Empowered By Recovery

Instead of feeling trodden down, violated, silenced, and victimized by trauma, Sierra found a way out of her illness. Her leadership is changing lives as she pitches in to build a true recovery infrastructure in this country.

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In long term recovery, Sierra continues to break down barriers for herself and other women.

Sierra Castedo’s pathway into working in the recovery field was an unconventional one. She started out as an anthropology major and went to graduate school to study human evolutionary history. However, while she was a grad student she grappled with substance use disorder. She changed direction in 2012, after she found the help that she needed in a collegiate recovery program.

Sierra Castedo

Now, Sierra Castedo is the director of The Center for Students in Recovery at The University of Texas at Austin & a Board Member of The Association of Recovery in High Education. She’s held the position since fall 2014.

“I wouldn’t do things differently today: that’s the path I had to walk,” she said. Her recovery has changed her perspective on what a “powerful woman” looks like. She also learned that substance use disorder is not rare, though it’s usually treated very differently from other illnesses. People are expected to stay healthy for life after one expensive short-term treatment session. Sierra sees the importance of creating an infrastructure of recovery support that goes beyond pure luck and privilege. Collegiate recovery programs, like the one she leads, are part of that infrastructure. They are embedded on college campuses, where a majority of Americans will spend part of their lives. Prevention efforts on college campuses can potentially interrupt addiction early, as well as build bridges back to educational opportunity for people who previously missed out due to their disease.

One of the biggest challenges Sierra faced in her personal recovery was getting past the lie that drinking a lot of alcohol has anything to do with freedom, with empowerment, or with achieving equality.

She said, “I really bought into those stories about brash, bold women being inseparable from alcohol as a signal of that freedom and individuality—women like Mary Leakey, who was an incredible pioneer of paleoanthropology, but who is described in the same breath as ‘whiskey-drinking’ and ‘cigar-smoking.’ So for me, being a feminist, wanting to be bold and smart and unconventional, I just bought into this lie that the things I consume would have anything remotely to do with that. It has nothing to do with what I consume, and everything to do with what I put out into the world, what I give. And I couldn’t give anything when I was a prisoner to my addiction.”

In long term recovery, Sierra continues to break down barriers for herself and other women. Last year, the voting members of the Association of Recovery in Higher Education elected her President-Elect of the Association. She says that collegiate recovery saved her life, so she is deeply grateful that she can serve the movement in this way.

“This is about empowerment, about emancipation, about being lifted up,” she said. “Recovery has been the single most empowering path of my life, and yet, paradoxically, the recovery pathway that I follow is one that really centralizes surrender and powerlessness.”

Instead of feeling trodden down, violated, silenced, and victimized by trauma, Sierra found a way out of her illness. Her leadership is changing lives as she pitches in to build a true recovery infrastructure in this country.

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