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Kristen Harper

Executive Director, Association of Recovery Schools

Supporting Our Students in Recovery

September 6, 2016 | Addictions | Lived Experience | Treatment | Comments
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As I sit here in the Charlotte, North Carolina airport, waiting to board my last flight to Charleston, South Carolina, I cannot help but be reminded of what it was like to be an 18-year-old with a substance use disorder (SUD) headed to her first semester as an undergrad.

I began using drugs and alcohol when I was very young. Due to many factors, but mostly my family history and predisposition to an SUD, I was quickly surrounded by the darkness that encapsulates many young people suffering from this disorder. I managed to graduate high school and get accepted to an amazing liberal arts college where I planned on pursuing my dream of becoming a clinical psychologist. Regrettably, I didn’t make it past spring break. It was only when I was able to access effective peer support services four years later that I entered my recovery at the age of 21. Thanks to the gifts of recovery, I graduated from undergrad three years later and then completed my master degree in a year, finishing with a 4.0 GPA — a detail I include only as testament to the power of recovery for students who are given the tools to thrive.

Now, as the executive director of the Association of Recovery Schools, I have the honor and privilege to work with recovery high schools across the country. These high schools are designed to support students with a strong program of recovery and a staff that includes teachers, substance abuse counselors and mental health professionals. One of my favorite events to attend each spring is graduation. Watching the students walk across the stage, holding one, two or even three years of sustained, long-term recovery close to their hearts is a tremendous experience. I often think back to my experience in South Carolina during these times. The fear and sense of being completely overwhelmed only forced me to dive deeper into my use, leaving a wake in the path of anyone who tried to help me.

During this time of year, I often think about those recovery students who graduated. I am encouraged by the fact they have had the opportunity to receive developmentally appropriate care and peer supports in preparation for their first semester as an undergraduate. I wonder what my life would have been like if I had entered my own recovery during high school.

Greg Williams’s new film, Generation Found, highlights the way community members can come together to create a culture of youth recovery supports — and how this community came to be in Houston, one of the largest cities in the U.S. It’s time we have these supports in each and every community. If you know a young person who struggles with a substance use disorder and/or co-occurring issues, or you are a family member or friend of a young person who needs treatment and recovery support services, please, reach out to us. We are here to help. Host a screening of Generation Found and begin the conversation in your local community. There are resources available today. Resources that my 18-year-old self and my family would have loved to of had during my freshman year.

Let’s stop making excuses. Our young people are our future. It’s time to invest in them.