graduate school, sober lifestyle

Experience

The student finished reading his personal narrative, and one of the English professors running the panel commended him on his closing paragraph. “You see a lot of young writers struggle with endings,” she said, “and yours was really strong.”

I wanted to yell out from my seat in the audience: “YES! Endings are SO HARD! Even for OLD WRITERS!”

The moment kind of reminded me of sitting in an AA meeting early in my sobriety and hearing someone talk about the alcohol-induced anxiety attacks that hit like clockwork every day at 3AM. It’s one of those things that everyone in a certain group of people goes through, but you think you’re the only one, and when someone else brings it up, you’re so relieved to know you’re not alone.

You’re hit with this feeling…like, you’re finally home.

That’s how I felt at the Delaware Valley University Student Writers Conference last week. Not surprisingly, I was the oldest one there — by quite a large margin — and from what I could tell, the only grad student. But art knows no age, and one of the first things you learn in studying this particular art form, other than “know your ending before you begin,” is to “write what you know.”

I was super impressed and inspired by the undergraduate authors all around me — like, to the point of tears. But let’s face it: When it comes to knowing stuff, I blew their little butts out of the water. I’m a 43-year-old recovering alcoholic in the midst of her third career transition (and second month of unemployment), for Pete’s sake! If life experience is a key advantage in the writing “game,” this “competition” was not a fair fight.

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graduate school, sober lifestyle

Performance

Imagine a precocious little girl in a homemade, red plaid dress with matching ribbons in her shoulder-length, sandy-blonde hair (she has bangs, so clearly this is a flashback from long, long ago), and white anklet socks and brown top-siders on her feet. She is marching in the door with a good — in fact, near-perfect — report card, her whole body tingling in anticipation of that intoxicating hit of parental approval she knows is forthcoming.

That girl is me. Did you guess? It’s funny I chose to paint that exact picture, because the outfit was from first grade, when I had…let’s just say, “social adjustment issues,” that led to regular trips to the principal’s office and my teacher installing a special study carrel in the corner of the classroom to keep me from being disruptive.

Legend has it I was doing somersaults one day on the carpet in the back of the room that was supposed to be for, like, naps and storytime and docile 💩 like that. 😳

Explains a lot, right?

I ended up killing it in all the academic subjects, to the point they put me in the “gifted” —sorry, “enrichment” — program, but my conduct left something to be desired. Read on to see just how much has changed! 🤣

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graduate school, sober lifestyle

Compensation

This week has been all about making up for lost time. I don’t know if one can actually do that, without injuring themselves…but dadgummit, I’m trying!

It’s like every moment I’m awake, I want to cram it to the brim with activities I enjoy. I want to take full advantage of my freedom and experience life on my terms!

So, I’ve basically been walking/running around Bucks County like a madwoman for days on end.

When I entered Tyler State Park on foot Friday afternoon, eyes fixed upward at the pure blue sky (when they should’ve been checking the path for those little round ankle-killers that fall from the trees 😬), I’d already run from Washington Crossing to Bowman’s Hill Tower on the canal path earlier that morning, then flowed through my usual yoga program on my deck shortly after breakfast. On Thursday, I walked in the park twice, in addition to working out in my basement and doing another hour of yoga. On Wednesday…

OK, Jen; they get the point. 🤐

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graduate school, sober lifestyle

Meaning

Acute soreness is radiating throughout my upper body right now, from my neck down through my fingers. This is what happens when you haven’t done pull-ups in a year and decide to do 20 of them on a random Tuesday morning — and, it must be noted, the weight you’re pulling up is not insignificant.

I’m sure I made things worse by raising my hand so damn much in Psych Theories class later that same evening. 🙋🏼‍♀️🙋🏼‍♀️🙋🏼‍♀️🙋🏼‍♀️🙋🏼‍♀️🙋🏼‍♀️🙋🏼‍♀️🙋🏼‍♀️🙋🏼‍♀️🙋🏼‍♀️

We were discussing existentialism, and if there’s anything I’m intensely passionate about, it’s the inherent futility of life and all its attendant anxiety!

The idea that we are doomed to wander the planet alone, busying ourselves with punishing workouts and monotonous workdays in a search for purpose, knowing all the while that we’re just marching toward the ultimate nothingness of the grave…well, this is something that’s been rolling around in my head since childhood.

Between episodes of “Muppet Babies,” playing dress-up with my American Girl doll and writing/illustrating stories about talking ladybugs, I’d occasionally get sucked up in the existential vacuum and go swirling around in the infinite abyss for a while. What kid doesn’t?

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graduate school, sober lifestyle

Education

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.

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