Susan Dingle remembers the exact moment she decided she needed to change the path she was on.
It was 1981 and she was pursuing a screenwriting career in Hollywood. One day, while driving down a Los Angeles street, she decided to make a sudden U-turn.
At that moment, Ms. Dingle had a revelation: She was an alcoholic.
“I realized my life was going in the wrong direction,” she said.
Thirty-five years later, the Southold resident hasn’t turned back.
A therapist with a Southold private practice, Ms. Dingle remains sober — and she hasn’t stopped writing.
A host of the recurring “Poetry Street” events held at Blue Duck Bakery in Riverhead, Ms. Dingle debuted her one-act play “Break Out!” at the Southampton Cultural Center last weekend. The play, which she co-wrote and stars in with friend Maggie Bloomfield of Westhampton Beach, recounts their struggles with addiction.
“We thought we can share our stories and maybe benefit others,” Ms. Dingle said. “Maybe we can show the suffering families how recovery begins.”
For Ms. Dingle, that path began with her fateful U-turn, when she says she realized she was destroying herself.
After this “spiritual awakening,” Ms. Dingle decided she needed to get sober and began dedicating much of her life to helping others.
She graduated from Stony Brook University with a master’s degree in social work in 2008 and began working as a substance abuse counselor in Riverhead. Three years later, she started her own private practice.
Writing has always been a passion of Ms. Dingle’s. Before moving to Hollywood, she graduated from the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago. In addition to teaching at Colgate University in Hamilton, N.Y., from 1971 to 1975, her work also appeared in publications like the Ohio Review and the Partisan Review.
After she became sober in 1981, Ms. Dingle began writing about her struggles with addiction. Her show “The Hollywood Dreamcatcher,” which she first performed at Manhattan’s Playwrights Horizons in 1993, is a spoken-word epic of 24 poems. She incorporated parts of that production with Ms. Bloomfield’s own one-woman show to create “Break Out!”
The hour-long production, directed by Andrew Botsford and Rosemary Cline, combines the women’s individual poems to tell their stories of addiction. The play is set in a jail, where the women encourage audience members to find their own voices as writers on a path of change and recovery.
Ms. Bloomfield, a psychotherapist and substance abuse counselor, pursued a career on Broadway before confronting her own struggles. She and Ms. Dingle now conduct writing workshops and programs together at rehabilitation centers, like the Long Island Center for Recovery. They bonded through their poetry as a form of healing and as a way to create a dialogue in the community.
“Susan has always been community oriented,” Ms. Bloomfield said. “That has always been her focus and her target audience. She’s a total source of inspiration all of the time.”
Ms. Dingle, who is also a member of the Southold Town Anti-Bias Task Force, said the poets who come to share their thoughts at Poetry Street and the clients she works with in her practice are big inspirations for her.
“I’m most comfortable in a diverse world,” she said. “I’m most happy when every voice is heard.”
Ms. Dingle hopes her poetry events continue to grow and that she can one day bring “Break Out!” to a larger audience. She also hopes her message of recovery inspires others.
“Living out here with all these amazing people has given me the opportunity to do what I’m doing and be who I’m being,” she said. “This community has given me the opportunity to grow.”
Top photo caption: Susan Dingle of Southold in downtown Riverhead on Sunday after her monthly Poetry Street event. (Credit: Krysten Massa)