MC grad and veteran uses sobriety journey to help other vets

MC grad and veteran uses sobriety journey to help other vets

July 2, 2020

United States Navy veteran David Daniels ’20, a native of Philadelphia, Pa., transferred to Maryville College in the fall of 2018 with plans to pursue a career in law enforcement, specifically juvenile probation parole. All that changed when he faced the demon that almost consumed him – alcohol.

“Before I got sober, law enforcement was what I wanted to do,” Daniels said. “All that went by the wayside when my Maryville College family took a chance on a drunk veteran.”

Instead, Daniels, a 2020 graduate, completed his degree in criminal justice after undergoing treatment at a Veterans Health Administration facility in North Carolina, where he had lived prior to moving to Maryville with his wife, Priscilla Harris Daniels, a graduate of Alcoa High School.

“I was listening to some of the stories in treatment, and it dawned on me that a lot of my brothers and sisters out of uniform don’t have a support system as strong as I do, including Maryville College. Every bridge that they had, they’ve burned. They have no family or nobody trusts them—no kind of support from anybody,” he said. “I don’t think I’m any better or any worse than anybody, but the fact of the matter is, my support system keeps me straight. I want to be able to offer that support to other vets dealing with alcohol or drugs or whatever their poison is. I want to be a rung in their support ladder.”

To do this, Daniels plans to work in the Veteran Treatment Court pipeline.

“A Veteran Treatment Court is sort of a buffer for veterans who are in danger of entering the criminal justice system,” he explained. “It’s a program to help you kick the habit, whatever habit you may have – alcohol, narcotics or whatever your vice is. If you successfully complete that program, the sentence that you would have been handed down in the criminal justice system goes away.” 

Facing the issue

The first step to sobriety was for Daniels to admit he had a problem. 

“I was a highly functioning alcoholic,” he said. “Finally one day I woke up, and all I wanted to do was drink. I remember sitting in Dr. (Drew) Crain’s biology class, and he was the first person I ever told at the College that I had a problem with alcohol.” 

Crain, MC professor of biology, said Daniels was a student in his non-science majors biology class, and from day one, he was always “extremely polite and studious.”

“However, as the semester progressed, David’s alcoholism turned destructive to his physical and psychological health,” Crain said. “I had many very frank conversations with David about his disease, emphasizing the necessity to have intense inpatient treatment and to have it soon. As the spring 2019 semester was only half completed, David didn’t see how he could get such treatment and complete his degree plan. We worked out a way that he could receive an incomplete for the class in the spring and finish the course materials and labs in the summer in the same course taught by Dr. Dave Unger (MC associate professor of biology). David ended up doing very well in the course.”

The student veteran also completed a Senior Study on intraracial genocide and the Black Lives Matter Movement, as it aligned with his initial career goals. While his research and findings may not now be directly applicable to the Veteran Treatment Court pipeline, Daniels said the topic is still an important one to him.

“The killing of young black men by other young black men is something that I am deeply concerned about,” he said.

In addition to Crain, Jim Humphrey, director of military recruiting and Outreach at MC, was instrumental in Daniels’ success. They first met during the spring 2019 semester, when Daniels visited the newly reopened Military Student Center for the first time.

“He shared some of his personal story with me as we talked, and I could sense he was striving to make a supportive connection,” Humphrey said. “This is exactly what the mission of our Military Student Center is – to provide resources and lasting supportive connections for all our military-related students.” 

As Daniels fought his battle with alcohol, he and Humphrey had an unspoken agreement that he would stop by the center a few mornings each week, have a cup of coffee, chat for a few minutes and then go to class.

“This helped him with his own personal accountability to get up each day, regardless of how he felt, and ensured to me that he was mentally and physically OK and moving forward,” Humphrey said. “Military members are wired to be accountable to one another for success of the mission.” 

MC support

Daniels credits Maryville College with his sobriety.

“It was the MC faculty that gave me the gift of sobriety by way of providing me incompletes in all of my classes so long as I was willing to go to treatment,” he said. “Maryville College prepared me for this endeavor by helping me to celebrate my sobriety from the very beginning. From day zero they supported me, encouraged me and continued to check on me regularly. MC utilizes the whole-person approach and never let me falter. They helped me understand that I cannot be the student I want to be without problem-solving both in and out of the classroom.”

Even with other challenges Daniels has faced, including being diagnosed with bipolar depression that had been masked by the alcohol, a cancer diagnosis for his mother, and his oldest son being wounded twice by gunfire in Philadelphia, he has remained sober.

“I didn’t even get the urge to drink,” he said. “I credit that to my support system and me being true to myself and not my vice.”

Both Crain and Humphrey say they are happy for the progress Daniels has made. 

“I am very proud of David for getting his life back, and I’m proud to now call him a friend,” Crain said. “His military background, determination and empathy for others will ensure that he is able to help countless veterans through the Veterans Treatment Courts.”

Humphrey agreed, saying, “David has grown tremendously both academically and psychologically during his tenure as a student here at MC. He is very self-aware of his personal struggles and the steps he must take continuously to overcome them. I’m proud of David, his perseverance in spite of his struggles, and his decision to pursue a career to assist other veterans navigate their own paths amidst their battle with addictions and other psychological challenges. 

“David is a good example of how anyone, from any walk of life, and any background, can be successful with the help of the right supportive environment such as MC, its faculty, staff and dedicated resources like the Military Student Center.”  

Written by Linda Braden Albert for Maryville College 

Maryville College is a nationally-ranked institution of higher learning and one of America’s oldest colleges. For more than 200 years, we’ve educated students to be giving citizens and gifted leaders, to study everything, so that they are prepared for anything — to address any problem, engage with any audience and launch successful careers right away. Located in Maryville, Tennessee, between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the city of Knoxville, Maryville College offers nearly 1,200  students from around the world both the beauty of a rural setting and the advantages of an urban center, as well as more than 60 majors, seven pre-professional programs and career preparation from their first day on campus to their last. Today, our 10,000 alumni are living life strong of mind and brave of heart and are prepared, in the words of our Presbyterian founder, to “do good on the largest possible scale.”