A Conversation: Graduate School and Recovery
Two UGA graduate students “sat down” with me for a conversation around their personal journeys. They offered their wisdom and wit in navigating life as graduate students and as people in recovery.
Our hope is that what they share can resonate, encourage, challenge, and educate our UGA community around the experience of seeking success and growth, while holding tight to their convictions and choices of sobriety.
(They are featured as Student A and Student B to respect their desire for anonymity.)
1. How has the stigma surrounding substance use disorder and addiction impacted your recovery?
Student A: While I did not want to admit I was an alcoholic, it was not due to the stigma. My denial was stemming from the desire to continue drinking.
If people wish to judge my recovery that is their own choice. I know what my life was like before. If they did, they would be grateful just like me. The roads are a safer place now.
Student B: Interestingly, I was exposed to different forms of recovery in my mid-teens and quickly identified as an addict, preventing me from experiencing self-inflicted shame of my condition.
This stigma surrounding substance use disorder and addiction has encouraged me to be very selective in disclosing my recovery to anyone outside of the recovery community. While initially this provided me with a sensation similar to “sneaking around,” as time progressed that sensation has been reduced and been replaced with the emergence of a moderate level of modesty.
It has been revealed to me that the “devastating” stigma that I perceive around substance use disorder and addiction is exaggerated by my belief systems – primarily old ideas of self-hatred. This is not to say that there is no stigma surrounding substance use disorder and addiction, but I have found that folks are much more welcoming, accepting, and loving of my condition than I initially give them credit for.
2. Are there ever occasions at UGA that you feel like you need to or want to disclose that you’re a person in recovery?
Student A: Outside of direct questioning, I disclose if I think it could lead to any kind of service opportunity.
Student B: In my first couple years of sobriety, I perceived that it was absolutely necessary that I do not disclose I am in recovery due to a number of reasons: colleagues thinking of me as unreliable, being judged for having “lack of control,” my disease state not being compatible with my field of study, and so on. As time has continued, I believe these reasons for not disclosing my condition were old ideas based on self-centered fear, particularly fear of not being taken seriously enough.
I am much more comfortable disclosing to someone who explicitly asks if I am an addict or alcoholic; however, no one at the University of Georgia who is not a self-identified addict or alcoholic has ever asked.
3. What have been some of the specific challenges (or benefits) to being a college student in recovery? And what has being a person in recovery looked like in your graduate school life?
Student A: While recovery is collaborative, it promotes being accountable both to oneself and to one’s commitments. I was honestly, incredibly shocked by how much easier going to class made college.
A benefit to being a student for entering recovery is the flexibility of schedule. I was able to attend almost any recovery function I wanted as long as it did not interfere with class time.
A challenge I thought would be there would be a lack of meaningful friendships, but it turned out Athens has a vibrant community of young people at various stages in their recovery.
As a graduate student and now person in long term recovery, it has become a multi-faceted identity. Recovery is still my biggest priority and luckily has become a core component of my life which has allowed it to remain strong even with the lack of flexibility that undergraduate studies offered.
Student B: Some components of recovery that have greatly benefited my graduate school career is the inherent necessity for significant work on mental health to stay sober. It is very clear from my daily experience at the University of Georgia that many graduate students do not prioritize mental (as well as physical) health above academics, leading to acute and persisting mental disorders. I was fortunate to simultaneously begin graduate school and recovery, resulting in the majority of rudimental recovery-related tools permeating my graduate school experience from the start.
Some of the specific challenges that have come up include some predictable obstacles: the perception of “missing out” on parties that include heavy substance use, limitations in networking for career opportunities, and having an identity of a recovering addict or alcoholic that the majority of college students do not identify with.
I utilize my time in career-related networking opportunities much more intentionally and have found that as long as I have a purpose for being there (i.e. networking and fellowshipping), I can happily attend a pub crawl with colleagues.
There are many benefits to being a college student in recovery including being very effective and deliberate in my academic work! This has aided substantially in preparing myself for an occupation post-graduate school.
4. What has sustained or motivated you to continue in your recovery process?
Student A: Since entering recovery I got my license back, been a dog owner for 3 years, graduated with two degrees, made many friendships, stopped getting drug tested by the state of Georgia, found a girlfriend who became my fiancé, who became my wife, become a homeowner, entered a graduate program for a field I am passionate about. However, all of that is nothing compared to the freedom of spirit I have experienced internally.
Today I can genuinely say I love myself, and that love is contingent on nothing. The anxiety and depression I once experienced are phantom memories and their return is easily handled.
Student B: My initial and persisting underlying motivation for continuing in the recovery process is simple: if I carry on drinking or using, it will kill me; however, I fortunately do not wake up with the impending sensation of death on a regular basis now. My experience has been that I sold myself short in thinking that sobriety is enough. That is, my life is much more than just fighting to stay sober every day.
There is substantial pleasure and joy as well as sadness and grief. Reoccurring success and regular failure. Family, friends, work, travel, and so on. That is: a life that has increasing fulfillment and purpose. Recovery has given me more than a sufficient substitute for substances, and so I do not regularly consider, “what is my sustained motivation for living sober today?”
5. What advice would you give to someone who is worried about a friend or family member’s substance use?
Have love and tolerance be your guideposts. This does not necessarily mean enabling or even remaining alongside the other’s substance use. Find what action feels right for you that is led by those principles. If loved ones could fix substance use then treatment centers would be underpopulated.
6. What advice would you give someone who is questioning/worried about their own substance use?
Student A: If someone is questioning their own use, then I would suggest reaching out to the Collegiate Recovery Community (or a professional or 12-step group if a member of the community at large). I have a personal belief that most normal drinkers/users do not question their habits; however, the CRC was supportive while simultaneously honest with me. The problem with me diagnosing myself by myself is that I was able to easily downplay my concerns when I wanted to drink.
7. How has your recovery influenced your career choice/field of study?
Student B: I entered my field of study as a result of significant influence from my active alcoholism and addiction. I began recovery and graduate school simultaneously, resulting in many predictable challenges and barriers. Interestingly, as my graduate school career progressed, my studies have become increasingly less influenced by my recovery. This unexpected occurrence has resulted in a burgeoning of my academic and occupational interests. It is notable that my program of recovery demands open-mindedness as well as the abandoning of old ideas. I would like to think that these two new belief systems have facilitated my shift away from my initial field of study, resulting in a plethora of new career opportunities.
8. What’s one thing you want folks to better understand about recovery?
Student A: Recovery is more than just abstinence, it’s a lifestyle. Out of my peers that only stop drinking or using, a vast majority return to use.
What the abstinence does is create a space where one can grow and become a more whole person. I have experienced incalculable growth over the past 4 years. While I can never know if I would have experienced the same level of growth without recovery being a central focus, I am now “wise” enough to know not to fix what is currently working fabulously.
Student B: As the past decade has seen a significant enhancement of the public perceiving and appreciating that addiction is a physiological disease that manifests in the addict or alcoholic, I feel moved to encourage folks to consider my experience: the disease of addiction or alcoholism manifests not only in the addict or alcoholic, but also within the loved ones of the addict or alcoholic. I have found through my experience in recovery that my choices during active alcoholism and addiction resulted in persisting behavioral shifts in my family and loved ones. Moreover, it has been revealed to me that my behavior, within and outside of active addiction, was shaped by the habits of alcoholic family members. This is to say that the process of recovery is a life-long journey that involves not only the person recovering from a particular substance, but also the folks that are intimately associated with the person in recovery.
I have fortunately been introduced to a fellowship that has guided me through the process of recovering from alcohol and other substances as well as another fellowship that has aided me in facing alcoholism and addiction as a family disease, but not all have been afforded this luxury. I presently encourage my family and other loved ones to seek out this fellowship that works with folks to understand how alcoholism and addiction manifests within the family.
For more information on the Collegiate Recovery Community, or recovery in general, please contact the CRC Program Manager, Brittany Mauzy, at email@example.com.
Looking for Support?
The University of Georgia offers a Collegiate Recovery Community for students who have made a commitment to lead sober, healthy lives. The Collegiate Recovery Community provides an environment where students recovering from addiction can find peer support as well as other recovery support services while navigating their own college experience. Location: Room 216 of Memorial Hall right next to Sanford Stadium. Contact us at: 706-542-0285 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by: Brittany Mauzy, Program Manager for the Collegiate Recovery Community