Stories of Addiction: How Emily Eisenhart Fought for Her Sobriety at Age 22
Emily Eisenhart had not done her homework.
For any other college student, cruising through their final semester at the University of Georgia with a 3.8 GPA (in the honors program, no less) the slip might have been considered minor, a brief lapse in memory that could be easily corrected with an all-
nighter at the library or a quick Wikipedia rundown.
When you’re an addict, things aren’t quite that black and white.
“It sounds so simple. But I always did my homework, even when I was going to drink,” she says. “I got up one morning and realized I’d been drunk all weekend when I said I wasn’t going to be. I’d been driving around spun out on cocaine and prescription pills. I knew it was only a matter of time before something really tragic happened.”
Eisenhart describes her story as atypical. And in many ways, it is. She dedicated the majority of her high school career to athletics and academics, rising to captain of the soccer team before abruptly calling it quits senior year. Fed up with rigid structure, Eisenhart’s new norm became afternoon trips to the local gas station—fake ID in hand—to pick up a six-pack of Corona. Collegiate life, with its Thirsty Thursday’s, sorority mixers and marathon tailgates, only further exacerbated the issue, and it wasn’t long before the rotation of drinking/studying became a natural ebb and flow. Though she made numerous vows to cut down on the booze, Eisenhart soon recognized that this addiction didn’t necessarily conform to the same standards she’d applied to her other endeavors. She couldn’t understand why she kept failing. True, she was still maintaining the appearance of an astute scholar, but Eisenhart was sinking further into the “underbelly” of hardcore substances. The facade only cracked within the confines of two groups: those she was doing drugs with and those who knew her best.
“It was one of those things where only the people I was using with or living with saw the effect addiction had on my personality. The way it would change the decisions I was making,” Eisenhart says. “Even the people who were doing it too, they held a kind of intervention and told me I was out of control. That was who stepped in, because the rest of the world didn’t know.”
That last bender took place over Labor Day weekend in 2007, right after the first football game of the season. This time, however, Eisenhart took action. She spent six days (all her insurance would cover) in state-funded care at Anchor Hospital in College Park before returning to campus. Choosing sobriety at 22, Eisenhart knew how important it was for her recovery to find a support group with young peers who shared her experiences and interests. Music had always been a huge part of her life, and she spent many nights posted outside the Georgia Theatre with other twelve-step supervisors, shaking and chain smoking to get over the hump—anything to keep from taking a drink. It worked, and finishing her college career sober just became one of many firsts on what she sums up as a “crazy journey” of things she thought she’d never do.
“People in my recovery would always say, ‘Imagine the most wonderful things happening in your life. If you can do the things that others have done before you to get sober, your life is going to exceed your wildest dreams,’” Eisenhart recalls. “I didn’t believe that it would happen for me, but then this field I swore I’d never get into, it ended up changing my life again.”
Back in 2011, Eisenhart had just earned her master’s degree in social sciences from Georgia Southern. When the position of director at the university’s on-campus Center for Addiction Recovery became available, she initially bristled at the idea, wanting to keep her recovery identity “separate” from her professional one. But six years in, the mother of two now relishes the vital role she plays in the lives of the students that seek out the center’s resources for continuing treatment support each semester. They’re not so different from the person she was ten years ago, trying to successfully navigate the scary spaces and social constructs of a customarily “abstinence-hostile” environment. A self-proclaimed research fanatic, Eisenhart is also currently pursuing a doctorate in public health and remains hopeful that the national conversation on addiction in America will only continue to progress.
“This job has really enlightened me as to what it means to be ‘out’ and in recovery,” she says. “For some people—whether it’s that nature of their career or not—there’s still such a stigma that it can somehow harm your credibility. It’s a shame, but it’s changing. It already has.”
"Imagine the most wonderful things happening in your life. If you can do the things that others have done before you to get sober, your life is going to exceed your wildest dreams. "