Damien Ramsdell was just two months away from graduating from Bowdoin College with a degree in government and legal studies when he hit rock bottom.
“I had made so many attempts to get sober, since about halfway through my junior year,” he said. “That night, after a failed suicide attempt because I couldn’t stop drinking, I had an alcohol-induced psychotic break. The amount I had that day was pretty typical, but I was on a separate plane of existence, talking in an Irish accent, acting erratically.”
Campus security officers told Ramsdell to wait for his father to come pick him up. But, somehow, Ramsdell was driving home toward Scarborough on I-295 when campus security called and asked him to pull over.
“I shut the car off, pulled the keys out of the ignition, got in the passenger seat and waited for the cops to arrive,” Ramsdell said. “That night was the last time I ever drank. I knew if I picked up a drink again, I was going to die in a drunk driving accident or kill myself. But, for quite a while, I fought the urge. I had all these emotions that were unmasked and I didn’t know how to deal with them. But since I hit one year sober last year, I haven’t really had urges.”
Ramsdell was a 2013 graduate from Scarborough High School, where he was an A student and varsity soccer, hockey and baseball player.
“In Scarborough, I was a big fish in a small pond,” he said. “In college, drinking was a comfort about two years before it was no longer about partying, but about me getting drunk alone in my apartment. There’s such a big emphasis on drinking and the work hard/play hard mentality. I took that too far and I didn’t know where to get help, and by the time I was looking for it, it was kind of too late.”
Once Ramsdell was charged with operating under the influence, he was put on a combination of medical leave and suspension and started an intensive outpatient program in Biddeford while finishing his last semester of studies living with his parents.
“We, as his parents, hadn’t experienced any type of addiction before and didn’t really know how to be helpful, knowing that he wanted to graduate and we wanted to help him get that done and do a treatment at the same time,” said Sherry Ramsdell, explaining that there were times when she pushed her son to complete his studies and he just knew he needed an AA meeting more. “We’re learning the ropes as we go. And we’re really proud of him that he’s turned things around so quickly.”
Last spring, Ramsdell sent a letter to Bowdoin to make amends. His counselor also sent a letter to the college, assuring that the former student was living sober and had a support network. Only then, a year later than originally planned, did Ramsdell receive his diploma. Today, at 23, he’s a full-time paralegal who is active in meetings and applying to law schools in Boston.
“It’s been challenging,” he said. “I thought recovery would derail my plans, but now I’m still going after the same goals as before. I’m thinking about being in recovery and trying to incorporate that with an intense graduate school experience. This is a lifelong adjustment.”