Through my involvement with Recovery@UMB, I have gone from a place of complete and utter hopelessness to a place of hope and light, and I want to share how the collegiate recovery community (CRC) at the University of Massachusetts Boston changed my life.

Growing up, I never thought that I was going to turn my life upside down before I would turn it right side up. I never realized that life did not have to be full of pain, and I never knew that being myself would one day be okay. My outlook and reaction to life was harsh and, at one point, I began to think that maybe life just was not for me. I truly believed that.

The story that I told myself was that I did not belong. I turned to alcohol and drugs, which isolated me more and more and kept me apart from so many things that I longed for. My life spiraled out of control, and everything that I wanted for myself felt out of reach.

When I finally began to work my way up, a defining piece in my recovery journey was education. I came to UMass Boston with the dream of completing the bachelor’s degree that I had started before my addiction took that away. Recovery@UMB has been a transformative part of my journey and has undoubtedly shaped the person I am today.

I literally would not be where I am today without the servant leaders in my life. The person who first comes to mind is my professor, Dr. Ester Shapiro. She was the first person to make me feel as though I was not only important, but that I had something special to share with others. I wish I could put into words how greatly Shapiro affected me, but words would do it no justice. As low and hopeless as I felt, she made me feel worthy. She made me feel as though I had a chance at something; I did not know what it was, but I believed she saw something in me I just could not see yet, so I trusted her.

Shapiro directed me to another very special mentor, Linda Dunphy, the director of the UHS Health Education and Wellness Program at UMass Boston. Dunphy is another person who started making me see the strength I had in myself by believing in me before I could even imagine it was possible. She was my first connection to the CRC at UMass Boston, around Spring 2016.

I felt so empowered just having staff members on campus who were encouraging me in my recovery to pursue not only my education, but also my personal growth and recovery. I cannot put into words the encouragement it gave me to have them both understand completely where I was coming from with no judgment. I wasn’t afraid to share about what was going on in my life, and that is a freedom. Not only did they accept me for who I was—and at that time I was developing a foundation for myself, so I had low self-esteem and a low sense of self-worth—but they truly believed I had something to offer the world. To have individuals accept me as I was and still encourage me to reach for my dreams and my goals has truly been a life-changing experience for me.

The empowerment I received from Shapiro, Dunphy and the CRC spilled into my entire life, and it empowered me to continue working on myself in every way possible. It allowed me to see that I am worthy and that anything is possible. Because of their encouragement, I am now a graduate student in UMass Boston’s Rehabilitation Counseling Program.

I want to be a voice for others in recovery. I want to stand up and let everyone know that there are people in recovery and that we need support. I want students to see that recovery on campus exists, not just to hear about it or look at a poster that says it is there. I want to stand tall and let everyone know that I am a student and that I am in recovery. I have been part of a very dark world that ended in me barely grasping on for life.

I have met countless people who feel hopeless and do not think that they are worthy of going to or going back to school. Not only do I want people in school to know that they have a connection to recovery on campus, but I want people who are fighting the disease of addiction to know that there is empowerment through education and that they do not have to be alone doing it. I have nothing to lose anymore because I am no longer afraid of letting people know who I am. I am no longer ashamed or embarrassed. I am proud of who I am today because I am a woman in recovery who is built upon a CRC that has empowered me to talk about it.

I hope that I can be a voice to advocate for other students, helping to build on this growing foundation to invest in the future of others. Hopefully I can be a great listener, let students know that we are a community and encourage others to join us. I can never shake the memory of how small, how embarrassed and how low I felt when I first returned to pursue my education.

Finding a CRC on campus was a pivotal point in my personal journey. It allowed me to push myself even more than I could imagine. I want to pass on that same encouragement to other students. I want to let other students know that they can do it too, I want to let them know that I believe in them, and that they are not alone, and this includes students in recovery, students who are struggling and allies. I understand what it is like to be a student feeling almost helpless. The CRC at UMass Boston has literally shaped my entire life since becoming a part of it.

The members of our CRC recently met with the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Gail DiSabatino and Assistant Vice Chancellor Nick Sweeton to discuss how we can continue to grow and expand peer support on campus. DiSabatino and Sweeton both expressed the value they have for what we are doing and their commitment to advocate for additional resources for our CRC. Getting to where we are now has been a process that has unfolded over years and would not have been possible without the support of Rob Pomales, Executive Director of UHS, who recognized how important it was to support recovery on campus and made it a priority from the moment he arrived four years ago.

The world no longer sits heavy on my shoulders, but now the impact that UMass Boston’s CRC has had on my life fills in my heart; it has defined who I am today. I went from a place of complete and utter darkness to looking forward to a bright future. I was once paralyzed with fear and was a prisoner to drugs and alcohol, and today I find myself a woman with values and with integrity, a woman who is strong and no longer afraid to pursue her dreams. I never imagined that I would be able to be at peace with myself and in the end, I have found that all the beauty of life has been around me all along, I just needed others to believe in me before I could believe in myself, in order to see it.

For information on recovery at UMass Boston, visit umb.edu/recovery. There are weekly campus recovery meetings, and for Spring 2019, they are at 11 a.m. every Monday at the Campus Center, 2nd floor, Conference Room 2545.

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