Ep 18: Finding Your Light with Susan Bryant

Ep 18: Finding Your Light with Susan Bryant



Finding Your Light with Susan Bryant

In this episode, Lorilee connects with her friend and former professor, Susan Bryant. The two met in Susan’s class at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee where she taught analog photography for 37 years. Her work has been featured in numerous exhibits across the country, and she has been the recipient of several distinguished artistic fellowships throughout her career. Though she retired from full time teaching in 2019, Susan continues to instruct online and in-person photography workshops, while also maintaining a robust and active studio practice. She and Lorilee discuss the nature and value of creativity in different phases of their lives, as well as their intertwined paths to recovery.


  • On Susan’s playlist: ‘I Am Light’ by India.Arie
  • Susan’s early love for painting and photography 
  • Analog art versus digital art in the pursuit of play and discovery
  • Her Light Catchers workshops
  • Their respective and overlapping journeys toward sobriety
  • Using therapy to break down the walls that we build
  • Susan’s ‘third act,’ now that’s she’s sober  
  • One tool for our G&G toolbox

Mentioned in this episode:

Sponsored by Her-Bank.com

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Episode 18 – Susan Bryant Transcript

[00:00:00] Lorilee: Hey, I am Lorilee Rager and this is Ground and Gratitude. It’s a podcast about designing the life you want, one that not only grows, but also gives. Before today’s episode, I’d like to tell you about wherever. Her Bank by Legends Bank. This episode of Ground and Gratitude is sponsored by them. Her Bank celebrates, honors, and supports women, especially entrepreneurs, by providing financial services and resources through a core team of experienced female bankers, which is so reassuring to me.

Her Bank creates a bridge to help women overcome barriers when it comes to money conversations and decisions, while providing women with a better banking experience. Check out her-bank.com to learn more. Her Bank is a brand of Legends Bank. Legends Bank is member FDIC Equal Housing Lender.

If you’re enjoying the show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts, and you can find us on Instagram at Ground and Gratitude. 

Today’s guest is someone very dear to me. Susan Bryant used to be my professor when I was an undergrad, and since then, she has become a lifelong friend. She is retired now, but Susan used to be a professor of photography at Austin Peay State University.

She is also a brilliant photographer herself. Seriously, you have to check her work out. Susan was the first person that I reached out to about my drinking, and she has helped me a lot through my journey with getting sober. I am beyond excited to have her on the show today to talk about everything from creativity to sobriety and much more.

Welcome, Susan, thank you so much for joining me on the podcast today. 

[00:02:09] Susan: Thanks for having me, Lorilee. 

[00:02:11] Lorilee: Well, I’m so happy to have you on here, and I wanted to just dive right in with our big kickoff question, as hopefully the listeners are used to, but I do love music, so I like to know what song is on repeat on your playlist today? 

[00:02:30] Susan: Well, um, I, uh, chose a song, um, to, to share on my thousand days on TLC with Louise, which was, I don’t know how many months ago, many months ago. And it was, ‘I Am Light’ by India.Arie, and then, a few weeks ago, I was listening to your podcast with Kirbee Miller, and she had chosen that song too. And I said, “Oh, that’s my song.” But anyway, I mean, I love the song. You know, it’s about light, but it’s about divinity and God inside, and it just really speaks to me. 

[00:03:14] Lorilee: Beautiful. I think we need the reminder, but if we’re going to do a reminder song, that’s a great one, and it’s allowed to be your song too. That’s great. I’m so happy to know. That’s one of those synchronicity connections there that I like so much. So good. And, you know, just to, just for our listeners that don’t know, I know you and I know the lingo, but TLC is something we’ll talk about later that we’re both members of The Luckiest Club. And, um, so yeah, that’s what TLC stands for.

All right. Um, diving into our first topic, it would really be obvious, uh, and appropriate to talk to you about both photography and creativity. Um, so I would love to just get a little intro from you about your personal work and your photography process and your career. 

[00:04:12] Susan: Okay. Um, well, I have loved art as long as I can remember. Um, I have a vivid memory of, as a child, loving Paint By Numbers. And there is also a family photo of my step sisters and brothers and half-brother when I was nine, and I’m not in the picture. And I remember, as an adult, asking my family, do you know why I’m not there? And they said, “Don’t you remember you wanted to take the photograph?”

And I said, “No, I didn’t remember that.” But, obviously, there was, um, you know, something in me from, from, uh, early on that, uh, uh, you know, draw, drew me to both, um, painting and photography. So, um, you know, and my parents were very encouraging, um, of my interest in art. And so, I mean, it was never a question in my mind that I would major in art in, um, undergraduate school.

I received a BA in painting from Indiana University and then an MFA in photography from Indiana State. So, um, I was able to combine, from the beginning, my love of painting with photography. And, um, I’ve been a practicing– an exhibiting artist ever since, so, a little over 40 years. 

[00:05:40] Lorilee: Wow. 

[00:05:41] Susan: But my, um, my career in higher education, um, just came about by, uh, a series of synchronicities that, um, in, uh, are– the details aren’t important, but what, what is important is that I was hired in 1982 by, uh, Austin Peay to, uh, head up the photography area of the Art Department. And it began a 38 year career that I absolutely loved.

I, um, I loved teaching. I was even chair of the department for a few years, but realized I really preferred to be in the classroom. I loved sharing my passion for photography with students and, um, just everything about it. And so, I had this rich and wonderful career and, and also, uh, during the summers is when I would have time to pursue my own creative research in my own work.

And Austin Peay, um, you know,, generously provided funding for faculty creative development. And so, during the summers, I often went to workshops. I’ve never stopped being a student, so I would go to workshops as often as I could and travel and photograph and, um– and my own personal work, I shot film. I was an analog photographer, most of my life, um, hand coloring photographs.

And then, 10 years ago, I began experimenting with and using, uh, the 19th century wet plate collodion process that was, um, used in the 1860s and -70s, making tintypes and glass negatives. 

[00:07:37] Lorilee: Yes. Yeah. I love your work of that stuff. It’s so good. 

[00:07:41] Susan: And now I’m back to hand coloring, uh, digital prints this time, and– which is a whole different sort of, uh, combination of media, but, um, I’m sort of back doing that and, uh, and teaching. Teaching that.

[00:07:57] Lorilee: Yeah. Yeah. Well, and you also early on, you said something about Paint By Numbers, which I haven’t thought about in years and, man, I loved Paint By Numbers. It was so fun. 

[00:08:08] Susan: When I, you know, when I hand-color my photographs, you know, it’s sort of similar, except I get to choose the palette. You know, I get to choose the colors. I don’t have to go with the colors and the numbers that are given me. And so, and I, I teach it now, um, through, uh, the Light Catchers, which I’ll talk a little bit more about, but, um, the students just really love it, just that, um, you know, to get back to that hands-on experience of, you know, getting the, you know, pastels and colored pencils, you know, on your fingers and smudging it around and stuff like that.

[00:08:47] Lorilee: Yeah. I think that is so great. I mean, I know we all know this, but in a digital world and we touch screens all the time, it’s so– it’s actually kind of sad to me to think about, but it’s so rare to get your hands messy, and to play, and to smudge, and to color, and to do all that. So I love, I love that you’re doing that with, um, with your classes and your workshops now.

And I think it’s, I think it’s a beautiful way to continue to still be creative, um, as you’re, as you’re kind of still continuing your career after, um, retirement. 

[00:09:29] Susan: Mhm. 

[00:09:30] Lorilee: Yeah. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. I do, I do really– I remember taking your classes, and I remember loving them and that was a film dark room, um, you know, in the basement of Trahern, uh, and just hours and hours, how I just loved to take photography and how you taught me. I remember one of the first things is, is even just things like perspective and depth of field, and um taking the same shot at multiple different angles and perspectives.

And because I remember, I remember just seeing life in a completely different way through a camera lens in, in your class, and, and so, you know, I, I’d love to learn or hear more about what you’re doing now with your Light Catchers workshop. And that may be something that you talk about later, but, um– 

[00:10:29] Susan: Uh, I can talk about it now. And, um, but back to your memory of my, uh, photo classes, I um, I s– my first assignment in my Photo 1 classes, I had an assignment called ‘Toolbox,’ and it was about four major elements of photography. Light, vantage point, depth of field, and time, and light being the most important of them. Because, obviously, I mean, I think it’s obvious that light is required, uh, to make a photograph.

Uh, you can make a photograph without a camera– it’s called a photogram, but you cannot make a photograph without light. And it’s the quality and the– of light, also the direction of light, what happens with the light, that can, you know, uh, make a photograph beautiful and, and, and meaningful. And so with my Light Catchers group, which is, um, now, after retiring, I still missed, I mean, I missed photography. I mean, I miss teaching. And so I developed, uh, a series of courses– online courses and in-person workshops that, um, I’m calling Light Catchers. And even though the students are primarily using their iPhones as their cameras, I’m still giving them the same Toolbox assignment at the beginning. And yeah, it’s really been interesting to see how it can translate from film into digital, uh, and be, uh, equally I think, um, you know, important.

[00:12:11] Lorilee: I agree completely. I, you know, I know, I remember, as I got a little braver and, and took Photo 2 from you and, and moved on in the career, um, I still today take those elements with me. And if I’m in a setting to do a photo shoot, or even if it’s personal and for fun, and I’m out at the farm, I think right then of all of those elements.

And I also think if it’s this really magical, beautiful light and sunset, or whatever it may be, to take it multiple different ways and angles and per–perspective, and, uh, perception and all of that, because you may not ever get that moment again, that exact light and that exact nature and, and just taking one snapshot just isn’t enough, if that makes sense.

[00:13:00] Susan: And also I think the light at twilight, like right before sunrise or right before sunset, that is so fleeting, and it’s the most beautiful light. And I encourage my students to try to, even if they’re, if they’re not a morning person, then look at the light right before sunset. Um, or, you know, it’s just golden and it, it, it’s magical, just magical.

[00:13:27] Lorilee: Yes. Yeah, it is. Well, it is, it really is so wonderful. I hadn’t thought about that in a long time. That’s a good memory. Good memory. Um, all right, well, so, uh, wanted to ask you if you were wanting to, or willing to share a brief version, maybe of the current journey that you’ve been on, um, with a topic that’s near and dear to me, and that would be sobriety.

[00:13:56] Susan: Yes, I would love to, um, you know, it’s interesting, well, I’ll be celebrating three years in about five weeks. 

[00:14:07] Lorilee: Yes! 

[00:14:07] Susan: Yeah. I’m, I’m just thrilled. And I, uh, I had not– I had told my, my good friends in Clarksville, my family, my close family knew, but for several reasons, part of it being the pandemic and not being around people, or just not knowing how to tell my cousins in Michigan or, you know, so finally this year, right after my birthday, um, a few weeks ago, and people were sending me birthday wishes on Facebook and I was was getting birthday cards that had to do with celebrating your birthday with champagne and wine. I thought, well, maybe this is a good time to just, like, come out, um, so to speak, uh, online. So I’m gonna read you if it’s okay — it’s pretty short — but the letter that I posted to, um, yeah, to, to share this with my friends and family. It starts with: 

I broke up with alcohol on July 1st, 2019. It wanted to kill me. I wanted my life back. I wanted my soul back. It was the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. It was the best thing I’ve done in my life. What I’ve learned: I’m stronger than I thought I was. It is never too late to change your life. Life is better on this side. Asking for help is humbling, but essential. Community and connection are crucial for recovery. Miracles are real. 

How I’ve changed: I am present. I am honest. I am happier. I’m lighter. I’m softer. What I’ve gained: acceptance, security — I’m sorry — serenity, trust, hope, faith, strength, dignity, grace, courage, connection, community, contentment, compassion, kindness, possibilities, opportunities, and so much more. 

What I’ve lost: hangovers, shame, regrets, and financial debt. Promises I can make and keep: I will not preach or try to convert anyone. I’m here for you or a friend or loved one who may be struggling and wants or needs to talk any time of any day.

Why I’m sharing this with you now: being sober is part of who I am now and I, and how I live in the world. If sharing my story can help even one person, it will be worth all the uncertainty and second guessing of how to come out and tell my truth on social media.


[00:17:04] Lorilee: Deep breaths. Wow. Wow. Wow, wow. I mean, how, how do you feel? How do you feel about those words? 

[00:17:16] Susan: I feel really good. And there were two quotes by two different people that really, um, kind of helped me think about this. One is, uh, Rob Lowe, who, you know, now is a sober person and has a podcast. And it’s so simple, but he said, “Sobriety was the greatest gift I ever gave myself.”

And I think of that all the time. And then the other is Brené Brown’s quote that is, “One day, you will tell your story of how you overcame what you went through, and it will be someone else’s survival guide.” And I think about that too, that telling my story was a way to say to anybody out there, you know, if you’re struggling, I get it, you know, give me a call. Let’s talk. Um, and I think, you know, that’s what happened with you and me, which was, um, you know, so magical. And, um, so should I talk about that? 

[00:18:17] Lorilee: Yeah. I love, I would love for you to tell our story. Please. 

[00:18:20] Susan: Okay. Um, so, well, anyway, I just a, a brief, um, you know, past drinking, you know, I, I grew up around alcohol. I mean, it was in my– it was normal in my family, everywhere. You know, I drank in high school and college and nothing really problematic. Um, you know, it was one of those things that just, as I aged, you know, my tolerance, you know, I had a high tolerance, which I used to wear with a badge of courage, you know, that I could drink you know, with the guys and, uh, you know, keep up, but, you know, one bottle, uh, a night, uh, turned into two and my husband, my dear sweet husband, is not a drinker. He’s, uh, he was a normal drinker and, um, of course, he worried about the amount that I drank. And so, uh, like any other, um, alcoholic who is, um, presented with, um, a decision they’re not ready to make, I hid the alcohol in my house. And I felt horrible. I felt so much shame, and yet, I didn’t feel like I had a choice at a certain point. You know, I was drinking, not because I wanted to, but because I had to, and I was out of control, but I was, nobody knew it. I mean, I, um, you know, I could drink, and I don’t mean to say that, well, I guess, I mean– nobody knew it. I did most of my drinking at home and mostly I– in my, you know, by myself. After my husband went to bed, um, I would stay up and drink more, but I was still able to get up at seven in the morning and, and go to the Y, and work out, and teach yoga of all things. And then on my way, home stop by the liquor store, but, if I had gone to that liquor store yesterday, I would– needed to find a different liquor store today and then go home to let the dog out, to go to school, to teach my classes, and then get home, uh, to start, you know, the evening wine. And yeah, there was this part of me that thought: “Well, you know, how could I have a problem? You know, look at all that I’m able to do. I can do this and I can do that. So of course I don’t have a problem.” But, um, but it finally came to, uh, to a surrender for me, it was, uh, it was definitely a, a sort of a spiritual intervention, so to speak, um, on the morning of July 1st, 2019, I woke up to discover that my husband had found empty bottles and, um, I just, I just had had enough. I couldn’t do it any longer. And, uh, at that moment, I heard a voice from inside, a very calming voice. You know, my higher power called me by name and said, “Susan, it’s time. Let go. I’ve got you.” And I felt such relief and such fear at the same time. I mean, the relief was finally, I just said it. I just said, “I can’t keep doing this.” The fear was, you know, not knowing how I was going to live without alcohol. I mean, it had always been there for me. And, um, but I had a friend who I knew was in the program, and I asked her to take me to a meeting and I, I, um being retired at that time from uh, from teaching, I’ve put all my energy into, uh, getting sober.

You know, I went to meetings, I got a sponsor, I did the steps, I, you know, I was serious. I read the books I– and then, eight months in, COVID came along and closed down, you know, the meetings. And, at that point, I was, like I said, I was eight months in and feeling pretty secure in my sobriety. And I read– I was reading a lot of Quit Lit books, and then I found Laura’s book, um, We Are the Luckiest, and it just blew my mind. It absolutely– The Nine Things, for me, were just like, oh my gosh. I mean, it just, yeah. And so about that time, you and I had lunch with a mutual friend. We used to meet at Mexican restaurants where we drank tequila. But on that particular day, we met somewhere else, and I just kind of mentioned that I had stopped drinking.

And, um, I think you said, you know, “Can you tell me a little bit more about that?” And I did, and then, uh, I can’t remember, but sometime you gave me a call or texted me or sent me a message about talking more about it. All I know is that in the spring of 2020, we met at your office and maybe around March or something, and we joined TLC and, and kind of started that journey together. And, um, that–

[00:23:43] Lorilee: Thank goodness. 

[00:23:43] Susan: It’s just– yeah. 

[00:23:45] Lorilee: I want to read Laura’s Nine Things. While you said that from Laura McKowen’s book, We Are the Luckiest. She has her Nine Things that we love and adore, and they’re read at the end of every meeting. And I think I’ve heard her next book is going to be about these Nine Things, which I’m very excited to read after her beautiful, authentic, vulnerable memoir.

Um, but yeah, Number One: it’s not your fault. Number two: it’s your responsibility. Number three: it’s unfair that this is your thing. Number four: this is your thing. Number five: this will never stop being your thing until you face it. Number six: you cannot do it alone. Number seven: only you can do it. Number eight: I love you. And Number Nine: I will never stop reminding you of these things. I just love that. Every single time. 

[00:24:50] Susan: And I, I love the, um, you know, the fact that two things can be true at the same time.

[00:24:56] Lorilee: The paradox.

[00:24:58] Susan: It’s not my fault, but it’s my responsibility to take care of it. Um, you know, you can’t do it alone, you need connection, but only you can do it. And my, you know, I love the, um, it’s unfair that this is your thing because in the beginning, you know, I think most people, you know, it’s like I was pissed, I guess.

I didn’t want it to be my thing. It was– I felt like this victim. It’s like darn it, I want to be a normal drinker. I want to be able to drink two drinks and stop, but I couldn’t. And, you know, we talk about sometimes in the meetings about looking for that third door, you know, but you know, once you, or anyone, sort of says, okay, this is my thing, I’ve got to deal with it.

You know, then, you know, if you are lucky enough to find a community like TLC and people who get it, who get you and understand you, and you can see yourself in others’ stories, it just makes such a huge difference for recovery. 

[00:26:08] Lorilee: It really does. So tell me a little bit about what you’ve learned in your sobriety toolbox.

[00:26:15] Susan: Well, uh, meeting– meetings are important and the, uh, TLC, for me, has replaced AA. I, I really, um, I just feel, um, it just is the right fit for me. So, um, attending meetings. I attend at least once a day, unless I can’t. Uh, sharing at meetings. Um, connection, you know, I have a group of, uh, women, um, mostly through WhatsApp and text threads that, if I’m feeling, if I’m somewhere and I just need to talk to somebody, uh, you know, I have, I have connections and, um, therapy has been essential. I, I got a therapist, um, about three months before I decided to quit drinking, but, um, I was lying to her about, about my drinking, but then after, yeah, after I, um, I stopped and I was serious about sobriety. Um, my husband and I knew that we needed, uh, couples therapy,

and so we found a fantastic therapist who I’m still seeing, and we’re still seeing. Uh, we see her together, um, more in the beginning than now, but I continue to see her alone. And, you know, in the second year of sobriety, you know, we talk about, um, doing like emotional sobriety, which is, you know, after that year of just, you know, getting over the cravings, uh, then finding, looking deep into like childhood trauma and, and, uh, things like that, that shed light as to why you drank and what those emotions deep down there were. And I was able, through her guidance, to remember traumas from when I was seven years old, sexual assaults from I was 15 — things I had buried so deep that, you know, I didn’t, I didn’t want to confront.

And, and then being able to do that as a sober person, with a therapist there in a safe place, um, it has made such a difference because I had built this wall around me, as many of us had, and my husband was so supportive of my recovery, and yet, I needed to learn how to become vulnerable, to, to become, um, to open up to experience intimacy, which, you know, was a scary thought from somebody who had built this, you know, wall around them.

[00:29:04] Lorilee: Yeah. The numbing, even about alcohol, you built the barrier through all other ways and blocking emotions, but alcohol helped to help that barrier stay up and… Living out loud and clear and vulnerable is, you know, it’s, it’s like a turtle without its shell or maybe I feel like a porcupine– prickly, you know? Yeah. So I get it. I really do get it. 

[00:29:29] Susan: And another really great thing that has happened in my sobriety is the ripple effect in my family. So I have, um, my sister, my older sister, um, who’s two and a half years older. It started with her son, my nephew, who is 35 and lives in China. And he has, um, had a, you know, a problem with alcohol for some time now.

And when he would come home to visit, my sister would have a dry house and she wouldn’t drink. Um, and, but then, um, circumstances happened, her husband passed away, and then COVID came, and she was alone in her house. And her drinking, uh, ramped up and I didn’t know any of this. Uh, and, um, but, uh, so when I went to visit this last week to go to attend the TLC event in Indianapolis, she told me that she was almost two months sober, and this time it was not for her son, she wasn’t doing it for him, she was doing it for herself, and that I had been a really great role model, and that just, you know, made my heart smile so big because, you know, for generations, alcohol has been in my family, as I think it was in yours too, but nobody talked about it. It was just this silent thing. Everybody was ashamed to talk about it.

[00:31:00] Lorilee: Yes, we called hangovers sinus infections. No one would admit the next day after we all secretly drank from our coffee cups or whatever the night before on a holiday that we all had sinus infections. I’m like, what was wrong with us? But, you know, really just, you’re such subtle mention at that lunch that day, like we had always done our lunches, and I think maybe our friend Cindy had said, she– we– let’s not do margaritas, ’cause maybe, you know, she had had some medical stuff and she definitely needed to not have our normal, big fishbowl margarita fest parties. And she didn’t know that secretly I was also trying to quit on my own, a side project, completely secret. You didn’t know, I didn’t know anything you were suffering with.

Um, and we have this sober lunch at a tea shop and you just, I mean, I don’t even think you spent two minutes on it. You just, you just casually, as our food, maybe it was being set down, I think, was like, so I’ve stopped drinking and I’m in AA and I’m getting a handle on my problem and you just kept eating and I just kept eating. I was like, oh my God. Like I wanted to scream, like out, “Help me!” Like I wanted to grab your shoulders and go home. But you know, just mentioning that. And like, you didn’t know about your sister and like– we don’t talk about what we’re struggling with. It’s just not something we do. And of course, Lord knows we do now. That’s what we’re doing now, but just subtle little mentions and Laura feeling this calling to tell her story in a beautiful memoir, like it just look at the ripple effect and that’s really beautiful about your sister. It really is. So I really think it’s beautiful. Okay. So I want to ask a little bit more about this life after retirement, as you call it, your third act. And this, this third act as a sober person. Um, and how it’s all come together in this beautiful photography and light and spirituality. Tell me. 

[00:33:10] Susan: Okay. Um, well, you know, I, I was 65 when I quit drinking and I just turned 68 a few weeks ago. So, if I’m lucky to live to be 90, I have at least 25 more years and I get to live those years sober. 

[00:33:29] Lorilee: You get to. 

[00:33:30] Susan: And if there’s one thing– yes, exactly. I get to and it’s, um, it’s never too late. And, um, ,and so the opportunities that have happened, nobody could have ever told me that life could be this good. So, one of my, um, long time dreams had been to one day, be able to teach photography at Penland School of Craft, which is, uh, in North Carolina, about an hour north of Asheville, North Carolina. And I’m going to teach there this summer on coloring photography. Yeah. So, um, so after I got sober, these opportunities just happened. Well, first, I had a 40 year retrospective exhibit at our museum here in Clarksville, which was really an incredible experience to look at, uh, 40 years, uh, of my, my work. And that was, that was really, uh, a great experience. And, uh, when I was there, I ran into, uh, a couple of friends of mine who owned a studio in a house, um, in Montgomery County, but out about, um, near Cumberland Furnace, and they had a studio and their look– they were looking for artists who wanted to use the space and to teach workshops.

And it was just like, it fell into my lap. I couldn’t have asked for, uh, you know, I could never have dreamt it. And so, uh, I have been teaching some in-person workshops at that facility, some cyanotype, um, and hand coloring workshops. And then the Light Catchers online classes grew out of a group that I formed– a subgroup in TLC, the, uh, The Luckiest Club has some subgroups. And so I designed the Light Catcher subgroup, which are, uh, TLC members who love photography and want to use it as one of their tools in their sobriety toolbox box. And it was such a great experience and it, and, uh, doing that class gave me the experience with Zoom and with the Slack platform to then be able to offer online classes during COVID where people were paying me a fee.

And so it’s just become now um, what I, I want to do in retirement is to continue to teach, but to do it on my time, on my terms, without having to grade, without all the other things that come with academia. Um, but just to introduce people to the, you know, the wonders of photography and to help them have a voice, uh, with their, their photographs.

And, uh, so yeah, that’s, that’s what I’m doing. And teaching these workshops– I taught one in Georgia last week and I’m going to offer another one in September. So the workshops also gives me this opportunity to travel to different places and photograph different places. And so I’m as busy as I, I want to be with teaching and traveling.

And, um, now if I could just get my website finished, uh, up. Uh, it’s about, oh my gosh, I’m embarrassed to say, eight years old, but, um, at the end I can, I can provide my Instagram account if people are interested ’cause it’s more up to date. Um, yeah, I just, uh…

[00:37:29] Lorilee: It’s beautiful. It’s beautiful. How something you had said, um, kind of when we were emailing before the interview about the, the creative process has become this tool for sobriety and this journey of your life that you’ve been on as a photographer and a child wanting to take that family photo and making this career out of it. And I think the stigma that people think getting sober means you lose everything or you stop everything. 

[00:37:58] Susan: Right.

[00:37:58] Lorilee: And actually, it’s brought everything you loved to the forefront. Even more than ever. 

[00:38:06] Susan: It has exactly. I read something or somebody said recently, you know, about, uh, you know, the word sober itself is such a, you know, a downer kind of feeling, but instead, it really is like living in full color when you, without knowing it had been in this dark, you know, black and white place, you know, for so long.

And, and that, um, sobriety, you know, oftentimes I would just feel this wash of gratitude and joy come over me that, you know, it makes me grateful to be sober, but grateful to have not been sober, to know what that was like, so that now I can feel like, “Wow, you know, I was in hell and, and now I, I have the whole world just open.”

Um, to me, that I’m free. It’s a, it’s a freedom. 

[00:39:06] Lorilee: You’re free! Yes. Yes. That’s exactly right. There’s, there’s a quote from Laura’s book, um, that I love, I have on my wall here, that it says: the typical question is, is this bad enough for me to have to change? The question should be asking is, is this good enough for me to stay the same, and the real question underneath it all is am I free? Freedom.

It’s, it’s this I’m telling you, like you said, you could have never told me a million years before and, and having you as a friend and not knowing your own suffering and, but seeing your successes and seeing you as, as this, you know, award-winning photographer and professor, and then, but seeing the growth since then, and, and everything that it’s brought in, in your career and life being sober, it’s really a beautiful story. And, um, what else would you like to share? Any quotes or poems you mentioned? 

[00:40:16] Susan: Yeah, a few things, but, you know, first of all, about telling my story, you know, um, I was, you know, I realize now that, um, to tell one’s story, you just have to wait until you’re ready. When it feels right. Like who to share it with, and so, you know, if anybody’s listening who, you know, was in my position and just wondering, you know, how do I let people know? What do I say? That, you know, I just recommend that– to be patient and, and it will, you know, the timing will be right when it’s, when it’s right. And, um, but, um, yeah, I mean, I have become a huge fan of, of many poets, and Mary Oliver, of course, is one of them.

And, um, you know, she has many quotes about light. I don’t think I thought to print one, uh, oh here it is. Um, one is, she says, “I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing, that the light is everything.” And that’s from her book, House of Light. Another is, “And you too have come into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled with light and to shine.”

And the last is, “Light is an invitation to happiness.” And so, you know, I just feel this, this, uh, the, the word light, the concept of light, um, how it relates to photography, but also how it relates to, um, the sort of, I don’t know, opening of my soul to, to, um, this life of, of living in, in integrity, with honesty and is light as a metaphor of, you know, coming through that, that darkness that had become my life into this light of sobriety. It’s, you know, it’s just, um, a metaphor that I truly identify with. 

[00:42:39] Lorilee: Yeah, that was, that was really there inside of you all along and just, you know, integrity and truth is huge. And I love that you know, you have that in yourself, you have that in your, in your marriage and your community and it’s– and you continue to live it.

It’s, it’s super, super beautiful. And I will ask one last question and that would be, which you’ve already given us so many, so much goodness. What, and you can repeat it if you need to, because it’s worth repeating, but what tool would you leave in our Ground and Gratitude toolbox for others? 

[00:43:15] Susan: Okay, so it is one more quote by Mary Oliver.

And it’s from Instructions for Living a Life: “number one, pay attention, number two, be astonished and number three, tell about it.” And so, for me, those three things just sort of much say it all to, to, um, to pay attention, uh, to be present. I mean, that, that is another gift of sobriety. To not be living in the future or the past, but to really be in the present moment. So to pay attention and to be astonished, you know, in my teaching of photography, one of the things I try to teach is just, um, being astonished with the ordinary, um, And then to tell about it, you know, for me is to make photographs. Uh, for others, it is to write about it, but the telling about it is that communication of, “Wow. Look what I saw that is beautiful, and I want you to see it too.” So I guess if that can be brought down to a tool, it would just be to be aware and to be awestruck and then to share that with others.

[00:44:33] Lorilee: Absolutely. To be present and astonished and to tell it. Absolutely. Yeah. That’s really beautiful, Susan. Really beautiful. I had not heard that one, so… I can’t believe our time is up. This has flown by and this is, we have so much more to say, so maybe you can come back on when the time is right. 

[00:44:54] Susan: I’d love to. 

[00:44:55] Lorilee: Good, wonderful. Well, we will wrap it up for today and I just want to thank you so very much for your time, and sharing your journey, and being a friend.

[00:45:11] Susan: Well, thank you. 

[00:45:13] Lorilee: Thank you again to Susan for having such an open heart and talking to me today. And thank you for tuning into Ground and Gratitude, you can find more info about the show and past podcast topics at groundandgratitude.com. Be sure and join me next time for more honest conversations, exploring what it means to be a creative in this world and how to bring all the love, joy and laughter back to the process of design. And life too. I’ll be talking with Shruthi Manjula Balakrishna, about blending psychology and design. 

[00:45:51] Shruthi: “So I wanted to combine creativity with data, of course, to explore experiences in its many forms and still understand strategy holistically. Um, and I, especially today, um, I kind of hold on to that very dearly because data plays an evermore influential role.” 

[00:46:14] Lorilee: Ground and Gratitude is produced by the Kelly Drake and Anna McClain, Dream Team.

All right. It’s over! You did it! Deep breath. You did great. 

[00:46:45] Susan: [Exhales] 

[00:46:46] Lorilee: Ahhh.