This blog was featured on 11/04/2019
Writing as Recovery
Written by
She Writes
October 2019
Written by
She Writes
October 2019

This guest post was written by Janice Morgan, author of Suspended Sentence: A Memoir

About the Book

When Janice Morgan, a divorced college professor living in a small town in Kentucky, learns that her son has been arrested for possession of a stolen firearm and drug charges, she feels like she’s living a nightmare. Dylan’s turbulent period as a college student in Cincinnati before this should have warned her, but it’s only now that she realizes how far he has drifted into substance abuse and addiction. As Dylan passes through the judicial system and eventually receives a diversion to drug court, Morgan breathes a sigh of relief―only to find that she, too, has been sentenced right along with him. In the months to follow, she leads a double life: part of it on campus, the rest embarking upon what she calls “rescue missions” to help Dylan stay in the program. But resilience, dark humor, and extreme parenting can only carry you so far. Eventually, Morgan discovers that she needs to gain a deeper understanding of the bipolar and addiction issues her son is dealing with. Will each of them be able to learn fast enough to face these complexities in their lives? Clearly, Dylan isn’t the only one who has recovery work to do.

Recovery Writing: Writing as Recovery

When my twenty-three-year-old son Dylan was arrested for wanton endangerment and drug charges, it turned my world upside down. And when his case received a diversion to drug court, I knew I had to write about this. We in the family all knew that drug court’s strict, highly structured program could really help him, but no one—least of all Dylan himself—knew if he could successfully complete it. For me, it felt like there were two recoveries that would have to occur, one was his and one was my own. I turned to writing as a way to make sense of it all, to relieve the pain, and to get to a better place.


It wasn’t easy. My first journal entries were dry, barebones accounts of what was happening. At first, I was a mere recorder of events, mainly so that I could keep track of the chaos around me. Recording my turbulent feelings, though—that was much more difficult. At times, maybe because I was spending so much time in a courtroom, I felt up in a witness box every time I started to write about emotions. Eyes would be on me, I imagined, studying my expressions, judging every word. It took a while to break through these phantom critics and find my voice.

Before I could do that, though, I had to fully meet myself—weaknesses, mistakes, anger, secrets, and all. Instead of resisting my emotions or silencing them, I had to let them speak. I couldn’t worry about protecting myself or putting up a front. As I kept writing, I tried different guises, different attitudes and approaches. Finally, I found a voice that seemed honest and expansive enough to accommodate everything I wanted to say.


Such personal writing can be isolating, however. Just as I found I needed to reach out in life to find “fellow travelers” with whom I could share my experience with an addicted child (i.e. a NAMI family support group), I also needed a first reader who could accompany me on my writing journey. This first reader was my partner, John, and his commentaries helped me shape the narrative. Another way I reached out was to join a writers’ group. As we each took turns reading our pages out loud around the meeting table, I gradually found my way “out of the closet.” This was liberating. The comments individual members made were free from judgment and only focused on how best to communicate with a reader. They asked questions; they were curious. Just as in a recovery group, we wanted to support each other; we knew that by helping another writer to sharpen dialogue or reflect on word choice, we would be helping ourselves, too. Later, this way of learning—by giving and receiving support within an understanding, committed group—would become a major theme in my book.

As Dylan made his way along the path directed by drug court, a recurrent question came up: what would my role be? I felt the internal debate so many parents have: how much should I help this young person? How much should I stand back and let him struggle through? Needless to say, it was a suspenseful journey, and as we were living it, I had no idea how it would turn out.  As a writer, I wanted to keep that suspense alive for the reader, too.


Yet another part of the story was reflective. I found that both my son and I were compelled during those two years to spend time thinking about our past—of course, he has his perspective on events, while I have mine. What patterns could we each see now that we had missed earlier? I then had to figure out a way to stitch all those backstory pieces into the narrative because they provided the deep layers to the drama unfolding. I wanted my reader to know these two characters earlier in their lives—the mom trying to balance career, marriage and family, the son growing up feeling different somehow, but still trying hard to fit in.

Along the way, I realized some of the ways I had failed to support Dylan emotionally when he was a child. And later on, I certainly didn’t understand his struggles with bipolar as a teenager. Could this be the reason I so often over-compensated in the present, by attaching myself too closely to his dreams, giving him too much money, trying to rescue him, giving in to his vulnerabilities instead of encouraging him to be more self-reliant? All drug dependency aside, wasn’t this fundamental pattern harming both of us? And if so, how could our relationship move forward in a healthier way?

Writing my memoir gave me a way to arrive at these understandings. So much of my family’s inner world was revealed to me, helping me to know both myself and my son better. I could start to imagine a path forward for us.

When we feel wounded, there are many ways to heal, and telling our story is certainly one way to do that, whether we choose to do so through writing, music, theatre, painting, dance, or another medium. The process definitely takes courage and a lot of work, but it is so worth it.

Janice Morgan is the author of Suspended Sentence, a memoir published by She Writes Press, October 2019. Find her website at

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  • Diana Y. Paul Writing

    Everyone who has written knows that writing is a blood sport! And Suspended Sentence is a wonderful, gripping memoir! See my review on Amazon and Goodreads!