I might be as surprised as you are! Sometimes the universe just aligns and grabs you by the hair and says…”This way please!” The ‘please’ is more of a mixture of an intoxicating drug rendering me helpless against it’s suggestions and a pair of hands on my shoulder gently but forcefully nudging me along. “Turn left here. Open door on right…”
I was looking at school again as a faint possibility. I wanted to pick up a few writing classes, see how things went and maybe finally get my degree in Creative Writing. Knowing where I want to go has made a huge dent in my list of excuses for starting and finishing classes. But I had convinced myself for years that I didn’t really need a degree to be a writer. I needed to work on my writing and I could study on my own. Great theory, except for the fact that 5 years later I’m still “writing” daily with nothing concrete to show for it. I know myself too well. I need accountability in order to be productive.
So, I’ve tried out a few writing critique groups over the years. I’ve met some fantastic people…but it hasn’t been much of a boon to my writing. I can’t seem to get any real criticsm on my work. Just polite praise and encouragement. Nice…but I was raised on criticism and I don’t trust nice! I’m craving real feedback and without it..my motivation tends to dry up.
So this was where the degree came in. Surely a crotchety writing teacher could provide me with the criticism I was craving.
Unfortunately money is always an issue these days and I refused to take on any more student loan debt. So the idea kind of sat there stewing for a few weeks.
I had a few resources to look into and one was promising…a scholarship program for my AA degree that I qualified for.
In the midst of trying to work out the details Thursday afternoon, through a series of odd coincidence I found myself in a small crowded conference room in a rather ordinary looking office complex. Seated in the back row of about a dozen rows of sturdy folding chairs I found myself struggling to remain one of the only persons in the room not in tears.
After all, what right did I have to feed off the emotional electricity in the room. I didn’t own any part of it, didn’t know any of the ten or so graduates in the small ceremony we had wandered into and felt like some sort of intruder, gleaning joy from the payoff of their six months of heart-breaking emotional work without having paid my dues. We were at a recovery graduation. The proud participants had been battling addictions, mental health demons, legal, social and family problems as part of a six-month intensive recovery process.
Each of the staff members present had been through the program themselves at some point and many shared their successes along the way. One, impossibly perfect looking woman in her late forties spoke about one of my favorite topics – possibility and mentioned that every single one of us was in recovery from something.
Her words burned right through me. It was everything I could do not to bolt up and run from the room at that moment. The air was too thick, the emotion too raw. I knew I had a matter of seconds before the sobs began and it was only sheer willpower and respect for the graduates that kept my emotions miraculously boiling only under the surface. On the outside I was cold as ice. It was my only defense.
As person after person stood up and expressed their pride, love and support for these graduates I was overwhelmed by the truth in the air. This was not mere lip service. Recent family events are weighing heavily on my mind as I sit in the tiny ceremony. The pressure on my chest is making it hard for me to breath. I’m afraid if I smile or move I will cry…so I stare straight ahead listening intently and glad for once that my glasses are broken and I can’t see the faces of the graduates too clearly.
But there is another problem. Another reason for my disconnected stance. A bigger one maybe, that has nothing to do with family drama. My eyes lock with one of the staff counselors and I see – just like that something I’ve known deeply and hauntingly for all my life but never allowed myself to truly look at. The Medusa in the room. I know that I’m supposed to be a part of all this. That helping people through this is one of my gifts and my callings and I’ve been fighting it off too long. I know it’s the reason for some of my personal battles with mental illness. The need to understand. I grasp how the people I have loved who have struggled so long with addictions and fears are in my life. I admit that it’s the reason I spend hours pouring over Psychology text books and reading about Science and Behaviours. The realization knocks the breath out of me.
Still my rational mind fires off retorts. No! You are supposed to be a writer. You can’t do both! You aren’t strong enough for this! And is this how you want to spend your days? Surrounded depressed and wounded souls? Wouldn’t cheerful, sunny days spent traveling the globe be a bit more your style? But the most compelling question on my mind is this. How am I supposed to help anyone else, when half the time I feel like I can’t even help myself?
“Every one of us is in recovery from something.” The counselor’s words are flooding back into my mind. I’ve never really liked that word I decide. Recovery. It pulls to my consciousness images of weakness, illness, failure and I don’t want to admit to any of that. Not for myself. Not for these people. Not today.
Ten minutes later and we’re in a smaller room on the 2nd floor. The school counselor hands me the scholarship paperwork and I begin scanning it. The degree jumps out at me. AAS in Recovery Support. Wham. Upside the head once again and I’m still trying not to cry in front of these people. I don’t know if I’m ready for this. I don’t know if I know how to make this fit in my life. But I know, unquestioningly one thing. Someone out there wants me to try.
I’ve had a few days to think about it now. Let it bubble about in my mind. A calmness has settled in. Though I’m not sure why, I comprehend the rightness of it now. There’s a part of me that will never be happy if I’m not writing, not creating, not pushing myself intellectually….but there’s another element to my happiness, the part of me that needs to deeply understand and help others. This one’s scarier in that it holds more responsibility, more possibility in embryo. But then there’s that word again. The one I love. So let’s go see what I can learn.