By Thomas Infante
Students gathered in the Library Auditorium on Thursday, Sept. 22, and waited quietly for someone to begin speaking. The solemn atmosphere matched the similarly serious subject matter that would be discussed during the night. The presentation, titled “Five Thousand Miles,” by Rob Shearon, told the story of how he drove from Colorado to Alaska on a scooter in an effort to find peace after years of struggling with addiction.
However, before Shearon told his story, the audience was introduced to a 21-year-old man who only identified himself as “Mark A.” Mark didn’t have an extraordinary trans-continental journey to talk about — he was simply another man in recovery doing his best to better himself and those around him.
“Addiction is often stigmatized, especially because so many believe that it really doesn’t affect college students,” Mark said. “But obviously, that’s not true.”
Mark was born in Greenwich, Conn., to loving parents and siblings. He described his own family as “perfect.” At 5 years old, Mark developed Tourette’s syndrome, which seriously affected his day-to-day life for years to come.
“I felt like I didn’t fit in. I would isolate myself from kids at school to avoid rejection. It was the only time I felt at peace,” Mark said.
Mark’s struggle with addiction began at a private school when he was a teenager. He turned to alcohol and drugs to pass the time, since he had a difficult time making friends. His substance abuse escalated further upon his enrollment in college. Mark rarely went to class. He opted instead to use drugs and party whenever possible.
“I knew I had a problem,” Mark said. “The social component in a way was much more stressful than my actual education.”
The following year, Mark began to take Xanax frequently, often in combination with other drugs or alcohol. After a month, Mark began to have seizures as a result of his drug abuse. He recalled a text message that he sent to his friend immediately after being treated for his seizures: “I’m out of the hospital, let’s go get fucked up.”
“I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been in an ambulance this past year,” Mark said.
Mark soon dropped out of school and continued this lifestyle for some time. A few days after he turned 21, Mark suffered an overdose after mixing alcohol, marijuana, Xanax and cocaine. The doctors who treated Mark told his parents that he had about a 50 percent chance of survival and that even if he lived, he would likely be in a vegetative state.
“I remember waking up in the hospital two days after the overdose,” Mark said. “The doctor asked me who the president of the U.S. was, and when I answered right, my family was cheering because they were so thankful.”
Mark is now 84 days sober and attends Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings every day. He credits his continued success with being able to share his story with others.
After Mark told his story, Shearon got up to tell his, which began similarly to Mark’s. Shearon was born in Colorado. The oldest of four siblings, he enjoyed skiing and playing sports with his friends.
“My mom made me go to Catholic school until high school, but all of my friends went to public school,” Shearon said. “I used to hear stories about all the cool stuff that the public school kids would do and I felt like I was missing out.”
After starting high school, Shearon met his best friends who taught him to “steal and drink.” His grades soon started to slip, and Shearon began to feel inadequate as a result.
“I felt like I was letting my younger brother and sisters down,” he said.
After high school, Shearon began to attend University of Colorado Boulder. This did little to ease his addiction problems.
“I woke up in detox back-to-back weekends and I still didn’t think I had a problem,” Shearon said.
Shearon’s life soon began to go off the rails, and one day he called his best friend from childhood for advice.
“My friend told me that I had to get sober if it was really affecting my life so severely,” Shearon said. “I quit drugs for three days and I felt horrible. I couldn’t sleep at all, but I was too stubborn to go to detox.”
It was then that Shearon learned about the new Collegiate Recovery Center on his campus. He began to observe the people that would come in and ask for help, and one day, he saw his former drug dealer.
“I was like, ‘Really, you?’” Shearon said, laughing. “He had been sober for three years. He took me to a 12-step meeting, but I didn’t open up much.”
Soon after, one of Shearon’s closest friends named Tony died in an avalanche while skiing. The duo’s dream was to someday move to Alaska, and so Shearon decided to take the trip solo to “find himself.” Using only a black Honda scooter with a top speed of about 25 mph, Shearon was going to ride 2,500 miles north from Colorado to Alaska. He even set up a scholarship though his college’s recovery center so he could raise money through his trip.
“It took 22 days and 16 of them it, rained,” Shearon said. “And camping in the rain sucks.”
Once he made it as far north as Canada, Shearon began to feel extremely lonely. By the time he made it to his destination of Haines, Alaska, he was on the verge of suicide.
“I called the director of the recovery center,” Shearon said. “I was crying. I told him ‘I’m living my dream and I want to die.’”
The director told him to go to a local AA meeting, where he met a man named Joe that offered to go through the 12 steps with Shearon. He agreed, and soon his outlook on life began to change.
“I met a couple on a hike, and one of them was a former addict, too,” Shearon said. “They were so supportive. I had no idea there were so many people who struggled with the same issues that I did. Things started to make sense. I wanted to be helping other people. It gave me a new sense of purpose.”
Now, Shearon is a real estate agent in New York. When asked what recovery has given him, Shearon simply answered, “Everything.”