graduate school, sober lifestyle


The last thing the professor asked us to do in our orientation session Thursday night was go around the room and share one word that described our feelings about the upcoming semester — our first as “Cohort 9” in Delaware Valley University’s three-year MA in Counseling Psychology program.

It’s actually my first as a student, period, since the start of this century. 😳

Anyway, the other noobs were like, “Nervous!” “Overstimulated!” “Ready!” And your trusty wordsmith over here blurted out… “Summit.”

It wasn’t an adjective (still isn’t, actually). It made no sense outside my own head. So, true to form, I took up more than my share of allotted time, explaining myself to the group.

All I could think about during the 3+-hour session was the slow climb to the top of the big drop on a roller coaster — clickety clickety clickety 😳 — and that crazy-making anticipation of the terrifying free fall to come — clickety clickety clickety 😰.

You can’t turn back. You can’t get out. You have no control whatsoever. And you know you’re going to get thrown completely, wildly, out of your comfort zone. 😱

I’m so afraid of this exact scenario that I rarely even go on those coasters.

So, “summit” might’ve been a crappy choice of word, but the analogy is apt. Contemplating the start of classes, my head is spinning and my stomach is percolating and I’m white-knuckle clinging to my lap bar. All the little comforts that make me feel safe and in control as I navigate life without alcohol — especially those 8 o’clock bedtimes! — are about to get sucked into space as the latch on the track releases and I go hurtling into the abyss of full-time work and full-time school, and let’s not forget full-time recovery. …

“But that’s the fun part, right?” the professor shot back, catching me off guard.

Gonna have to re-set that. 😢

Of course. Right. I’m here to learn, and learning is fun! Change is good! Growth mindset, Jen!

Clearly, I have more to learn this semester than just Research Methods and Advanced Theories and Ethical Issues of/in Counseling. These same old lessons about flexibility and faith and “it’s not the situation, it’s how you react to it,” as my professor reminded us at another point in her presentation, keep hitting me on the head over and over. They still haven’t fully sunk in.

Even though I know deep down that change is the only way to grow, I keep having to be forcibly pointed toward positivity and optimism whenever I feel uncertain or unsafe. After all I’ve been through in 43 years, I still sometimes turn into a trembling (occasionally petulant) little child when an inconvenient big-girl challenge is thrown my way.

My mom read my last blog and texted me, “Do you think, maybe, somewhere hidden beneath the worry and anxiety of how you are going to tackle these changes, there might be a smidge of excitement that there are going to BE changes?”

This, too, relates to the roller coaster. I’m reminded of Mom’s favorite scene in the movie “Parenthood.”

I’m not crying…you’re crying! 😭

We are problem people who have found a way up and out, and who wish to share our knowledge of that way with all who can use it.

The 12 Steps and 12 Traditions, Alcoholics Anonymous

Prof, Mom, “Grandma”…they’re all very wise women. And to give myself a little credit, I am, too. I just have this annoying tendency to get so tightly wrapped up in the merry-go-round of life’s little details — the exact time on the clock, the specific food on the plate, the predictable (and soothing) everyday rituals — that I lose sight of the big, beautiful picture.

It’s like I’m squeezing my eyes shut so tight, bracing for impact, that I can’t look around and soak up the view from the “summit.”

In other words, I often struggle to access the wisdom that lies within. I don’t trust myself, or my higher power, as much as I should.

I talk a lot about the time I “wasted” in active addiction and unhealthy obsessions, riding around and around making the same mistakes over and over. Another wise woman in my life, my therapist, has encouraged me to think of it in a different way.

All of that shit is a tremendous asset that’s going to make me a really good counselor some day. My life experience is an invaluable tool that I can use to help other “problem people” — let’s face it: to some extent, we’re ALL “problem people” — change their lives. My particular mistakes and shortcomings make me uniquely qualified to make a difference in the world.

Armed with the education I’m about to earn, and the insight I continue to gain in therapy and 12-step recovery, all that “wasted” time can be…to borrow a term from the author Sacha Scoblic, “unwasted.”

That would’ve been a good word for our around-the-room orientation exercise. 🤦🏼‍♀️

It’s up to me now to make this happen. To make sure it’s not all for naught. All the time I’m going to have to sacrifice, the energy I’m going to have to summon, the wisdom I’m going to have to access under pressure, and the support I’m going to have to seek, from above and here on Earth…it’s all necessary life experience that could ultimately lead to my living with purpose. Living my purpose.

The way up and out is rough, no doubt. But some people never find the road map, and here I am, standing in the middle of the path, needing only to get out of my own way so I can keep pushing forward.

Amazing? Miraculous? Un-f*cking-real? I’m clearly no expert wordsmith, but I’m pretty sure there is no word strong enough to describe this gift. ↗️

2 thoughts on “Education”

  1. Jen,
    You are exactly where you need to be! You’ve come a long way baby as they say! It’s time to use your experience and unique gifts to help others . Wishing you all the best in your journey.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good luck, Jen! I’m excited for you! I’ll miss your blog for sure but I think the pursuit of this education is probably time better spent.

    Like you, even after forty two years of talking about it, I’m unable to adequately describe this gift or the depth of my gratitude for it. There are no words. Now, when I find myself at that loss for words when trying to explain or describe it, I just savor the feeling and try to allow the expression on my face and the love in my eyes do the talking.

    Thanks for opening up and bringing us along. Now go forth and be awesome!!!

    Liked by 1 person

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