Friday, May 3, 2013

Sobriety high

I'm going out on a limb here to talk about something I know not much about. But it feels right, so here goes.  This is my opinion with maybe a few facts.

There are a several high schools around the country that are for kids who need to be away from the pressures of drugs and alcohol, so that they may not only succeed, but they may live a drug free life. For them it is a safety issue. These are the kids who have the disease of addiction.

Like most addicts and alcoholics, their behavior creates a label for them in regular schools.  They are the burn-outs (do they use that one anymore?) At my school they were called the "skids."  They are the troubled kids, the bad kids, the kids that don't really matter.  These are the kids that the school just wants to move along.  Usually.

In my day, some of them dropped out.  Some of them sold me my drugs.  Some of them made it.  Many of them struggled. And all of them were labeled.

I managed to keep a foot in all of those worlds as a teenager,  as I pretty much have been doing all of my life.

I live in a state where recovery is king.  We are often called Minne-sober.  The land of 10,000 treatment centers.  We have Hazelden, a treatment that paved the Minnesota-model, and prides itself on being the best of the best.  I might have some bias, but I think they are fucking great.  I have no hate on "The Den," as we like to call it here at our home.

This is what happened.

Here are two important schools closing in my community, and these kids and parents are left to scramble for alternative schools, maybe homeschool, back to regular public schools, maybe they will feel so screwed over, they will just drop out and give up.  If we don't care, how can they?

As the article above points out a few things went wrong with this model.  Not including the huge loss they had when a major backer of the school pulled out.  They had a zero tolerance for drug use on campus.  If you get caught, you get kicked out.  The problem with a model like that is these kids have substance abuse issuses.  OF COURSE THEY MIGHT USE.

Using a substance on campus, in a treatment center, and places where abstinence is the goal can create problems for everyone. But someone who is so sick that they are using in a sober environment, need the most help. Some folks never get to abstinence. Some need harm reduction. Everyone is different. Throwing them out, with a disease, doesn't help.

As the article above suggests, the funding by the state falls short, because of the no tolerance approach loses a lot of kids. They come in and out of the program, and the school loses funding for those students. That makes it hard to run a school. It worked for 22 years, but now, it's over.

Here is my question. And it might be a dumb one.  If addiction is a diagnosable disease, and the federal laws clearly state that all children have the right to an education, then why isn't it mandetory to help these students get through school, in a safe place? I understand that addiction issues are not the kind of  "disability"  that probably falls under the student disability act. But should it? All children have the right to be educated, right? This is a public health issue, right?  Again, it's because of the stigma of this disease. And in my opinion, it's bullshit.

That model didn't work.  But the good news is that there are more models out there. And more coming.

Actress/Author Kristen Johnston is raising money to start a sober school in NYC called SLAM. The model is different. She says, "I would NEVER be zero tolerance! We look at it like we're planting seeds." Which makes sense.  Recovery is a process.  And seeds need to be planted.

As soon as I have a link for you to donate to S.L.A.M. or other schools like this, I will post them.

I haven't looked into any other sober schools in the Twin Cities. I'm sure there are others. I just hope someday we can all think differently about this issue of addiction and leave the shaming out of it so everyone can be helped.

If I had tried to sober up in high school (it never crossed my mind), it would have been impossible in the environment I was in. But, if I would have sobered up in high school, think of where I might be? But even so, I'm here now. And it's kick ass.


  1. Great post Betsey! Thats great that the actress is doing that.

  2. I honestly had no idea places like that existed for students. I live in rural Montana, and drug use in our local middle school and high school is ridiculous. Weekly, if not bi-weekly drug dog visits, huge amounts of drug busts, etc. Fascinating.

    1. I rode a train through Montana. What a beautiful place that is!!

  3. I honestly don't know if every kid is guaranteed a right to an education any more. When kids are expelled I don't know if there is a provision for them to be educated elsewhere. If you think about a lot of rural districts there may only be one high school, so if your kid gets booted where are they going to go? We have a small town in the southern part of our county, the next closest high school is 40 minutes away and not always reachable by car in the winter. I suppose they could be home schooled. I'm not trying to say there's no federal law, just that I wonder how it works in actuality instead of how they imagine it on capitol hill.

    1. I never really took the rural areas into consideration. I also don't have any answers for this. And of course, many kids have no plan on trying recovery because they aren't ready, or they don't ever want it. I'm just bummed that our schools are closing. For those kids who do need/want a sober environment at school, it really is a bummer.

    2. For kids who are expelled from rural schools, the district fulfills their obligation to educate them by sending in-home tutors to help them complete credits. It is a discouraging process for many students, who often drop out.
      I graduated from an alternative program called STEPS within my high school. The program requires students to complete drug testing if any suspicions are raised about chemical use. If a student has two positive drug tests they are given the option of completing a chemical use assessment and following recommendations, or leaving the progam. A community infraction, such as minor consumption, counts as a positive drug test. It's not a "sober school" but they provide a refuge for many students who aren't supported in mainstream. The personal relationship I had with my teacher in STEPS made all the difference in my recovery, which began when I was 15.