South Florida's burgeoning presence of recovery residences gives rise to a thriving recovery community, as many individuals in early recovery who find their way to the region for aftercare support post-treatment end up staying in the area long-term. Justin Rodrigues' path reached Florida a decade ago by way of New Jersey, New York and North Carolina, leading to significant professional and personal success for the 32-year-old.
This fall, Rodrigues will be working as a full-time mathematics instructor at Palm Beach State College in Boca Raton; he has taught calculus and statistics to a variety of students including business and engineering majors and pre-med students. His own calculus professor at the same school several years ago, George Jahn, became an important influence in Rodrigues' life and a connection to the Palm Beach County recovery community; Rodrigues realized early on that the two men shared a bond in recovery.
The recently retired Jahn established the nationally prominent Sober Living in Delray recovery home operations (Rodrigues did not reside at Sober Living in Delray post-treatment, and met Jahn well after his sober living experience).
“George is a great guy who is always organizing events and giving of his time,” Rodrigues says of his mentor and former instructor.
Educational settings have proven pivotal to Rodrigues, both for the positive and the negative during his young life.
He grew up in New Jersey under what he refers to as normal circumstances and attended college in upstate New York, where he pledged a fraternity and partied hard. The college would end up asking him not to return, and for a time after that he moved in with his grandparents, but his drinking and drug use continued unabated.
His grandparents eventually caught on to what was happening to Rodrigues and contacted his parents, who stepped in and helped to convince him to go to treatment. At age 22 he was treated at the Pavillon facility in North Carolina, where he established a strong rapport with a counselor and immersed himself in education about addiction and the lessons of the Big Book.
There were some struggles along the way, including with understanding the relationship with a Higher Power, but he remained driven by the thought of being sick and tired of the way he had been living his life, he says.
At Pavillon it was suggested that he pursue recovery support services post-treatment in Florida. “There is tons of support here, a lot of sober supports,” Rodrigues says.
It would be a few years before Rodrigues would find his niche professionally. He worked in a shopping mall for a while, and also sold mortgages for a time. Mathematics always had come pretty easy to him, so he ultimately decided that he would pursue a graduate degree with an eye toward a career in teaching. “It seemed to be something that I was really good at,” he says.
Rodrigues acknowledges that in his new teaching role he sometimes still has bouts of nervousness in front of a group. But he enjoys experimenting with different ways of communicating with a class and explaining mathematics problems. “I think about how I would want to be taught,” he says.
His attendance at meetings and work with his sponsor remain critical to his long-term recovery, he believes, and he stresses the importance of taking suggestions from others. “It is nice to have that camaraderie,” he says.
And even as his career in the academic arena is just getting started, he is thinking about other directions in which to grow, such as possible work in evaluating financial risk for corporations. This represents a logical calculation for this mathematical mind, given that Rodrigues recently got engaged and will be married within the next 18 months.