Fear of death keeps Bridge Way grad moving forward

These days, Sam Driben not only makes commitments, he follows through on them.

It seems simple, but it wasn’t always so for the Haverford Township teen.

For most of his high school career, Driben, 18, struggled with drug abuse, ping-ponging between treatment centers and hospitals more than a dozen times before finally kicking his addiction to opiates — prescription and otherwise.

He’s much happier now. Knowing he can and will make it to work and other appointments is a big reason why.

“I don’t have to worry about where I’m going to get money or if I’m going to be able to eat today or how sick am I going to get today,” said Driben, an EMT with a suburban Philadelphia hospital. “I’m able to show up.”

The Bridge Way School in Roxborough, the area’s first-ever high school devoted to students recovering from drug and alcohol abuse, was an important part of Driben’s success.

The private school’s goal: provide a transition from treatment to life as a person in recovery.

Driben only attended the private school for his senior year, but those months proved pivotal, putting him in a position to pursue the career he “fell in love with” after volunteering at an ambulance company his sophomore year.

He’ll soon start paramedic training.

A motivating fear of death 

The smallness of Bridge Way – there were just three students in last summer’s first-ever graduating class – was key. So too, said Driben, was the fact that everyone there was working towards the same goal.

“It wasn’t like, ‘oh that kid is smoking pot or that kid is snorting coke in the bathroom.’ It’s everyone there doing what they need to do,” he said. 

Having adults in the building who had first-hand experience with the world of drug and alcohol recovery, was also helpful, he said. They weren’t, like many of his former teachers, “just trying to guess what it was.”

There were certainly times when Driben wanted to return to a traditional public school – to have the freedom that comes with the obscurity large public high schools can provide.

As he recently stood inside the Milmont Fire Station in Delaware County, where he volunteers twice a week, Driben said a very real fear of death kept him on track.

“I know I’m going to die if I pick up again,” said Driben. “Maybe not the first time, but I know it’s going to happen.”

In and out of treatment

There was a time when Driben didn’t think he would graduate high school.

Before attending Bridge Way, he had never completed a full year of high school without a stint in a treatment center or a hospital. Over more than three years, he was in and out treatment 13 times.

Soon after arriving at Harriton High, a public high school in Montgomery County, Driben started hanging out with an older crowd.

He started drinking and occasionally smoked pot. But things quickly escalated.

“It progressed horribly into stuff that I wouldn’t have done in my wildest dreams,” said Driben.

Each time he returned from rehab, he returned to Harriton and sank deeper into drug use.

“I spent many Christmases, many Thanksgivings, many birthdays in treatment centers,” said Driben.

While receiving treatment at a center in Harrisburg, he ran away and became suicidal.

A pivotal turn 

That stretch ultimately led him to accept his parent’s decision to send him to Bridge Way. By then, he was exhausted and ready to receive help.

He started classes at Bridge Way less than 24 hours after returning from his last and final treatment center.

On June 7, Driben will return to The Bridge Way School for its second-ever graduation ceremony.

Rebecca Bonner, the school’s founder, asked him to attend. Absolutely, he told her.

He wouldn’t miss it.

“It’s important for me to show to the kids that are still there that it does work,” he said.

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