Today’s blog features an interview with special guest, Susan Packard, as we discuss her upcoming book, The Little Book of College Sobriety. Susan Packard is a media entrepreneur and a sober, hope-rich author who has contributed to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, and Refinery 29. This is her third book about emotional fitness and the many shapes it takes in people’s lives, and how it is essential to living with peace and joy. She is a frequent speaker and gave a TEDx talk about emotional fitness at UCLA. The Little Book of College Sobriety, features stories of college students and their journeys through addiction and into Recovery. Susan also offers a multi-media book experience, through audio-taped stories available with purchase of the book. In addition to the advocacy work Susan is doing through her writing, she has also graciously pledged all proceeds from her book to ARHE.

Be sure to catch Susan’s presentation, “Unlocking Your WHOLE Self in Recovery, and Becoming a Leader” at the 2022 ARHE Conference. The session is pre-recorded and will be available to view at any time once the conference begins.

I had the opportunity to speak with Susan about her experiences as a person in Recovery, as a writer, and as a writer in Recovery.

Who inspired you to become an entrepreneur, to write, and to join Recovery?

Many people inspired me! An entrepreneur has a mindset of loving new beginnings and being passionate about bringing new things to life. I had an aunt who inspired me to be a woman in business, and to not be afraid. She was the first female vice president at Revlon, lived in NY all her life and she lived a glamorous life, at least to a ten-year-old girl (me) who was watching her.

I also had an uncle who reinvented himself –new beginnings–many times. In different phases of his life, he was in security work for the FBI (we think, very hush hush), he wrote ten books, he got a CPA, and taught college. And he played drums.

They both taught me not to be afraid, and to step out and be true to myself.

Writing has always been at my core. In 2019, I gave a commencement speech at Michigan State University, which paints a somewhat painful picture of the writer trying to break free and express herself in a corporate world. Upon reflection, it wasn’t just that frustration that led me to alcohol and drugs. It was one factor.

My sister Linda inspired me to join Recovery. She passed away from our disease too early in her life. I’ve dedicated The Little Book of College Sobriety to her.

Why is it important to write/speak about Recovery, and what inspires you to write about your life?

When I embarked on professional writing—that was to be published—I had no intention of writing about any of my life other than the external, professional experience that others might be able to draw from.

Slowly, personal things spilled out. In my first book I wrote of being assaulted in a hotel room while travelling for business, because this was a book for women, and I felt they needed to protect themselves and be safe. In my second book, I wrote about how meditation had changed my life, and I was hoping readers would consider it as a tool. At the very end of that book, which was about becoming emotionally fit, I wrote a chapter about my recovery. Again, I had no intention of doing that, but I was working with these four amazing young women in New York who were my editors, and in broaching it, they shrugged and said: “I don’t know what the big deal is. Half of Manhattan’s in rehab or recovery.” So….it flowed well with becoming emotionally fit, and I wrote about it.

I am very open about these matters today because mental health is the one dimension of our humanity that we can hide. You can’t hide your weight, or age, or how well you’re doing in college or career. But we can cover up or stuff down how emotionally fragile we are feeling, and that just makes everything worse, because you eventually run out of room and things can implode.

Good mental health is foundational to our overall physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Recovery has taught me to accept substance use disorder as a part of who I am. Not the most important part, just a part. Living this way is tremendously liberating!

How has Recovery impacted your writing?

I could not have written any of my books if I hadn’t been in Recovery. For two reasons. One, my best writing is in the morning, fresh out of meditation and reflective reading. If I was still using, I  would have been too sick and hung over to write. Or I could have forced myself, but it wouldn’t have been from a place of joy that I write from today. Second, I would not have trusted myself enough to do something as solitary as writing books. In my tv brand career, there were always a million people around. You likely know how solitary writing can be. If I was still in active addiction, by myself, it could have been ripe for picking up again.

How have you incorporated Mindfulness and Meditation into your Recovery?

These have been transformational for me. They’ve opened me up to self-compassion and self-love. Mindfulness helps me to focus on you, to listen deeply. To connect with you, heart to heart.

Every week my spiritual director Joe Z does a zoom meeting with 40 or 50 of us, which is a teaching, a meditation and then discussion. Through work with him and other spiritual mentors, I do this now too. I’ll be leading a retreat in the fall about emotional fitness and we will do a lot of quiet time, journaling and meditation, along with conversation too of course! I’ve led many of these retreats, some for leaders, some for those in recovery, or both.

Recovery has taught me to believe in all I can be, the best I can be, and to share ideas in service to others. Our teachers gift us with the tools to teach, if we are curious enough to re-cast ourselves in the role of teacher. I don’t know how you do that if you don’t believe in yourself enough to begin with.  So this fall I’m doing the retreat, and I’ll also be heading to LA to help a group to start up a new organization, and then I’ll be keynoting an event with a group of young entrepreneurs, and I have a few other fun things planned for the fall too. I’ve learned to say yes to things. One opportunity cascades into another, and if it interests me, I say yes. That’s what recovery has allowed me to do!

Do you have any other important practices in your Recovery?

I have many active practices of recovery, and since I don’t know if any one of them keeps me sober, I do them all! I attend 3 to 4 recovery meetings each week; I have coffee or meals with sober friends; I mediate and pray, and I journal. I’m in 12 Step recovery and there we “work the Steps,” so I do that too. When I’m unsettled, I call one of my sober friends to air it. One day, I was working on a writing platform new to me and had written for 8 hours, and nothing saved. I had a meltdown and was crying like the house was on fire. I called a friend and talked and blubbered on, and she listened. And I felt better. Tomorrow, she might be calling me, and I’ll be there to listen. I used to drink and use in those situations, and now I can make healthier choices. Recovery is so empowering!

Can you share a little about your upcoming work, The Little Book of College Sobriety?

This has been my most challenging book. Joe once said my books have cast me in the role of translator–of bringing new ideas like meditation and practices of good emotional health to the business world, and I’ve been comfortable doing that. It’s been harder with this book because I don’t live in your day-to- day world.

However, it’s possible The Little Book of College Sobriety will become my most important book. If it resonates (and who ever knows with books, or any craft?), it will be the most useful, because it will arrive at a critical inflection point in a young, college-aged person’s life, when using drugs and alcohol dramatically rachets up, per the research, and perhaps it will break that cycle for some.  Kristina [Canfield] and I have also discussed it becoming a teaching tool in college classes focusing on addiction too.

I hope to reach across the divide of our generations and say: “I get you. I applaud you. I’m in awe of you.” And maybe because I’m not someone’s mom or aunt, the reader working on their sobriety will believe me. Because I mean every word. It’s one thing to get sober in mid-life like me. To tackle it as a young adult? Well, that is such a hopeful message about all of you who are coming of age today, as you take your place in the world. Anyone looking to be inspired should read this book!

You can learn more about Susan at www.susanpackard.com

 

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