Jen Rutalis


Sixteen days. That’s the longest amount of sober time I put together between age fifteen and twenty-four. My parents raised me with morals, values, ambition, and love. Unconditional love. I never felt it. I didn’t believe it. I am assembled with a filter in my core than cannot process kind things. I was fifteen when I took my first drug. I was fifteen and a half when I took my first drink. I was a star basketball player, honor roll student, and well-known part of my small high school community. Before I was sixteen, I was arrested twice. Before I was sixteen and a half I overdosed, attempted suicide, and landed in my first inpatient treatment center. Sixteen days I lasted without my first relapse. Sixteen days until it was proven that I was different, wrong, a problem, and unloved. I would never be the same.

I went back to my regular high school ready to be myself again. Wishful thinking. Due to my absence, the automatic sixty-five’s in all my classes dropped my GPA too low for the honor roll. My coach and teammates had reassembled the starting lineup without me. My high school was not equipped to deal with my return. My school days started at ten-o’clock in the morning quickly ending at 2 o’clock in the afternoon for the remainder or my high school career. They thought I was too sick for a full school day. I wasn’t worth of an education anymore. I wasn’t good enough to be a part of a team anymore. On the sixteenth day, I couldn’t take it. I needed to change the way I felt: the rejection. Eight years of trauma, more arrests, violence, anger, and suicide attempts went on between March 2009 until April 23, 2017. I am a pediatric therapist now. I am earning a Master’s Degree now. I am sober now. And my favorite part of all: I am enough. I am worthy. I am unconditionally loved. The future students of Emerald School of Excellence are too.