Profiles in Recovery

Jeff Venekamp

Looking back on his young adult years, Venekamp realizes he was in denial – about the partying and the pain.

“During the 12 years that I was a drunk, my life was a mixture of disorder, chaos, pain, and hopelessness,” Venekamp writes on the Face It Together website. “I lied to almost everyone. I lost important relationships. I lost tens of thousands of dollars. I lost and used friends. I lost my self-respect. I didn’t see that then, but it is crystal clear now.”

Venekamp found recovery from addiction at the urging of a friend “who was willing to risk our friendship in order to help me,” he says. Today, he is a positive role model to college students, serving as Senior Associate Director of Campus Life at Augustana University in South Dakota.

“Since, I have been sober I have: met my wife, been a father to three beautiful children (two daughters and a son), engaged a fantastic job, regained my health, attempted to help others, shared my story, and I have regained my self-respect,” he says.

Day Job:
Senior Associate Director of Campus Life at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, South Dakota

At my worst, I was:
A lying liar who abused friends and family for my personal gain.

What worked for me:
I went to a 12-step program for a few meetings. I focused on one day at a time and those days have added up to 15 years. I read a lot about recovery and changed the people, places and things in my life that needed to be changed.

Advice to my younger self:
Be honest. Brutally honest to yourself. Be willing to ask for help. Drinking a lot doesn’t make you cool or respected.

Rules I live by:
Be good, be honest, have integrity, be someone your kids can look up to, be someone your family respects, have fun.

On my bucket list:
Be a great spouse and parent. Take one day at a time.

When cravings come:
When I go with friends to a bar, I always get a soda right away. I have shared my story with friends and family and they are all so supportive that they never pressure me. Any time I have ever been pressured, I immediately put those people into a “not-a-friend” list.

Best advice for newbies:
One day at a time. Just don’t use today. Don’t try to think of a 30 day or 60 day goal. Just think of a today goal.

What I value most in recovery:
My family life. I have a beautiful family that I never would have had without sobriety.

Stigma I faced:
I think they were all fake stigmas. Self-imposed and not accurate. I thought everyone would judge me as being weak and giving up or look at me funny. They never have, and frankly, I don’t care that much if they do. I am healthier and happier sober.

What I learned about myself:
I am awesome. I am someone that can be respected and that can be a positive influence on others.

I get inspired by:
My students inspire me. I like being able to show college students that you don’t need alcohol in your life to have fun, take risks, and be vulnerable.

Proudest moment:
Getting married and having kids. Being a good dad and spouse.

Thoughts on relapse:
Not really an option for me. I don’t think it is an option and therefore, it isn’t. One day at a time. Just don’t have a drink today.

On finding purpose:
Keep looking for purpose. It is out there somewhere, you need a clear head to find it.

SHED THE STIGMA:
If you’re a person in long-term recovery who wants to share your insights, please contact us at [email protected].

Venekamp writes on the Face It Together website.