During her first group treatment session for alcohol use, junior Lindsay Glosson cried the whole time. Two alcohol-related transgressions at Elon University resulted in her enrollment in an outpatient program at Alamance Regional Medical Center, despite her adamant objections.
“I was so mad,” she said. “I thought ‘This is not for me, why am I here?’”
For three nights each week, she sat alongside seven other patients struggling with alcohol and substance use and listened as they shared their stories. For the first week, she stayed silent.
“I thought, ‘I don’t fit any of these profiles, I’m just in college,’” she said. “But the more I listened to these people, the more connected I felt to them, and the more those stigmas just dissolved.”
Now, nearly a month after her first session, Glosson is launching a similar program for Elon students called Open Doors. She said the program will provide a safe space for students to share their experiences with substance use.
Glosson partnered with Jordan Perry, coordinator for health promotion, to design the program. In the sessions, they hope to discuss the popular stereotypes of college culture that influence many students’ expectations of college.
“It’s not just for students who have substance use problems themselves,” Perry said. “On a college campus, virtually everyone is impacted by substance use in some way. It’s something we see in the media all the time, and that’s not true for every college student, but it can certainly feel like that. I really do think that any student can benefit from this.”
Open Doors sessions will center on group discussions, anecdotes and personal experiences, much like those of the outreach program, Glosson said.
After her first week in the program, Glosson began to open up to the other participants. She was first exposed to the dangers of alcohol in 2005, when two boys from her hometown of Barrington, R.I. were killed in a drunken driving accident.
“It was hard because it was in the town, but not as hard as it could have been because I didn’t know the boys,” she said.
But two years later, the same fate claimed her friend’s boyfriend. She was in France when the accident happened, too far away to offer physical comfort to the grieving family.
“It was a paralyzing feeling,” she said. “It was so surreal.”
The next year, two friends of hers got in a car to drive home after a party. Both had been drinking, and the driver hit a tree. The passenger died, and the driver lived.
“All through high school, these were things I was experiencing, and they would hurt, but I didn’t walk away from it feeling changed, she said.
“I felt sad, like I was in mourning, but I didn’t feel like I learned anything other than someone died.”
When Glosson arrived at Elon, her perception of the campus culture matched her preconceived notions of college life at all universities.
“The atmosphere is you go to class, you drink and you have sex,” she said. “That’s the culture in which we’ve been raised and conditioned, and, consciously or unconsciously, that’s what we associate with the term ‘college.’”
For the first time in her life, she began experimenting with alcohol. On Halloween of her freshman year, she put her health in danger.
“I decided that would be my ‘go hard’ night,” she said. “I had never celebrated other than dressing up as a kid, and I lined up shot glasses on my desk in my room and knocked them all back.”
But, her shot glasses weren’t standard size. Designed to hold jello shots, the glasses held 2 ounces instead of 1.5 ounces. After ingesting 16 ounces of hard liquor, she remembers posing for a picture with her friends.
But she doesn’t remember the flash of the camera. She doesn’t remember heaving violently into the toilet as her concerned friends gathered outside the door. She doesn’t remember the resident assistant of her dorm entering the room, followed by campus security and a team of paramedics.
But she does remember how she felt the next day.
“I was so embarrassed,” she said. “I had never felt more disappointed with myself.”
She was put on preliminary suspension and barred for one year from studying abroad or holding a leadership position on campus.
But it didn’t stop her from drinking. During her sophomore year, her habits worsened.
“I began blowing off schoolwork, I wasn’t going to classes, and I was too frequently forgetting what I had done the night before,” she said. “I kept justifying it under the explanation that I was in college. I thought it was normal.”
By second semester that year, her college career was in jeopardy.
“I was almost failing two of my majors classes,” she said. “I was procrastinating and drinking all the time, and I was seeing my friends do the same thing. I heard people make comments about me, but none of my close friends expressed much concern.”
At the end of that year, a second run-in with campus security prompted the university to express its concern. When Glosson called her parents to tell them what happened, she could hear the disappointment in their voices.
“They weren’t mad, but they were exhausted,” she said. “I had been doing so much damage, and I felt so bad.”
Glosson spent the summer between her sophomore and junior years reflecting on her lifestyle choices.
“I learned a lot about myself,” she said. “I wasn’t reading pamphlets or doing research, but I sat down and figured out what was going on.”
She resolved to change her habits this fall, but the school still requested her enrollment in the outpatient program. Although she is no longer required to participate, she still attends sessions by choice.
“It’s a group of people who aren’t super-against substance use and recognize it’s a part of life, but realize there is a better way to go about it than what we’re doing,” she said. “With the knowledge I’ve gained, the desire to be drunk goes away.”
Glosson said she hopes the Open Doors program will give Elon students the same opportunity to learn from others by listening to their stories.
In order to maintain an inclusive environment, participants in the program will be asked not to share their last names or affiliations with campus organizations, Glosson said.
“Elon’s campus, although it’s a wonderful academic environment, can tend to be very divided,” she said. “Whether it be sports, Greek life or what year you are, there are all sorts of labels. We have a stigma for everything.”
Glosson and Perry are holding an Open Doors interest meeting 8 p.m. Oct. 9.
“Slowly, the word is getting out, and I’ve received an amazing amount of support,” Glosson said. “I want to give someone an opportunity to feel comfortable and safe and not judged or labeled.”