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September 17, 2012 07:41 PM

College Director Shares Struggles With Students

sioux falls, sd

For a lot of students, drinking and college seem to go hand in hand. Jeff Venekamp knows that all too well.

"I was probably a typical college guy, I drank a little bit too much, sometimes, not all the time," Venekamp said.

Venekamp says he drank about as much as most students, but when he graduated and started his career, the drinking didn't stop.

"After college that grew until I was probably a five day, six day a week drinker," Venekamp said.

Doing shots of Jagermeister and drinking beer was his go-to after-work activity.

"My general drinking was probably I'd have a beer and a shot and then another beer and another shot and probably another shot and that would probably be the first 45 minutes of sitting at a bar," Venekamp said.

Venekamp didn't realize he had a problem because he didn't think he fit the typical description of someone with an addiction.

"I think most people have this envisionment of somebody who is a professional alcoholic as a guy who has a bottle of vodka in his desk drawer and pours that into his coffee mug in the morning and stuff like that. That was never my case, but I knew after work where I was going to go have a drink," Venekamp said.

He continued his drinking routine for more than ten years after college.  He describes that time in his life as a mixture of disorder, chaos and hopelessness. He said he lied to loved ones and friends and lost important relationships.

Until one day a friend told Venekamp that he needed to sober up and start living life to its full potential.

"Then a friend said, Jeff, what are you doing? You're a smart guy, you've got a good job. You are respected in the community. This is dragging you down," Venekamp said.

Venekamp said it was like a switch flipped.  He stopped drinking and started reading books and any information he could find about recovery.

Venekamp has been sober now for more than ten years and is married with three children.

"My life has soared after that. Before it was flying, now it's soaring," Venekamp said.

Venekamp is also back on campus working as the Director of Student Activities at Augustana College.

He shares his story with students, so they don't follow the same path college drinking led him down.

"I'm not embarrassed by who I was. I'm very open about it. So, I share the story with a lot of student groups and organizations and I try and live a life of sobriety in front of them so that they can see that alcohol doesn't have to be an option," Venekamp said.

Venekamp also volunteers at Face It Together.

While other people who may choose a different path are more comfortable staying anonymous, Venekamp has seen first hand how being open about his own experiences can move others to get help as well.

"I think that isn't necessarily the best thing for everybody. Some people need to share it and some people need to see that there are people out there who aren't embarrassed," Venekamp said.

And that is what Face It Together is all about, tackling addiction like any other disease and not being ashamed about the recovery.

"If Face It can stand up and say look if we can all acknowledge this problem together and say we can address this we can confront it head on as a group then I'm not feeling alone,” Venekamp said. “If they can help us as a community and if this model can work in Sioux Falls and spread to other communities we'll make a big impact.”

Venekamp hopes recovering from addiction will eventually be as socially acceptable as recovering from cancer.

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