Many Americans participate in AA meetings nationwide. Courtesy of Flickr.
On Feb. 27, 2011, I was called into the dean of student’s office at a Catholic university in Connecticut. The dean’s office had become a familiar place and my visits had become a bi-weekly affair. Based on the events of the previous six months, I knew that reality was finally about to hit me square in the face. Though I knew I would ultimately face the consequences of my destructive decisions, I did not truly grasp the gravity of my situation until then. After breaking just about every rule in the book throughout my short tenure in college, my luck had run out. I was expelled.
In October of that same year, I received an e-mail followed by a phone call from the same university dean who had expelled me. I was surprised when I returned the call to find out that I was being invited back to my former university and give a lecture to at-risk students. Many of these students were in the exact same position I had been in several years before.
By the time I received the call and e-mail, my life was very different. I was a student at Fordham University and in a 12-step program. My grade point average was a perfect 4.0 and I had become an active student on campus. You may be asking, what happened? What changed?
Here is my story.
I was born into an upper-middle class family in the suburbs. I was one of seven children. My parents were high school sweethearts and married shortly after their college graduations. But my world changed when my father was killed — I was nine years old at the time.
In the years following, I was brought up to think that his death gave me a license to drink and do drugs to escape my feelings. Many others — including my other family members — suffered the same experience and did not become drug addicts or alcoholics. But I did.
At age 12, I had my first drink at a neighbor’s Independence Day party. It never occurred to me that night, or in the nights that followed, that I was headed down a slippery slope to the edge of despair and personal destruction.
Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would possibly grow up and become an alcoholic. Yet, that is exactly what happened. After beer blasts following football games, to having the occasional joint or line, by the time I was 17 years old I was a full-blown alcoholic. I could not imagine doing anything without the crutch of drugs or alcohol. Not only did this cause my family heartache, it also frequently disgusted the very people whose approval I sought — my friends. I quickly learned that vomiting from alcohol on the first date usually does not lead to a second.
By the time I was 19 years old, I had been arrested nine times, nearly kicked out of high school, was successfully kicked out of college, stolen obscene amounts of money (totaling around six figures) and lost friendships and the respect of family members. The situations that most people do not face in their lifetimes had happened before I turned 20. I was expelled from my first college for being intoxicated in public, fighting, destroying property and possessing marijuana and other narcotics. I had accumulated three felony charges — not the imagined path for an upper-middle class prep school boy from the suburbs. For most people, looking at the wreckage of such a past would presumably have been reason to, at the very least, change direction. Not for me. After having been expelled, I went back home relieved that “I did not need to worry anymore.” That is when the wheels really came off. With no classes to attend and no job to show up for, I thought I had permission to party all night, every night.
In March 2011, in order to avoid being sent to jail, I went to rehab. I did not think, nor did anyone else believe, that simply getting in a car and disappearing into the beautiful woods of the Berkshires would make one iota of difference in the horror story that was my life — yet it did.
I arrived at rehab, sullen, sick, hungover and withdrawing from drugs. I thought to myself that as long as everyone leaves me alone, I will be able to tough it out for the next 28 days. But they did not leave me alone, and much to my surprise, I did not need to “tough it out.” In fact, after 28 days, I thought it would be nice to stay for the next 28 years. I went back home and started to do what my counselors had told me would be the only thing that could save me from relapsing into the same old patterns that had brought me to this bottom. I reluctantly agreed to attend 12-step meetings. When I left the meeting after I got home that I knew would come back the next day. And so I did, the day after, and the day after that, and the day after that. Days became weeks, weeks became months and months became years.
Many of you may know me around campus, but few of you know my story. You do not know that I have spent my Wednesday nights in Keating Hall B16 at 8 p.m. for the last two years as Fordham Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
I have not had a drink or a drug in over four years. I leave Fordham shortly with a dream job lined up. Little does the world know that when this ex-con, drug addict and alcoholic puts on his suit and walks into the world he so desperately tried to hide from, it is all because of a simple program for complicated people.