Devon Shuman, Managing editor
I heard Stephanie Tanner say “fuck” last week. That’s just one of the many perks of being a newspaper editor.
Actually, actress Jodie Sweetin, who played the sassy middle child on the 90s sitcom “Full House,” sweared quite a bit during her visit to campus on Monday to speak about her struggles with alcoholism, addiction and recovery. Sweetin was equal parts academic and personable, just as likely to discuss stigmas or encourage people to “share their humanity” as she was to drop an F-bomb or joke that her kids like to act like little shits in the middle of Target.
I absolutely loved it.
Perhaps my favorite line came during Sweetin’s group seminar, a small gathering of roughly 25 student leaders on campus who had the opportunity to ask her direct questions. One student inquired as to how she responds to the college partier’s common quip that “it’s not alcoholism until you graduate.”
Sweetin laughed. After a long-winded answer that eloquently touched on subjects such as the cultural allure of “high-functioning alcoholism,” the science of physical dependence and the unrealistic elements of the hit drama “Mad Men,” Sweetin dropped this one on us:
“It’s a maturity thing too, you know? When you’re 30 and walking around and going, ‘I’m a high-functioning alcoholic,’ your friends are gonna go ‘shut the fuck up. Pull yourself together.’ When you’re 18 and saying that, people think it’s funny.”
The room erupted in laughter — partly because of the hilarious and familiar way Sweetin rolled her eyes and drew out the line, “shuuut the FUUCK up,” but also partly because we recognized it as true. We’ve all heard people lean on the crutch of “it’s not alcoholism until you graduate.” And whether we said anything or not, on some level, we all knew it was bullshit.
I had certainly heard the phrase before. I’d said it myself as a freshman and sophomore. Last year, I reported on it when researching the connection between mental health and alcohol consumption. But for some reason, as I listened to Dr. Ritch Hall and Dr. Kip Alishio of Student Counseling Services speak about the numbers and statistics that disproved that phrase, it didn’t have much of an effect on me, and I doubt it did on many of my readers.
When Jodie Sweetin said it, we all listened. And we all waited for more.
I’ve attended a lot of great events on campus during my four years here. I heard Piper Kerman talk about prison reform. I laughed at Aziz Ansari and Seth Meyers. I embraced my inner middle-schooler at an All-American Rejects concert.
But nobody had as powerful an impact on me as Jodie Sweetin. Sweetin carried herself with an immense grace, speaking honestly and openly about her years and years of pain and darkness.
She talked about the feeling of being uncomfortable in her own skin, a sensation she inherited from her alcoholic biological parents. She talked about the years she spent chasing the glorious numbness of obliterating her mind. She talked about learning to be uncomfortable, to be in pain, and to keep moving forward. She talked about being empathetic and patient when reaching out to those we’re concerned about. She talked about the importance of sharing your story, of generating honest, open conversations surrounding an oft-stigmatized topic.
But she did all of this with a comforting and engaging ease. Not once in the hours I spent with her did I feel as if I was being lectured; these were natural conversations I could have been having with a roommate, or a friend from class.
This past Saturday, I celebrated four months since my last sip of alcohol. Like Sweetin, from my first time being drunk, I knew I had a problem, that I would always struggle to stop drinking once I started. But rather than address the issue, I tried to control it. For five years I endured terrifying, self-hatred-induced cycles of blackouts and hangovers just hoping that I wouldn’t wake up one morning with my life ruined, or over.
I sat in Hall Auditorium last week with a sober mind, but if I hadn’t, if I’d still been caught in the throes of alcoholism, I can honestly say Sweetin’s talk would have encouraged me to take a closer look at myself. She was candid, genuine and sociable. She delivered the same message I’d heard plenty of times before, but she did so in a way that forced me to listen.
The research behind addiction and alcoholism is quite advanced at the moment; the scientific community has a great understanding of what causes people to keep saying “just one more.” If you’re so inclined, there are great books and articles out there for you to seek out. But, if you’re living the college dream, going out every night and painting the town red like you’re told you’re supposed to, what’s going to motivate you to do that?
In no way is this meant to discredit the phenomenal work of the researchers and counselors dedicating themselves to fighting back against this disease that has ruined so many lives. What I’m getting at is that, in addition to their work, we need more voices like Sweetin. We need to create a culture of empathy, a society in which people don’t see their addiction as a personal weakness, but as a condition that can be treated, in which they see people like Sweetin and think, “hey, it’s okay to not be okay.” As Sweetin pointed out in her lecture, the more we share our stories, the more others will connect with our struggles and feel comfortable to take the first step toward recovery.
Miami has taken a fantastic step in the right direction by bringing to campus The Haven at College, an outpatient center for people struggling with alcoholism and addiction. Contrary to most 12-step programs, you do not have to self-identify or commit yourself to abstinence to go there. The Haven is a safe and sober space where anyone can come hang out. I encourage anybody with the slightest concern about their relationship to substances to head over there sometime soon. It’s exactly the sort of welcoming and judgment-free environment that we need to start cultivating throughout the rest of society.
I never hit my rock bottom. Through the guidance and support of my friends and family, I was able to seek out help before my life lost complete control. Others aren’t as lucky. If Sweetin’s message reached one person and encouraged them to seek treatment, or at least to speak up about their struggles, then her visit was a success.