2022 Scholarship Winner: An Addiction to Alcohol Nearly Stole One Man’s Dream To Change The World of Fashion
Authored by Ken Redmile
Below you will find the powerful biography and essay of the Recovery Centers of America (RCA) Hope for Addiction Scholarship winner Zachary B. As a scholarship winner, Zachary will receive $1000 to be used to further his education.
I’m Zachary B., of Lawrence, Kan., and in 2014, I made the life-altering decision to confront and overcome an addiction to alcohol. I had witnessed my success falter. The course I envisioned for my life had become completely unhinged. Every bit of my energy was spent abusing alcohol – or trying to hide my addiction from the world. The mental unease, helplessness and shame I felt was profound and overwhelming. Mustering what little self-awareness I had left, I reached out to my family for help, realizing my condition was too powerful for me to face alone. Fortunately, my resolve to reclaim my life was aided by an incredible support system of family and friends. They helped me enter an addiction treatment center, setting into motion a chain of events that would positively impact my life in countless and astounding ways. Addiction treatment gave me the tools I needed to regain the physical, mental and social wellbeing I had lost. And I’m proud to say I have maintained my sobriety for nearly eight years. I’ve been promoted at my job, gone back to school and completed an internship in a field I am passionate about. I finished my associate degree in Apparel Design and Technology and I am transferring to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City to get my Bachelor’s Degree in Technical Design. I intend to take full advantage of the curriculum, internships and connections that FIT and NYC have to offer!
It’s Never Too Late To Chase Your Dreams
The first thing I remember creating as a child was a small blanket my grandmother taught me to stitch together from her leftover fabric scraps. Breathing new life into those tattered fragments, its handcraft became a source of great pride and emotional comfort.
Continuing my appreciation for design into adulthood, I realized that underlying the captivating allure of fashion design is a carefully envisaged exercise in construction and materiality – communicating these elements with an exacting eye for detail has led me to pursue a degree in technical design.
In my lifelong journey as a recovering addict, I have realized that fashion is not just about superficial appearance. It has an impactful and resounding effect on an individual and society, as a vehicle through which we can create meaningful apparel for those whose addiction has left them without the means to provide for themselves or their families.
Combining the problem-solving skills of an engineer with the empathy of an artist and the passion of a volunteer, I intend to use my degree in technical design to not only provide clothing as a basic necessity, but also as a means of discovery, engagement, and psychological fulfillment for those in recovery. The most rewarding experience I undertook while earning my associate degree was in volunteering through my school’s Service Learning Center, where the goal is to promote civic engagement by marrying education with community outreach. I began working with the Hillcrest Transitional Housing program at the beginning of last year. Hillcrest is dedicated to creating avenues for the homeless in my community to become financially self-sufficient. They not only provide transitional housing, but also food, clothing, and educational opportunities to teach financial proficiency and life skills. I spent several hours a week volunteering in their thrift store, creating merchandising displays and managing inventory.
Working alongside other volunteers, who were themselves once homeless, gave me an attuned understanding of how design could address their needs. I was asked to create an outfit using a very limited budget, from garments I found in their store. Upon learning that a large percentage of those experiencing homelessness in my community are single mothers, I decided to design a business professional ensemble for a young woman to attend a job interview and re-enter the workforce.
Utilizing my education to solve real world issues and advocate for those less fortunate is now at the core of my academic and professional goals. I would like to extend my work with Hillcrest to supply well-designed and functional clothes to other underserved communities, including those struggling with addiction.
The need to feed an addiction can overtake someone’s life, leading them to job loss, and eventually a loss in housing. There is a need to address the issues of addiction and homelessness simultaneously. Access to treatment programs is paramount for everyone in need, however I would like my goals to cater to those who are struggling financially and would benefit from basic necessities like clothing. I want to design transformative apparel items that could serve multiple functions: a sweatshirt that facilitates carrying an infant, or a jacket that could also serve as a sleeping bag. I would rely on upcycling – the practice of utilizing and re-purposing garments and fabric scraps – to provide cost effective and environmentally sustainable material.
Projects like these not only challenge me creatively, but also speak to the reason why I love designing fashion – its ability to uplift the wearer. Beyond the basic functions of warmth and protection, a feeling of pride in your appearance can instill a sense of confidence and joy, and every moment of joy is a small yet vital component of success in recovery.
It is from a place of immense gratitude that I have adopted the mantra of paying it forward. Beyond college, my expectation as a professional is to create and sustain financial opportunities for others in the same manner they were afforded me. I plan to distinguish myself as a technical designer or creative director of my own brand to create meaningful employment opportunities for marginalized communities, providing those in recovery with a means to gain financial self-sufficiency. I also envision working with established recovery treatment centers to start a charitable scholarship fund for fellow non-traditional students, who are participating in, or have graduated from a treatment program and are determined to earn their degree.
Learning to sew provided me with a fundamental skill toward realizing my educational goals, but I also see it as a chance to pass that knowledge on, with the recognition that adopting a hobby can serve as a catalyst toward sobriety.
Hobbies not only lower our stress levels, but provide insight into who and how we relate to the people around us. They are as much about what they bring to the table as what they keep off of it – staving off boredom and a desire to relieve mental unease through substance abuse.
Part of my future as a designer would entail the establishment of free sewing classes for those in recovery, not only to provide a useful skill, but also to find fulfillment and fun in the act of creation. A classroom environment could provide a community within the larger community of recovery, as a forum in which students come together to learn, share ideas, and find meaning in their new lives.
The degree I earn in technical design will forge a path toward achieving these goals and serving my purpose in life: to give others a sense of hope, increase awareness of the momentous potential in sobriety, help erase the stigma of recovery, and bolster the idea that it is never too late to take back your future and chase your dreams.