Overcoming obstacles so I can help others 

December 27, 2019 

Winning this award has been surreal.

I submitted my application while anticipating nothing in the way of actually being awarded the scholarship, with the idea that if I was to be awarded that it would mainly make things easier for me, even if it was just for one semester. To actually receive the award and scholarship was, at first, thrilling, and now that the initial impact has worn off it is still exciting. It is exciting, not only to be awarded the scholarship, but to also be a part of a larger foundation in general that advocates for those in recovery who are trying to better themselves and make more out of their lives. More than anything else, this award feels like a shining symbol of achievement for the work that I have put into school over the past 4 years, an acknowledgment that hard work does in fact pay off in the end, and for that acknowledgment I am grateful.

I first used drugs when I was 15, and within the year I had been arrested for possession of marijuana, gotten suspended from school, and gotten my girlfriend pregnant. It took me 10 more years of using and holding myself back in many various ways before I finally hit my bottom and wound up in a detox facility. While I was there I had an opportunity to get away from my using, and I finally had an open-enough mind to listen to others who came in to the facility sharing their stories of recovery. Those stories resonated with me in a way that nothing else had, and after several days without drugs, I was able to admit to myself that I too had an addiction. Those first nights after leaving that facility were fraught with confusing desires to use, while that underlying intellectual need to stay away from drugs bounded through me.  I wasn’t able to stay abstinent the first two nights.  I thought alcohol was really my biggest issue, and that getting high was never a problem for me; so I used.  It was that second night, alone and high in my basement, when I realized that getting high was not enough, and I would return to mixing alcohol and drugs and that I would end up worse than before.

From that point forward, I maintained my long-term recovery through all life has to offer. I was 25 when I entered recovery, and the last seven years have brought me many amazing opportunities, as well as struggles that come with cleaning up the wreckage of the past. The first year, when my main focus was to just not pick up again, I also came to see much of what I had missed out on. Throughout the years, I have recovered such a great deal of what I once thought was lost to me.  I now have a relationship with family and everyday am becoming a better father, brother and son.  Even since being awarded this scholarship and now writing this telling of my story I have gotten engaged to my wonderful girlfriend, with a wedding planned for next November.

I have also gained many meaningful relationships with colleagues, peers, friends, both in and out of recovery, and extended family. I have become accountable and dependable, and I am now someone who can meet and exceed expectations. Recovery showed me I was capable of more than simply living day to day while abstaining from drugs. Recovery showed me that I could rise to a challenge, excel and still be ready and willing to push farther. With recovery, I admitted to myself and my loved ones my desire to become a writer. It took me three years to realize this dream and sign up for classes at my local community college. Since I enrolled, I have been in attendance every semester, taking one class at a time while working full time, and spending every weekend with my son, and still managing to acquire an A in every class. Enrolling in school also showed me another passion that I had previously been unaware of – psychology.

This dream of bettering my life, of becoming a writer, of studying psychology, has led me to the path I am currently on. I want to transfer to a four-year university within the next year or two and hope to eventually pursue a master’s degree in either field (English or Psychology). I have already achieved so much in recovery that it is astonishing for me to see the effects on my life. I remember being scared and timid about living my life in early recovery, and now I am have an active role in my life and goals. Where I will end up is still uncertain, but I already know that wherever I do end up it will be worlds away from where I started.

Initially, my biggest hurdle in pursuing education was myself and my previously failed attempts. I was terrified to put myself back out there into a world I had shunned and ran from, I was afraid to give my full effort and fail all over again. I have always been fascinated by sciences, art, history, and literature, despite my attitude towards education, though, I was at a point where I didn’t think idle fascination could translate into actual success if I attempted college again. More than anything, my own self-doubt, depression, and anxiety kept me from ever truly attempting to re-enroll in college. When I was finally able to put the doubts behind me, finances became the largest obstacle for my education.

I was only ever able to afford one class at a time, even the discount for enrolling full time at the local community college was well outside of what I could afford. My employer offers a school reimbursement program, but I have to put the money upfront, and I get reimbursed at the end of the semester depending on my final grade. It took me months to save up the initial cost for a class, which at the time was $601.00 plus the textbook. Though, the reimbursement plan through my employer has effectively allowed me to roll over that initial sum, or investment in myself, every consecutive semester since 2015. The cost of class has risen since then, and each semester brings with it another contractual obligation with my employer stating that I will remain employed there for 2 years following the completion of that specific class, and if I leave prior to the contractual obligation or I am terminated, I will owe my employer recompense for the classes within that period. While, the reimbursement plan has since given me the financial ability to pursue my education, the contractual obligation to my employer, and the threat of having to pay back thousands in the event of pursuing a new career, or termination, is an unsettling feeling. 

Currently, I hope to transfer to the University of Rhode Island within a year. This would mean transferring prior to finishing my Associates Degree at the Community College of Rhode Island, which would allow me to focus on my goal of a double major in English and Psychology. While at URI, I hope to be able to get involved with psychological research while continuing my studies in English. I do not have a specific career in mind as of right now, though, I do know I want to write, and ultimately, I want to help people.

Dreams are why I am pursuing my education in my recovery. And while pursuing my dreams I have found passion, ability, understanding, and a desire to do so much more with my life than to simply live day to day while struggling to barely get by. I want to leave behind something greater than myself, or at least be a part of something greater than myself. I want to help others, and show them that they can succeed, that they can overcome the obstacles and hardships that life has instore for them, I want to show my son the value of education. I want to succeed in ways that I never imagined before, and put myself into new, strange, and exciting vistas so I can rise to new challenges, and never stop learning. Because, though, my passions so far have been stated in regard to English and Psychology, I’ve also learned that I have a passion for learning. I can pursue all of these facets while still working towards my goals through higher education, which has  changed me more than my recovery alone. This change has been so positive and enlightening that I cringe at the thought of my life without education, just the way I cringe at the thought of my life without recovery.

– Stephen Coutu, Recovery Date: 02/29/2012, Community College of Rhode Island, Liberal Arts with a concentration in English

The Ammon Foundation believes that when individuals are holistically and strategically supported to build purposeful lives, the likelihood of them maintaining their recovery substantially increases. We provide this support via our Ammon Recovery Scholars Program. Our program goals include: removing financial barriers through financial scholarships; providing strategic support for recipients through offering personal, professional and academic support; and creating a supportive peer community committed to combating the stigma associated with addiction by promoting that recovery is possible. We are committed to giving away at least $100,000 in scholarships annually and are looking to fund education as a stepping stone to stable employment, safe housing and adequate healthcare. To find out more about our programs, or to apply for an educational scholarship, please click here or email scholarships@ammonfoundation.org.