Fae Cushing, a former college dropout who has been sober for 30 years, will deliver this year’s convocation address for the Rutgers School of Health Professions.
She is graduating with a bachelor’s in psychological rehabilitation from Rutgers and will attend New York University in the fall to pursue a master’s degree in mental health and wellness counseling, Cushing said in an interview with The Daily Targum.
Her speech will tell her story as a person who suffered from mental, physical and sexual abuse as a child and struggles with addiction and mental illness as an adult, which she said will be helpful to people who not only battle mental health issues, but also the stigma that go along with them.
“There are 3,352 seats in the New Jersey Performing Arts (PAC) Center, I’m terrified,” Cushing said. “But if just a few people, a handful of people, connect to what I say, and if it can help them in any way, it will be worth all of the judgment in the world.”
For her, it was talking with other recovering addicts that made her realize she needed to do something, she said. After dropping out of the University of Iowa with a .81 GPA, she made her way to Houston, Texas, where she became a cocktail waitress.
The owner and his wife, who was also a cocktail waitress, were recovering alcoholics. One day, Cushing said she looked at her co-worker and asked her if she had a problem. She told her that alcoholism is a self-diagnosed disease and if she were her, she would probably check out Alcoholics Anonymous.
“I knew I had a problem,” she said. “I was really struggling, I was on food stamps. I was struggling to make it.”
She then moved back to New Jersey to be with her mother and started a 12-step program that same night, she said. She was 21 years old.
“My mom called me and said: 'Hey, there is this drug called Prozac out on the market but you can’t drink,'" Cushing said. “And I said: ‘You know what? I’m going to take a chance and do it.'"
Yet it was not until she returned to school at Raritan Valley Community College in 2014 that she felt she had fully recovered, Cushing said. She kept trying a combination of drugs and treatment, things would work for a short period of time and then she would have to try something else because it was no longer working.
She did not have the skills to cope with anxiety, postpartum depression and the like, she said.
“It just kept getting worse and worse and worse,” she said. “And I ended up in bed, not being able to get out of bed. I remember ... the bathroom was like 2 feet from the bed, and I would look at the bathroom and the shower and I would say: ‘It’s too hard,'" Cushing said.
Before the summer of 2014, she was driving and someone yelled at her: “What are you, crazy?” She said she felt something snap. She realized she needed help and decided to attend outpatient psychiatric recovery.
“Going to outpatient over the course of the summer was really, really life-saving,” Cushing said.
This is where she realized that her story connected with people and that she could help people going through recovery, she said. People started coming up to her for advice regarding their therapists.
After outpatient recovery, her mother told her about a psychiatric rehabilitation program with Raritan Valley Community College and Rutgers, she said.
She then took one class at Raritan Valley Community College, got an 'A' grade, then took additional courses with the same results, she said. She earned her associates from Raritan Valley Community College with a 4.0 GPA and immediately began pursuing her bachelor’s at Rutgers.
“I always wanted to go back to school, but I never believed I could succeed,” Cushing said. “But being on the right meds and having the right tools made all the difference for me.”
Her strong circle of friends and family were also something she could not have lived without, she said. Her husband has given her unwavering support and her two kids.
Her daughter attends Towson University and her son will graduate from Rutgers next year, she said.