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The local bar was Megan’s study room.
During her sophomore year at another university, Megan began stopping by a local bar on weekend mornings to do schoolwork and grab a bite. She had few friends and was having roommate issues. After her schoolwork was done on a Sunday, she’d put away the laptop and drink while watching afternoon football—sometimes staying to watch the night game, where she’d continue drinking.
As Megan began drinking more, she went to class less. After graduating, she took a job back home and kept drinking until a cop pulled her over for a DUI. “I blew a .31 [blood alcohol content], almost four times the legal limit,” she says. She received a plea deal that required her to remain sober for a year, which she did, but she then resumed drinking. A year and a half ago she entered a recovery program.
Now closing in on graduation from the School of Law, Megan participates in the Collegiate Recovery Program (CRP), a year-old group for BU students in recovery from substance use run by Wellness & Prevention at Student Health Services. The program augments the University’s existing substance-related programming; it requires that participants’ full names be withheld in this story.
One of the CRP’s aims is dispelling the isolation and stigma that can beset a person in recovery, and through the program, Megan says, she’s been introduced to “people in similar situations—educated, in school, around my age—to maybe become friends with or at least hang out with every now and then. It was nice to meet some sober people.”
Open to any member of the University community who is in recovery or wants to begin it, the CRP’s goal is to help students stay sober and thrive. The program is clearly meeting a demand: starting out with just 2 attendees, Megan says, it grew to 30 within its first months. The program is currently funded by a three-year grant from the Nevada nonprofit Transforming Youth Recovery.
“The CRP has exceeded my expectations, but in a way, it has simply met them, as I already knew that these students could do remarkable things,” says Leah Barison, the Wellness & Prevention counselor leading the program. “Students have gotten sober, stayed sober, taken time off when needed, and returned to the CRP community.”
As with similar programs at other schools, the BU CRP hopes to help create a designated University residence for those in recovery in the future, Barison says. (Currently, BU designates certain suites within dorms as substance-free.)
Participants attest to the program’s value.
“I moved around a fair amount throughout middle school and high school and was very accustomed to being the new girl; I was never very comfortable with myself,” says a sophomore in the program. That discomfort, as well as living in Cambodia, where legal alcohol restrictions were scant, led to her first drink: “I felt that I had found a solution to the void I had always been trying to fill.”
Arriving at BU, she was hospitalized for dangerous drinking before her freshman year classes even began, and again three weeks later. Barison worked with her, and it took several more months and almost flunking out before she committed to sobriety.
College can be a treacherous path for those in recovery; while some peers support her efforts at sobriety, the student says she also encounters “people who try to convince me that I can drink, that if I just controlled my drinking, I’d be fine.” The CRP is important because “when I was first getting sober freshman year,” she recalls, “I was under the impression that I was alone and didn’t realize there were other students at BU going through the same thing. The CRP brings us together.”
A junior in the CRP recalls starting to drink in eighth grade. In high school, he developed bipolar disorder, and after arriving at BU, became addicted to cocaine. He says living at the University can be hard on those in recovery; students sometimes violate the alcohol ban in freshman dorms, and none of the living-learning and specialty residences is designated for those in recovery, as for other communities.
BU takes pains to point out, through its mandatory first-year alcohol education program and other initiatives, that the perception of all students as Animal House imbibers is myth (more than one-third of Terriers don’t drink at all). But “I didn’t necessarily surround myself with people that were abstaining” before recovery, the junior says.
“I was around people that were responsible drinkers—plenty of them—but they were still drinking and doing recreational drugs. Being around a responsible drinker is still a triggering situation for me.”
A friend told him about the CRP, which offers communal activities with “fellow students who are having the same struggles,” he says, “anything from going to a BU hockey game together to seeing a movie together to having a paint night together to exploring different parts of Boston together.”
Today, he says, “I’ve kept sobriety and maintained sobriety and have definitely an amazing life right now. I have a wonderful relationship with my family, I’m doing great in school, my mental health symptoms are managed and going very well.”
A senior in the CRP says there is a damaging public misconception “that people who struggle with addiction are weak or lack willpower.… Someone who wants help may believe this misconception and then think that they’re not worthy of help.”
She “really fell in love with” the CRP, she says, because it fights that myth. “It’s really helpful to have a network of people who are going through something similar and are all here to support each other.”
For more information about the Collegiate Recovery Program, email Leah Barison at email@example.com.