Both and Recovery

According to SFR member Tim Rabolt, being open to all forms of recovery is critical. “There’s so much more that we have in common than what separates us, and it’s truly special to connect with such a diverse group of students all working to better themselves and others. It goes back to the holistic recovery process. We’re able to see the full picture by being inclusive and allowing a wide range of individuals to join the group.”

On top of that, member and graduate student Amy Waldrup noted, “It is essential to be open to all types of recovery because mental illness and substance abuse are often co-occurring disorders.” This has translated into many students wanting supports around both mental health and addiction.

Rabolt pointed to 12-step culture as part of why this separation exists. “I’ve never heard someone open up in meetings about bipolar disorder or an eating disorder or self-harm. If someone does open up about it, I feel like most individuals would tell him or her to just work the steps or talk to their sponsor about it. There’s a general lack of understanding around mental health that influences the way collegiate recovery programs are structured and coordinated.”

From the mental health side, many people have not been exposed to the idea of “recovery” in the context of mental health. The concept of focusing on supports that best empowers someone to live a fulfilling life, as opposed to just managing their symptoms, is not necessarily what people think of when they think of treatment. There is a misconception that support strictly means treatment in a clinical setting and that students struggling with mental health challenges are not able to support one another. While access to treatment is important, connection with others who understand, because they too have lived experience, is also key.

This is not to say that there are not specific issues that need to be addressed for each community — like the lack of college counselors with a background in addiction. It is not to say that students should or should not attend certain groups or 12-step programs.

When it comes to promoting recovery in higher education, it should not be an either/or scenario but a both/and. It should be about coming together to create a community where all students in recovery can feel supported in the ways that matter to them.

The transition to life in college is challenging for everyone. Students have been pulled away from the heavily structured atmosphere of high school and friends and family, and they are introduced to new stressors, pressures, and freedoms. Being in recovery makes this all the more stressful and, left unsupported, can result in unnecessary suffering and isolation. It can lead to school drop-out, worsening addiction and mental health challenges, and even suicide. Having a campus-based support system of people who care, understand, and can connect each other to resources can make the difference in thriving in college and staying in school and recovery.

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