Transforming Youth Recovery: Cameron’s Story

unnamedTransforming Youth Recovery, one of the founding partners of the ManyFaces1Voice campaign, helps students in recovery thrive with community, educational and peer recovery network supports. By the end of 2015, Transforming Youth Recovery will have issued over 100 grants to institutions of higher education across the country to start or expand recovery support programs on their campuses.

Cameron Taylor, whose story is below, attended a recovery high school in Houston and is currently enrolled in a university in Texas that has a recovery program for students.

‘I started using when I was in the seventh grade, you know smoking cigarettes and pot and drinking with my older brother. We didn’t really have anything in common and this was a way for me to get to hang out with him.

We started using together more frequently and we got into other drugs too. My parents knew that my brother was using, but they didn’t realize I was. They were really worried about my brother, as he was getting worse, so we went to live with my father in Houston.

In Houston everything changed. I didn’t know anyone and I became more introverted. I began to use more drugs more often. My behavior changed too –  I would steal stuff, like break into cars and steal stuff to pay for my drugs. It’s funny because I remember my father saying, “I know you’re stealing to pay for your drugs,” and I would try to rationalize this behavior. I realized how far removed from reality I was and that I couldn’t tell the truth or see the truth around my behavior.
Things changed again when my brother went to rehab. I was alone. I was still using, but my brother would send me letters telling me to stop or I’d end up like him. When my brother got out of rehab in 2009, my parents sent me back to live with my mother so I wouldn’t be a bad influence on him. I tried to stop using on my own, I really tried, but couldn’t do it.

I was in my sophomore year in high school and I was overwhelmed and frustrated. I was at my darkest point. I was drinking and taking a lot of pills and it got to the point that I really didn’t care if I lived or died. I wasn’t feeling suicidal or anything, I just didn’t care if I went to sleep and didn’t wake up.

My sobriety date is June 14, 2010. My wake-up call was when I got arrested on a drug-related charge. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

As part of my sentence I had to join an Alternative Peer Group where I learned about recovery. I was pretty resistant, but I saw other people around me getting better, and for some reason that really resonated with me. I started to see other people’s lives turning around. I could see them getting better and I began to believe that I could get better too.

My brother and I went to a Recovery High School in Houston. I went in my junior year where I met with the executive director on my first day – she was awesome!

It was hard to relapse at this school – my days were filled with recovery. It helped that the school had recovery coaches that you could talk to if you were struggling or needed to talk. We also had a smaller student-to-teacher ratio. It was easier to learn because I got help when I needed it.

In my senior year of high school I really pushed myself to be the best version of myself that I could be. I felt a sense of community with my peers at school. Out of 75 kids, only one relapsed that year. It was a strong testament to what we were collectively feeling – we were determined to make it!

My GPA was 2.75 before I went to the recovery school and it was a 4.0 by the time I graduated. In my addiction it never entered my mind to go to college, but now I was looking at my choice of three universities in Texas. I chose the one that had a recovery program. Even though I was scared about going away to college, just knowing there was a supportive recovery environment already in place really helped.  

I was the only freshman in the recovery program my first year. Other students told me they had learned the hard way during their freshman year and were now taking advantage of the program as sophomores. They only wished they had gotten involved in the program sooner. I attended weekly recovery meetings and met people to hang out with after meetings. There is an incredible amount of fellowship with other students who are working on their recovery.

The whole point is that if you can’t admit you have a problem, nothing is going to happen. You have to ask for help, you have to want it and you can’t be afraid of judgment. And for those students out there that may be afraid of the social stigma related to joining a collegiate recovery program, I say do it. Internally there is no judgment. If students in recovery don’t take advantage of the recovery programs available they will go away – use it or lose it.

I want people to know that adolescent recovery is an extremely neglected piece of the recovery movement. Most cities don’t have recovery high schools. Most colleges don’t have collegiate recovery programs and they should because there is a real need. People need to know that there are tangible results in offering educational recovery supports. People need to see the benefits and they need to hear the success stories.’