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Friday, May 23, 2008

He liked what he saw between the binges: Recovery from addiction

In the darkest days of a 30-year drug addiction, Vera Crowl was homeless and living on the streets of southern California, getting by on odd jobs and sometimes operating outside the law. The college degree she had started decades earlier was all but gone, as was her ambition for a singing or theatre career.

"I got into the deepest, darkest addiction," she said. "I was doing all kinds of stuff for drugs and money." But today, after being clean and sober for more than seven years, Vera, 55, is taking her last class for a Bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Dayton and is planning to begin a Master's in clinical counseling at UD in the fall. Because UD doesn't have a summer commencement, she was included in the spring ceremony this month.

She wants to become a substance abuse counselor, a call she says she received from God one evening during Blessed Adoration. By then, she had conquered her addiction and had become active in the Catholic community in Richmond, Indiana, where she now lives. "I haven't allowed myself to feel proud, because I'm so full of gratitude," she said. "Gratitude to God for calling me to His service and for His purpose. Gratitude to the recovery programs that have supported me, UD, my family, friends and the Richmond Catholic community."

Hers is a story of hope and commitment, and following God’s call. She grew up in St. Louis, graduated from a Catholic high school, and went to Southeast Missouri State, where she began "partying" too much. "I was mostly doing stimulant pills, and then I would take downer pills to sleep. It was crazy. I was young and strong," she said. "It just never occurred to me this was a problem. It was just something we did."

After four years at the school, she dropped out, a drug addict with no degree. She later moved to Berkley, Calif., to be with some friends who didn't abuse drugs and wanted to help her. She worked in a restaurant and did personal care in private homes.
"Not even these good, good friends could keep me or stop me in just progressing in my addiction," she said. "I tried to get help, but I kind of always fell prey to the need for drugs and alcohol." She ended up losing her jobs to drug use.

"It never occurred to me to stop," she said. "I kept thinking if I got it under control I would be OK. I just got worse." Eventually, another friend encouraged her to move to southern California, and he too, tried to help her. Her addiction did lessen, and she began working temporary jobs, but after several years she was back to being a full-blown addict, she said.

She moved again and ended up homeless and lived on the streets for five years. It was then she met Dick Crowl, the man she would eventually marry. He worked for the company where she did odd jobs. They began talking and spending time together. It didn't take him long to figure out she was an addict, but he told her he liked what he saw "between the binges," she said.

It was a step.

"That was my first glimmer of hope," she said. "My self-esteem was just crushed by that time. I didn't think there was anything in my life to appreciate or love, including God. I just felt so hopeless. I felt like I'd ruined my whole life."
The two decided to leave California and settled in Richmond. She was committed to getting clean, because "I didn’t want to live like that anymore," she said. It took a few tries, but recovery took hold. They married in 2000.

She became active in the church. "When I came back to the Catholic Church, all those (drug addict) memories flooded back. I was so ashamed."

It was then that she heard God's call to counseling. A few weeks later her father, an ordained deacon, received a letter informing him about a UD scholarship available to his family for his service to the church. She contacted the school, took some practice classes, and started at UD in January 2006.

She has taken a full course load of classes every semester — even summers — commuting to Dayton from Richmond several times a week. She also works part-time as a hostess in a Richmond restaurant.

"It's difficult to return to school after 30 years on the outside," she said. "It was a culture shock. But I've learned to accept success, I've learned to accept failure, and I've learned a lot about humility."

She takes inspiration from her father, who went back to school after he retired.
Vera won this year's Nora Duffy Award, presented each year to a UD adult learner who has overcome significant obstacles to achieve a baccalaureate degree and who reflects the spirit of the Marianist tradition.

Wiebke Diestelkamp, a mathematics professor at UD, nominated Vera for the award.
"Her church and her friends and her community are very, very important to her. She has a very strong sense for giving back and appreciates those gifts that she ahs been given," Diestelkamp said. "I'm very proud that she made it and that she didn't give up and that she did persevere."

Vera shares her story as a message of hope — that there is always hope — and faith.
"I wake up every morning, and I open my garage door, and I thank God. I thank Him for another opportunity to serve Him. I thank Him for my life," she said. "I have no doubt that God's hand is in everything. He allowed me to survive my own poor choices."

Advice: Help others through the problems you overcame.

Read another recovery story.

Thanks to David Eck for the source story in today's Catholic Telegraph.

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