The student spotlights are not only an excellent way to depict life among the current StepUp collective to alumni, family and friends. Above that, they also have the potential to show another young person in recovery that someone just like them is thriving in a collegiate environment.
For this month’s Spotlight, I had the opportunity to sit down with Sam G. If you’ve spent much time on the Augsburg campus, or more specifically in OGC, you may have seen Sam around. If you’re a StepUp student, there’s a good chance you know who he is. Not only is he part of leadership team, but he is also the advisor for the men’s flat. Sam was born and raised in the greater Saint Paul metro area, attending Cretin Durham High School and following that with a brief stint at Saint Thomas University. This was all prior to getting sober and enrolling at Augsburg. Now, he is 23 and has been a stellar example of recovery throughout his three years at StepUp and Augsburg University. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to have sat down with him.
“Did you find that there was a lot of use at Cretin? As a Catholic School?”
Yea, I would say there was a pretty big group of us. I guess I don’t really know what it’s like compared to other high schools, but it definitely wasn’t hard to find a group of people to party with.
“How did you do in high school?”
I did okay, I was a pretty smart kid, at least early in high school. But, I gradually started to not do as well over time. I don’t remember what I got my senior year, all I remember is that I didn’t get my diploma when I walked. They gave me an empty frame when I got to the podium. I ended up having to put in 90 hours of work, like cleaning. We didn’t have truancy, so each day of school I skipped, I got two or three hours of detention.
“Do you feel like the decline in grades overtime correlated with your use?”
“How long were you at college originally?”
I was at St. Thomas for two months, that’s all it took me, two months. Some might say failing out after two months is harder than getting a four year degree. It was the one school I applied to. I spent most of my time with my friends from high school in Saint Paul.
“At this point, had your use graduated to a point of total isolation? Or was there still a social aspect to it?”
I had a roommate at school, who I had known for a long time. But I did isolate a lot, both by choice and not by choice. I wouldn’t say I became a strictly isolated drinker, but there were definitely times I drank alone.
“After getting sober, was another crack at college in your initial plans?”
No, it wasn’t. After getting kicked out of college after my first go at it, I had a huge fear based resentment, where I just resented the idea and talked openly about how stupid college was. Mostly because I was just too afraid to fail again.
“How did you first hear about StepUP?”
I did the traditional Plymouth and Fellowship route. Fellowship still did the StepUp tour at the time, but I skipped it, mostly because I still thought I really wasn’t ever going to try to go back to school. I ended up moving from Fellowship into a sober house and stayed there about nine months. Which gave me time to think about what the heck I was doing with my life.
“Where were you working at the time?”
I was working at Schuler Shoes, and I was making pretty good money, but it just started hitting me that I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do. Which was pretty cool because for the first time I felt like what I wanted actually mattered. It’s not just that I can go to college, but I deserve that if I want it.
“That’s gotta be a pretty good feeling right? Going from a place of resentment towards college to a place where you felt like you deserved it?”
It’s like a giddy feeling. I have a twin sister who is super successful, my parents wanted that for me. But I just constantly told them no. It felt good to get to that point where I started to feel like not only I deserved it, but I could actually do it. It was an exciting feeling, making that decision for myself.
“What did you find enticing about StepUp initially?”
I had a really close group of friends over in Saint Paul. But out of my friend group, I was the only one that ended up going to college. To me, at that point, it was either live in a sober house and drive to community college every morning or go to StepUp. I mean the most enticing thing was the idea of being able to live somewhere with other people my age in recovery that wasn’t a sober house. It was such an upgrade over that.
“What does your work ethic look like now, compared to when you were in active addiction?”
The anxieties of the first semester back at college were so real. Like the unwarranted “I’m destined to fail” attitude. But it was really just focusing on whatever I was doing in that moment, class or otherwise. Sort of like a refinement of the “Just for today” mindset. Taking it moment by moment, even if it sucked. Figuring out work and school, figuring out what schedule worked best for me. I was in school most of the week and if I wasn’t doing school I was working. I sort of screwed myself over originally. But as time has gone on, I’ve really figured out how to schedule and manage my time better. Which is something I’d never done before. It makes me more productive to have work in my life. What I realized when I first got here was there’s a lot of extra time in college. Before, I would’ve loved that. But now, I need to fill that time with work to keep me productive.
“What have been some of the “highs” of your recovery and conversely, what have been some of the “lows?” Has StepUp played a role in either of those?”
One year was lit. That was an unreal feeling. Anniversaries are obviously all a big deal, but there was something about that one year that was different. Other than that, I would say, getting relationships with my family back. It’s the little things, in the past I had always been careless, but it felt really good to be able to teach my little brother how to drive when he turned 16. A month ago, I got an accounting internship at a pretty big firm in Minneapolis. I kid you not, when I got that call, I screamed in my apartment. Sometimes I start to get that thought like: “What are we working towards?” Then there’s just those glimpses where I feel like everything has been totally worth it.
Honestly, doing generals in school, you don’t always feel like it’s worth it. So, things like this feel really cool. I met with the Stronmen Center people, because they have a program specifically for StepUp students and something that she said that really stood out to me was: “Make excellence the norm.” Like, we all celebrate when people do something cool, which is important, but what if everybody had that opportunity.
For lows, I’d say, a couple years ago my dad got pretty sick. That was hard. The lows for me are the ones that are unexpected. November of 2017, my first semester here, I felt like I lost my mind. I remember that moth as being a big low for me. I was still in school obviously, and the guys in the flat really helped get me through that.
The role StepUp has played, I have class, I have friends in the building that I do stuff with on a weekly basis. So, if I do feel down, there’s always people to drag me out and pick me back up.
“Where are you most likely to be seen off campus?”
Depends on the time of year, in the summer I play a lot of softball and travel for that. I like to play soccer, I like to skate. All things that I’ve got back into over the course of my sobriety. I like to be active.
“Finally, have these activities helped give you a better sense of self?”
A hundred percent, I’ve simplified my life to an extent. What I perceive as other people’s expectations of me don’t really matter to me anymore. The amount I’ve aged from 21 to 23 I feel like is so much more than from 10 to 21. I used to like going out dancing with my friends at 11 pm, but now my back hurts, ya know? My life is busy today, but I have a better sense of my priorities and what’s important to me.