Sharing the journey to recovery
Clay Moorhead ’02 had finished law school and was working in New York City—pursuing the career and life he had long expected for himself—when he hit a low point fueled by substance abuse. He lost his job and faced an intervention from his family before starting down the long road to recovery.
Today, Moorhead is living in Wyoming with his wife and three young children, working as a fly fishing guide and ski instructor. Now sober for nearly six years, he’s grateful and giving back to those who face similar challenges.
“Now that I’m pretty solid in my recovery, it’s become a huge part of my life, and pretty much all 12-step programs include some level of giving back,” Moorhead said.
Middlebury students and alumni are beneficiaries of his efforts. Last November, he established the Moorhead Fund for Health and Wellness to increase Middlebury students’ access to alcohol and drug addiction counseling and education. This year, while at his 20th Reunion, Moorhead led a 12-step addiction recovery meeting, welcoming fellow alumni to learn more about a program that was key to his recovery.
The Moorhead Fund for Health and Wellness is helping Middlebury expand support and programs for students and training for staff, said Liam Lawlor, Alcohol and Other Drug Education Specialist at Middlebury. Based on feedback from students, the College is working to support a substance-free student community and has added substance-free events to ensure that recovering students don’t feel left out of social life. In September, the College will hold its first Recovery Month, featuring educational programs.
In addition to offering financial support, Moorhead speaks candidly about his own journey in hopes of sending a clear message to those who struggle with addiction. “There is a better life,” he said. “My goal is to bring awareness to addiction as a disease that can be overcome. Not only can you do it, but it can lead to a life that’s extremely rich and fulfilling.”
Finding that better life took Moorhead time and help. Opiates, which he was prescribed following a ski injury suffered during his senior year at Middlebury, became his biggest nemesis, but his addiction also included alcohol. Even as he managed to graduate from Vanderbilt Law School, Moorhead was miserable.
“I literally could not face the day without some sort of substance,” he said. “I felt terrible about myself. There were thoughts of suicide. I remember thinking I could just drive this car into a tree and it’ll be over.”
After he lost his first post-law school job, Moorhead’s family stepped in with an intervention, a process he described as scary. “You feel like your life is coming to an end,” he said. “I was pretty resistant initially, but once I finally accepted the help and I got to treatment, it was a huge relief. It’s been an everyday process since then.”
Like many in recovery, Moorhead suffered setbacks. “I went back to treatment, came out, and I was sober for not quite a year and a half. Then I went through a series of one-night scenarios where I’d use drugs or drink or whatever. By that time, I was kind of a fairly serious member of a 12-step program, and I’d come in with my tail between my legs and admit to having relapsed, and that just became exhausting.”
He last faltered nearly six years ago, as he and his wife were about to become parents. “Just before our first son was born, I kind of had a freakout, like ‘This is real, I’m about to be a dad, I don’t know if I can do this.’ That was the last time I drank or used. That was Sept. 13, 2016.”
His message to others is that while recovery may look challenging at first, it gets much easier with time. He urges people not to be afraid to seek help. Fellow alumni have joined Moorhead in contributing to the fund to ensure that help is available for Middlebury students. “This is a team effort,” Moorhead said.
Lawlor said college students are not immune from the challenges of addiction. “That’s why Middlebury continues to invest in people and programs to educate and support students as they navigate their college lives. We appreciate Clay’s help in expanding our reach when it comes to engaging students who are substance-free and/or in recovery through meaningful programming,” Lawlor said.
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