By the time I got sober, I was already in graduate school. My addiction took away money, self-respect and relationships, but it didn’t take away my academic career. I was fortunate enough to be able to stay in school while drinking and using. Many are not so lucky.

Over the years, I’ve worked with many sober folks as they face the challenge of going back to school. Some never finished high school thanks to the disease. Others flunked out of college, or were expelled in disgrace. And many were convinced school just wasn’t for them.

In sobriety, I was a college professor for many years. And if there was one thing I noticed again and again, it was that the Steps work superbly to prepare addicts and alcoholics for academic success.

The Book reminds us to “practice these principles in all our affairs.” The daily disciplines of sobriety are uniquely well-suited to make great students out of poor ones. Put another way: if you can work the steps, if you can suit up and show up for meetings, if you can give back through service, then you can and will succeed in college.

Community colleges may represent your best option for returning to school and completing a degree. If you have your heart set on a particular career, the community college can get you started on the right track. If you aren’t sure what you want to study, community colleges offer a selection of general education courses that can prepare you for transfer to a four-year school while you figure out your interests.

Some community colleges may ask for transcripts from previous institutions. Some of you may have a disastrous academic record as part of the wreckage of your past. The great thing about community colleges is that they are in the business of helping students start over. Don’t be afraid to seek out a counselor—almost every college has them—and tell them your story. The program teaches us to be open and honest about our past; you will find that in almost every case, your past is no obstacle to your future college success.

Bottom line: the same tools that keep you clean and sober one day at a time can lead you to lasting academic success.