The Seeds of RECOVERY

A story of being loved back to life

Written by Ashley Wheeler

I left something behind Feb. 4, 2015, on my walk across campus to the Counseling and Mental Health Services department. It was something I had been carrying around for so long that it had become a part of me. At first, I felt completely disoriented and uncertain of who I was. Thankfully, I just kept walking and didn’t look back. It took me time to realize what I had left behind that day and to be grateful that I did.

I left my pride — the belief that I could take on this world alone.

This pride had made it impossible for my heart to grow. Now, new seeds could be planted to create roots for my recovery. I didn’t sow these seeds myself, so at the time, I wasn’t sure what they would become. I just had to trust they would be beautiful if I nurtured them.

I also had to recognize that these seeds relied on light and water that I alone could not provide. This story isn’t about me. It’s about a community coming together to help these seeds blossom — a community that loved me back to life.


One month before I got sober, my supervisor at University of Connecticut saw that I was struggling and encouraged me to schedule an appointment with a therapist. In the days leading up to my last drink, I was completely desperate. Life as I knew it wasn’t working for me anymore. This desperation was the gift that stripped me of my pride and opened my heart to both help and hope.

I don’t remember much from my walk that February morning, other than being emotionally numb to what my life had become. Although I doubted being capable of living in sobriety, my first therapist gave me a small seed of hope. He saw a light within me that I didn’t know was there. As he helped me find this light, my seed of hope grew stronger, and little by little, I started to believe in myself again.


I was introduced to the UConn Recovery Community (URC) that very same day. It was hard for me to even believe that there were students like me on campus. Upon meeting them, with less than 24 hours of sobriety, I instantly felt a sense of belonging and reassurance. This was exactly where I needed to be.

My friends in the URC held me accountable when I was most tempted and taught me how to laugh and have fun in sobriety. I didn’t know this kind of community or support existed — but I’m alive today because of it.

This kind of network and support system works to plant seeds of belonging, which is essential for these individuals to confidently and continuously grow stronger in safe and healthy directions.

Ashley Wheeler at UConn graduation overlooking Horsebarn Hill in May 2015.


In college, I came out to friends and family as a person in the LGBTQ+ community. As a way to protect myself from hurt, I set out on a mission to help society better understand my identity. The mission proved to be too demanding and exhausting after some painful experiences of rejection and misunderstanding. It ultimately left me feeling unworthy of love.

My fight for acceptance catalyzed and contributed to my drinking problem. Eventually, my first coming out lead to my second — as a person in recovery from addiction. I found myself at a crossroads that was perhaps even more difficult. I did not want to identify with two stigmatized communities; one was hard enough.

I did not feel the immediate relief or liberation I hoped to, after being honest about these parts of myself. At 21 years old, I felt my life was totally incongruent with what society expected of me. I dreaded going places where there might be conversations around my new known identities.

These insecurities did not go away until I started doing what I feared most: welcoming these uncomfortable conversations into my life. Each hard conversation taught me to nourish my seed of acceptance of and for myself. The acceptance I desired had to come from within. e.e. cummings said it best: “To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight.” I held this quote close to my heart as I woke up each day with one intention: to accept myself and be the best me I can be.

Not every person I meet will accept or love me, and that is OK. That is not my concern nor responsibility. I have three responsibilities. My first is to continuously accept myself without validation or approval from others. My second is to unconditionally love others the way I was (and still am) loved. Instead of channeling my energy into seeking acceptance, I channel my energy into helping others find their own. My third is to use my experiences to be an advocate, to speak for those who have not yet found recovery and for those who may never have a voice because they are unfortunately lost to this disease.


No longer on a mission to chase approval, I began to uncover my place in this world. Through the process of getting sober, I was filled with an ambition for life again, a desire to find meaning. This last seed was very special, with uniquely strong roots. Someone told me that when it flourished, I was ready to start planting seeds in the hearts of others.

I was graced with the gift of recovery on Feb. 4, 2015. The therapist who gave me a seed of hope on that day inspired me to work toward sitting in his seat, to be that kind of support for someone else one day.

Today, I am a student in the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at Colorado State University (CSU). I found that the journey to loving and accepting myself has created an eagerness within me to help others find the same.


The collegiate recovery world loved me back to life, helping me find hope, belonging, acceptance and purpose. Recovery has not been easy, but it has been the best decision of my life. It has opened my eyes and my heart to many gifts, including these four seeds that carry me through the tough days.

Anne Thompson Heller and Jonathan Beazley, who inspired Ashley Wheeler to pursue a degree in marriage and family therapy. They are both counselors at UConn and co-founded the URC together in 2013. This photo was taken at the 8th National Collegiate Recovery Conference in Washington, D.C.

I had the support I needed to complete my undergraduate education and pursue a graduate degree. I initially had hesitation about moving across the country to attend CSU because the university didn’t have a recovery community. Then it occurred to me that maybe I was called to start that garden and plant new seeds.

With an abundance of support, including a grant from Transforming Youth Recovery, a few of us started laying the foundation for a community, which we named Ram Recovery. Today, about 20 students are engaged, and we are just beginning outreach efforts on campus. We are students from all walks of life doing something incredibly courageous: getting sober on a college campus.

I had a moment of reluctance when I was asked to share my story. It’s never easy to be vulnerable, especially for an audience. Thank you for reading this and for already contributing to a world with less stigma and more love. I can only hope that something about my experience can help you or someone you know. Because we all have more seeds to sow.

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