Missouri State University’s Collegiate Recovery Program with the help of SoBEAR: Bears in Recovery, aims to support students in recovery so they may succeed academically.
Justin Johns, co-director of the CRP, originally created the organization because he saw a lack of campus support for students recovering from a substance use disorder or addiction.
“Often times individuals have to decide what is more important --- my recovery, or my education?” Johns said. “The CRP is really a student support service, where we try and provide support so that students can grow in their recovery, but also succeed academically.”
SoBEAR is student organization associated with the CRP and those who participate in the program are provided with several resources including meetings, alcohol and drug free social events, peer to peer support, leadership and service opportunities.
The Bears in Recovery meeting is a support group that gathers at 4 p.m. every Friday in the Monroe Apartments gathering room. The program also hosts several other sober social events including bowling and pizza nights and even sober tailgates.
“The idea behind these resources is that often times students in recovery do not get the same opportunities as your traditional student,” Johns said. “What I mean by that is, if you drink, or use a substance, that is ‘normal’ for a college student and there are plenty of opportunities to connect with your peers.
Johns concern is for those students who may feel isolated because they cannot participate in those “normal” college student activities.
“One of the best predictors of sustained recovery is social connection, and we want to foster that,” Johns said.
Another individual who knows the importance of campus community is Stephanie Zucchini, a graduate student at MSU pursuing her masters in mental health counseling. She is a member of the CRP and president of the SoBEAR student organization.
“College is difficult, stressful, and can sometimes be an isolating experience,” Zucchini said. “During times of stress, it is possible that students reach for substances to deal with it. But, if you are an addict or alcoholic, substance use is not an option to you if you are to stay in recovery. Therefore, having a source where students can reach out and where peers can support each other is very valuable.”
As Zucchini continues her own recovery, she wants to help anyone she can along the way.
“As a woman in long term recovery, anytime I have an opportunity to help another person struggling with addiction, it strengthens my own recovery,” Zucchini said. “My goal is to reach as many people as I can.”
Zucchini joined the CRP in the spring of 2018, while familiarizing herself with MSU’s campus. She had been searching for an Alcoholics Anonymous AA meeting on campus, but soon discovered it was not something MSU offered.
Since then, Zucchini has collaborated with the community AA district and MSU’s Christian Student Center to establish a permanent AA meeting for both students and members of the community. The meetings take place at 5:30 p.m. every Friday in the Bear Chapel.
“It has been an exciting and enlightening experience,” Zucchini said. “Being part of a student organization has helped me appreciate the efforts needed to organize events and publicize them. It is not as easy as one would think. This is especially true when you are part of an organization that potentially carries a lot of stigma.”
One way in which they are able to tackle that stigma is by participating in the Addiction and Recovery Summit.
“We see the summit as a way for the CRP to partner with our community to raise awareness and educate the public,” Johns said.
SoBEAR is not just for those seeking assistance in recovery, but also for anyone questioning themselves or family and friends. The program aims to be a resource for people to learn and understand how to help themselves or someone they care for.
“What I really want everyone to know is (that) we are here,” Zucchini said. “Approaching us is not an admission of a problem. I see anyone - the alcoholic or addict, the friend, or the family member, who comes to us with questions or concerns - as some of the strongest and bravest people I know. It takes courage to approach the unknown.”
The CRP and SoBEAR invite the student body and surrounding community to join them for their sober tailgate party on Sept. 21 at the Bear Chapel. The event will feature free food in an environment free of drugs or alcohol, with the opportunity to learn more about what the program has to offer.