21-year-old Mason Collie has come a long way since being arrested at school on drug charges. Collie was in his junior year of high school then and at 17 was facing “years of prison time.” (“17 is the age at which you’re considered an adult in Texas,” he explained in a recent interview.)
Today, the future looks bright for the undergraduate recipient of the 2023 Hope for Healing Scholarship. Collie, now a senior at the University of Houston, is preparing for medical school and wants to specialize in addiction medicine. He is also:
- a leader in the campus group “Cougars in Recovery” and co-founder of its service arm,
- participating in three summer medical trips to Guatemala, Ghana, and Greece,
- and beginning a job as a research assistant in Memorial Hermann Hospital’s Maternal-Fetal Medicine department.
The story of how Collie got here is one of struggle, adversity, hope, and recovery….
Drug and Alcohol Addiction
The drug and alcohol problems began somewhat innocuously during Collie’s sophomore year of high school as a weekend habit of “sneaking alcohol” from his parents’ house. By the next year, though, Collie was “dealing drugs, drinking and getting high before, during, and after school, and more.”
Collie believes he has “always had the disease” of addiction but that several stressors, manifesting around the same time, activated his substance use. A close family member went to jail. A cousin died. Collie moved from his rural hometown in the Hill Country of Texas to a new city, and his parents began a legal custody battle.
The notion that Collie could get hooked on drugs and alcohol was unthinkable back then. He had been “anti-drugs for a long time,” having even received an award for participating in the Bush-era D.A.R.E. program. When this view collided with a perfect storm of stress, though, the drugs and alcohol took over.
Rock Bottom: The Turning Point
The turning point for Collie was his arrest that fateful day in his junior year of high school. “After that, I was desperate,” he said, recalling what it was like to face all that potential prison time and the hurt he had caused.
Collie’s desperation was a cue that it was time to hit the reset button, however “extremely difficult and painful” that decision would be:
I had to let go of the friends I had made whom I sold drugs with and got high with. I lost my job, my girlfriend, my high school education, as well as my concurrent enrollment in a community college. Most of all, I hurt those that cared for me the most.
In the meantime, despite still “making excuses” for his situation, Collie “stayed sober out of pure terror” and a desperate desire to “not make the lives of those I loved more miserable.” He also made “a leap of faith” and “surrendered control” to his lawyer, counselors, therapist, and sponsor.” He went to his first 12-step meeting and followed his lawyer’s recommendation to get treatment.
Soon after, Collie joined a 12-step program for young people and enrolled in a recovery high school, Archway Academy, where he would go on to become valedictorian.
Two Keys to Recovery: A 12-Step Sponsor and Service
Of the many positive influences that inspired Collie to get sober and stick with recovery, two of them played an especially important role.
A Sponsor Who Was There for Him
Collie credits his 12-step sponsor for making recovery possible, by breaking through the “lies, arrogance, fear, and selfishness” that Collie had constructed to “rationalize” his substance abuse. With the help of his sponsor, Collie was also able to finally share the mental health struggles and past physical trauma he had experienced without feeling shame.
Service was the other key to recovery, one that “has taken my recovery so much further than just abstinence,” Collie said. “It has changed me from a meek and awkward child with no confidence or self-esteem to a person whom I consider a leader with integrity.”
Service as Self-Growth Beyond Abstinence
At around 18 months of sobriety, Collie’s recovery stagnated, and he was nearing relapse. Once again, desperation became a catalyst for growth—this time through service. (It “can take many forms,” Collie said, noting some examples: being a friend who listens, cleaning up trash after a meeting, or simply showing kindness to those you meet.)
Collie soon would discover “the value in meaningful service.” Here is how he described that transformation:
I secured a service position in my 12-step home group as treasurer, I began leading meetings in treatment centers, and, most importantly, I engaged with recovery as a sponsor. At first, I was extremely insecure, ineffective, and terrified as a sponsor, but through trial and error and consistency, I have sponsored 30+ young men, eight of whom I meet with every week. I have seen sponsees overdose, graduate from high school, lose children, achieve multiple years in sobriety, hurt their families, get into college, get jobs, lose jobs, fail miserably, and succeed beyond expectation. Even with all of the bad, it has been one of the most amazing experiences in my life.
Through these acts of service and others, Collie has become a leader on campus, as well as a mentor, student, and confidant.
What Motivated an Interest in Psychology and Addiction Medicine
Psychology and addiction medicine combine Collie’s “passion and love for recovery” with his “ambition to contribute to change in meaningful ways.” In some ways, they are the natural outgrowth of spending time in service and 12-step groups: “I inevitably learned a lot about and developed a keen interest in how and why people act and think,” Collie reflected. He also credited principles of recovery for his ambitious determination to become a doctor.
Reasons to Be Hopeful Despite the Statistics
The statistics regarding suicide, overdose, and a shortage of mental health professionals are dire. When we asked Collie what made him hopeful about going into this field of healthcare, he was quick to acknowledge his own sadness at losing friends and sponsees to mental health issues and addiction.
Nevertheless, “I am often lifted up by peers and mentors who serve as role models for determination despite circumstances,” Collie said. He quoted a mentor who once told him, “I refuse to stand on the sidelines while you and those in need keep trying to kill yourselves.” That same attitude is one that Collie tries to maintain.
Collie eventually wants to contribute to research and treatment protocols for those with substance use disorders. He also hopes to use his expertise to advise regulatory committees and government bureaus in their regulation of pharmaceutical companies and rehab and mental health providers.
Words of Encouragement to Those Who Are Struggling
It may be tempting to think Collie’s story is too good to be true: “That would sound too good to be true to me as well,” he said. After all, he “went from being a potential criminal who couldn’t stop drinking and using to someone with a great college GPA and a research job at UTHealth, who soon will be traveling to three different continents over the summer to distribute medical care to rural communities.”
But Collie also wanted anyone struggling to know that recovery is possible:
I believe no one is an absolute victim of their circumstances. I’ve seen how powerful the human will is and the power of community. I made a complete shot in the dark, a leap of faith to trust in a power greater than myself. I had no idea what lay before me, but I knew what lay behind. Anything was better than where I was … The fact of the matter is everything I’ve done doesn’t speak to any particularly special aptitude, character trait, or talent. While I’m extremely blessed and privileged, complete surrender to a set of principles and a relationship with others and a Higher Power are what made me who I am today.
Collie had these concluding words to share: “Persistence can push someone with nothing much farther than privilege can for someone who gives up.” The takeaway? Never give up. It could just as well be Collie’s motto.