A Strange Alliance

black metal folding chair photo

We take for granted the alliance between the present day treatment establishment and the grassroots, barely organized twelve step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, but in fact their cooperation is a bit more perplexing than it may seem at first glance. Compared to modern medical and psychological science, the twelve steps seems antiquated. The language of the Alcoholics Anonymous text is sentimental and romantic when compared to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual’s or APA’s description of substance dependence. I would like to explore some of these contradictions, and the ways they might play out in the future. Can a philosophy centered on transcendence and “fourth dimensions of existence” play nice with treatments grounded in the material world?

The popular image of substance use recovery is the circle of metal folding chairs in a musty church basement. The chairs are filled with sympathetic (if slightly pathetic) characters who say “Hi I’m Jane, and I am an alcoholic/addict”, and everyone responds “Hi Jane”. Media representations will sometimes include the concept of salvation from the given vice through belief in a higher power, while some may lean toward a general group therapy model. This image is borrowed from Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA, and the twelve steps in general, is by far the most common approach to treating alcoholism and addiction. It is an abstinence model, and is founded on the principles of a Christian fraternity called the Oxford Group. Founded in the 1930’s, AA is an early sort of “moral psychology”, which attracted the interest of people like Carl Jung. The description of what chemical dependency is in the Alcoholics Anonymous text, is beyond simply a physical or mental illness. Its authors describe what they call a “spiritual malady”. Generally, they see alcoholism’s symptoms as so far reaching and totally consuming, that only quasi-religious terminology can accurately conceptualize it. The book raises some strange paradoxes. They assert that alcoholism is not a moral failing- but a disease; paradoxically, alcoholism can only be cured by a complete moral renovation. It is not a moral pathology to start with, but its treatment is moral in nature. The idea of alcoholism being a disease was very progressive for its time.

Compelling evidence exists that spirituality is an important contributor to success in recovery, and so far, no competing treatment has come anywhere close to achieving the institutional credibility that the 12 steps have. I often wonder about whether this credibility is based on merit and treatment efficacy, or historical inertia and lack of worthy competition. To be fully transparent, my own recovery from addiction has been primarily through the twelve steps, and I generally have a high opinion of them.

There is a peculiar contradiction that becomes apparent when integrating modern mental health care techniques and the twelve steps. Modern mental health care relies mostly on strict diagnostic criteria, with evidence based treatments based on that diagnosis. Often times the treatments are multi-faceted: psychological, pharmacological, spiritual, and physiological. You may receive a diagnosis for major depressive disorder based on some agreed-upon criteria, and be recommended cognitive behavioral therapy, psychiatric medication, mindfulness practice and regular exercise- all as part of a holistic treatment plan. The twelve steps, as far as I can tell, fall almost exclusively under the spiritual category (with some prescriptive behaviors that are similar to therapy techniques, e.g., the fourth step). The stated goal of twelve step programs is to facilitate a spiritual awakening through reliance on a higher power that will relieve you of the selfishness that would inevitably return you to your vice.

Furthermore, many twelve step group members see behaviors and mental states that some might consider co-morbid mental health issues as just additional symptoms of alcoholism and addiction (as in, unfinished step work). I do not mean to misrepresent AA as such, the actual Big Book of AA fully recognizes the importance of mental health care:

“though God has wrought miracles among us, we should never belittle a good doctor or psychiatrist.” (Alcoholics Anonymous 4th edition, p.133)

But often times the unorganized content of AA or other 12 step meetings does not reflect this. Therese J. Borchard discusses this in her article Competing Models: When Mental Health Recovery Clashes with Twelve-Step Programs. She quotes from her book Beyond Blue

“[Because] complaining is considered whining to most twelve-steppers — “poor me, poor me, pour me a drink” — but as a smart disclosure of symptoms to mental-health professionals. Because many recovering alcoholics and drug addicts are not educated about mental illness, a lot of bad advice is doled out at meetings and/or social hours.”

I wouldn’t paint with such a broad brush as “most twelve steppers”, but I am familiar with the scenario. To its credit, AA has released pamphlets making their stance on mental health very clear, and dissuades AA members from dishing out unqualified medical advice. The APA defines addiction as “a maladaptive pattern of substance use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress”, and goes on to describe the ways in which that may manifest itself. Parts of the AA criteria for an alcoholic aligns neatly with this, but in the process of describing its treatment, the definition takes on a different shape. Through describing how alcoholism ought to be dealt with, the malady is defined as one that encompasses the whole being, which is ultimately impervious to medical interventions or management by self-will.

If it isn’t apparent from the preceding paragraph, the contradiction is this: modern mental healthcare is almost entirely secular, holistic and individualized, but when it comes to addiction, its best tool is an almost 80 year old spiritual movement that purports itself to be the only effective solution for alcoholism and addiction. This creates a strange situation where two entities working as partners have fundamentally different definitions of the problem they are trying to solve. To the world of medical science, addiction is basically a pathology of our reward circuitry- something makes us feel good and we want to repeat it. For some people this becomes so powerful and self-perpetuating that their personality and behavior changes to facilitate further use. So it follows that treatment for addiction will be based on breaking cognitive patterns, forming new habits, and treating the mental and physical damage from the use. This, on the surface at least, seems to be quite a departure from the Alcoholics Anonymous description of alcoholism. I say on the surface because it is possible to extract a blueprint for cognitive restructuring from the steps, but I would argue that many twelve step group members would object to that and consider it reductionist (although not in those words). AA’s description seems to be more akin to the idea of original sin than a medical diagnosis. Basically, we alcoholics are spiritually bankrupt- broken to our very core. Our problem is not necessarily an addiction to alcohol, but an addiction to ourselves. We are self-seeking, afraid and self-pitying- this is the true cause of the destruction in our lives, and alcohol (or drug) abuse is but a symptom of our selfishness. If you are a dogmatic believer in that definition, the idea of therapy, yoga and Prozac being a suitable solution seems insane (a sentiment often repeated in meetings).

If you are a dogmatic believer in that definition, the idea of therapy, yoga and Prozac being a suitable solution seems insane

And maybe it is insane. The reason the text of Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve step recovery groups resonates with its afflicted readers so well is because the subjective experience of addiction is perhaps best described by the almost mythological language used in the Big Book. It really does feel like a battle between good and evil, perhaps even like being possessed (although the closest the Big Book comes to that specific comparison is the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde). It would be easy to dismiss the archaic and somewhat romantic language used by the creators of the twelve steps if it turned out that the newer, entirely secular treatments, were significantly more effective. But that is not an obvious conclusion from the available research (Moos, R., & Timko, C., 2008).  Adherence to twelve step ideology and attendance to twelve step meetings has been shown to predict future abstinence. So have other treatments, but not so much more effectively that it would render the twelve steps obsolete.

So what does the future hold? Will new evidence based treatments eclipse the twelve steps and usher in a new era of addiction science? Perhaps new research will shine a light on just how complicated addiction is, in a way that would substantiate some of the claims made by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous that are currently light on material evidence. Maybe we can better articulate how the twelve steps work so that less people are immediately scared away by its dated religious vocabulary (and sexist content, such as the chapter To Wives). As it stands, the twelve steps and the fellowships around them seem to be a form of embodied knowledge, shared through action. I do not consider it sacrilege to criticize the program that helped save my life, in fact I believe criticism of this sort prunes away the dead branches of my recovery and helps me better communicate these principles to others. In fact, there are enumerated traditions in multiple twelve step fellowships that would suggest being too cozy with the treatment industry is to their detriment.  Although the alliance between the twelve steps and current psychological practice may seem a bit “duct taped together”, it may very well be the seed of the next wave of addiction treatment.

-Anthony Simons

 

Reference List

Alcoholics Anonymous. (2001). Alcoholics Anonymous, 4th Edition. New York: A.A. World Services

Borchard, T. (2010). Competing Models: When Mental Health Recovery Clashes with Twelve-Step Programs. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 8, 2017, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2010/04/18/competing-models-when-mental-health-recovery-clashes-with-twelve-step-programs/

Moos, R., & Timko, C. (2008). Outcome research on twelve-step and other self-help programs. In M. Galanter, & H. D. Kleber (Eds.), Textbook of substance abuse treatment (4th ed. Pp. 511-521). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.

Graduation 2017

Banner graphic of multicolored sand

 

April 28th 2017 was the StepUP graduation celebration. Thirty students graduated the StepUP program this year, seventeen of which graduated Augsburg College. The event was opened up by Vice President of Student Affairs Ann Garvey, who gave us a wonderful introduction to the students who are moving on. She reflected: “And of course, while we planned on you arriving at this point: from using, to treatment, to recovery, to Augsburg, to graduation- it’s a little sad to see some of the faces out there.” Indeed it is, but as she later mentions, StepUP has a constantly growing network of alumni. Our spirit of service and community will keep graduated students in contact for years to come. After Ann finished her introduction, we heard from StepUP Director Patrice Salmeri.


Patrice pouring ceremonial sand

Patrice introduced the staff, and guided the parents of the graduates through a “trip down memory lane”. She asked them to remember their son or daughter as just a kindergartner, and then an elementary school student- full of potential. To remember how things started to change in junior high or middle school, when they discovered a new friend in drugs and alcohol. How a distance started to grow between themselves and their child. The purpose of this reflection was to introduce a powerful idea: the child in front of them now is the same child they saw back in kindergarten- a child they once feared was gone forever. Patrice asked the students to relish in who they had become, the family they had become through conquering their fears, the shared grief, and their individual accomplishments. Most recovering people will acknowledge that humility is essential in facing the challenge of continued abstinence and healing. That day some pride was well deserved and appropriate.

We then heard from the first student speaker of the night, Alex A. Alex shared his story as a person in recovery and his unsuccessful attempts at school before finding sobriety. He eventually found his way to StepUP from some of our outreach to treatment centers. Despite being older than most of the other students on campus, he dealt with many of the same struggles. He wanted to make friends, be liked, and to succeed academically. For Alex, StepUP was the best possible solution. Here was a program with dozens of other students going through the exact same thing. The community he entered was incredibly welcoming, “there was always something going on” he said, and he was always included. He distinctly remembers a serendipitous moment where he realized a new friend of his in StepUP was the son of his arresting officer back when he was using.  “I knew then I was in the right place” he said with good humor. Since that first orientation, Alex has faced all of the fears he entered StepUP with through the help of this community:

“StepUP- it’s changed my life. It’s changed the person I am.”

Photo of Alex A

During the first medallion ceremony, Patrice gave a brief introduction to some current and graduated StepUP students that are now graduating Augsburg College. After telling us the degree they earned, and honors they received, she presented them with a beautiful medallion to commemorate their graduation from the StepUP program. Later in the program, each StepUP counselor brought the students they had been working with on stage and did the same.

Photo of StepUP Graduation Medallions


The Graduates

(asterisk denotes Augsburg graduation)

Alex A Jordan B*
Michael B* James B*
Judd B* Audrey C*
Ian C* Taylor D
Kate E Blake H*
Isaac H* Maggie H*
Madeleine H Farris H
Connor J Alex J
Christian J* Matthew J
Connie K Matt K
Jordan L Sara M*
Collins N Neil O*
Matthew R* Adam S
Nicholas S * Ricky T*
Payton T Devin W*

The second student speaker of the celebration was Audrey C, both a StepUP and an Augsburg graduate. She reminisced about the one-trip move she made into Oren Gateway center, with the help of another StepUP graduate- Sara M. She remembered studying late night in coffee shops and diners. Audrey reflected on the challenges she faced when she started off her college career saying “yes” to everything, favors, jobs, and people. Augsburg and StepUP taught her how to take healthy risks and be engaged, but a balance was necessary, and boundaries needed to be set. That’s how Audrey decided that the three most important words of her college experience were “Yes, No, And”.  Audrey was the editor of the  Augsburg newspaper The Echo for two years, and designed the annual art and literary magazine Murphy Square for another two years. Artistic expression and freedom was a significant shaping force in Audrey’s four years. Her peers and counselors taught her how to love others unconditionally, and without reservation. Audrey says:

“Today I say no to compromise, I say no to settling for the comfortable, I say no to work for experience, I say no to fear and dishonesty, I say no to giving up, self-doubt, and insecurity, I say no to the societal message that I couldn’t do this because I am a first generation college student and a woman, I say no to the chaotic head-space of living in the past and the future at the same time.”

 


Photo of Audrey C. Speaking at the Podium


Today Audrey says yes to all the challenges she can handle, but no more than that. She explained how she adopted a legacy of values from StepUP, and hopes to leave a piece of her own: “When I came to StepUP I tried to be everything that I was not. So thank you for helping me find out who I am”.

After Kristin Wilcox presented her students with their medallions, the audience enjoyed a slideshow of the graduating student’s journey through StepUP. After all the sighs and chuckles from the photos captured over the years, Shane Jensen brought up his students for their medallion ceremony.

Blake Halvorson was the third and last student speaker of the night. Blake charmed the audience with his usual combination of dry humor and genuine disposition when he described his first attempt at college: “I lasted quite a while- about a semester. I picked up some credits there, as well as a drug habit”. He told us about how he went through cycles of attempting school, but not quite making it. Blake’s poignant description of how we abandon our pre-using plans for our futures after repeatedly failing at smaller and smaller commitments exemplified the strength of a program like StepUP. It can turn someone absolutely devoid of hope, like Blake was, into someone with more prospects than they can count, like Blake does. When he first started at StepUP, he dove into service and academics without reservation. Working in the StepUP office quickly got him connected with the other students. Blake speaks on his transformation:

“I’ve been able to develop into the man that, as a kid, I wanted to be- that my family knew I could be.”


Photo of Patrice introducing Blake H. to the stage


After giving a brief acknowledgment to all of the people that helped him succeed, we moved on to the medallion ceremony for Thenedra Root’s students.

The last of the evenings programming was the sand ceremony. For the past nine years, StepUP graduates have been pouring colored sand into a glass cylinder. Why the sand ceremony? Patrice explains: “As I pour the sand- and you can see the sand that’s been poured over the past nine years- you can’t separate grains of sand from one another. Just as you can never separate yourselves from the experiences you have here. The sand will stay forever.” She adds “You are adding to so many groups of students who have gone before you, the legacy piece. It’s about the community of people coming together, and holding a space for each other. It’s about how StepUP will always be a space for you. And you can never separate yourself from that.” Each student then poured their little portion of yellow and purple sand (this year’s StepUP colors).


Photo of glass cylinder full of multi-colored sand


Patrice gave some closing remarks to wrap up the graduation event. She told us StepUP is 20 years old, and has served exactly 800 students so far, which definitely earned its hearty round of applause. Patrice turned the focus on the students, and spoke about how they have impacted her life. Through the ripples of interactions with the hundreds of students over the years, she could not possibly avoid being greatly affected. What moves the students, moves her. Through teary eyes, she recalled how impressive it is that Augsburg had the forethought to start this tiny pilot program, when other schools said “we don’t wasn’t those students on our campus”. Looking back, Patrice says confidently “Well you are those students, and I would take you anywhere with me”. Near the end of her remarks, she thanked the alumni for providing support and hope for current students, and shared how excited she was to be working with alumni across the country as part of her new position as Executive Director for Recovery Advancement. Patrice commended the StepUP staff for taking on the noble task of creating a space for people who really needed it. She left the students with the following: “Don’t let the noise of others opinions drown out your own inner voice. You have found your voices here. Most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and your intuition, and as Ian would say- your logic. Because somewhere, inside your heart, intuition and logic- they somehow already know who you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”


Congratulations to the thirty students who graduated, and thank you for the legacy you left behind.

Photography by Neil King

Mission Manor with New Students

Moving to a new school can be overwhelming, especially if it is your first college experience. For students in recovery, this stressful transition involves more dimensions than just “moving away from home”. Many of us had only been living outside of a structured institution for a short time. We had daunting financial difficulties that made us break a sweat when we saw the loans we would be taking out. Perhaps most importantly, most of us have only known school by its frequent associate: failure. When I moved into StepUP, I had been living in a sober house for almost a year and a half. I had gotten used to working, budgeting and cooking my own meals, but was still dealing with emotional and material obstacles that existed as a consequence of my using. I had barely graduated high school, my first attempt at college had yielded me three credits over an entire year, and I had delinquent loans from that kept me from taking out new loans for Augsburg.

Having a mentor when I moved in was immensely calming. In my case, I already knew my mentor, he was one of my best friends. He had already successfully overcome many of the obstacles and fears I had regarding my new college career. I needed to know what the heck a “flex point” was, how many hours I could manage to work during the semester, and how to nurture a social life in StepUP and the greater Augsburg campus. Along with things they would never cover in orientation, like which professors I ought to seek out. Now, with my first year in StepUP behind me, I joined the team of volunteers to mentor new incoming students for 2017. What better way for us to get to know each other, than to be locked in a room together?

Photo of the Countdown Team
“Countdown” team

StepUP welcomed 13 new students on Friday with an escape room outing at Mission Manor in Northeast Minneapolis. The new students, along with us student mentors, were locked in haunted asylums, dusty mansions and ticking time bomb scenarios, with only our wits to get us out. We had escape room rookies and experts alike. Everyone escaped successfully within the one-hour time frame. We have a bright group of problem solvers this year in StepUP.  I was in the group challenged to defuse a bomb that some ne’er-do-well planned on using to destroy the Twin Cities.  This room, titled “Countdown”, is the most challenging room of the three. It took some serious teamwork and head-scratching to figure this one out. I can’t spoil what any of the puzzles were, so you will have to come with next time if you are curious. We escaped and saved the city with only three minutes to spare, finishing shortly after the Asylum team.

Photo of Asylum Group
Shortly after completing the “Asylum” room
Photo of the Inheritance Group
The “Inheritance” team

One of our new students, Quinn, had this to say about the event: “It was definitely a cool experience. Everyone was very welcoming to the new students. It was nice to have a team building exercise with old and new students. Having to work together was a great icebreaker.” Sounds like a great attitude to have starting your StepUP experience, Quinn.  Scott A. said “It was a ball!” With such rave reviews, hopefully we can make this a staple StepUP activity. After all three groups completed their respective rooms Patrice showed up with some well-deserved pizza, and the wonderful staff at Mission Manor took some celebratory photographs. Big thanks to them for helping us organize this kick off to a fun summer. Congratulations to all of the new students, and thank you to everyone that volunteered to be mentors.

Farewell

Well, my time as the StepUP student worker has come to an end. I received an offer for a new job, which I accepted. I am excited to start the new position, which is more related to my intended major. On the other hand, I’ve been working here in the office since June, and it is a big transition.

I’ve appreciated how much this position has supported my creativity; it’s the hardest part about letting this job go. After writing a few times for the StepUP newspage, someone suggested that I start writing for the Augsburg newspaper, the Echo. I’m grateful for that suggestion, because I’ve truly enjoyed adding my input to the school newspaper.

I’ve also sincerely appreciated everyone who has supported and offered encouragement for my articles and blogs. It may not seem like much, but when I get discouraged I bring those kind words to my mind and try to think about your thoughts more than my own.Drawn Image of face with a thought bubble reading, "Farewell."

In parting, I’d like to share some final thoughts; some ideas I’ve reflected on during my time working here. Remember to always be compassionate. Be compassionate to everyone, especially the people that are hardest to be compassionate towards. In my experience, people that hurt others are the pe
ople who are actually the most hurt, and they need compassion the most.

When you see an opportunity to help someone, no matter how small the opportunity, help them. Little acts of kindness can mean more than you think. I can think of an example that happened just recently. I was walking out of the grocery store and one of my grocery bags broke and everything fell on the ground. An elderly man walked to his car, emptied one of his bags, and brought it to me. It almost brought me to tears. It  gave me hope that amongst all the hate and hurt in this world, there is still so much love. One of my lifelines has been the kindness that has been offered to me by strangers.

Share your thoughts, ideas, hopes, and experiences with people. If you are genuine in this, people will learn from you. You will also learn from people during these conversations. All we really have is eachother, and everyone has something new to offer. Listen with attentive ears, and ask questions. Others’ opinions are just as important as your own. Listen and learn as much as you can in this lifetime.

Be humble. Do what you do to help others learn and grow, not to boast. The universe knows the good you are doing, and will send positivity accordingly. The more you devote your actions to others, the brighter your life may be. Always remember what the activist and leader of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., had to say, in the midst of desegregation, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

 

-Connie K.

Truth

 

Through my recovery process, I’ve gained an interest truth and honesty. Those ideas have specifically been brought to my attention recently, which gave me the idea to write this post about my experience with the topic. I initially had a difficult time articulating my ideas in a typical article format. The format I switched to loosely follows my train of thought when thinking about truth, and how I’ve grown in my experiences with it.

 

Gloomy photo of waves crashing on the shore.

 

Failing to voice your feelings and concerns

Is dishonest

Omitting truthful information to convince others

Is dishonest

Wishing something was true and telling others it is true

Does not make it truthful

Do not speak to sound intelligent

Speak to be intelligent

Honesty is intelligence

Recognizing situations where you have not been honest,

Recognizing automatic tendencies

Of your own

That are not honest

Is key to living in the truth

Insight is power

A soul’s deepest desire may be to live parallel with the truth

To be fruitful with honesty and love

To be honest with others

And with ourselves

So that we can be free

When we choose to focus our attention on a topic

The universe sends us insight

When we use the insight to live a better life

A light starts to shine

People notice the light

And where it came from

And they want one for themselves

So they focus their attention where they see you have focused yours

And their light starts to shine

And the world gets a little brighter

Because of your decision to live in the truth.

Constance Klippen, on the Importance of Truth

 

Gloomy photo of waves crashing on the shore.

 

Quotes that sparked interest in the Importance of Truth:

 

You must not always believe what I say. Questions tempt you to tell lies, particularly when there is no answer.

Pablo Picasso, Picasso to Pignon in a conversation about art

 

Rather than love, than money, than faith, than fame, than fairness… Give me truth.

Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild

 

Gratitude

Gratitude is an important part of the road to happiness. Sometimes a friend and I exchange daily gratitude lists. We both agree that it has been helpful. It’s increased positive thoughts, decreased negative feelings, and made me feel better.

Two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, have done much of the research on gratitude. One of their findings indicates, In positive psychology research, gratitude is strongly and consistently associated with greater happiness.” It goes on to state, “Gratitude helps people feel more positive emotions, relish good experiences, improve their health, deal with adversity, and build strong relationships.”

Harvard Medical School published several ways to cultivate gratitude, including writing a thank you note, mentally thanking someone, writing gratitude journals and lists, praying, and meditating.

Below is my gratitude list for today. I challenge you to make one today, too!

My Gratitude List: Just For Today! 1. I get to watch y little brother grow up. 2. I have somewhere to call "Home." 3. Family. 4. I am sober. 5. I have the best grandma ever. 6. I went to a very insightful women's meeting last night. 7. I have the ability to be creative and choose to take advantage of it often. 8. I get to spend time with an old friend this weekend. 9. I'm in the middle of a really good book. 10. I've found a sponsor I really connect with and she's helping me through the steps. 11. My family in California and all my beautiful memories from there. 12. The desire to learn and grow spiritually. 13. Having beautiful people to love, and beautiful people to love me. 14. The motivation to be healthy and kind to my body. 15. Music makes me happy. 16. The opportunity to be in college and to learn. 16. My relationship with the universe. 18. My relationship with myself. 19. The ability to be compassionate.

 

-Connie K.

 

Student Spotlight: Connie K.

Connie K.Tell us about yourself.

I’m Connie. I’m from Lindstrom, Minnesota, and I’m a junior at Augsburg. I am a psychology major and am planning to hopefully be an art minor.

What brought you to Augsburg College?

I went to college in Superior, Wisconsin for my first year of school. I got sober up there, but it’s not easy being in recovery in college when almost no other students are sober. A friend of mine knew about StepUP and helped me learn more about the program. I also wanted to be close to my family, who all live near Minneapolis. Because of the StepUP program and the college’s location in Minneapolis, Augsburg seemed like the best fit.

What are you enjoying most about Augsburg and about StepUP?

Being at Augsburg, I love the diversity of the college. I’ve learned a lot and am grateful that my mind has been opened to new perspectives. I also love living in the city.

Being in StepUP… I don’t know how to explain it. It’s like being here completely takes away something that I’m stressed about. When I was in Superior, on the weekends especially, you could hear everyone partying in the dorms. It made me feel different and alone. Here, I don’t feel alone because of my sobriety. I don’t feel different. Sobriety just seems normal, which is a good thing for me right now. I don’t get caught up in stressing about being sober. Instead, I just am sober.

It sounds like being is StepUP has shaped your college experience in many ways. Can you say more about that?

I think a big part of what you do and who you are is shaped by who and what you’re around. Along with being in recovery, I struggle with depression. When I was in Superior, I was alone with myself. I didn’t want to be healthy and didn’t care about school. I did care about sobriety, but it’s hard to progress when you’re alone and don’t really want to connect with people who drink all the time. But here in StepUP, things feel different. Being around people who want to be healthy, want good things for themselves, care about school, and care about sobriety helps me to do those things too. StepUP has positively influenced my GPA and my sobriety. It’s also helped me become more willing to talk to people, which is something I’ve struggled with.

Tell us about your passions.

I’ve realized that when you’re using – or at least when I was using – since the only thing you really care about is using, you don’t listen to your heart when it tells you that you like doing something. You don’t pursue it. When I wasn’t doing the things I like, it contributed to my depression. It felt like, “If you’re not doing anything that you like, how could you be happy?” So I started listening when I realized that I liked being creative. I started painting more. I started drawing more. For me, art feels natural. It feels like this is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. It’s almost like breathing. If I stopped creating art, it would feel like, “Why are you not breathing?” And I’d realize, “You’re right.”

When I do something that makes my heart happy and makes me feel better, I listen to that feeling, and I do more of the things that make me feel that way. Listening to music is one of the biggest things that helps change my mood and helps me connect with positive feelings.

Who are some of your favorite artists?

I listen to a broad range. A lot of people know that I like Prince. I like rap music and hip-hop. The trendy music right now – I think that’s just more fun to listen to. But with artists like the Beatles, Chance the Rapper, or the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I listen to the lyrics more. I like music with deep lyrics that resonate with the way I think, and I can find that in their music.

What advice would you have for an incoming StepUP Student?

I struggled with some issues when I first came in here, and the only reason that I handled them well is because I worked through them very closely with my StepUP counselors and asked for a lot of support. They were situations that I didn’t know how to handle, so close guidance from the counselors was really helpful.

Is there anything else you want to share?

I just want to tell everyone that I’ve talked with and connected with in StepUP that the conversations and experiences I’ve had with everyone I’ve met here have been really important to me. From the smallest conversation to the deepest one, that human connection means a lot to me. I’m grateful for all the experiences I’ve had with the people here in StepUP.

Forgotten December Holidays

Did you know there is a holiday almost every day of the month in December? We all know the religious-type holidays this month very well, but what about the forgotten holidays? Holidays like National Chocolate Covered Anything Day or National Flashlight Day. I personally feel as though these holidays don’t get enough credit. Below, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favorite holidays this month, to bring awareness to these special “forgotten” days.

December 1st – Eat a Red Apple Day:

It seems a little out of season, as winter is descending on us. But as we all know, an apple a day keeps the doctor away, and today is no different!

December 3rd – National Roof Over Your Head Day: Brownies and coffee.

We take the roof over our head for granted more often than we should. Sit for a moment and truly appreciate that you won’t be outside in the cold today.

December 4th – Wear Brown Shoes Day:

One of the best days of the year! I’ve been waiting a long time to finally break out my new brown shoes. Thank you for this opportunity.

December 8th – National Brownie Day:

The list of things better than a day dedicated to eating food is pretty short. The list of things better than a day dedicated specifically to eating warm, delicious brownies is even shorter. I trust that you all will celebrate this day accordingly.

December 10th – Human Right’s Day:

Due to current events in America, I truly do appreciate this day. The timing seems appropriate. A day to remember that every human has equal rights, and should be treated equally.

December 14th – National Monkey Day:Two monkeys.

Remember when you were a kid and loved seeing all the different kinds of monkeys at the zoo? Now that you know about National Monkey Day, you can spend the second Wednesday in December celebrating the life of Harambe (or any of your favorite monkeys).

December 16th – National Chocolate Covered Anything Day:

I genuinely can’t think of a more perfect National Day. A 24-hour period dedicated to chocolate covered anything. Feel free to bring such items to the StepUP office this day, I’m sure there would be no complaints.

December 19th – Oatmeal Muffin Day:

I love muffins. I do want to celebrate this day, but oatmeal muffins aren’t necessarily my muffin-of-choice. I might “accidentally” mistake an oatmeal raisin muffin for a banana chocolate chip choice. But it would be an accident, so it would still be considered celebrating.

December 21st – Look on the Bright Side Day:

A good day to remember there is an equal amount of good and bad in every situation. We have the power to focus on the good or bad in these situations. This holiday brings to mind a saying my principal quoted over the loudspeaker every single day of my high school education: “Make it a good day or not; the choice is yours.”

December 21st – National Flashlight Day:

Is it a coincidence that Look on the Bright Side Day and National Flashlight Day are on the same day? Hmmm…

December 24th – National Eggnog Day:Child singing.

I included this one, not because I have a passion for this traditional drink, but because every year since I can remember, my grandma saves a glass of eggnog and a cookie for the night of Christmas Eve. It’s so sweet. She’s probably been doing it her whole life. She’s the greatest woman I know and my biggest support, so I felt inclined to give her a little attention.

December 31st – Make Up Your Mind Day:

Thinking about dropping a bad habit? Pursuing a singing career? Starting a clothing line? Stop procrastinating and do it then! Or don’t, I guess. At least make up your mind about it, though.

Annual StepUP Thanksgiving

dsc_0277Over 70 StepUP students, alumni, and friends gathered together on the evening of November 20th for the annual StepUP Thanksgiving dinner. All the food was cooked by the students, for the students. The delectable dinner featured creamy mashed potatoes, cheese covered hash browns, macaroni with bread crumbs, homemade peach pie, Thelma’s ice cream sandwiches, over 100 pounds of turkey, and much more. It is very clear that we have some very talented cooks amidst the community.

 

I ate light all day to save my appetite for the dinner. As they say, if you didn’t eat too much on Thanksgiving, you didn’t do it right. Well, I definitely lived out that legacy, and am certain I wasn’t the only one. No regrets, though.

 

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A GoPro mounted in the corner of the room captured video of the entire event in chronological order: set up, waiting in line, eating (a lot), clean up, and food coma. Also, one delightful student had an additional GoPro bound to his chest, catching attendees at their very best and very worst moments of the night. It was funny until it was you he caught on camera taking a larger-than-average bite of food. Thanks so much, Chad!

 

It is refreshing to have at least one night a year where the whole community can get together, converse, eat, and have fun. It was a fine opportunity to take a moment and remember who and what I am truly grateful for. Gratitude always leads me to happiness. On that note, thank you to the Leadership Team for coordinating a beautiful, harmonious evening. Another thank you to everyone who cooked and helped make the night so, so flavorful.

 

-Connie K.