It is the season of commencement speeches. High schools and colleges near and far are celebrating their graduates by hosting celebrity speechmakers. We listen for sound bites from CEO’s and novelists, college presidents and politicians. Most of their talks inspire, but there has come to be an underlying message linking education, graduation and materialsuccess.
For people in recovery—there is another experience. The degree is wonderful, the greater earning power is important, but watching a new life blossom is incredible. And there is also the experience of doing another hard thing one-day-at-a-time.
College graduations along with job promotions and weddings and baby blessings are a joy to all of us in recovery. Certainly we love our own accomplishments, but watching our fellows grow and change and reach public milestones is equally a delight. The recovery experience is one of the rising tide raising all boats.
But there is something about a college graduation. We’re Americans after all, and a college degree is a marker of so much. For many of us it’s the thing we couldn’t get through in our using days.
So many recovery stories include making a mess of education, or of studying some subject to please family or because it sounded good when we were under the influence.
But then, after a period of recovery—when the mental fog clears there is a deeper clarity that comes.
Often we get that clarity from people around us in the rooms: “Hey,” someone tells us, “you are good with people (or numbers, or cars or languages or music).” Then we might tearfully tell our sponsor in a whispery voice that, “When I was younger I wanted to be a nurse (or a vet, or a teacher, or a writer or designer.)
And a wise sponsor will remind us that we already have started our life over so why not take an accounting class or get a part-time job with animals, or go talk to someone about the pre-requisites for nursing.
And then the true barometer measures both our head and our heart: Do I really like this thing? Could I do more, take another class, maybe get a degree?
And does it take a long time? Yes, it does, but so does long-term recovery and we want that just as much and recovery takes a long time and has a certain amount of drudgery too.
So when someone in your home group meeting announces that they have completed their Associates degree or their GED or invites everyone to the open house at their new boutique, you will want to be there.
The best commencement speech will come later on, and it will be in a church basement with folding chairs and bad coffee, but the cheering will be loud and strong.
For more on long-term recovery take a look at my book, "Out of the Woods" published by Central Recovery Press.