Founders’ Words

In late January 2014, as we sat brainstorming names for our organization-to-be, I heard myself say, “What about ‘Live Free’?” The words had bypassed my well-meaning, overactive brain almost completely, which is how I knew to trust them. It was a product of the collective spirit brewing among the group of us, as our missions aligned.

During my early years as an undergrad at UW-Madison, I was not free. I was overwhelmed by my substance use, and the shame and confusion and isolation that went along with it. As a student with this experience in 2006 and 2007, the resources that I needed on campus were absent.

Our vision from the beginning was to help develop a UW-Madison where all prospective and current students could belong, not in spite of their diverse circumstances but because of the opportunities they afford us to grow and connect deeply. My fellow Live Free founders showed me that when we demonstrate visible recovery on campus—when we are willing to speak up and give of ourselves—we start to shed the feeling that our situation is marginal and thus somehow discountable. Together, we construct an environment where we can live free of that starving aloneness, of stigma and misunderstanding, and of harmful substance use and other addictive behaviors, if that is what we seek. We can live free of hopelessness, and live free to evolve and realize our own directions.

Because of the unyielding dedication of our students and our collaborative fellows in this journey, we have a foundation upon which we continue to build. Live Free is a network for peer support and sharing resources, and a force of awareness raising, stigma reduction, and education for all of UW-Madison. It is part of a larger charge undulating across the nation that embraces recovery at educational institutions and beyond.

Learning to be of service to others through Live Free allowed me to land in my own life for the first time ever—at one year, two years, and three years sober. I hope that it can do the same for many students to come.

Vanessa dellaBitta
UW-Madison, 2014
Co-founder and former Co-Chair of Live Free – Student Wellness & Recovery

I helped to start Live Free because I wanted to provide what I did not have when I was a young college student: support for my recovery. As an undergraduate seeking recovery, I felt so alone and so alienated from the campus community. What I needed was a place to belong with other young people who shared my goal of living substance free and healthy. Live Free was started to provide recovery support and a place for anyone to belong at UW- Madison.

Caroline Miller
Co-founder and former Co-Chair of Live Free – Student Wellness & Recovery

In the middle of my time as an undergraduate at UW-Madison, I went to inpatient rehab for 4 months because of the detrimental way that I used alcohol and drugs. In those 4 months, I experienced life-changing sobriety that was fun and meaningful, the exact opposite of how I had been living before. I was convinced that a sober life was how I would finally work toward my full potential. However, when it came time to decide what I would do once my time in rehab was over, my alcohol and drug counselor and I had to have a very serious conversation around the possibility of returning to UW-Madison. Yes, UW-Madison was an amazing place to get an education – world-class professors, sports, facilities, city, spirit – and I loved it, but was it all worth a potential relapse in what was a notoriously pervasive drinking culture among its students? It was consistently on numerous top 10 lists for biggest party schools in the nation, and I was well accustomed to the always acceptable, often encouraged, and sometimes ridiculed for not, drinking to and past my limits experiences. After rehab, I did decide to go back to my beloved university and did find it challenging at times to continue to embrace sobriety. That is why when the opportunity arose to found Live Free, I jumped on it. 

From the first Live Free meeting, I felt more secure in my sobriety because of a new sense of purpose and belonging around my academic pursuits that had been lacking since leaving the drinking scene. It is my hope that through membership and engagement with Live Free, current and future badgers who choose to walk in or support those on the path of recovery from alcohol and drugs, find within it a community that is fun and welcoming, and holds space for and validates their substance-free journeys on the UW-Madison campus like I did.


Jenna Parfitt
UW-Madison, 2014
Co-founder and former Co-Chair of Live Free – Student Wellness & Recovery”