Recovery Month inspires hope, sparks conversation


(Claire Cecil /Fourth Estate) 

Tatyana White-Jenkins, Assistant Lifestyle Editor

Mason is celebrating National Recovery Month this September. In its 26th year, Recovery Month is a national observance created by the federal Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) to educate Americans on the importance of recovery from substance use.

According to SAMSHA’s official website, “Recovery Month celebrates the gains made by those in recovery. The observance reinforces the positive message that behavioral health is essential to overall health, prevention works, treatment is effective, and people can and do recover.”

Wellness, Alcohol, and Violence Education Services (WAVES) began holding Recovery Month activities in 2014 in order to support Mason students in recovery.

“By celebrating Recovery Month in September, we can send the strong message that Mason is a supportive community for people in recovery from the very start of the academic year,” said Elaine Viccora, Associate Director of WAVES. “Socializing in college can be challenging for students in recovery. Too often, students in recovery will come to campus just for classes, believing there’s no fun or safe way for them to connect with other students.”

In 2013, 22.3 percent of full-time college students ages 18 to 22 were currently using illicit drugs and 59.4 percent were current drinkers, according to SAMSHA. Celebrating Recovery Month is important on college campuses where many students are dealing with past or current addictions.

Although Mason has not conducted a survey of its own, Viccora, through comparing other universities’ surveys, estimates that 500 to 750 students are in recovery at Mason.

“We also know that a percentage of these students have attended school elsewhere, had their academics derailed by their addiction, got sober and then came to Mason to finish their degree,” said Viccora. “During September and throughout the year, WAVES aims to connect students in recovery to available resources and each other.”

Although it is geared toward encouraging students in recovery, the month also serves as an educational opportunity and a way to volunteer on campus.

“For freshmen students, it provides a chance to learn more about alcohol and drugs in relation to recovery and addiction at a very influential and vulnerable time in their lives,” said WAVES Recovery Coordinator, Matt Wills. “For more seasoned undergrads, Recovery Month provides them with events to attend or volunteer at, as well as information to pass on to others.”

As a student in recovery, Wills feels a personal connection to Recovery Month. Because he knows how it feels to be a student in recovery, Wills is motivated to create an accepting and fun environment for other Mason students.

“I am a student in recovery, and what that means to me is that I have not had drugs or alcohol in over 20 months. That also means that part of my recovery includes spreading awareness and increasing knowledge and education concerning recovery and addiction,” said Wills. “I am a human being and a student, and I like to go out, be social, and do fun things. I want students who might be contemplating recovery or are in support of recovery, to know that there are so many of us out there, that they are not alone, and that we have a safe environment to share and do lots of cool stuff!”

Recovery Month at Mason includes several events, which started with Party Sober!, an afternoon of pizza and games, during Welcome Week and will conclude with a screening of the documentary, “The Anonymous People,” on September 24 in the Johnson Center Cinema. The film recognizes and celebrates the hard work of those in recovery.

“Whether you’re in recovery, know someone who is, or are an ally of the recovery cause, you will be moved and energized,” said Viccora.

In preparing for the screening and Recovery Month as a whole, WAVES partnered with Mason’s chapter of Active Minds, an organization focused on reducing stigma surrounding mental health issues.

According to SAMSHA, an estimated 7.7 million adults ages 18 and older had co-occurring mental illness and substance use disorders in 2013. Emily Swain, president of Active Minds, was eager to get involved in Recovery Month because of the link between mental health and substance abuse.

“Oftentimes, there is a relationship between mental illness and addiction,” said Swain. “Mental illness can cause or heighten dependence on substances and substance abuse can often heighten or cause new symptoms of an individual’s illness. Addiction and mental illness often face overlapping issues of stigma.”

By shedding light on issues of recovery and mental illness, Recovery Month sparks a much-needed conversation on college campuses.

“Addiction and substance abuse is something that isn’t talked about on college campuses but it impacts so many people. By talking about the issues we face – as students, as young adults, as humans – we can begin to lift the burden and power these issues hold over us,” said Swain. “Through efforts on campus like Recovery Month and The Anonymous People screening, a culture of support and a culture of community is being created at Mason.”