A Journeyman for Prevention

FCD Prevention Works specialist inspires students around the world

Meet Will S., musician and songwriter, Hazelden alum, and FCD Prevention Works global “road warrior” for prevention. Here, he shares his “been there” story of addiction and recovery as preface to his prevention work with students, families and schools.

When did you start drinking alcohol or using other drugs?

As a kid, I would steal sips of drinks left on the tables at adult cocktail parties. I was in eighth grade the first time I intentionally got drunk: I poured myself a glassful of liquor and drank the whole thing. Because of a history of addiction in my family, my parents had made clear to me both their disapproval of and the dangers of early alcohol use. But that genetic component coupled with my inclination to seek alcohol at a young age were two risk factors working against me right off the bat.

When did you know you had a problem?

I always felt something was amiss. I craved alcohol and tobacco more than my peers. Planning a camping trip with friends, I was concerned with making sure we had beer and tobacco while my friends were busy securing tents and firewood. I was beginning to associate good times with needing to drink. In college, I began putting more energy toward getting marijuana or alcohol and less energy into my schoolwork and relationships. The “best four years of my life” were overshadowed by unfulfilled potential and progressing addiction. After college, as a touring musician, there was the added challenge of often being paid in alcohol or other drugs.

How did you end up in treatment?

When I was in my early 30s, my parents and my uncle, a psychiatrist, knew I was struggling. After repeated efforts to help me get my life on track, they held a formal intervention. They had researched treatment centers and felt Hazelden in Center City, Minnesota, was the best place for me to go to get my life together. As I tell the students I work with now through FCD, going to treatment at age 34 was the first time since high school that I could access and enjoy my true self and feel the promise of good things to come.

Why did you decide to pursue a career as an FCD prevention specialist?

After 20 years as a touring musician and music instructor, I was ready for a change, ready to use what I had learned in life and in recovery in some way that could benefit others. My sister, who is a teacher in Nashville, told me about the work FCD was doing in her school. The more I learned, the more inspired I felt by FCD’s mission, and I decided to apply for a position. To qualify, you need to master a substantial amount of material in short order. You need to be in healthy, long-term recovery and be able to communicate effectively with people of all ages and backgrounds. It was an extremely rigorous hiring process, so getting the job was a milestone achievement for me.

In your experience, what makes FCD’s approach so effective?

The work we do is so affirming. Students who are making healthy choices feel validated to know they are in the majority. Students who are on the fence have more support for making healthy choices. We let students know that adults in their community genuinely care about them, and that rules and expectations at school and home are there, not to limit or punish them, but to give them the best chance of meeting life’s challenges and achievements with a healthy sense of self—and without dependence on substances. Messages like that resonate with the students, especially coming from an adult who talks openly and honestly about his or her own experience with addiction.
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