September 18, 2020

Collegiate Recovery Community presents ‘Heaven & Hell: My Journey with Drugs and Alcohol’

By Breeda Bennett-Jones
Staff Writer

The College’s Collegiate Recovery Community sponsored an event in celebration of National Recovery Month on Sept. 26.

Jesse Dariano, a senior psychology major and CRC’s president, presented a story of strength and recovery. He discussed the stigma of drug addiction in front of a full audience in the library auditorium. He began by naming several of his accomplishments: being a homeowner, being a car owner, being a son, being a brother and going nearly four years since having a drink or using a drug.

“I just thought it was an interesting story to listen to, especially because it was by a TCNJ student,” said Emma Meyer, a sophomore nursing major.

From the outset, Dariano’s goals were aligned with those of the CRC. Namely, to eradicate the stigma surrounding recovery, inspire members of the audience and to cultivate a community of acceptance and support at the College.

“Hopefully, (the audience can) be inspired to want to do something about it and partner with the CRC so we can make TCNJ a recovery-safe campus all around,” he said.

Dariano began to tell his story, explaining how “just saying no” didn’t work for him.

This idea harkens back to the Reaganite “Just Say No” campaign of the late 1980s, and more recently, programs for primary schoolers like Drug Abuse Resistance Education, more commonly known as D.A.R.E.

Dariano brought to light the disconnect between prescription drug abuse and hard drugs, like cocaine or heroin.

“Prescription drugs are associated with the (kind of) drugs that are okay, because they’re prescribed by a doctor,” he said. “To make the connection between percocet and heroin… your mind doesn’t want to go there. Heroin is the dirty one.”

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens, a division of the National Institute of Health, approximately 80 percent of people who develop a heroin use disorder start by using prescription opioids. Because prescription pills are available in medicine cabinets, Dariano explained, it seemed conflict-free, easy, quick and even harmless.

The progression of his addiction started slowly and then accelerated. Dariano described how his circle of friends started changing, how the drugs he was taking became more serious and how he felt like he lost a sense of personal value.

“The more our focus shifted to using substances, the less other things started to matter… it was slowly consuming,” he said. “It’s a sneaky progression.”

Near the end of the presentation, Dariano turned his focus to recovery. His main message, he said in an interview after the presentation, was that recovery works. When it doesn’t, he emphasized that usually insurance issues, financial need or legislation are in the way.

“It took seeing other people who were just like me… overcoming it [and] being able to talk about it or joke about it,” he said after explaining the importance of safe, intimate recovery spaces. “When we accept people for having a problem, it becomes this freeing experience.”

In his closing statement, Dariano encouraged people affected by drug use  to become involved with the CRC. He passed the microphone to Alex Batterman, a senior psychology major, the vice president of the CRC and a recovery ally. A recovery ally is someone who has not experienced drug or alcohol abuse disorders, but would like to help contribute to a recovery-friendly campus.

Batterman first became involved with the organization after interning at the TCNJ Clinic, where he helped to facilitate SMART Recovery, which is focused on self-empowerment.

“It inspired me — they’re very perseverant,” Batterman said.

The CRC is an emerging organization on the College’s campus. As it works to become an officially recognized student organization, its outreaches are growing.

According to Chris Freeman, the supervisor of the organization, the CRC offers several programs including Lions House — an on-campus housing opportunity for students in recovery — and counseling and support services. In addition, the CRC hosts weekly meetings and late-night substance-free activities like RECreate Your Night, according to their website.

“It’s common and normal to be scared,” Freeman said of recovery. “It’s much scarier in our heads than in reality. But when we do reach out for help, it’s life-changing.”

The presentation ended with a selfie — a group photo of recovering students, recovery allies and students of the College who are passionate about creating safe spaces for those recovering from drug use.

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