Editor’s Note: This is the second in a three-part series about students involved in UT’s Center for Students in Recovery — their paths to addiction and how they achieved sobriety. Read the first part of the series, Losing Control. Watch the interactive documentary.
Broken relationships, failing academics and lost faith — these are just a few of the consequences students recovering from drug abuse and addiction identified from their years as users.
But for many addicts, it can take months or years for the consequences to build up enough to push a person toward recovery and long-term sobriety, they said.
It’s difficult for Austin Community College student Wylie Walker to identify his rock bottom moment, he said, because his low point lasted for two years. In high school, he said he was a social drinker, and he experimented with marijuana and other drugs.
But when he left for Oklahoma State University, he started using oxycodone to escape the feelings of anxiety and loneliness he was experiencing. When he started running out of money to buy pills, things got out of control.
“I started making Cs and Ds and Fs and Ws because I was just trying to figure out how to get money, trying to get in touch with a dealer, trying to get high,” Walker said.
Ultimately, Walker said, it was his failing relationships with his parents and younger sister that pushed him to get clean. When his sister was a senior in high school — after his first failed stint in rehab and after he started using heroin — he pawned his mother’s camera to buy drugs, so she couldn’t take pictures at his sister’s prom.
“Before he started using, he was my hero,” said his sister, Ella Walker. “Even after, I wanted to deny it. Eventually he turned into someone I didn’t even know anymore, and it was the biggest let down.”
Wylie Walker finally began recovery in May 2009. He said the people he met in recovery inspired him to commit to sobriety, especially friends in treatment and later at the UT Center for Students in Recovery, a self-funded program offered by University Health Services that gives recovering addicts at UT and in Austin a space to meet other sober students and work on the 12 Step Program.
Another student, who asked to remain anonymous because of the stigma surrounding addiction in her Muslim community, said her best friend helped push her to start recovery after four-and-a-half years of using narcotics every day.
She first started using when a doctor prescribed medication after she injured her shoulder. She became dependent, taking five to six pills per day just to function. When she got to UT, the number increased to 10 to 12.
Eventually, she could not go more than a few hours without experiencing withdrawals. At the end of July 2009, she did not have access to pills for 24 hours and ended up in the hospital, but she still didn’t believe she was addicted.
“I thought I was just a person who needed pills to function, but hello, that’s an addict,” she said. “My friends and my sister were like, ‘You need to go to the Center for Students in Recovery,’ but I was like, ‘No, I’m not like that, I’m different.’”
She relapsed within a week of her hospital visit, but her best friend helped wean her off pills by forcing her to confront her desperation and commit to sobriety. She stopped using on Sept. 9, 2009 and has rebuilt her relationships with friends and family and reconnected with her faith.
Social work and psychology junior Kate Millichamp started drinking her freshman year of high school and was soon binge drinking and using cocaine regularly. As soon as she started driving at 16, she would drive while blackout drunk.
During her senior year, when she realized that she might not graduate from high school, she went to rehab for the first time. After graduation, she chose to go to McDaniel College, a small liberal arts school in Maryland, hoping the environment would help her maintain sobriety. It didn’t.
“I wasn’t able to get to very many [Alcoholics Anonymous] meetings and I didn’t know anyone on campus who was sober,” Millichamp said.
She applied to transfer to UT because she knew about the center. However, in her second semester at McDaniel, she relapsed after 18 months of sobriety.
During summer 2010, Millichamp went to outpatient rehab but kept using alcohol and cocaine by using other people’s urine and scheduling her use around her drug tests. It took two drunken driving accidents to push her into recovery.
“Even though I haven’t been hurt and I haven’t hurt anyone else, I knew I would at some point,” she said. “The way that I was going, I was so destructive and I couldn’t not drink and drive.”
All three students said they had to have extremely low points before they could enter a period of healthy and hopefully permanent recovery. Now the center gives them the space they need to keep growing and putting their addictions behind them.
“You have to take that addict part of you and make a sober person by going through the 12 Steps,” the student who asked to remain anonymous said. “Addiction is still part of my identity — it’s part of who I am — but it no longer defines me.”