovery taught me that.
If you or your friends have young adults in your life who have had their academic careers derailed by addiction, there’s a compassionate community of amazing people out there just waiting to help. Go to collegiaterecovery.org to connect with the Association for Recovery in Higher Education.
[Image by Chance Agrella @ freerangestock.com]