He flipped the little gray book over and over in his hands “I don’t even remember most of my last semester…I was probably sober only three days this summer.”
This little book is called “Daily Reflections” and it is an essential text for Alcohol Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous groups. A group that was recently created by Hunter Rauscher, associate director of Residence Life and Housing. The book serves as a guide for living your life substance free and works as a starting off point for discussions in meetings.
“Understanding the freedom of sobriety, it’s a whole new world of freedom,” said a student in recovery. “The day I felt free…” another student said.
Alcoholic and Narcotics Anonymous meetings provide a safe space for individuals suffering from substance abuse disorder that wish to seek help. The only requirement for a member is a desire to stop their substance abuse.
During the meeting, a group of three students gathered around a table and gave themselves over to a higher power for one hour and rejoiced about how much better their life got after seeking help. Along with these three students was Hunter Rauscher who is also in recovery.
Rauscher contacted many other organizations on campus such as the Talley center, office of student conduct and responsibility, the vice president of student affairs, the recreational sports wellness program, etc. to make sure they were all on the same page about the group, but not just with the intent and values of the program, Rauscher was also concerned about sharing his personal information because he is also a person in recovery.
“I didn’t think I ever could be free,” said Rauscher. “The disease of addiction is much more patient than I am…it’s waiting for me to mess up.”
Rauscher realized that in order for students to open up and trust him, he had to be open about his own situation.
“One day I was sick of hating myself…I had just lost all feeling and I was just faking it every single day and that just got to become heavy,” said Rauscher.
Not only does Rauscher want to help recovering students, he also wants to bring awareness to how prevalent this problem is by making students aware that their colleagues may suffer from substance abuse disorder.
“I think a lot of students, and people in general, don’t really look at an 18, 19, 20, 21-year-old as somebody that could have a problem…and in my experience, I’ve run into individuals that are 17 that are in recovery that had years’ worth of rather alcohol or substance abuse,” said Rauscher.
Students in AA are conscious about the constant difficulties they face in the process of becoming free from alcohol and drugs.
“There was the official day I was free from drugs and alcohol but I wasn’t free from anxiety,” said one student in AA.
In the meeting students expressed how they continue to struggle even after quitting, “the hardest thing is always saying no,” said another student.
Rauscher has not only been contacted by individuals in need of help, but he has also been flooded with students who just want to lend a helping hand and make a difference in their community.
“I think it’s much more difficult to handle because I feel like with peer pressure an explanation is wanted, right? So, if somebody says, ‘here have a drink’ and you say, ‘oh I don’t drink’ they’re going to ask why and so our students, especially our younger students, have to be able to feel comfortable to say, ‘no’ and no explanation is required,” said Rauscher.
Rauscher is glad that the program can make a difference and that students are coming forward to utilize the assistance it can offer them.
“I am just enormously proud of the individuals that can come forward and say, ‘I’m in recovery’ I mean they’ve already done the hard part, right? Like being in recovery shouldn’t be difficult,” said Rauscher. “It shouldn’t feel like a secret, it shouldn’t feel bad but I think…students feel awkward about being in recovery; they’ve already had their struggle and they’re working on a new life.”
Although Rauscher has kept clean for many years, he still relies on AA/NA to be his support system. “I love AA because for at least one hour in one room we’re keeping each other sober.”
Rauscher is working hard trying to spread the word around campus via posters, emails, Eagle Vision and more.
“I’m super excited that the university supports this…I think it shows that the university really cares about its students and its faculty and its staff,” said Rauscher.
Rauscher also gives himself over to a higher power, however for him, this power is the group itself. He realizes that many people may not identify with the religious aspect of the group, so he allows the higher power to be unique to each individual.
Rauscher, who formerly worked for VCU’s residence life for 20 years, was inspired by their campus recovery program. When he realized that UMW did not have similar programs he took it upon himself to create one.
“Knowing that there is this national epidemic for opium use and the situation with college drinking, we need a support mechanism for our students,” said Rauscher.
The AA/NA program began at UMW on Sept. 6. So far, there has been one meeting a week but Rauscher believes that this may be due to students having hesitations on identifying themselves with AA/NA.
Rauscher plans to start another program titled Eagles in Recovery. This group will provide a more relaxed environment for students, a place where they can get to know each other on their own terms. Students would be able to attend meetings on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights when they feel pressured to party and they can get help without feeling the stigma that they may believe is attached with being an AA/NA member.