Technically I completed my Master of Arts in Counseling on March 9, 2019. On May 11 I got to dress up in an overpriced robe while sitting in the rain for hours to glide across a stage while someone I didn’t know read my name. But it was more than just a symbol of the completion of academic requirements. It was extremely symbolic for me in ways I haven’t really been ready to process until now.
January 7, 2017 I walked onto the Webster Groves campus as a naive 29 year old. I had been married for 9 years and I had a 7 year old daughter. My then husband was nearing the end of his Masters program and I thought after supporting him through his career change it was my turn. Just over two months later I was all of a sudden a 30 year old single mom. I had emotional whiplash. What began as a way to explore my curiosity of the human mind turned into my lifeline in more ways than I would ever know. I can truly say without a doubt if I was not in the Counseling program when my marriage fell apart, I wouldn’t have dealt with it as well as I did.
I was in class when a text conversation with my ex-husband turned from what are we going to do now to a conversation about a “trial separation” *eyeroll* He was moving out and I was supposed to be learning about the Theories of Counseling. Tears silently rolled down my cheeks as I tried to bury my head in my book. My world crashed that night. Completely crumbled. The foundation I had spent most of my life building was gone in the blink of a text notification.
Not even a full semester into my 2+ year graduate program I was facing the most difficult challenge of my nearly three decades of life. While many people would have given up on school, I did the opposite. I threw myself into it completely. I knew that I wanted a better life for myself and my daughter. I knew I couldn’t just quit. I needed a career to support myself. But mostly, I knew if I didn’t have something I could control – something to distract me from the pain – something to keep me busy…. I would lose it. And so, I stayed busy. I was used to always being busy being mom, but when I only had her half the time i didn’t know what to do with myself. So, when she was gone I focused on school. I wrote papers, read books, and for over a year worked 20 hours a week at an unpaid internship. I had several relationships come and go. But, grad school was always there.
and then suddenly it wasn’t.
it has been 3 months since i completed my last class. and this is the first time i’m really sitting down to process what grad school was for me. see, if i don’t write about it that means it isn’t real. it isn’t over. my safety net isn’t gone. despite all the classes, supervision, and personal counseling i’ve been through the idea of me just sitting with who i was on that January day and who i am now is overwhelming.
so, i deflect and replace. i had a full time position before i even completed my last class. and i have thrown myself into that work so completely. i am a substance abuse counselor at an inpatient rehab facility, working specifically with women – many who have experienced extreme trauma. i’ve worked long hours doing hard work. again, it was a distraction from taking the time to process my feelings. i’ve avoided writing because i know once i begin to open up the flood of feelings will come. i’ve started a million versions of this post in my head, but it wasn’t until I tried to call someone out on avoiding their most prominent and successful coping skill that i realized how much i’ve been avoiding mine. *insert meaningful quote about practicing what you preach* so, here we are.
grad school saved me because it gave me something to focus on when my world wouldn’t stop spinning. my work energizes and challenges me because i have to look at my own shortcomings before pointing out any in others. they have been healthy and useful, but if i don’t find balance now and allow myself to explore other ways of coping with the insanity that is my life it is possible that i could see burnout, a common end to even some of the most prominent names in counseling, far sooner than most would. enough distracting and deflecting. i’m here, right now. processing and letting that shit go.
in the spirit of the adorable marie kondo i will say thank you to my grad school career for serving me well in my time of need. thank you for bringing me structure and balance when i had none. thank you for teaching me that i can do things that may seem impossible. thank you for giving me the opportunity to show my daughter what persistence and passion can add up to.
clearly, it can add up to a really expensive piece of paper you frame and hang on the wall. ha.
cheers to the end of the beginning of the rest of my life!