People of Recovery

Regina Bonfiglio, Muyao Shen, Anthony Szuhay


“I’d like to welcome everyone to the CRC meeting.”
“The CRC meeting is not a 12-step program and is not affiliated with NA/AA.”
“My name is Kyla.”
“Hi Kyla!” the group responds in unison.
“To begin, I’d like to say that this is an open meeting, which means that we welcome everyone no matter where they are in the recovery process.”
“In this meeting, we do not introduce ourselves as addicts or alcoholics. We introduce ourselves as people in recovery.”

Meet Kyla

A few hours prior to opening the weekly Wednesday meeting, Kyla, a 27-year-old computer science student, sits in the Collegiate Recovery Community (CRC) scribbling in her blue college-ruled notebook.

Kyla reads a problem aloud from her homework for “Fundamentals of Higher Math,” or as she likes to call it “Math for People Who Hate Themselves,” because she doesn’t know why anyone would willingly put themselves through the class, herself included.

She begins to read a simple question: find the value of a variable. Kyla continues the problem, reading aloud more variables within questions. Words like “derivative” and “summation” are intertwined with letters and numbers. As she reads the challenging text, her friends in the CRC lounge begin to laugh in amusement. Laughing at the fact they have zero idea what Kyla is talking about. The more she reads, the faster she reads, and her smile grows, as she fights back her surfacing laughter.

The Las Vegas native works as a grader for the computer science department, and she has been sober since June 3, 2008.

Her 5 feet 4 inch, 190-pound body gives off a healthy glow, radiating humor and warmth. She’s constantly smiling from ear to ear, and her blue-green eyes always wide with excitement. A passerby on campus would never guess that seven years ago she weighed 80 pounds less, or that her ribs and collarbone used to protrude from her skin.

Kyla is recovering from an alcohol and drug addiction.

“By the time I got to college, my one goal was to drink myself to death.”

This isn’t Kyla’s first time at school. At 21 she got clean and had a year of school under her belt at Princeton. She quickly found out that being in recovery on campus, surrounded by bars and parties, is hard.

Years after working to become clean, she’s now in her second attempt at college at Ohio State following her husband’s enrollment into OSU’s optometry school.

Kyla copes through comedy. She has a distinct way of intertwining jokes and laughter with serious conversations: drug addiction, giving up cigarettes, having two friends who recently just relapsed, even criminal records barring entry to Canada.

With conversation continuing around her, Kyla goes back and forth between her math homework and the gyro she ordered from Buckeye Donuts.

Her phone starts buzzing.

“That must be spouse.”

She flips her blond hair out of the way and answers it with a cheerful “Hello husband!”

On the other end of the line is her husband, Drew, who is also in recovery. He was calling her to let her know he was on his way to the group meeting.

Kyla takes a break from the math problems and tightens the laces of her furry winter boots while laughing at something said by her friend Molly, a fellow CRC member.

“Nobody understands my Star Wars references,” Molly said, indicating the exception of Kyla. Kyla flashes a wide grin and pets Molly’s head in the way she would pet a cat. The two giggle like little schoolgirls.

Within seconds, Kyla had her iPhone in front of her, showing the eight people around her pictures of animals dressed as characters from Star Wars.

“Star Wars and Sobriety,” Molly says.

“Star Wars and Sobriety,” Kyla repeats back to her.


The CRC

The CRC is tucked back a mile away from the bars scattered along High Street, on the opposite side of Ohio State’s campus. This secluded and quiet network of rooms is situated on the 12th floor of Lincoln Tower, housing far more than just offices.

Sarah Nerad, program coordinator of CRC talks about CRC and people in recovery:

Daily Struggles For People In Recovery

What should you do when you see a friend need help

What is CRC?

Once a cluster of residence hall rooms, the CRC now serves as a different kind of home. The walls are lined with slightly uncomfortable furniture. The kind that gives the impression of soft, pillow-like cushions, but once sat on, feel more like plastic.

There’s a desk with two computers for the community to use. A Keurig machine coupled with an assortment of multi-colored K-Cups rests next to a giant whiteboard calendar with birthdays and other important dates scribbled in blue dry-erase marker.

There are board games stacked in the corner: Scattergories, Yahtzee, Scrabble and Deal Or No Deal. The door next to the offices of Sarah Nerad and Ahmed Hosni, the program coordinators — both people in recovery — leads to a meditation room.

When Wednesday at 6 p.m. arrives, the CRC leaves a typically hushed environment to come alive as 10 to 15 people fill the small room for its weekly meetings. The chairs and couches normally lining the walls are pushed into a circle.

A circle for honest conversation. A circle of trust.

Light chatter slowly fills the room as more and more attendees grab chairs. The meetings are open to any member of the Ohio State community currently in or seeking recovery; an attempt to build a community and network of support through members’ arduous journeys.

It’s time for the meeting to begin.

A group member reads aloud the meeting’s procedural opening. This week, it’s Kyla:

“We would also like to ask that you respect the views and comments of others. Please remember that we each speak in the language of our particular pathway to recovery. Some of what you hear may not relate to you or have meaning to you, but please respect that it is helpful to the person who said it. Let us start from a place of respect and understanding for one another by sharing one at a time. We will start this meeting with a moment of silence to remember why we are all here.”

The dialogue is fluid. As attendees take their turn to speak, the audience nods and engages with the speakers, revealing a shared level of understanding between the speaker and the surrounding group.

Students of all ages, ranging from 18 to their mid-thirties, attend the meetings. The depth of stories range from typical college student concerns to the deeper, more individualized crises that accompany drug use.

Rough midterms.

Past felonies.

New jobs.

Probation officers.

Stints in prison.

Scheduling classes.

Everything is on the table by the time the group joins to thank the last speaker.

Once done talking, the group — once again in unison — offers their support for one another and thanks the speaker for sharing.

Kyla then stands up to close the meeting.

Although conversation and friendship brings the group together, an air of seriousness fills the room before its members depart. The weekly CRC meeting ends with its standard procedure: two short sentences emphasizing the importance of seriousness and self-reflection.

“In closing, I would like to thank all who have attended today.”
“We will close the meeting with a moment of silence.”

Meet Cait

Not all students in recovery at Ohio State regularly attend the CRC and its meetings. Some face the daily struggle alone.

For Cait, the littered solo cups on her walk to class mark her constant struggle to overcome her alcohol addiction on a college campus.

Cait is a second-year student at Ohio State studying arts management. She was a former varsity athlete. Her 5’10” height makes her stand out and her short, brown wavy hair softens her booming voice.

Although only 19, she’s been struggling with alcoholism for five years.

Within the past month Cait has tried to come to terms with her addiction. Her addiction originated when she first began drinking in an attempt to keep up with her older sister, who was always “the life of the party.” However, over time she turned to alcohol for more personal reasons, most commonly her struggles with self-esteem and overcoming sadness.

She describes “hitting rock bottom” five months earlier in November. She had to be hospitalized after her roommates found her nearly unconscious, pleading for help and mentioning suicide. In the weeks following her hospitalization, she sought out the CRC and attended more than 20 AA meetings.

Determined to remain in school, her journey has had its ups and downs and she has relapsed multiple times. Most often, her decision to drink is a result of frustration and loneliness.

“I have no friends,” she says. “My two good friends transferred and Alex [her ex boyfriend, the one person who understood her addiction] is in California.”

In the early months of her recovery, Cait drifted in and out of the CRC. She was always the youngest person in attendance. Rather than apply for full CRC membership, she has decided to manage her own recovery process and seek out off-campus AA meetings on her own.

Cait faces her journey alone.


Going To AA: Seeking Help

Cait stands in the lamplight, framed by the surrounding darkness. It’s 8:15 p.m. in a Presbyterian church parking lot. She leans on the outside of her red jeep, her feet planted firmly on the black asphalt.

She has an old-fashioned movie-star face, with dark, dramatically curved eyebrows and deep red lipstick accenting her full lips. She dresses as if she were going to a club: shiny black flats, black lace tights and a giant oversized grey faux-fur vest over a jet-black V-neck.

She would be intimidating, covered in all that fur, if it weren’t for her smile — a smile resembling the unrestrained full-faced grin of a little kid.

All campus-area AA meetings are in the basements of churches, with the location changing depending on the day of the week.”

This night’s church is in the heart of fraternity houses and party annexes; booming bass sounds from music in the distance and a trail of red solo cups signal a party nearby. Two students stagger arm-in-arm across the street to their next stop on their nightly adventure.

Yellow light glows from the church basement windows, yet the rest of the large stone structure seems abandoned. Searching for a way inside, Cait paces around the building with her hands shoved deep into her pockets to shield against the chill from the 20-degree air.

After attempting to open every visible door, and only seven minutes before the start of the meeting, Cait suddenly lifts her head.

She smells cigarette smoke.

“There are always smokers outside,” she knows. “Follow the smoke and we know we’re close.”

Around the east side of the grey stone building, there stands a bearded man around 30-years-old smoking a Marlboro and lowering his head as he mutters a hello.

In the basement of the church are tables arranged in a circle, accompanied by 23 other regular AA participants. A firm handshake of a young dark-haired woman greets those who enter, and she hands them a blue raffle ticket.

Cait sits at the end of one table forming the U-shape around a wooden podium. A long strand of white Christmas lights illuminate the tables, forming the only source of light in the dark basement.

The meeting begins and the firm-handshake greeter draws blue raffle tickets out of a metal bucket. Every ticket number is drawn and read aloud as attendees look down at their ticket to see if they have the corresponding number. Although some do not respond when their number is read, declining their opportunity to speak, each person is given the chance to share his or her struggles or concerns.

When Cait’s ticket is drawn, she walks to the podium.

She does not talk about her decision to start drinking at 14.

She does not talk about being teased for looking like a boy.

She does not talk about using alcohol as a way to feel confident, sexy, and accepted by guys in high school.

She does not talk about sneaking out from school at lunch each day to get drunk, before driving back to continue her day.

She does not talk about about adding Kahlua to her coffee in the mornings before her college classes, or the secret life she hid from her teammates and family.

She does not talk about reaching rock bottom during her sophomore year, getting sick between soccer practices and losing her place on the team due to her inability to attend classes and poor grades.

She does not talk about the night she ended up in the hospital, or how during health professionals confronted her for the first time about a potential addiction.

She doesn’t even talk about last night, where drunk girls at the concert hall where Cait works saw her letterman jacket and asked if she played on the hockey or rugby team, because she was clearly not playing a “girl’s sport.”

Or how afterwards she locked herself in the bathroom crying to do everything in her power to keep from heading to one of four bars in the facility for a drink, to drown out the hurt and anger.

She talks instead about having been sober for three weeks. She talks about trying to overcome the darkness, the depression — to feel like a normal person, to feel content.

She talks about what it means to have courage.

The meeting draws to a close. Chairs slide out from under the tables and friends say goodbye to one another. Cait does not linger, but smiles as she says goodbye to the female greeter by the door. She heads out, gently closing the door behind her.

Five days later, Cait got drunk.


OSUnite: A Sober Weekend Event

The main challenges for students in recovery at a college is resisting the temptation of alcohol and drugs, two mainstays of the party scene surrounding the campus. What are people in recovery to do on the weekend?

It’s 9 p.m. on a Saturday in the Great Hall Meeting Room of the Ohio Union at Ohio State University. Booming music echos from the bars across the street, permeating through the thick walls of the Union.

Drew and Kyla walk in holding hands, teasing each other, bringing an upbeat vibe to an otherwise quiet room, empty aside from a handful of student government volunteers gathered together at one of the round tables nearest the entryway.

The couple and a few of their friends are attending OSUnite, a superhero-themed Student Life program that provides an alternative to drinking.

The room is still; a dozen white, round tables sit empty due to low attendance. Along the far wall are tables stocked with wedding-size portions of silver serving bowls filled with nachos, steaming cheese, guacamole, and taco meat, all next to cans of iced soft drinks and individually packaged cookies.

The food is enough for over a hundred people, yet aside from the volunteers chatting to themselves at their table, Ahmed, Drew, Tina are the only people in the room. They sit at the farthest table in the northeast corner of the room, opposite from the collection of workers near the entrance.

“This is our Saturday night. We are lame now,” Drew says with a laugh. He steals a kiss from Kyla, still holding her hand. They smile.

Decorations transform the room into a page from a comic book. Cartoon cityscapes and cutouts of the word “KAPOW!” hang on the walls.

The event encouraged guests to dress up like their favorite superhero, with the chance to win a prize, a $10 Starbucks gift card, in a costume contest. Drew is sporting a bright green Lucky Charms parody shirt, referencing Thor with the words “Loki Charms” arching across his chest.

Kyla’s attire takes a different approach to emulating a superhero.

“I save lives,” Kyla says, straightening out Drew’s old EMT jacket so the bold, white Drew’s name on the front is clearly visible to those around the table.

As college students are lining up at the campus bars right across the street, Drew and Ahmed are lining up at the fully loaded nacho bar in the room.

“You have GOT to get some of these,” Drew exclaims as he returns to the table with two plates. He sets one in front of Kyla, the chips stacked so high the bright orange cheese is oozing off the plate.

Hands now freed from the nachos, Drew returns to the refreshments and wastes no time waiting for the event staff to open up the cases of Diet Coke next to the nacho bar. He rips open the box and then grabs a cup of ice.

“I’m not driving tonight. I’ll take a Diet Coke,” Kyla says.

As the group finishes up their snacks, they’re ushered into the Union’s theater where they view a free screening of “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

Drew and Kyla plop themselves down right smack in the middle of the theater, ensuring an optimal viewing location. Ignorant of the armrest between their seats, the two cozy up to one another and kiss.

The lights dim and the film begins.


Dinner at Drew and Kyla’s

Fifteen minutes away from Ohio State’s campus, just across from the Scioto River, sits a cluster of apartment buildings. Through the security gate and on the third floor of building four is where Drew and Kyla call home.

Tonight, it’s breakfast for dinner. The crackling and smell of bacon permeate the one-bedroom apartment. A waffle maker emits a plume of steam as it grills batter to perfection.

“This is the kind of shit you get when you get married,” Kyla says of the $250 device.

The apartment’s beige walls are adorned with a hanging collection of Drew’s five brightly colored guitars: Red electric, dark red electric, green electric, tobacco sunburst acoustic, and quilted maple oak acoustic.

Cardboard boxes are stacked in the living room, a sign of their pending relocating to a new development in the coming month.

As the waffles finish cooking, Drew takes a seat in their dining area and pulls out plates and Star Wars or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles glasses for orange juice.

Kyla and Drew sit side-by-side at the dinner table, occasionally grabbing each other’s hands or planting a kiss on a cheek.

The couple met at Princeton University at a party Drew’s fraternity threw, at which Kyla can only remember him as “that douche bag.”

This was before either of them started seeking recovery. The two went out on their first date a year later after an AA meeting.

Drew started drinking in high school.

“I didn’t do it often, but when I did I would black out.”

By the time he got to his freshman year at Princeton, he had experienced a few bad breakups and relationships that only fueled his consumption.

After his first year, Drew underwent gastric bypass surgery to reduce his 330 pound body weight, but the surgical incision did not heal, and he suffered from necrotizing fasciitis — a rare bacterial infection that kills soft tissue and spreads throughout the body.

“I lost all my abdominal muscles,” Drew explained while moving his hands over his stomach. “It’s a shame because I used to have a six-pack.”

During his recovery, he was first prescribed pain killers. First Vicodin, then Percocet. In the beginning, he took them as prescribed. Then he started taking them earlier and earlier than his scheduled time.

“It made me feel good. I started to take them as a way to prepare for my appointments. That’s what I told myself at least,” he explains. “Getting addicted was an honest mistake. The next step from opiates is usually heroin, so I’m lucky it didn’t progress to that.”

Drew returned to Princeton a year after his surgery, continuing to use painkillers. Eventually, his drinking escalated and he started using Adderall.

He would get drunk, wake up, take an Adderall to combat his hangover, and then do it all over again the next day. And the day after that.

“I would constantly tell myself I’m not going to do it again. I’m not going to do it again.”

He would try to limit himself to one beer. He would try to get through classes without Adderall.

“I would say ‘I’ll just have one beer’ and genuinely mean it,” he said.

He couldn’t break the cycle.

Drew was eventually sent to Princeton’s counseling services where he burst out crying. He knew he had a problem. They were going to help him get clean, and that he could erase his bad grades and start over.

“All I heard was ‘erase the bad grades,’ and I was in.” he said.

But upon his return to Princeton, Drew was worse.

“I was absolutely miserable. I wanted to die.”

One night he was picked up by the police for public intoxication. He got a good lawyer and was told to not get arrested for another six months and he would be in the clear.

Five-and-a-half months later Drew found himself in the back of a cruiser.

“Luckily I wasn’t charged,” he said. “I was sent straight to counseling again. I was so sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

After a five-day medically controlled detox program, he went to his first AA meeting where he soon realized his story was not unique.

He’s been sober ever since.

“I have an awesome, boring life now,” Drew says as he looks at Kyla and smiles. “I love my life.”

Drew fumbles with a worn box of Uno cards. He deals the cards and the game begins.

As the game begins, Kyla beings to share her story.

She’s bipolar, and although medicated at age 19, she struggled with depression long before that.

“I had my first suicidal thought at 10,” she says.

“That’s bad.”

Her journey through addiction started in high school. She drank. She used cocaine. She used amphetamines.

“I drank a lot. I wanted to die a lot,” Kyla said.

Originally enrolled at Princeton to study her passion, music, she eventually stopped playing piano and viola.

“I no longer wanted to do things that I normally liked doing. I lost myself.”

By the age of 18 she lost the desire to live. She couldn’t tell if her being bipolar was the problem, or she was creating a new one by escaping it with drugs and alcohol. Her former interests were replaced by her one goal: to drink herself to death.

Princeton sent her to mandatory counseling, which required drug tests.

“I would fail drug tests because of alcohol. You have to be drunk while taking them for that to happen.”

Told to focus on her recovery, Kyla returned home earning a job as a tutor but used her $50 per hour earnings to buy drugs.

Her breaking point came when she blacked out on her therapist’s couch.

“You know it’s bad when your therapist has to call your parents,” she says.

After coming to terms with her addiction she returned to Princeton and attended her first AA meeting.

“I thought it was a club for old white men who wished they were drunk,” she laughs. “I wasn’t like them, I didn’t have a marriage to lose.”

“You do now!” Drew points out as he lays down an Uno card.

Just as Drew was influenced from the stories of other people in recovery at his first meeting, so was Kyla.

She’s been sober since.

Listen to Drew and Kyla

At this point in their recovery process, Drew and Kyla’s goals have changed.

They have let go of the guilt and shame from the past and are moving forward towards bettering themselves.

“When I’m having a bad day, my first choice is to lay in bed all day under the covers, but I know that’s not good for me. Now I’ll call a friend to get coffee,” Kyla says. “That’s a knee-jerk reaction for other people, but not us.”

“My big goals nowadays are not like ‘I’m going to not drink, I’m going to not do heroine,’ it’s like ‘I’m going to work to increase my credit score,’” she adds.

“We work hard to be this boring,” Drew says. “Taking our medication and going to therapists and psychiatrists and catching ourselves in negative thought patterns that could spiral into our old lifestyle and everything…”

“…It’s hard work to be this boring.”


Cait: A Month Later

Cait sits at her wooden kitchen table, her back against the window, sweet potato fries cooking in the oven. She’s wearing an oversized blue Chelsea soccer jersey. Her thick hair is pulled back into a ponytail.

She stares at the glowing orange burners inside the oven, her eyes transfixed and heavy, framed by grey smudges marking where she had wiped her remaining eye makeup.

Just weeks before she had returned from her spring break to Costa Rica for a university-affiliated Buck-I-Serv trip. She spent part of the week working on gardens around a local school, and the other days ziplining through the jungle, hiking up mountains and bonding with the group of other students over heartfelt talks each evening.

During one of these final late nights of her trip, she had opened up about her addiction to these peers, and admitted how surprised and encouraged she was by their supportive reactions.

She had finally made friends.

Returning from this trip, her new friend group planned reunions on weekends. They often came in the form of traditional college social gatherings — going out to campus bars.

Cait joined them.

“I’m only really going out once a week,” she had said. “I drink but it’s been fine…”

“…well it’s been okay.”

She is silent and unmoving, still staring at the oven.

The stale scent of weed lingers in the air, mixing with the cooking fries, which sizzle.

She accepted an internship in LA for the summer and has made plans to live with her ex-boyfriend.

She calls recovery “a dumb word,” and says the whole process “traps you and controls your life. It’s a waste of time for me and I don’t need it to control my life. The point of a life is to live and you can’t really live when you’re walking on eggshells and everyone around you treats you like you’re made of glass.”

She instead will live day by day, not focusing on the negatives.

She goes up the wooden steps.

The kitchen falls back into silence.

The oven is still on.


The Circle

It’s Wednesday at the CRC, minutes before the community’s weekly meeting.

The attendees arrive and begin to move the assortment of couches and chairs into a circle in the center of the room. Familiar faces fill the room, faces of friends who regularly come to the CRC in between their classes. To relax in a place where people understand one another. To feel supported, to feel safe.

The minute hand on the clock ticks nearer to 6 p.m. Cait has still not arrived.

Kyla and Drew move their chairs closer together before sitting down. As this week’s reader goes up to speak, Drew’s hand gently moves from his lap to rest upon Kyla’s. Her fingers embrace his, weaving together.

The speaker starts.

“To begin, I’d like to say that this is an open meeting, which means that we welcome everyone no matter where they are in the recovery process.”
“In this meeting, we do not introduce ourselves as addicts or alcoholics. We introduce ourselves as people in recovery.”

(To protect identities of our sources, we have removed/changed their names.)