Mississippi State University
Dreaming with Eyes Wide Open
Nineteen years old. Handcuffed to a hospital bed. A police officer looms over me while a nurse takes samples of my blood. In the apex of a psychotic break from reality. Jittering from the absence of the constant flow of drugs that my body had become so accustomed to. My recently adopted puppy, Asa—lost. Cold and alone, wandering in the January night air. Like a plume of smoke, she whisped away from me hours earlier as I sloshed my way through a panicked manic drive from Tuscaloosa to Atlanta. These were the facts of my life.
They say you hit bottom when you stop digging. January 26, 2011, is the day that I was finally forced to put down the shovel and try a new way of life. Besides, it wasn’t like I was knocking it out of the park by any stretch of the imagination. In only three years of drinking and using, I had completely run my life into the ground. Genetics loaded the gun and environment pulled the trigger. Utter chaos. Shambles.
It was impossible to see any kind of light at the bottom of the hole that I had so effectively dug for myself. There was no hope in my life. Every night I went to bed, elated at the possibility that I might not wake up. Each morning I rose, disappointed that I woke up and found myself still alive. I didn’t have the words for it at the time, but, during my using, I didn’t have the will to live anymore.
I couldn’t handle life, but, more importantly, I couldn’t handle how much I hated myself.
The drugs and the alcohol took the pain away, if only momentarily. It was the only solution I had to fill the gaping pit within myself. Emotionally and spiritually, I was dead. The drugs and alcohol eventually brought on another kind of pain. In the beginning, it was all fun and games, a way to relate with my peers, a way to celebrate, and a way to escape. But in no time, it left my family and friends wondering why I kept getting arrested, why I kept wrecking cars, why I kept making my mother cry, why I kept fighting with everyone and everything. In short, I was tired of ruining my life and the lives of those around me.
So by no doing of my own, I made a new beginning. I took a medical withdrawal from the University of Alabama and started going to rehab. What a nice little vacation. I sat in group fighting with counselors, explaining that I didn’t have a drug problem, and that I wasn’t crazy. Internally, I mainly mourned the loss of my dog. The thought of her suffering as a stray in the Georgia countryside broke my heart over and over again like a hammer shattering cloth-covered, delicate glass day in and day out.
I started going to anonymous meetings. I found solace and peace in them; finally these people spoke my language. I found a sponsor, immersed myself in the literature, and began working the steps. I found relief. It was like I could finally breathe again.
Fast-forward six months: I have worked the Twelve Steps in their entirety, developed a working knowledge of the program, bashed through some of my darker demons with a fantastic therapist, have let the psychotic dribbling thoughts subside, and have registered for fall classes at Alabama. Some people tell me I shouldn’t go back. Some people tell me I should. At the end of the day, I know my heart is in Tuscaloosa, so I return not knowing what to expect.
I would be lying if I told you that my first year back in school was sunshine and butterflies. I struggled with depression, the pain of losing loved ones, the loss of my license, and the lack of a community my age in Tuscaloosa. But I stayed clean and sober through the love and grace of a higher power of my own understanding. I couldn’t believe it. I would tell people I have “x” amount of time, and they would be amazed. Forthrightly, so was I.
The next summer in 2012, I met someone who told me I should meet Greg Snodgrass and check out the Collegiate Recovery Community (CRC).
I went to a dinner at Johnny Maxwell’s house, and I met people my age in recovery who were in school at Alabama. To be frank, I wasn’t all too keen on it. I was pretty dedicated to my anonymous fellowship, and I didn’t want anything to interfere with my recovery. But I decided to join anyway. I figured, “why not?” and they gave me a scholarship for being in recovery. “How bad could it be?” I asked myself.
Well, it turned out being the opposite of what I originally had thought. Through the CRC at Alabama, I connected with people my age and discovered a fellowship full of camaraderie, understanding, and joy. I had the opportunity to be a part of the CRC service organization, Alabama Students About Service. I was set up with internships in the recovery world. I made connections all over the country. I went on retreats and met other recovering students from other universities. I made lifelong friends. Plus, who can forget to mention the free coffee, free printing, and the laughter I found every time I went up to the CRC? Ultimately, it landed me the job that I am so blessed with today.
April 2015. I stand on Mississippi State’s campus, my stomach turning in knots. My boss-to-be pulls up in a golf cart as the Chapel of Memories begins to chime. It’s like something out of a movie. I go from one interview to the next dressed up in a three-piece suit trying my best to sound intelligent while also pulling off an air of charisma. The entire time I am thinking, “Y’all don’t know who I am. I am a drug addict and alcoholic.”
May 2015. Utter disbelief. I walk across the stage with tears in my eyes as I receive my second diploma from the University of Alabama. “I shouldn’t be here, I shouldn’t be here,” rings over and over in my head. The gratitude in my heart is almost too much to handle. It pours over and out while my friends and family (the same ones who used to worry sick about me in my addiction) surround me, and I am sure that they can tell this is one of the happiest moments of my life.
July 2015. I have started my career at Mississippi State University as the Program Coordinator of the Collegiate Recovery Community. Isn’t it funny how I am now in charge of the CRC at Mississippi State, the same kind of program that I was so leery of at Alabama only a few years ago? It’s exceedingly difficult to wrap my mind around. But then again, that has been the case with my entire spiritual life. One unbelievable, non-foreseeable blessing after another shows up in my life and transforms it for the better.
In my humble opinion, Mississippi State has all of the resources that you could ask of a comprehensive collegiate recovery support program , but that’s not what makes it for me. What makes it for me is the fellowship that we have. I am constantly telling people that we are like a family. Slightly dysfunctional? Maybe. Full of light and love? Absolutely.
And how have I forgotten to mention this entire time that the dog I so loved and lost was found? Over the course of two-and-a-half weeks after my sobriety date, Asa walked 120 miles from west Georgia to north Georgia, completely unharmed. The kicker? I got her back on Valentine’s Day. Needless to say she is the main source of love and companionship in my life today.
Twenty-four-years-old. I sit on a boardwalk overlooking the beautiful beaches of Navarre, FL.
Asa is sitting beside me, looking out attentively. I scratch her head and ruffle her ears. We listen to Rest in Natural Great Peace by Nyoshul Khenpo Rinpoche while the sun sets over a picturesque portrait of waves crashing in and out. I am happily employed, every day waking up to my dream job. I am surrounded by different circles of anonymous fellowships that love and care for me. My family and friends who I used to disappoint so frequently are back in my life. More or less, I am dreaming with my eyes wide open. These are the facts of my life.
Blake Schneider is the Program Coordinator of the Collegiate Recovery Community at Mississippi State University. He received his Master’s in Communication Studies from the University of Alabama, with an emphasis in organizational communication. His goals include providing a true college experience to students of the CRC and recruiting new members from all walks of life. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (662) 325-3192.