This Is Me: Rising From Rock Bottom

Sara Kozlowski

Name: Andrew Lindenberg
Year: Sophomore
Major: Finance
Hometown: Chappaqua, N.Y.

Andrew Lindenberg sat under a plastic tarp and listened to the tapping of the rain. The sun had set and the handmade fire he created hours ago was quenched by the never-ending downpour. He sat in darkness; just him, other sufferers and the mountains.

This wasn’t a camping trip gone wrong. Lindenberg was recovering from his dependence on marijuana, and spent two and half months in the woods of St. George, Utah with the wilderness therapy program Second Nature Entrada.

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“My drug of choice was weed, marijuana, and I don’t think I was ever physically addicted because you can’t quote, unquote, be physically addicted to that, but I think that I was very dependent on that in terms of using it as a crutch in my life as a way to escape from whatever it was that I was doing—basically to leave and escape from my unhappiness,” Lindenberg said.

What started as occasional recreational use during his sophomore year of high school gradually turned into dependence around April 2009, Lindenberg’s junior year of high school. He recalled feelings of extreme loneliness and wanting to escape everything and everyone. At that time, Lindenberg said he couldn’t pinpoint the cause of his sadness. Now he knows it was a result of depression, a mental illness causing frequent feelings of sadness and loss of interest according to the Mayo Clinic.

“I feel that many kids don’t know that they’re depressed because they’ve never experienced the emotions before or don’t know what it is,” Lindenberg said. “That would have been the case for me. I didn’t know, and, therefore, I didn’t put much thought into it.”

According to a 2012 poll by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 17 percent of high school sophomores and nearly 23 percent of seniors used marijuana in the past month, an increase from 14 percent and 18 percent in 2007 respectively.

“Junior year [of high school] there was like a six-month span of just me smoking heavily, all day every day,” Lindenberg said. “I was buying ounces every week or two. I was smoking by myself. I was high basically every second. I was high until I went to bed, so basically three quarters or more of the day, I was stoned.”

Although Lindenberg received good grades, his behavior at home spiraled out of control. The numbness the drug provided left Lindenberg unaware of the consequences of his actions, and his family began to tear apart. His younger sister Olivia, 17, remembers her brother’s erratic behavior during this period.

“From a very young age, I was always trying to figure out whether or not it was part of his personality—that everything needed to be helped for him,” Olivia said. “What he was missing manifested itself as marijuana, but from a young age I knew something was off.”

By the time Lindenberg reached his senior year of high school, his rebellion became an everyday occurrence. He drove high each day and drove drunk a few times. He took his frustration out on Olivia, which deteriorated their relationship, and their parents watched as Lindenberg became a different person.

“Andrew ran the household,” Lindenberg’s mother, Dawn, said. “He became incredibly defiant in the house and it affected everybody. I realized, ‘This is not the person he is. This is not the true Andrew.’”

Lindenberg’s father, Lewis, had a more difficult time acknowledging his son’s struggles.

“I was much more in denial,” Lewis said. “I did not take many of the daily things to be anything more than a hope and a wish that we were just going to wake up one day and things would change.”

Lindenberg’s parents got a wakeup call the day Lindenberg declared he no longer loved them. Lewis and Dawn realized he needed help beyond what they could offer.

Lindenberg was sent to Second Nature Entrada on Oct. 23, 2009 with no warning. Lewis remembers the day his son left when two men picked Lindenberg up at dawn.

“Andrew was asleep,” Lewis said. “We went to his room and we said ‘Andrew, wake up. These gentlemen are here to take you away.’ I will never forget, as much as it was necessary, how hard that was to see him being taken into a stranger’s car and having to be escorted away, to be going to a place we were hoping would be good for him, but obviously we did not know.”

Lindenberg complied with his escorts and was brought to Second Nature Entrada, a wilderness therapy program designed for people of different ages, backgrounds and struggles. Clinically-driven treatment teams use a variety of intervention techniques to help students gain “personal awareness, responsibility, improved communication, healthy relationship skills, and strengthened self-esteem” according to its website. Lindenberg said starting over in a new environment helped him see the pain he inflicted upon his family.

“We were literally out in the middle of nowhere,” Lindenberg said. “We were surrounded by deserts and mountains. We only had tarps, food and a bag on our backs. It was rough, but I got used to it and it made me stronger.”

During Lindenberg’s time in Second Nature Entrada, he was allowed to see his family once. Toward the end of therapy, Lindenberg realized he used marijuana to escape from the feelings and emotions he couldn’t deal with, most associated with depression.

After two and a half months, Lindenberg left Second Nature Entrada and was sent to the John Dewey Academy, a preparatory boarding school in Great Barrington, Mass., to continue high school as a 19-year-old senior. The academy is for troubled students seeking to take back their lives and live up to their potential, Lindenberg said.

Though he despised the decision at the time, Lindenberg now sees it solidified his growth. The majority of his transformation took place at the John Dewey Academy, he said.

The transition to boarding school was difficult but necessary, Lindenberg said. For five months he remained in a stupor, unresponsive to the words and actions of his instructors and peers. He remained in a haze, and because of this made little progress.

A few months later, however, his academics began to improve. His most drastic transformation took place during “Closed House,” when John Dewey closed for two weeks. During this time, students attended constant group therapy and were required to clean the entire castle. This is when Lindenberg started to take his life back, he said.

“The John Dewey Academy’s philosophy is ‘In the struggle together.’ Because I saw that everyone was opening up [during group therapy] about what they were going through, the loneliness I felt and the fear of what others thought of me began to fade away, and, for the first time in eight months, I truly felt like I was in the struggle together,” Lindenberg said.

The group therapy helped him the most because he realized he wasn’t alone, Lindenberg said, and after “Closed House”, Lindenberg made strides both academically and in personal growth. He gained a sense of self after realizing the cause behind his actions, and was helpful to his peers.

“I gained a strong sense of self by continuously asking in my mind ‘why’ whenever I made a decision,” Lindenberg said. “Through constantly questioning why I did the things I did, I gained much knowledge about myself and began to know the real me.”

Lindenberg also made efforts to regain his family’s trust after revealing his efforts and emotional progress.

“He’s more aware in general,” Olivia said. “We were able to work through a lot of the problems and I was able to tell him how he affected me, and that helped us to grow closer. I think that now he looks back on himself and doesn’t take things out on me, which has helped our relationship a lot.”

Lindenberg left the John Dewey Academy in February 2011 and attended Quinnipiac in the fall of 2011. He continues to impress his parents as a member of the Honors Program and getting involved with campus organizations. He is a member of the Global Asset Management Education Forum, the Stocktrak program, the fraternity Delta Tau Delta, the Research and Investments Club and the mentorship program.

“A big change to my mindset is that now when I want something, I go after it,” Lindenberg said. “I don’t look at the challenge, sit back and then run away. I look at the challenge, get up on my feet and face it head on.”

Lindenberg’s daily goal is to push himself. Each day he hopes to be a better, more well-rounded person and grow stronger emotionally, he said. He learned to be completely honest with himself and others. He began to think for himself and utilize other people’s points of view to help him understand different situations. He was also able to confront his insecurities and actively work on them.

“People say we saved his life,” Lewis said. “People say we saved his life because the path Andrew was headed was going to be a calamity. Some way or another something bad was going to happen. When and how, we didn’t know, but it was going to be bad and we saved his life […] because that’s what parents do.”

On Oct. 23, 2012, Lindenberg created a Facebook post in honor of his third year of sobriety.

“All parents say they’d do whatever they need to do for their children, but my parents proved that and did what was best for me,” Lindenberg wrote. “They are two of the strongest people I know, and I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for the strength they found to send me away.”

The post had nearly 200 likes and more than 30 comments from friends and family in support. He ended the post with, “Today marks my 3 years sober from drugs. Never again.”