A lot of things change when you graduate from school. Presumably after some undisclosed amount of time floundering you find a job, start to settle into your adult routine, and then BAM. All of the sudden you look around and you feel old af. Am I still that person who travels across the country for drug policy conferences? Should I take the time off of work to do this? I mean, I’m not a STUDENT anymore, do I even belong here? Am I old and weird?
Maybe I’m the only person who struggles with these questions, but as each year passes, I can’t seem to find a reason to disengage with SSDP, even if that makes me old and weird. I have, however, found new and engaging ways to participate.
While I haven’t missed a national conference in the last 7 years, I’ve also never gotten as much out of a conference as I did at the 2017 SSDP conference in Portland. While San Francisco (SSDP2010) and the Fundome (SSDP2011) will always hold special places in my heart, Portland stole the show. I had been through so much in college. I had shared my experiences with a very limited number of SSDPers, but I was still feeling so disconnected to my drug policy reform (DPR) family. What were their experiences? Why don’t we talk about them? How closely do our experiences overlap, and is anyone going to be willing to share that with me? Share that with the whole conference?
Going into the 2017 conference I was desperate for connection to people who had struggled with drugs, people who had problematic experiences and were willing to share, people who could be honest about their drug use and how it had impacted them, for better or worse. I realized that as an alumnus, I was in a unique position to share my story. I had put years between me and my problematic drug use, and I felt pretty secure in sharing the details as long as I had my notes in case I completely spaced from nerves. The community I found amongst those I already thought I loved and respected impacted me profoundly. If you were in the “Lived Experiences” plenary, no further words are necessary. If you didn’t catch the plenary on lived experiences, I highly encourage you to share why you got involved in SSDP (in a safe space) and ask others. The responses might surprise you and might just reinvigorate your passion for drug policy reform.
The outpouring of love and support from friends and complete strangers during and after the conference reminded me why this group of humans has been my friend family for the better part of a decade. People wanted to hear real stories, wanted to engage with people with lived experience, asked really difficult questions, and several people have reached out to me for help for themselves or a friend. I thought I had seen it all at DPR conference panels, but I was wrong. I can’t wait for next year, and to see the amazing stories that come out of the next generation of reformers, and if you’re willing to share, and more importantly to listen, their stories might just blow you away.
This blog post is part of our annual SSDP Alumni Association membership drive. Join the Alumni Association before Friday, May 26 and be entered to win a free SSDP2018 conference registration or a $50 Amazon gift card!