In 17 days, I will be walking across a makeshift stage at a middle school somewhere in New Hampshire, wearing my rented cap, gown & tassel, reaching for a placeholder diploma, as the crowd on the floor looks on and claps for me. My parents won’t be there. My brother won’t be there. My (ex) boyfriend won’t be there. It will be me, the few new friends I’ve collected along my grad school journey, and a room full of relative strangers.
After that, we’ll mingle for a bit at the university campus, grab dinner together, and then go our separate ways. The very next morning I’ll be on a plane headed to London.
My mind is drawn to the very beginning of this graduate school story of mine—the beginning that has led me to this end, that will lead me to that middle school auditorium and beyond. I remember feeling scared and excited. The time in my life when I started graduate school feels dark—both emotionally, but also literally. It was the middle of winter, January 2016, when I sat down at my favorite bar, 2-for-1 beers at my fingertips, laptop and books in tow, ready to start studying to become a therapist. The sun sets early here in the winter, and in those early days, I spent so many nights at that dark bar trying to concentrate through the haze of beer and late-night dinners. I felt invigorated, but lonely. I wanted to matter. I wanted to feel like I could do something more with my life, not really knowing what I was going to do, or what the journey was in front of me.
So, here I am, 3 years & 4 months since the very first words were written in this chapter of my life. 3 years & 4 months since those dark days and those first glimmers of inspiration.
And holy shit.
I mean, really: holy shit. The end is finally here, and I am looking back in astonishment at how much has happened in the years that I’ve been running toward this moment. Sometimes I could cry thinking of how far this journey has propelled me—not into some distant or unknown future, but into myself. I could cry looking back on the young woman who felt compelled to follow her intuition, believing that there had to be something better than this, whatever this was, and that she could attain it by sheer force of will and determination.
Because, well, she was right. There is more to this for me—for her. And here we are.
Of course, will and determination got me pretty far, but it wasn’t everything. It took a lot of humility. It took being more assertive. It required an openness to critique and failure. It took a few core moments of breaking down and crumbling into myself. It took a deep reflection of my values, my motivations, and my expectations. It forced me to let go of things I simply could not hold onto any longer. It taught me some really incredible lessons about myself and the world around me.
And, the way I see it, all of this was made possible largely by my sobriety. I don’t know how I would’ve managed had I continued drinking. I may have done okay, but honestly, if you want to find a way to dig deep into your life story and the story of your own recovery, try getting sober while enrolled in a graduate program to become a mental health therapist. It will flatten you like putty and re-form you anew.
This whole process has changed how I tell my story, and it’s changed for the better. I have been able to reach back into my life story and understand it from a different perspective; this, in turn, has helped me understand the people I work with, and it’s helped me hold off from passing judgment or making assumptions. I am still overcome with moments of self-doubt and fear, but those moments are fleeting and I understand that they, too, have their purpose in all of this. I have been confronted by my own painful fear of vulnerability and connection, and have been surprised by others’ willingness to reach out and connect with me anyway.
Sigh. Here I am. It is spring and I am single and I’m about to graduate with my master’s degree in mental health counseling. I am taking a trip to Europe all by myself and during this, I am really going to celebrate myself, my accomplishments, my recovery, and everything that lies ahead of me. My heart is fluttering as I wait to hear back from three prospective employers—I am impatient yet I understand that whatever comes my way will be the right opportunity for me. I can feel things changing beneath the surface of my life—the feeling is like a warm, bright, glimmering current running under a glass floor beneath my feet—and despite being overcome by anxiety at times, I finally feel like I am seeing the manifestation of all the work I’ve put into this.
And it is so, so sweet.
❤ Em, day 1,013 of sobriety.