She dropped out of college because of a drinking problem. Now sober, she landed a $35,000 scholarship

Laura Eamon was just months into her first semester at Carleton University in 2011 when she was taken from a hospital residency by paramedics.

Embarrassed at being executed in front of her fellow students, her mindset changed when she was released and returned to the Ottawa campus.

“People are clapping and singing, and saying, ‘Oh, my God. You’re the girl who was taken in the ambulance. You drink as much as I do,'” Eamon said. “It was almost like a badge of honor.”

This isn’t the only time Eamon, a native of Hammonds Plains, Nova Scotia, has checked into the hospital due to excessive drinking.

From 2008 to 2013, alcohol was a big part of Eamon’s life. Her struggles with alcohol eventually led her to drop out of college.

Prestigious scholarship

But Eamon is now back at university, this time at Saint Mary’s in Halifax. Sober for more than eight years, the 28-year-old has just won a prestigious Frank H. Sobey scholarship worth $35,000, one of nine awarded annually to undergraduate business students in Atlantic Canada. He has one year of study left.

As part of his scholarship application, which included reference letters, written essays and an interview process, Eamon spoke about his sobriety.

“I wanted to show that it’s a possibility for people to change, for people to grow, for people to survive substance use disorder,” she said.

Eamon started drinking when she attended CP Allen High School in Bedford, Nova Scotia, and loved the confidence it gave her. She believed booze was part of the package that included new friends, big parties, and adventure.

“Alcohol took over”

Even though Eamon skipped a lot of classes, she maintained her grades. She graduated in 2011, and wanting to go somewhere bigger than Halifax, she chose Ottawa.

“And when I got into college, alcohol took over,” Eamon said.

Eamon is shown in a photo from her time at Carleton University. Residence students wore these red shirts and they could have their nicknames printed on the sleeve. “Naturally, everyone agreed on my nickname, and I paid real money to have it stamped on my sweater,” she says. (Submitted by Laura Eamon)

In her freshman year, she lived in residence. She failed a few classes and barely passed others, missing a lot of instructional time along the way.

Eamon went home for the summer with a friend, Kassie Nadler. The two shared a spot in downtown Halifax, but Nadler left after about a month.

“She put all her stuff away and said, ‘I can’t do this anymore. It’s impossible to live with you and you’re wasting my time here. You’re sick and it’s too much. Something has to change. And I’ll see you in Ottawa in September,” Eamon said. “And she left.”

The experience was a first for Eamon. No one had told him that his drinking was problematic.

Nadler told CBC News it was actually the second time she had a conversation like this with her best friend. The previous time was during their freshman year of college.

Then 18, the couple often traveled to Gatineau, Quebec, where the legal drinking age is 18, so they could hit the clubs. Eamon often passed out from alcohol.

“I can’t take care of you when you need me,” Nadler told Eamon at the time. “And I’m not physically capable and I can’t make sure you’re safe, and that puts me in an awkward position.”

For their second year of college, the couple lived off campus and had other roommates.

Eamon said she knew something was wrong when her roommates could balance their studies, work and maintain a social life, but she couldn’t.

“They were thriving, and I was sad and lonely and sick,” Eamon said.

Within a week, she gave up. She got a job and worked to pay her rent and her booze.

Early the following year, Eamon moved into his home. She continued to drink, couch surf, and work a series of retail and front desk jobs when she wasn’t calling in sick for the day.

“I feel bad for every customer I’ve dealt with… I looked pretty haggard and tough around the edges, probably grumpy the whole time,” Eamon said.

Eamon rides the PEI Confederation Trail. in the summer of 2021. (Submitted by Laura Eamon)

One day in the summer of 2013, she woke up in a hotel room and didn’t know where she was.

She went to her first AA meeting that night and cried the whole time. At the end of the meeting, she had a realization.

“How can you go to a bonfire or the beach or, you know, a cottage without drinking?” Eamon said. “I was sobbing in front of this woman, so worried – not that I had woken up in town in a place I didn’t even know existed, but because I was afraid to go to the alcohol-free beach.”

Sober since November 9, 2013

Eamon wasn’t ready to quit drinking, but on November 9, 2013, she went to AA after being sexually assaulted.

“I knew I never wanted to be in that situation again if I could help myself, and the only thing I could control was my own actions,” Eamon said. “And that’s really where my sobriety started.”

Eamon has been sober ever since. She said being around people who had gone through similar experiences helped her stay sober. His father was also an important resource. He was also a recovering alcoholic who had been sober since before Eamon was born.

Growing up, Eamon attended get-togethers with his father on his sobriety birthday parties.

Life without alcohol was different. She had no mystery bruises or pulled muscles or other injuries. Eamon also noticed that she suddenly had extra money. It wasn’t just the money saved by not buying alcohol; it was things like not buying fast food while drinking or the next morning, and not running out of work and pay.

Eamon also fell in love.

“All of a sudden I felt joy,” she said.

Eamon is now a stepmother. Her partner has two children from a previous marriage.

She also earned a degree in medical practice administration and started working in the healthcare system, but yearned for a bigger challenge and applied to Saint Mary’s University in 2017 and started attending school.

Eamon is shown with her partner and stepdaughters. (Submitted by Laura Eamon)

She works a balance in different roles — she’s currently a project coordinator with the Sackville Business Association — and goes to school while taking less than a full course load.

Since quitting drinking, Eamon hasn’t been all joy. Her father died of cancer and Alzheimer’s disease, and her mother had a brain aneurysm, but made a full recovery.

Finding the money to pay for school was another challenge. Needing a “Hail Mary,” she learned about the Sobeys scholarship. Looking at past recipients, she felt intimidated by their success.

“And my partner was just like, you know, ‘You’re pretty amazing too. Why don’t you apply?'” Eamon said.

Part of the application process included discussions about the volunteer experience. Eamon’s volunteer work includes serving on the Board of Directors of the Sackville Rivers Association and serving as Communications Chair for the organization, which is the community where she now lives. She is Treasurer of the Environmental Society of Saint Mary’s University.

Eamon is also involved with the Halifax Recovery Society, a non-profit organization that aims to eliminate the stigma of mental health and addiction disorders. For their Recovery Day 2021 event, Eamon shared his story.

Breaking the Stigma of Addiction

Julie Melanson is the founder of the company. She said when people like Eamon tell their stories, it helps break the stigma.

Julie Melanson is the founder of the Halifax Recovery Society. She says success stories, like Eamon’s, help people with substance use disorder seek help more easily. (Submitted by Julie Melanson)

“People are able to relate,” Melanson said. “They could relate through this story and know that they are not alone, so it is extremely important that the stories are shared, like Laura’s, in a place where they are public, where they can be seen, not behind closed doors, because we need to normalize the conversations to really break that societal stigma.”

Melanson said the stories also offered hope.

“It really shows that we can recover, we’re recovering and doing tremendously well, so it’s absolutely phenomenal,” Melanson said.

“Always just funny and outgoing,” says a friend

While on opposite ends of the country, Nadler and Eamon remain friends. They have also taken road trips together over the years. While Eamon’s confidence has grown, in other ways it hasn’t changed.

“She was still the same Laura I met the first day I went to Carleton for the band tour, still just funny and outgoing and social and very interested in the world around her and the people she was with. it surrounds itself,” Nadler says.

When Eamon learned she had won the scholarship, the celebration was simple: she and her partner received Chinese food.

“I think I’ve become a homebody and I’m comfortable with that,” she said. “And it’s the little things that make the difference now.”

There are resources in place for Nova Scotians in need of addictions help. The province’s mental health and addictions line can be reached by phone at 1-855-922-1122.