(originally posted at emich.edu)
Addiction recovery is more than a topic of study for Aaron Suganuma (BS’13) and Miriam Shabazz (BA’08), graduate assistants in Eastern Michigan University’s School of Social Work. The trail blazing duo, poised to earn their master of social work degrees this spring, took their dedication to the next level by co-founding Students For Recovery (SFR), Eastern’s first collegiate organization designed to promote the academic and social well-being of students recovering from addictions.
SFR, which emphasizes healing and wholeness through service, empowerment and community building, has over 100 on its mailing list, meets bi-monthly, and offers hope and support for those in recovery as well as allies lending a helping hand.
“Student life is fraught with triggers for addictive behavior,” says Suganuma, 32, whose degree specializes in mental illness and chemical dependency. “SFR provides a safe, sober and supportive alternative.” Addictions represented include drugs, alcohol, eating disorders and gambling, adds Suganuma, who served as treasurer when SFR first formed in 2013.
Shabazz, who has the same degree specialty, echoed his sentiments: “The work hard/ party hard atmosphere that some embrace in college can make it difficult to lead a balanced life. Our meetings provide peer support and an environment that reinforces healthy behaviors.” The group gathers in the Wellness Center resource room which offers free WiFi, TV, and a comfortable space to hang out, complete with a “comfy couch,” adds Shabazz, the group’s first president.
Eastern is not unique in its need for a student recovery group. Addictions plague campuses across the country, especially prescription drug abuse—the fastest growing drug problem in the country for college students. Between 1993 and 2005, use of opioids increased by 343 percent, and use of stimulants like Adderall, sometimes misused as a study aid, increased by 93 percent for this group, according to national studies.
At SFR meetings, members give moral support and plan social and service projects, says Shabazz, adding that past projects included planting trees at the Dawn Farm Treatment Center and volunteering for the Ann Arbor Summer Festival. SFR also has coordinated with a similar recovery group at the University of Michigan for off-campus activities.
“Addiction is a disease that consumes individuals with ‘self.’ Service gets us outside of ourselves and helps us make amends for the years we consumed more than we contributed,” says Shabazz. Both she and Suganuma say they are in long-term recovery.
“Aaron and Miriam are trailblazers whose passion and determination were instrumental in starting the organization,” says Kathy Walz, SFR adviser and health education coordinator at the Wellness Center, which houses SFR meetings and the future Collegiate Recovery Program.
“There was a significant void on campus for students in recovery before Aaron and Miriam,” adds Tana Bridge, professor and director of the master’s program, School of Social Work. “Their accomplishments truly reflect our values as a school and the social work profession.”
The students are just as complementary about EMU’s School of Social Work and the Wellness Center. “EMU faculty and staff are passionate about their concentrations. They’ve shown me anything is possible when a dream is followed up with positive action,” says Suganuma.
“I’ve never had a learning experience that was as challenging and supportive as EMU’s MSW program,” adds Shabazz. “I’m thankful every day that I decided to come to this school.”