Struggles may get you down, make you feel stuck and possibly make you feel even hopeless at times.
Seeking help isn’t always the easiest thing to do, but if your struggle is addiction, there’s help on campus for you.
Owls for Recovery is a new group for the Owls of Keene State who are going through the recovery process of addiction.
Sophomore psychology major and substance abuse minor Dante Diffendale is the president and founder of the student organization, who is also in recovery himself.
“Every day is different, not every day is peaches and cream. I still have bad days, I still have days where I think to myself, ‘Oh my god if I have to go to one more class I’m going to pull out my hair.’ I still have the normal struggles of every college student, such as: How do I balance work, school, homework, social life and everything else. Then…I go to meetings. I, myself, go to a lot of different 12-step meetings and I have my own licensed drug and alcohol counselor, which is what I’m actually going to school for to further my recovery,” Diffendale said.
Diffendale said being in recovery hasn’t changed the outside world for him, but it has changed how he responds to it.
He said, “I still have to deal with all those things, those outside things haven’t changed. How I respond and internalize things have changed and the different messages I give myself. My coping skills are much different. It use to be if I was stressed, or even if I was joyful, I would drink and use just because that’s what I did. Recently, a good example would be the other day, I had a weird feeling and just wanted to get in trouble, so I baked three pounds of peanut butter fudge instead and brought it into my class just because baking is a good outlet for me now.”
Diffendale moved to Keene in 2008 and is originally from New Jersey. “I moved up here and went for a semester as a continuing education student and took two classes when I first came to the Keene community. My addiction then got really bad, so I did what I did and I was active for a number of years,” Diffendale said.
At the end of Diffendale’s using, he had overdosed and was in a 12-day medically induced coma.
The doctors told him they didn’t know how he was still alive. “That’s where my recovery took me, to the brink of death. I have really been given a second chance at life, and I’m taking that to heart,” Diffendale said.
He continued, “I found recovery, and in August of 2014 my cousin, who was more like a brother to me, passed away from [a] heroin overdose at the age of 24. Twenty-eight days later, my aunt also passed away from [a] heroin overdose at the age of 39. I had been talking about going to school, but when my aunt passed away it really hit home that maybe I should stop talking about going to school and actually go and do it. That really pushed me.”
Diffendale said recovery has given him several opportunities here in Keene. He is trying to bring awareness that addicts and alcoholics are normal people.
He has also gone through the Recovery Coach Academy and is currently working on hours to become a certified recovery coach. Along with that, he is Narcan, CPR, First Aid and AED certified.
He volunteers in the local community, along with working two jobs- one in the Mason Library and the other at the Dollar Tree.
Diffendale said, “I’m very vocal about my recovery because for me, I wouldn’t be a college student if I didn’t have recovery. I wouldn’t be here doing what I’m doing if I didn’t have recovery. I’m a 32-year-old non-traditional student, and it’s really awesome that even at my age, being a person in recovery and being a commuter student, I’m able to blend in with my classmates.”
When Diffendale was looking at colleges, he said the only thing Keene State lacked was having no recovery community.
He said he had difficulty finding who to talk to to get the group started, but once finding his advisor Michelle Morrow, things started falling into place.
“We have been discussing it for a year-and-a-half to figure everything out, and now we are at the point of having weekly meetings. Having this group as an outlet to connect with other students who don’t drink and don’t use, and to have a common community is helpful. Everyone kind of has a big community here on campus and we were kind of stuck, we didn’t have anything,” Diffendale said.
Senior psychology major and addictions minor Haley Monkton is an intern in the Counseling Center on campus. Monkton helped Diffendale start the student organization, along with their advisor Morrow. Monkton herself is also in recovery.
Monkton said they have been putting on different events every week for students, mostly focusing around education.
They have been tabling in different residence halls, starting with the first-year residence halls in the beginning of the year and moving to upperclassmen halls now.
“What we do is called Liquid Lunch. It’s basically an exercise where we have fake bottles of alcohol and students pour what they think the standard drink size is. People will either get it right on, over pour or under pour and either way it makes it an educational experience,” Monkton said.
“We talk about standard drink sizes, such as an ounce and a half is a shot, five ounces of wine and 12 ounces of beer all have the same alcohol content. I feel like it’s hard for people to grasp that concept, or they just don’t care about that. They pour 12 ounces of wine and they say, ‘I had one glass of wine,’ when really they had even more than two. We are trying to educate people so they can practice safe drinking behaviors.”
Monkton said the group is in the beginning stages, but hopes to have more attendance next semester.
She has been trying to get the word out by posting fliers around campus.
“I think it’s important to note that you don’t have to even tell us that you are in recovery or even tell us what your status is. It’s not a support group type of thing; it’s more like any other student organization. It’s just people getting together who have a commonality who can network with each other and plan events on campus. Nobody would be questioned if they came in. I do think people are kind of afraid, so I’m hoping that maybe this will help,” Monkton said.
Here on campus, Morrow works in the Counseling Center as the Coordinator for Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Prevention Education Services.
She received her undergraduate degree from New York University (NYU) in psychology, her master’s degree in health science also from NYU and her doctorate in counseling psychology from the University at Albany.
“I love helping students like Dante and Haley. I think what they’re building is huge and will have a big impact on campus. We don’t have an enormous amount of students in recovery, but we do have them and I think it’ll be helpful to them as a campus culture. It’s important to have this and [it] will raise awareness,” Morrow said.
Morrow said there’s a misperception to students, especially incoming students, that they have this idea that all college students drink and in large amounts.
The group is trying to address and clear up that misperception for students.
Diffendale said, “She [Michelle] is amazing. She is so smart and has so many good ideas. The thing is, the good ideas she has are things I have already thought about, but being that she’s faculty here she has a little bit more pull than I do. She takes the visions in my head and makes them actually happen. She’s a wealth of knowledge with the position she has on campus and with her being apart of the Counseling Center, [it] really ties in with the group I created well.”
Diffendale encourages others to come up and talk to him if you see him on campus. “At this point, you really can’t miss my pink hair, but for anyone who might be reading this and might think they have a problem or maybe someone they know might have a problem and are unsure of what to do, just come talk to me. I’m more than willing to tell anyone my story,” he said.
“If my story can help one other person not have to go through the pain and suffering that I did, and what my family went through looking at my addiction, that’s why I’m here and want to enter the professional world of being a drug and alcohol counselor. I’ve been there [and] done that.”
Diffendale hopes to make a difference in other’s lives. He said, “If I can save one person from going through that, then I have done a good job. Even if I don’t, telling my story helps me. It keeps me grounded and reminds me that at the end of my addiction, I was literally dead.”
Emma Hamilton can be contacted at email@example.com