A Real Writer

Do you ever spend your life thinking of yourself as one way, only to find out you’re actually the opposite? I feel like we have these revelations often in sobriety. For example, I spent years of my life truly believing my man-picker was broken. All of my romantic relationships were toxic, starting from the young age of 16. Each one was filled with vitriol, yelling, arguments, and explosive break-ups and incredible make-up sex. It wasn’t until my first go-round through the 12 steps that I came to the stark realization that I, in fact, was the toxic one.

My whole life has been spent reciting what I believed to be a fact: I’m not artistic, I’m not crafty. What I mean when I say this is that I’ll never be a Pinterest mom or a fabulous cook who gets the recipe right on the first try, or who can glue things to their child’s t-shirt in an orderly fashion, or create a science project from scratch. I was not the standout in art class growing up. Arts and crafts were not my strong suit.

I think this belief played into my thought that there is such a thing as real writers and fake writers. It played into my belief that writing could not be a career. It never even crossed my mind when I was applying to college, to major in writing, to look for a school for writing, to foster a relationship with my writing. I think my relationship with writing was lost during my addiction, but to be fair I didn’t see the value is cultivating it.

I never put two and two together. I never thought of a writer as anything other than someone who writes published books. I never thought of a writer as an artist. I never thought of a writer as someone who is artistic and has a craft. I never considered myself to be a writer. Even after the popularity of my blog took off, I still hesitated to identify myself with the label, “writer.” Anyone can start a blog. Like so many writers I know, until very recently, I had imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome is defined as a concept experienced by individuals who are unable to internalize their accomplishments and have a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud. A few weeks ago I went to my first ever writing conference and one of the biggest ones in the U.S. - the Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual conference. And I only went because it was being held in Tampa, just two hours from where I live. Once I landed at AWP, I knew. I soaked up each and every one of the sessions I attended like a sponge. I felt like I belonged. For one of the first times in my life, I felt like a writer.

During the conference, I spoke to my mom on the phone, “I feel like a real writer!” “You’ve always been a writer,” she said. “I remember all the journals and notebooks you had around the house as a little girl, filled with quotes, song lyrics, and poems.” A light bulb went off in my head. She’s right, I thought. I distinctly remember listening to cd after cd in my disc man and rewinding, replaying, and writing down the words that resonated so deeply with my twelve-year-old soul. I have always felt connected to words. I have always found explanations of the world through reading and writing. I have always found hope and escape in books, a concept I heard Melissa Febos talk about on her panel at the AWP conference. She is an author, also in recovery.  

Since high school, I’ve been saying I want to write a book about my life and all the crazy things that have happened to me. And this was before I got sober. I have always enjoyed writing essays or papers and doing book reports over taking tests or giving presentations.

It wasn’t until this blog, that I accepted the idea that my words might resonate with other people.  But does that make me a real writer? No. I’ve long rejected, possibly, my deepest truth. I am an artist who writes. I am crafty with words. I love words and words love me back. Words have helped shape who I am, writing has helped me make sense of the world and my experiences, and during the last 5 years, writing has become an essential part of my sobriety.

For the first time in my life, I feel creative. I feel like a writer. I feel like me.

That quality has always been a part of who I am, but I chose to ignore it. I didn’t think it was a real thing. I didn’t think it was a quality worth pursuing. Sobriety helped it come alive and attending the AWP conference finally connected the dots for me. It confirmed something my soul had known all along. I am a real writer.

 Melissa Febos signed my copy of her book Abandon Me. Her message reads, "For Kelly, abandon yourself to the hard stories."

Melissa Febos signed my copy of her book Abandon Me. Her message reads, "For Kelly, abandon yourself to the hard stories."