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The other side

Cullen Hardy | Monday, February 28, 2011

I am a member of the elite group known as Notre Dame Alumni, along with my grandfather, father and two brothers. I have an amazing, loving and supportive family and a group of close friends who I wouldn’t trade for the world. I am a second year doctoral student in New Hampshire and have never been happier. But things were not always this way. While attending Notre Dame, I suffered from severe depression and anxiety and I engaged in self-mutilation, anorexia and bulimia. I also became an alcoholic, and I always will be. Although my last drink was on November 10, 2006, my next one could easily be tomorrow if I become complacent. My sobriety must always remain my top priority, and those closest to me understand that.

I began my Notre Dame career in the fall of 2000 and graduated in the spring of 2009. I participated in every self-destructive behavior imaginable during my career at Notre Dame and burnt almost every bridge I built. I’ve hurt my family, friends and many people I didn’t know numerous times. My early years at Notre Dame were peppered with Res-Life visits, legal problems, time away from the University, arrests, bouts of depression, countless instances of acting out and feelings of hopelessness and loneliness I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Most days were focused on spreading my own misery. I considered a successful day one where I ruined someone else’s. I was a menace and I loved every minute of it. I would smile at others’ misfortunes and most everything I said was a lie, especially to those closest to me. I cheated on my girlfriend on a weekly basis and laughed about it the next day. I hated everything about myself and frequently wished for a natural disaster or accident to end it all for me. I knew I was too much of a coward to commit suicide.

Alcoholism, depression and other mental disorders are prevalent on college campuses today, and Notre Dame is no exception. Our “Notre Dame bubble” may be picturesque but many students are suffering. There are alcoholics, cutters, anorexics, bulimics, students suffering from mild, moderate or severe depression and even suicidal students on campus right now and I want to say to those experiencing distress, you are not alone. We need to be aware of these issues and make a greater effort to identify and help those needing assistance. More student sponsored groups should be available that offer peer support in a safe and confidential environment. We also need to educate the student body about mental disorders and addiction so they aren’t taboo topics. The reality is that these issues exist and affect many of those around us.

If you feel alcohol is the root of your problems, whether it is in classes, relationships, or other aspects of your life, you have to reach out and ask for help. I thought my mandatory alcohol education classes were a joke and lied on every questionnaire I received about my drinking habits. Change, even positive change, was always a scary prospect for me. I was comfortable being miserable, angry and depressed and I knew these feelings well. I was happy in my own unhappiness. Do not be scared of getting better. I was. It is a frightening experience because you dive right into the depths of your unhappiness, insecurities and self-hatred, but this is the only way to get better.

Ask for help. Talk to a favorite professor, rector, dean, friend, relative, priest or sister and they can help you or accompany you in finding the proper assistance you require. Not only did Professor McKenna and Dean Preacher support and guide my academic career but they also showed care and concern for me as a person during my rehabilitation. I am blessed to have two life-long friends and I love them both. You don’t have to go through this alone.

I have been sober for over four years and am getting a doctorate in clinical psychology. The past ten years have led me to a future career as a therapist where I will be able to use my first-hand experiences, knowledge and insight to help those in need. I often tell people I’m thankful for being an alcoholic because I never would have found my true calling as a Clinical Psychologist if I never had these difficulties. I also firmly believe that, without going through this journey, I never would have reached a level of such happiness and inner peace. I was fortunate to experience my final year at Notre Dame sober, with an appreciation for life and with feelings of self-love that I had never felt. Notre Dame is truly one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen and we are all blessed to be a part of this great university. I experienced Notre Dame at my lowest and my highest and, no matter how bad things may seem, they don’t have to stay that way. Rehabilitation and recovery are the hardest things you will ever do but the inner peace and self-love attained is priceless. You must be honest with yourself, ask for help, and be willing to do the hard work; trust me, it’s worth it. As with all recovery, mine is an ongoing process and will take a life-long commitment — one I’m happy to make. There is light at the end of the dark tunnel many of you or your friends are traveling through and if I can get there, so can you.

Cullen Hardy is a graduate of the class of 2009. He can be reached at chardy1@alumni.nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.