In September of 2008, right after school started, my mom called and told me that my sister had died of an overdose. My sister and I were best friends—we talked every day, even though she was on drugs and I was sober. I felt paralyzed and didn’t know what to do at that moment, so I got on my knees and prayed. All those years I hadn’t really known what I was praying to, but I went through the motions anyway. Somehow at this point, God took over and guided me for the next few weeks. I went to homes of people who loved and supported me. They helped me get back into shape, so I could go home to Atlanta and support my family.
I went back to Southern Miss, but I knew it was time to move on and be back with my family in Atlanta. At four years clean, I moved back to my home and started at Kennesaw State University. I was in a meeting and somebody said to me, “Do you know Kennesaw State has a CRC?” I had no idea what that was. Then he gave me Teresa Johnston’s number. Teresa is one of the greatest and most inspiring people I’ve ever met. She totally sold me on the Collegiate Recovery Community program. There were only a few students in it. Suddenly my recovery and my college life, which had always been separate tracks, became one thing, and it was really exciting. AA had given me all these tools that worked in my education: gratitude, the ability to speak in front of other people, and the willingness to stay in action even when things got hard. With some of the guys from the CRC, I started playing hockey, which I hadn’t done in about seven years. Because my studies and my recovery were now integrated, I truly had a college experience.
I was asked to go out to Texas Tech for a conference and talk on a panel about my experience as a student in recovery. Now, I had never heard of Texas Tech’s Center for The Study of Addiction and Recovery, or Lubbock, Texas, for that matter. But I was blown away. Tears were brought to my eyes; I was and still am amazed. I found real opportunities for people like me to get back on track and get educated. Then I got to go to The Ranch at Dove Tree, which hosted a dinner where I learned more about how the program there works with young adults who were in my exact situation and how they help their clients become students. I had never known about that before or heard about any program that did that. At the end of that year, I interned at CNN and realized that corporate America wasn’t the best outlet for what I wanted to accomplish, the goal to feel a greater purpose and be able to impact people in the work I do. Dove Tree reached out to me and inspired me to come on board. I went back and met the owner, director, and the woman who is currently my boss, and they offered me a job. I was immediately inspired; this felt like a family—an immediate connection among the staff. I moved to Albuquerque, N.M., the day after I graduated from college. I remember driving cross-country and thinking how amazing it was, how much my life had completely changed.