The month of September is National Drug and Alcohol Addiction Recovery Month as publicized by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), held to increase awareness and understanding of substance abuse disorders as well as to celebrate the stories of Americans whose lives have been positively transformed through the process of recovery.
But what role does drug and alcohol addiction—and, moreover, recovery—play at a Christian campus like Messiah?
“From what I’ve heard, it’s not common,” says first-year student Sam Brady. “Because we’re ‘good Christian kids,’ most people don’t think there are any problems with it here. But I think we do need to publicize it—it is a problem here because there are problems everywhere.”
According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health conducted by SAMHSA, approximately one in five young adults between the ages of 18 and 25 were active users of illicit drugs, corresponding to about 22.3 percent of the estimated 27.1 million total population of drug users in the United States that year.
“Sometimes students may think ‘Oh, we don’t do that at Messiah’—but remember that each person has a very unique story and [students] at Messiah come from a wide variety of backgrounds, exposure and experiences,” explains Marcelle Giovannetti, a certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC) at Messiah’s Engle Center for Counseling and Health Services. “There’s so much stigma around addiction that the students that have actually overcome some of the battles they’ve been fighting with addiction don’t ever get a chance to really celebrate the recovery process,” Giovannetti continues.
“Here at Messiah, the stigma is you are less of a person because of your problem, and it pushes people away from Christianity,” says senior Zach Luman “But when you look at Jesus and His ministry, He hung out with drunkards and prostitutes, so why should we put down those who may struggle with an addiction?”
Luman personally battled with addiction when he entered Messiah as a freshman. “I solely identified as a baseball player first, and not as a Son of God,” Luman explains. “Because of this, when disappointment entered my life, I was fully broken as I had no outlet. This is where I turned to a ‘party’ scene.”
Faith was an essential part of Luman’s recovery process. “Without the power of Christ, I don’t think my heart could have been transformed,” he says. “You can’t take a bite of Jesus and be full—when you first experience Jesus in your life you are hungry from that day on and Jesus fully convicted me of this and broke me down in order to be built up like I never have before.”
So how do we go about reducing this stigma and fear of being open?
“The first step is to create safe spaces and to create conversations where there is gracious communication and where each person views another person’s story as valuable,” Giovannetti says. “I think one of the best ways students can foster that is to be vulnerable themselves about the messiness that is part of the human condition, to be honest about their own struggles.”
“Everyone is in recovery from something,” Giovannetti continues. “It might not always be connected to a drug and alcohol addiction, but we are all in the process of recovery. That’s where God lives. He doesn’t live in the perfectionism—He lives in the imperfect, in the mess. That’s the place of being open to wanting healing in your life—at the very depths of the mess.”
Giovannetti plans to air “Anonymous People,” a documentary that speaks to the authentic story of recovery from addiction, sometime shortly this semester. Be sure to stay on the lookout for its airing, and also take the initiative to become further educated by attending programs on campus relevant to these topics.
For even more information, be sure to check out the SAMHSA website at http://www.samhsa.gov for additional resources and links to a behavioral health treatment locator and a national helpline.