What’s Life Like in a Substance Abuse Recovery Residence: Conversation with Oriana Murphy
College-aged students who want to get and stay sober may turn to residential living. Of course, this presents special opportunities and challenges at a time when students otherwise might live in dorms, apartments or sororities and fraternities. What are the benefits?
We spoke with The Haven’s Oriana Murphy, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor II who is passionate about helping young adults and their families navigate the challenges that arise from co-occurring disorders. She has been actively working with individuals and treatment programs for more than 15 years in a variety of roles and is dedicated professionally and personally to outlets that nurture recovery.
Oriana Murphy Explains What’s Life Like in a Substance Abuse Recovery Residence
Question: What are the special challenges of talking with college students about joining a residence at a time when they otherwise might be living in a dorm, living in an apartment with friends, living in a sorority or a fraternity? What is that conversation like around living in a sober residence?
Oriana Murphy: I think it’s mostly around what protective factors we can provide, because the cool part of the Haven is the students that are living in our residences, they get to really come and go as they want. So they get to still live that college lifestyle in terms of hanging out with friends, going places. There may be alcohol there, but they get to go. So it’s really more about sort of connecting with the students on, “Hey, these are the cool parts of living in a residence.” You’re going be, at least in your living space – your living space is sort of a safe haven. That’s a double play on the word “haven.” But that’s what it is. You’re surrounded by other people that are better sober, so you don’t have to come home to a drunk roommate, which is really nice. And you also know that there’s going to be some accountability.
So if you go to that party and you’re having a hard time and you want to drink, you can have in the back of your mind, “You know what, I may not be able to. I may have to check in with someone when I get home. So maybe I shouldn’t drink tonight,” and how beneficial that can be. I think that’s really sort of banking on, getting sort of that money in the bank with the students of, “You can go live your life, but you’re going to have a safe place to come back to.”
Question: How do you describe what you do for a living? How did you get here?
Oriana Murphy: I would describe is that I am responsible for fostering a community of recovery and support. I’m sort of at the helm of this community where my responsibilities are, who do I put in place in this community so that any resident that comes through our program feels that they’re always going to have at least one face that they feel comfortable talking to. I think that a lot of people go in and out of treatment settings, whether it’s sober living, they’re outpatients or whatever, and this may not be the last stop for some of our students. So because of that, our responsibility is even greater to plant seeds and be a friendly, warm, inviting face. So that, should a person not stay sober for the rest of their lives after us, maybe they drink again or move back home, something else. But they can think back when life gets hard again, or when it’s like, “Oh gosh, this drinking thing really has become a problem.”
They can think back and say, “Oh my gosh, that Oriana, or fill in the blank name. They treated me with a lot of respect. Like I might be willing to get help again because I had that good experience.” And so I think that that’s sort of like what I do, is that I provide that good, respectful human experience. And that I foster a community, or I help foster, I’m going to do that to the same.
I guess just personally for me, this is a labor of love for me, working in this field, and I’ve been doing it for a really long time. This specific population is so important to me, because I didn’t have it when I was in college, and so I’m just excited to be able to be a part of it. I was someone who got sober after college, and I sort of have a rare story in that I was able to graduate. So I’m just happy to share answers to any questions that I can.
Question: What is your story? How did you get to this place and what inspired you to do this?
Oriana Murphy: The brief is that I started drinking at 11, and my parents were academics, and there was never a question of whether I would go to college or not. And I went to college on a music scholarship, and sort of my alcoholism really took off there, and somehow I was able to graduate and get back home, and I guess after I graduated college, I was almost at my last leg of losing everything. I’d started a master’s program. It’s crazy whenever I think about it, I started a master’s program because I really wanted to help people. So I was sort of guided towards this even before I ever even took a sober breath. I would have probably had to drop out of that program pretty quickly had I not gotten sober as well, as I was sort of on the brink of losing a job.
And one thing after another happened, and I found myself in a sober living environment. Shortly after that, I really just started kind of volunteering my time to help people, and I was initially with the adolescents, and then started to sort of navigate this process. I finished that Master’s program and didn’t know what I wanted to do with it. So I ended up getting another certification in drug and alcohol counseling and working in the treatment, mental health world. And eventually, I went to USC to get my master’s in social work. I really wanted to work with families. That was the thing that has always really kind of fueled me.
So I got to work with families and work with students, sharing my own message of recovery while also sort of being at the helm of a program, which is something I love. I love fostering a community where people are coming in and it’s like, “OK, how do I want this to look, what do I want the experience with each of our students to be and how can I help implement and create that.”
I just celebrated 14 years sober, and I’m an LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker), and I’ve been now working in the field for almost 15 years now. But it’s always been about the young adults and the adolescents in that college group.
Question: Congratulations to you, Oriana. And good for the people whom you help – they get to benefit. Thank you so much for your time.
Oriana Murphy: Thank you.