Former addict turns counselor, gives hope to SBCC students


Ryan Cullom

Ben Murphy, alcohol and substance awareness program coordinator, is an active voice on campus for Project HOPE. His past addiction and recovery inspire Murphy to help students deal with substance abuse.

KANAKO MIYAZAKI , Channels Staff

A man, who had once fallen in the bottomless pit of drug and alcohol, found his calling to prevent students from experiencing his hellish past of substance abuse.

Ben Murphy, student program advisor, was a drug and alcohol addict in his twenties, but he clawed his way up with recovering programs and support from his loved ones. Now, he enjoys teaching and leading City College students a healthy way of life as a certificated drug and alcohol counselor.

“[He has an] incredible work ethic, really amazing counselor, inspiring person, engaging dynamic speaker, and he’s such a right to work with,” said Alyson Bostwick, Murphy’s critical supervisor since he was an intern. “I just still have the fortune to have him in my life as my colleague and my friend.”

With his three brothers and parents, Murphy grew up in El Dorado Hills, in Northern California. He was interested in school, sports and friends in his youth, and decided to play soccer at San Jose State University.

Murphy started drinking and partying all the time when he was 18, but did not associate with the problems yet. About half way through his sophomore year of college, he started smoking weed and drinking frequently.

Murphy then suffered a serious knee injury, which led to a lot of painful surgery. He took strong painkillers, which became addictive to Murphy.

“Before started drinking a lot and using prescription pills, I had good grades and did well in the school,” Murphy said. “[The] more I did drugs, more I drank, more I smoked weed, more I was popping pills, I just studied less and less and the school became, like, a not priority.”

At 21, Murphy dropped out of school and his addiction became more serious. He started using hard drugs like cocaine and ecstasy regularly.

When he was 22, Murphy went to rehabilitation for the first time and got introduced a recovery program that focused on his spiritual health.

“I had to start thinking about the other people a lot more, so I started having volunteering time, telling the truth, and hanging out with good and positive people instead of bad people,” said Murphy. “I did change my social life.”

However, Murphy was not really ready for this life-altering change at the time, and he fell back into his addiction, which troubled him until he was 27.

For Murphy, these 7 years of addiction felt like a prison.

In 2006, Murphy finally was able to kick his addiction. He moved to Santa Barbara where he got a lot of support for his addiction, and he recovered with a 12-Step Substance Abuse Recovery Program.

“It’s like treatment for your heart like you really need to become a better person in order to beat the addiction,” Murphy said. “I had to learn how to love other people and myself, how to be compassion, how to work hard, and how to be honestly. It’s almost like to learn how to live a life.”

Then, Murphy decided to return to a college to study again. He went to City College for two years and got Alcohol and Drug Counseling Certification. He also went to Antioch University and earned a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts and Sciences and masters degree in Clinical Psychology.

“I just love Santa Barbara, love being here, and love the people,” said Murphy. “I worked full time and went to school full time, so I really focused on recovering and trying to increase my spiritual life through meditation, peers, books, and practices to grow.”

Murphy has worked for City College for eight years and interned for the alcohol and drugs counseling program in 2007.

“[I] just try to enjoy my life—to be appreciative that I was able to come back from such a horrible experience,” said Murphy. “I’m very grateful to able to work with students and try to help them.”

Now, he counsels students and runs the Alcohol and Substance Awareness Program and Project Hope, which is a peer education program. In Project Hope, he trains the students who want to get involved with alcohol and drug awareness on a physical health, stress management and sexual assault prevention.

“It’s heaven, diving on the heaven,” said Murphy. “I love the students, love the material that I encourage people to be healthy and happy, and love my coworkers. The people who work in the Health and Wellness are like family members for me.”

In his free time, Murphy loves being with his wife and taking their dogs to the beach. He also likes hiking, rock climbing, Brazilian ju-jitsu, CrossFit, hanging out with friends and watching “Family Guy” and “American Dad.”

“I know that I will never use drugs or drink alcohol, but I would never say like I’m done recovering because for me, recovery is a synonymous with personal growth,” said Murphy. “But it’s a beautiful thing because I want to grow my whole life.”