WVU program helps pave the way for students in recovery

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (WBOY) – Drew O’Connell is part of the Collegiate Recovery program at West Virginia University.

Drew, who is originally from Wheeling, came from Maui, Hawaii to West Virginia almost two years ago looking for a new life. After struggling with addiction since he was 14 years old, he reached a point where it was time to seek help and to start his journey through recovery. He mentioned that he knew he hit rock bottom when all he had to his name was a tent, no money and barely any food.

His journey began by traveling to Aurora, West Virginia for addiction treatment at Jacob’s Ladder. There, he was shown compassion and hope that he can succeed through recovery.

Jacob’s Ladder at Brookside Farm is a six-month residential recovery program offering long-term recovery experiences. In 2018, it was named Best Addiction Recovery Resource in West Virginia by WV Living Magazine.

According to Jacob’s Ladder, there are music and arts programs as well as the best wilderness adventure therapy, while immersed in a farming community.

“I came from white sand beaches and crystal blue waters to cold West Virginia, farming hills, and I couldn’t be more grateful.”

Drew O’COnnell

Drew emphasized that he wanted to be clean but didn’t know what to do with that clean time. So through Jacob’s Ladder, it gave him the education and resources he needed to get back on his feet and to start working.

The staff at Jacob’s Ladder would bring him to the Collegiate Recovery program at West Virginia University on Saturdays for football games.

Drew slowly started asking questions and learned that most of the students there are just like him. They’re in recovery, starting where he did in a treatment center and they started shedding light that it’s possible for him to get an education.

“The people in front of me that lead the way, I owe them so much that they showed me that college is possible in recovery. This place helped me get into school and helps me while I’m in school. It helped me find peace. There’s so much hope inside these walls.”

After he enrolled at WVU, he quickly found his passion for public speaking and became an active member of Collegiate Recovery.

Drew mentioned that Collegiate Recovery offers tutoring, meditation services, helps students find jobs, and if you find yourself taking a left turn, it’s the place to come find that peace to keep going throughout the day. He is able to continue his 12-step program by having his meetings in a safe space. It also gives you an opportunity to meet people from different walks of life.

“There are a lot of students that come from Jacob’s Ladder and the recovery community. There’s a lot of people rolling through here and doing their best it’s definitely paving a way,” said Drew.

Drew said that Collegiate Recovery is not somewhere you have to be clean for years or months. It’s somewhere to be safe, get help with school or take a free yoga class.

Drew has been given many opportunities to speak out about his journey through recovery during school assemblies. He said he is happy to share what he went through if it means shining a light on addiction and helping others. When he is speaking, he tries to remind them to make healthy positive lifestyle decisions.

He said, “My goal is to always get to them before they start suffering, so they don’t make the same life decisions as I made. It’s a large epidemic and to stop it from growing, you have to stop it while they’re in it and stop before they get to it.”

Drew also has a podcast about his experience with hope and the rawness of addiction and recovery. There are episodes dedicated to discussing his everyday lifestyle and also a parent’s perspective on addiction.

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