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.