Drew Sullivan ’16 (BGS) is Senior Vice President at American Program Bureau (APB), where he works with programmers and event planners at some of the top colleges, universities, and non-profits in the United States. He hosts the podcast “Small Steps. Big Change.”
The UConn Recovery Community Center (URC) in the Cordial Storrs House is a safe, supportive space on campus for students who are recovering from substance use disorders. The Center gives these students a substance-free place to study, relax, attend telehealth appointments, and connect with others who are in recovery.
Having just celebrated its tenth anniversary this winter, the URC continues its work making UConn as recovery friendly as possible. One example is the John Carter Whitney Scholarship, which provides support for students in recovery and who participate in URC programming.
Drew Sullivan ’16 (BGS) knows he could have benefited from the URC and this type of scholarship when he was a student. Now in recovery, Sullivan, who dealt with substance use and misuse during his four years as a UConn undergraduate, is committed to sharing his story to send the message that community is essential for those in recovery.
We spoke to him about his experience with substance use and misuse, and why the URC is vital to campus. (Responses were edited for length and clarity.)
UCONN FOUNDATION: What was life like for you as a student dealing with substance use and misuse?
DREW SULLVAN: I started drinking in high school. That was just the environment I grew up in and the culture of my hometown. When I got to UConn, if was the first time in my life where I didn’t have the checks and balances that I had my whole life. I started to push boundaries and went down a rabbit hole of using substances to overcompensate for lack of attention, self-awareness, and self-worth, and not understanding where I fit in.
UCONN FOUNDATION: What happened when it was time to graduate?
DREW SULLIVAN: I hadn’t finished my requirements and a lot of that had to do with my substance use. After four years I was leaving campus without a degree, after doing a lot of work and having a lot of experiences, and after being emotionally invested in a number of things that makes UConn “UConn” in so many beautiful ways. But I was leaving unsatisfied. That would be a trend for me for 9-10 years.
My friends were leaving with degrees, and I was leaving with a question mark.
Sullivan moved to New York City with friends and tried taking a class at UConn Stamford but did not pass. He moved to Miami, and eventually returned to Massachusetts to live with his parents and earned his UConn degree online. His substance misuse continued during this period and in August of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic and a DUI charge brought him to rock bottom. He knew he had to change and has been sober and in recovery ever since.
DREW SULLIVAN: I can’t tell you exactly how I did it but the reason I am sober now is because of community. COVID brought me to rock bottom but also gave me the framework to rebuild my life. I just started with a small group of people that I was very open and vulnerable with, and I just unapologetically lived this life, and said “it’s a sober life now.”
When I looked back at why things failed during my other attempts at sobriety, it was because I wasn’t open and honest with the community and the spaces I entered.
UCONN FOUNDATION: Why is the Recovery Community Center so important?
DREW SULLIVAN: There’s a reason it’s called the Recovery Community Center, not just the Recovery Center. That community goes right in the middle.
To be able to share with young people that not only is there a place on campus that is filled with all these riches to be able to help you navigate the challenges that are natural in college, but are also exacerbated by those that are in a dark place. Knowing that the Recovery Community Center exists is the first step. Knowing that there is an added effort and that the health and safety of all students is important, whether you’re in recovery or are you are thinking about getting sober. It is so powerful for students to know that if they say they have a problem, they are going to be welcomed into a community where there are far more people going through it than they knew.