Sober Secondary Education

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ksuIt seems the image we have of college these days has become less of the student carrying books through a leafy campus and more a booze and drug fueled party where everyone is hooking up. The college years are ripe for overindulgence. In everything. And for those already fighting an addiction to alcohol or drugs, the atmosphere can be devastating. A few college campuses (and the number is growing) are working to get ahead of the substance abuse problem and rather than kick students out for their transgressions, help them stay sober and graduate. Kennesaw State University in Metro-Atlanta is one such college. The first in the southeast, in fact, to create a Center for Young Adult Addiction and Recovery (CYAAR) and it’s offshoot, the Collegiate Recovery Community (CRC). Started in 2007, the groundbreaking idea educates students about addiction, guides them through the recovery process, and provides academic support. Once a student is sober for six months, they enter the CRC to maintain their sobriety while surrounded by people who are going through the same thing. I recently interviewed two KSU students about their journey through substance abuse, their failed collegiate experiences, and their involvement with this program. Danny, a senior, is the treasurer of the CRC (many of the students work in the center’s offices before and between classes), and shared with me how he dropped out of several universities before coming to KSU specifically for this program. His friend and fellow student and CRC member, Lindsday, uses her experience with alcohol to educate incoming freshman about the dangers of addiction. She told me those classes, the outreach part of the CRC, is her favorite part, her passion, really, and that she is working toward a degree in the recovery field. Lindsday says the schedule she maintains with the CRC, it’s outreach program, her classes, and homework, is exactly what she needs to stay sober and focused on graduating. She, too had failed at staying in school before. Listening to their stories, I wondered whether with the amount they had on their plates combined with the need to avoid imbibing made for a dull college “experience.” They assured me that they weren’t missing out on anything. Lindsday told me about tailgating parties, movies, concerts, dinners out, all with friends who are members of the CRC. In Danny’s words:

“There’s not a whole lot of other students who are in recovery so, a lot of what you hear in conversations, a lot of what other students do in their spare time is different than what I do in my spare time and it’s good to have a community where I can relate to people.”

I love that KSU is doing something to help its students (and attract new ones) by not ignoring the all too real problem of young adult addiction. That it doesn’t wish to just dismiss the issue and force those students off campus but offer them the same chance at a higher education and degree while supporting their recovery and sobriety. This should be on every college campus in our country.

My story on the program, including my interviews with Lindsay and Danny, and the Director of the Center, Teresa Wren Johnston, airs Wednesday, October 29th at 11pm and again the 30th at 4pm. I will include a link here after it airs.

Henry

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I wasn’t ready to get you. We had recently lost our golden retriever Holly who we’d gotten as a young married couple. Holly was our first glimpse at “parenthood” – could we keep another living thing alive together? Holly was there as we had a baby and moved cross country, twice. Her illness was sudden, the decision to let her go made over the phone as Rick was traveling. I was terrified of being present for the euthanasia so I stayed away. I had let that decision haunt me. The thought of Holly dying surrounding by strangers, albeit caring ones, would bring on a surge of guilt that was almost suffocating. I vowed I would never do that again. That no matter how difficult it might be to make the decision to end an animal’s life and no matter how upsetting it might be, I owed it to this animal to be there. I am reminded of a line from a movie that tackles a much weightier decision, the one of ending a human being’s life. In “Steel Magnolia’s” Sally Field’s character tells her friends after witnessing her daughter’s death as she is removed from life support “I was there when that beautiful creature drifted into my life and I was when she drifted out and it was the most precious moment of my life.” I feel as if the moment of death is an intensely personal one, a passing onto whatever you believe may exist beyond us. It alternately fascinates me and scares the hell out of me. Losing Holly was still raw when we wandered into a pet store not far from our house after dinner one weekend night. In one of the larger cages was a litter of golden retriever puppies. My eyes welled with tears as I looked at my husband and daughter who were eager to fill the void in our lives. Henry was the runt of that litter, skinny with an impossibly small neck.

henrypuppyI picked him up, he snuggled into my chest, and yes, we began the journey again. He would become such an important part of our healing that we added a second dog to our brood a year later. He wasn’t tough. He wasn’t athletic. He had arthritis and skin issues and didn’t retrieve all that much. But he was just about the sweetest thing on four legs. Everyone loved Henry. Neighbors, friends, delivery men, the guys who wash our windows, our families, strangers, other dogs, CATS! He was gentle and loyal and patient beyond words. He followed me from room to room, he welcomed me home late at night, he sat at my feet while I read outside, he kept watch at the front door just in case I didn’t remember it was trash or lawn day. Mostly I remember him walking what seemed like 100 miles on those arthritic legs in the cold Ellijay River, catching tennis ball after tennis ball, following Lucy as she navigated around the rocks or swimming after me as I tubed down the shallow rapids, chasing his sister Sadie along the bank, chewing on sticks, eating marshmallows from our s’mores. He loved the river. So yesterday when it came time to say goodbye to Henry after a sudden illness and organ failure, I stayed with him the whole time, stroking his fur, holding his paw, telling him stories. And long after his wonderful heart stopped beating and his aching body stilled and the doctor left the room, I continued to talk to him about the river and that cool water and all those brightly colored tennis balls and how he was so loved.

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License to drive

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GasGasGas. You got it, go. Yes now. Signal. More gas. BrakeBrakeBrake. Good, honey, good. Brake sooner. Nice and easy. These are the ramblings of a woman teaching her teenager how to drive. Since getting her learner’s permit a week and a half ago she has driven us to lunch, dinners, the grocery store, the car wash, the mall, a friend’s house, her school. Her chores and homework are done quickly so there’s time to “go for a drive.” We haven’t gotten on the highway yet but she did maneuver through the small lane at the ATM. We’ve only ventured out once after dark but she did pull into the garage. Yes, I was terrified she would hit the gas and we would wind up in the kitchen. Kitchen is still standing. There was only about a millimeter in which to walk in front of the car though. She changes my seat settings to impossibly close to the steering wheel. The music must be off. I can’t grip my legs too tightly or stomp my right foot into the floorboard as I slam on imaginary brakes. I can’t talk too much but if I’m too quiet she thinks I’m stressed and then she gets stressed and then that stresses me out. She remembers the all important seat belt but after parking goes to get out while the car is still in gear. She wants to use both feet. She puts those hands not at 10 and 2 but 9 and 3. Which I guess is better than mine which firmly rest at 6:30 most nights. I’m certain she can recall more rules of the road than me and her father combined but as we all know, the real test is when you hit the road and test them rules. I’ve waxed poetic on here about this child. Not a smarter, more conscientious teen has ever taken the wheel of a car before now. And you can’t tell her a thing. She’s got this. Oh, and she doesn’t want to drive mine or her dad’s car when it’s time for her own, thank you. She wants a white Volkswagen Jetta, model year 2015, please. My Mercedes is too old and Dad’s BMW is okay, I guess. Although seeing the parking lot at Alpharetta High she might be onto something. Her eyes roll as we start to say “Do you know what I had to drive at your age?” This rite of passage resonates strongly with me. I remember vividly learning to drive in a small Texas town, sneaking my mom’s car out to meet my boyfriend (mom, let’s not rehash this – I’m still sorry), driving cross country with a pregnant mother as we moved to Washington, looking over to see her sleeping and hoping to God I didn’t kill us, getting my license with my picture in my absolute favorite Ocean Pacific jacket, picking up my friends for school, taking the other members of the cheer squad to a game. All in a Toyota SR-5 with stripes on the sides. That feeling of pure freedom when you don’t have to ask your folks to take you somewhere. Knowing at least the state you lived in considered you an adult. She gets better every day, more confident. She won’t need my stream of consciousness driving lessons much longer. I do hope my voice stays in her head though, “Don’t speed, Don’t panic, Don’t over correct, and Don’t worry, honey, nice and easy, you’ve got this.”

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I’m even tightening up my driving skills. Now, let’s not get crazy, the hands will not rest at 10 and 2 tonight. Maybe 9:45.

15 years

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15 years ago we were watching our bank accounts and computers as the threat of welcoming a new millennium threatened to erase our digital footprint. The Manhattan skyline was punctuated by two impossibly tall buildings representing America’s financial dominance. The Gulf of Mexico wasn’t coughing up tar balls from one of the worst ecological disasters in history. I was anchoring a noon newscast in South Carolina, painting and planting at our starter home, and babying our golden retriever, Holly. I was 30 years old, married, and looking to move up in my career. To say you were a surprise is a lie. We had stopped taking ‘precautions’ a few months before. To say we weren’t ready isn’t true either. I remember my mother saying “You’re never really ready to buy a house or have children, you just do it.” We were making money, we were healthy, we had a home and each other and we were ready to become a family. What we really didn’t expect was how much we were going to love you. How much joy you were going to bring. How many moments of laughter and tears and snuggles and messes we were going to enjoy. And how quickly it would all go by. I miss that baby who would pull up on her fat little legs to pull all of the CD’s out of the cabinet. The girl who would walk around nude in my high heels. The drama queen who dressed as Sleeping Beauty and belted out Disney songs. The line-leader, player one, “I’ll go first” type-A only child love of our life grew up. She was born 15 years ago on a humid southern night before Facebook, before Netflix, before her dad and I had a chance to really know what we were in for. Our lives have never been the same. And for that I am so grateful.

Happy 15th birthday Miss Lucy.

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5 Words

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Writer Nora Ephron (the comedic voice behind “When Harry Met Sally” and “Sleepless in Seattle”) recently wrote about how while waiting for a table at a restaurant she and her family would describe themselves in 5 words.  She explains three of her attempts below:

“When I was in my twenties, I would have put: ambitious, Wellesley graduate, daughter, Democrat, single. Ten years later not one of those five things turned up on my list. I was: journalist, feminist, New Yorker, divorced, funny. Today not one of those five things turns up in my list: writer, director, mother, sister, happy.”

It is interesting how we see ourselves differently throughout our lives. It’s not just our jobs that change but our relationships, our politics,  and how we identify most comfortably.  For example, my teenage daughter was reluctant to give me five words, saying, “you pick, mom.” That in itself tells you a lot about her nature. She’s either trusting of my interpretation of her or more likely, she’s lazy and doesn’t want to be part of yet another of her mother’s blog posts. When pushed she ignored my suggestion of ‘cray-cray’ and settled on

Smart, funny, sweet, friend, dog-lover. (Love that she put smart first)

I posed the same question to my my mother with these results:

Mother, wife, efficient, friendly, obsessive. (She insisted I put obsessive last to give you some idea of just how obsessive she is)

Then I looked briefly inward for my five words.

Journalist, neat-freak, calm, witty, bookworm.

The 14 year old turns immediately to self.

 

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The 45 year old to career.

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The 72 year old, to arguably life’s most important role.

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How would you describe yourself in 5 words?

My protector

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While we have made progress in the last 50 years, I would venture a guess that most of the housework, child rearing, and cooking still falls to women. It is our nature to care for our families, whatever that family looks like. We are the nurturers, the detail oriented task masters, the workhorses. Men are, by nature, the providers and protectors. I believe they are wired to be selfish because if their needs aren’t met or they are hurt or killed, then who provides and protects the women and children? Women are conversely wired to put everyone else first. No, these thoughts aren’t groundbreaking. Many years of research and many millions of words have been written about this very topic. In a twist that is more common now, I am the provider for my family. I am also the chief house cleaner, laundry doer, bill payer, dog washer, and errand runner. Hubby grocery shops, cooks, tends to the cars, and takes care of our daughter. And in what I feel is the most important of his roles, he protects us. No, we aren’t faced with marauding tribes or wild animals but rather the stuff of everyday life. A wife who leaves a bad part of town and drives home late at night. A daughter who is kind and trusting to a fault and willing to do anything for anyone. A black dog that takes off down the street at night without her collar. I am not a worrier. I don’t ever think anything bad will happen. I, like our girl, trust everyone’s intentions are good. That’s not to say I can’t feel protective of my child. The only times in life where I felt rage had to do with her being mistreated. But  mostly I just do what I need to do, when I need to do it, and figure I’ll be okay. You would think I would behave differently being in this line of work. The horrible things I see and hear daily. But I have relegated that worry to my protector. I’ll never forget the elaborate “early warning system” he devised in our first apartment so we would hear if someone broke in. It involved weights, an ironing board and a folding door so I’m not sure anything could have gotten through. He was prepared to make a Target run for hiking boots the night I called to say the news director was sending me to Haiti to cover the earthquake. (He also polished off a bottle of wine, sick with worry) In the times he’s come to my newsroom over the years I liken him to a lion on the Serengeti sizing up the other male animals and warning them to back off. It’s the smaller ways he “protects” that reveal his true character though. He packs me a lunch when I’m called in early and sticks a Coke Zero in the freezer so it will super cold like I like when I get home late. He leaves all the Christmas cards we get unopened and on the counter for me because he knows the joy I get from opening them. He goes on walks with me after playing 18 holes in the heat because I want to. He pulls dog hairs from his eyes and mouth without complaint because I like to sleep with the dogs on the bed. It is in all of these ways and a hundred others that he protects me and yes, provides for me, emotionally. I think it’s a decent trade off for washing his underwear every week. :)

 

Sweet summertime

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First week of school is in the books. I just talked to a tired-sounding teenager who thought her first test went “okay” and who has quite a bit of homework for the weekend. After 3 months of rising at the crack of noon, that 6:30 am alarm, was an adjustment for my sophomore, and her nightshift mother, frankly, who rarely falls asleep before 2 am. We don’t say much when we wake. She stares blankly at her phone as I make breakfast and pack her lunch. I utter the first words of the day “sweetie, it’s ready.” We eat on opposite sides of the kitchen table with the comics and front page spread out respectively. The only other communication comes as we push away from the table and hug. “Have a good day, honey.” “Call me tonight, mom, I love you.” I might have held onto that hug just a little longer than normal this week as we got back into our routine and said goodbye to summer. I only have a couple more of those lazy, hot, do-nothing breaks with my girl before she strikes out on her own. We didn’t do as much this summer as in ones past, and that’s okay with me, and her, I believe.

We did find time to celebrate the arrival of my producer, Kara’s, first child, Jackson at a fun baby shower with old friends.

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We took in the Braves/Mariners game at the Ted.

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Enjoyed dining out..

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And in, on our educational placemats.

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There was a trip to Ellijay and Mountaintown Creek where we were dog tired after tubing all day.

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We found time to dye the ends of our hair red.

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Twice.

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There was lounging on our deck…

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And on the sugary sands of Fort Walton Beach, Florida.

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With one smart kiddo using the long car ride to finish up her summer reading.

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Goodbye sweet summertime.

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You almost made me forget about this…

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Almost.