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Addiction affects all kinds of people, even college students. Now, three people at Indiana University have come together to create a campus recovery community for students who want to beat their addictions and successfully navigate the remainder of their college years in sobriety. WFHB News correspondent Jordan Guskey looked into the group and its mission for today’s WFHB Community report.
When Kristen Martin was a freshman in high school in Gary, Indiana, she and her friends pushed together four tables in Calumet High School’s cafeteria every lunch period.
As high school progressed, their number dwindled. Alcohol and drug abuse resulted in many expelled, jailed or dead.
By her senior year, Martin sat alone.
Like her friends, Martin has suffered from alcohol and drug addiction since she was young, her first drink at age 12. Orange juice and vodka.
Although she’s 25 now and four years sober working in the child welfare field with a bachelor’s degree in social work from IU, the road she’s taken to get to this point has been rocky.
“I know for a fact most people can’t come out of it like I did,” Martin said.
Now Martin has teamed up with people at IU to create a campus recovery community at IU’s Bloomington campus.
Students in Recovery Bloomington will use a community focused approach to aid students attempting to traverse college life in recovery from their addictions to alcohol and, or, drugs.
“I just feel like the sense of community is the thing that empowers us the most,” Martin said. “With each individual that’s in recovery we have our own knowledge, expertise, access to resources and we can just really help each other out in a way that others usually can’t you know? There’s an emotional side to us, we are very … we just need each other.”
The group began with a phone call when IU rising junior Jake Desmond contacted OASIS, IU’s drug and alcohol prevention, information and education center, and got in touch with OASIS Director Jackie Daniels as he inquired about what IU had to offer him as he continued his own recovery.
“I was trying to get a hold of her, because I knew down here on my own I’m not making it. There’s no way I’m going to stay sober,” Desmond said. “But, with a group of students that’s in the same situation as me we’ve got a pretty damn good shot. There’s some 12-step programs down here that are pretty damn good as well. So, I mean, this whole thing kind of got me plugged in there, and once me and Jackie got together things really got rolling.”
Desmond is 21 and two years sober as of July 1st. He was looking to come back to Bloomington for the first time since what he describes as a toxic freshmen year landed him at a rehab facility in Nashville, Tennessee, for 33 days.
He followed that up with two years in Indianapolis as 10 months at a halfway house and classes at IUPUI helped him adjust to living in recovery.
Desmond got Daniels in touch with the organization Transforming Youth Recovery, which subsequently gave Students in Recovery Bloomington a $10,000 grant as seed money to kick start its efforts.
This money will help the group publicize and fund events, which in Martin’s eyes might bring in people who need help who wouldn’t have come otherwise.
“We go out for coffee, we have bonfires. I mean we are just, we’re fun,” Martin said. “We are loud still, we are obnoxious and we laugh and we have fun. It would be cool if they could see people who are in recovery and they’re not much different than the rest of the world.”
OASIS estimates 545 IU students struggle with addiction each year. That’s the size of a small residence hall.
Martin knows what these students are going through, and how a recovery community could help transition them to sobriety.
“This is a disease and with it is a compulsion to use and use and use,” Martin said. “And some people can’t put anything in their body and have control over their use at that point. Like as soon as I started drinking I couldn’t control, my inhibitions were lower, I couldn’t control what else I put in my body I just wanted more. You know? And it’s really hard for people to understand but those in the recovery world, which is lots and lots of people, they completely get it.”
IU has substance abuse groups and counseling through OASIS and its Counseling and Psychological Services. Bloomington does as well.
But Daniels thinks a more specialized community is necessary.
“It’s for students that are in recovery and that are actively working to change their lives but also be successful students while sober, which can present its own challenges for our students,” Daniels said.
Daniels has wanted to create a recovery community since she arrived professionally at IU in 2010.
It’s personal for her.
She’s in recovery, and has been since she delayed her senior year at IU in the early 2000s to receive treatment after an overdose.
But, she didn’t have enough student involvement to create one yet, and wasn’t going to make something just for herself. She worked as a resource liaison for students seeking help until she found students to lead the program, and is now guiding them to create greater change for the IU community.
“I think the more we kind of create a space at IU for talking about recovery, and kind of promoting stigma reduction around addiction and dependence and recovery, then I think it’s just going to become a safer place for students as they figure out what’s going on with them,” Daniels said. “Or, even for students in recovery outside of Bloomington who really want to come to IU, I think they’ll feel welcome too.”
Daniels says OASIS already goes out of its way not to judge students who come in for counseling whether they come through the student ethics office after a policy violation or self-refer. Self-referrals add up to 10% of the students OASIS sees.
According to Martin this type of non-judgmental counseling is the only way to go.
“Working with people with substance abuse, it’s hard, because you can’t really tell them what to do,” she said. “You have to like subtly suggest things and just kind of pray that they will find a solution, or listen, or see that there is another way out. But, it can take a long time.”
Along this line Daniels is asking for a little more leniency from those at IU with disciplinary power.
She says expelling students, effectively casting them aside at their most vulnerable moment, isn’t the right course of action.
Not only does this action negatively affect the student, but Daniels says this takes away the school’s ability to benefit from the student’s talents and tuition money.
It bothers Martin, who sees it as misplaced hubris.
“I personally don’t feel like they care,” Martin said. “I feel like they try to hold up this elitist standard, or this, this doesn’t happen on my campus type thing. Or, hey you know it’s just college experimenting.”
At this moment Desmond thinks the university’s priorities are elsewhere, but believes it will need to get behind the issue eventually.
“If you can sweep overdose deaths underneath the rug, I think they’ve kind of done that for a while,” he said. “There’s been plenty of people who’ve overdosed this past year, killed themselves, and could possibly be due to drug addiction, depression, mental illness as a whole. I think that a lot of those things just get swept under the rug. There’s lots of people that die, students that die every year. It’s something that needs to stop, not to say that we are going to start this CRC and start saving the world, but you know doing the best we can and hopefully the university catches on and gets behind us.”
According to Daniels, IU Dean of Students Harold Goldsmith has been very supportive of the group’s efforts so far. In the next few years Daniels, Desmond and Martin hope Students in Recovery Bloomington will have a broader impact on campus. For now, they’ll settle on helping any student who comes their way.
“I think it’s only a matter of time before we can really start taking off in a way, hopefully saving some lives,” Martin said.
Students in Recovery Bloomington will be at orientation resource fairs this summer in the event incoming students are looking for information about IU’s recovery resources.