graduate school, sober lifestyle


You can take the girl out of English class, age her a few decades and put her through the wringer of trying to earn a living wage with the written word, but you can’t take the burning passion for English class out of the girl!

Safe to say I was totally in my element Tuesday night at Delaware Valley University’s annual Student Writing Conference, where I went to read one of my early-2022 blog posts, plus a short snippet of an even older piece that I struggled to slice and dice into a 100-word “Tiny Memoir.” (I only made it down to 126; shit, it’s tough being your own editor! 😫)

I attended the event to “celebrate writing” with classmates and kindred spirits, and just to soak up as much of “carefree” grad student life as I can before “the real world” hits — again — next semester in the form of an unpaid counseling internship that will usher in my second career transition in the past four years.

I was probably the oldest person in the room, besides the professors running the thing, and yet I was acting much like the 1990s tween/teen who sat riveted at a Park View School/Niles West High desk while Mr. Paulos or Dr. Graham led discussions of great literature and the art of storytelling.

Once a “try hard,” always a “try hard”…

No doubt, you guys: I love every little thing about writing, and the reading of writing, and analyzing and interpreting and discussing writing. I’m an introvert, at root, but put me in a group of wordsmiths and/or bibliophiles, and my heart truly feels at home.

That’s why I jumped at the chance to participate in Tuesday’s Conference, which basically amounted to an open mic night for students seeking extra credit and a bit of spending cash. I did it last year, too; entering was a pretty quick and painless process, considering the years of content I have sitting here on this site.

At the DelVal Writers Conference with profs from my amazing grad school program and a few members of my Counseling Psych cohort.

Although the Master’s degree I’m pursuing is in Counseling Psychology, and my entrée into the mental health field will move me even farther away from my professional roots as a print journalist — and, Gods be good, get me out of marketing forever — I will always be a writer at heart.

I still feel the occasional twinge of regret when I think about not following my heart at age 8, when I dreamt of being an author, or at 18, when I decided to major in journalism instead of English because my practical — OK, fearful — brain craved a safe, steady job…again, this was the 90s, before all those jobs dried up. I didn’t want to follow the family tradition of becoming a teacher, so any major that wasn’t geared toward a distinct vocation, in my mind, was out.

Still, there’s something so life-affirming about academic settings buzzing with creativity and a shared love of language, where everyone is invested in the challenges of channeling emotion into written expression and crafting impactful phrases, instead of just trying to figure out how to capitalize on “copy” as a commodity. I get that you gotta monetize your gifts in order to live, but it’s so refreshing when you get to stop singing for your supper and indulge in art appreciation for a minute or two.

Once I get in that type of environment, I never want to leave!

Peer feedback, after the fact: I should have just ended it after “alcoholic,” and my piece would’ve fit the Tiny Memoir criteria. Brilliant! 🤦🏼‍♀️

Reading written work aloud adds a whole other dimension to the experience. That’s where the passion you poured into the piece can really shine through, and you can reach people who might not be inclined to follow your self-indulgent, rambling words on a page.

When your work is about addiction, mental health and recovery, and how all of those things impact your relationships, I’ve found that it tends to hit people in a special way. As the kids say, “IYKYK.” A few audience members approached me afterward to talk about loved ones who’d struggled with drugs and alcohol, and listening to their stories re-solidified my commitment to this loud-and-proud recovery program you faithful readers have been following for the past 40 months.

This blog has combined my two true passions into one invaluable recovery tool that helps me while potentially helping others. Through it, I get to carry out a kind of mission. By using the gifts I have, being my unapologetic, authentic self, and approaching my issues with honesty and humor, I can let others know they’re not alone — however “f^cked-up” they might feel — and recovery IS possible. It does get better, if you give yourself a chance.

I owe a huge debt to all the great writers who have carried that message to me! Prime example:

In early sobriety, I made a list of my favorite sober resources. Find it here.

Becoming a therapist is simply the next big step in this mission. I plan to work writing into my counseling career, however humanly possible.

Writing has been my “thing” (as Laura McKowen might say) since I knew what it meant to write. Then, my decades-long battle with alcoholism (mixed with anxiety, depression, perfectionism and disordered eating) gave me a new “thing,” some truly meaty, and meaningful, subject matter to write about. Not that the talking bugs and magic castles of my youth didn’t serve a purpose. 😉

It can take a lot of hard knocks to discover your real purpose, and sometimes, it sure ain’t the story you scribbled in your diary or typed out for your English class essay about “what I want to be when I grow up.”

Not only did I hear from people at the Writers Conference who could relate to the particulars of my story, but some of my classmates said I’d inspired them to write more! What a tremendous gift that is! And after listening to other students share their touching personal essays and powerful, original poetry out loud in a room full of spectators, and feeling re-invigorated by their talent, honesty and courage, the “awards” at the end of the night seemed like an afterthought.

I mean, it’s the lifting of spirits and stirring of souls that’s the real reward of this “labor of love,” right!

Hahaha! 🤣 Who am I kidding? The way the marketplace devalues good, solid, human writing these days, if there’s any opportunity to get compensated for your energy, time and talents, no writer should hesitate to take it!

So, yes, it definitely was nice to claim $50 in cash for “winning” first prize in my category for the second straight year, even if this time, I was the only entry in my category. 😬

Incidentally, that’s the same amount my husband used to get — in the 21st century — for driving all over creation on Friday nights and standing in the cold/rain for three hours, keeping stats and chasing surly coaches, to cover high school football games as a freelancer for the local newspaper. But I digress…

I’m going to put the prize money toward the mission, by which I mean it’s going to help pay for this WordPress subscription. This blog has never, ever been about the money; as a tool of recovery, it is, as cliché as it sounds, absolutely priceless. But since it costs like $150 a year to maintain, and its contents have brought in $100 total over 3 1/2 years (and I’ve taken on tens of thousands of dollars in loan debt in order to live this “carefree” grad student/open mic performer life), it’s technically deep in the red.

It’s going to be a while before the passion project that is my counseling career “pays off” in “the real world,” but thinking about where I was four years ago at the end of both my journalism and drinking careers (in a word: lost)…trying to describe this experience of recovery, right now, really defies my writing ability.

I feel filthy f^cking rich. 🤑

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