The Next Big Step
Navigating the uncertain waters of life after a CRC
For many, the process of graduating college is an unforgettable experience where one has the opportunity to interview with a number of employers and visit new cities, eagerly awaiting the experience of having their first “big boy” or “big girl” job while developing unseasoned friendships in whichever location they find themselves. In an ideal world, this pattern would be the case for everyone; however, the reality is that this experience can prove difficult and scary for many graduates, and this sentiment can hold especially true for members of Collegiate Recovery Programs (CRPs). It’s not that the students graduating from these programs are any less qualified to move forward from college and procure good jobs, secure positions in graduate programs, or take steps to accomplish whatever their goals may be, but rather they must face the dreadful realization that they will be leaving behind the community that has supported their recovery so strongly throughout their college careers. This transition can consist of having to say goodbye to fellow students, friends, staff members, and mentors with whom they have connected during their time spent within the CRP and at their university, but it will also mean withdrawing from the network that they have built in their 12-Step fellowship. Essentially, it can feel like the very foundation that they have built their success on is being uprooted.
Fortunately, for students who are currently nearing graduation, programs are taking steps to better prepare them for the immense changes that they will face. This past summer, University of Alabama Program Coordinator Susan Bruchis went directly to the source and asked alumni about ways they could help their students. Susan explains, “The discussion is related to the next location—how to connect wherever they go, and our intention is to share the contact information of our graduates in the area, in addition to contacts that could be helpful in a professional and social or recovery sense.” In addition to focusing on the individual, Susan has taken steps to include the topic as a source of discussion for all students involved with the program, regardless if they are seniors or underclassmen. “We have a close relationship with the Career Center at the University of Alabama, and they send an employee each semester to talk about the services available, but we have also incorporated the Myers-Briggs personality inventory into our CRC experience. That opens up an entire discussion of career opportunities and the resources made available through the Career Center. We also have three alumni who have offered to come and facilitate such discussions at our seminars this semester.”
The University of Alabama is not the only program that realizes the importance of preparing its students for these transitions. Teresa Johnston, program director for the CRP at Kennesaw State University, says that they have started to focus on the stressors of graduating. “Our program coordinator discusses petitions for graduation with the students, and the director of the program meets with each graduating student.” Teresa says the meetings with students give them time to discuss fears, challenges, and what their recovery plans will look like after graduation. In addition, Teresa explains that they, too, have found allies in their university’s career services, regarding tips on resume writing, interview skills, and more, and that she thinks the presence of alumni at CRP functions is important for her students to see what life after graduation looks like. She says they hope to have a formal speaking engagement between students and alumni soon.
The scars that once defined us begin to heal, and we stop checking them to see if they are still there. While the efforts to reach individuals as they near graduation is certainly helpful and can provide some stress relief from what lies ahead, Vincent Sanchez, associate director of the Collegiate Recovery Program at Texas Tech University, feels it is crucial to start this discussion the moment a student arrives. Vincent says, “We actually address this from the very beginning of their undergraduate career. We have so many students that come to Texas Tech from around the country who have basically uprooted themselves from their established recovery community. During our orientation, seminars, and even one-on-one meetings, we speak to the fact that this process is difficult. Students are still very instant gratification driven when they get here, and when the strain of transitioning lingers and they don’t see any real increments of relief, it is difficult for them to remain focused and purposeful in meeting their recovery needs. We encourage all students to find a local sponsor, to identify a local home group, to get involved in service with their sponsor and/or their home group, and to make themselves available to meet as many people in recovery as possible. Hanging out at the center or at a local meeting house will help immerse them into the community, which will ease their transition. As they complete their time here and are looking forward towards graduate programs or careers, we remind them of how they transitioned successfully to Texas Tech and how they will again need to go be very purposeful on how they do that to secure their recovery.” Vincent also says that a Senior Seminar is offered for graduating seniors, and the topics include a variety of issues regarding the transitioning process.
Fortunately, for students who are currently enaring graduation, programs are taking steps to better prepare them for the immense changes that they will face. As we grow in recovery, whether it be as students, as people, or as professionals, it can be easy to become comfortable and forget all that we have been through. The scars that once defined us begin to heal, and we stop checking them to see if they are still there. However, it is important to remember that a major life change, such as graduation, leaving what you know behind, moving on to something new and scary can quickly bring back the feelings of anxiety and despair, which we hoped to leave in the past. It is also important to remember that the future of CRPs, as well as the destigmatization of people in recovery, depends as much on what we do while we are students in CRPs as what we do afterward. Preparing students for life after graduation places insurance on the movement we are a part of, to ensure that the messages and lessons learned while being a part of a CRP reach further and wider than our campuses, and extend into the various walks of life our graduates will join. But, it also places insurance on a life, assuring that no graduate will feel alone in his or her process of moving away from what he or she knows. That graduates are not diving into the abyss, but rather following the footsteps of those who have done so successfully before them, gives them an opportunity for this memory not to be looked back on with dread, but rather as it should be—an amazing milestone that once seemed impossible.