“Lately it occurs to me — What a long strange trip it’s been.” — The Grateful Dead
Editor’s note: This is the sixth story in our Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program "Stories of Recovery" series, featuring attorneys in their own words on how they have overcome mental health or substance abuse problems. The State Bar’s TLAP program offers confidential assistance for lawyers, law students, and judges with substance abuse or mental health issues. Call us at 1-800-343-8527, and find more information at texasbar.com/TLAP.
I first started using drugs when I was 12. I always felt like I was different from other people and I couldn’t understand why.
I was frustrated and sad, lonely, depressed, and felt empty inside. I smoked that first joint because I desperately wanted to fit in. When I was high, I felt like I fit in or, better still, I just didn’t care. I was a smorgasbord addict, using any drug that was available. When I used, I didn’t feel so apart from other people and I didn’t feel quite so frustrated and sad. Drugs were my solution. But the problem, which was me, never went away.
I didn’t only use drugs to self-medicate my depression but also when I was happy or wanted to celebrate. Frankly, I would use drugs for any reason and for no reason at all. Sometimes, I had lots of fun but couldn’t remember much detail about it. I was out of control as a teen and caused tremendous pain to my parents. I ran away — twice — at 12 and 13 years of age. I attempted suicide — twice — at 16 and again at 17. I couldn’t understand why bad things always happened to me. I managed to graduate from high school but dropped out of college after only one semester. Partying was more important. My parents and my doctor tried everything they could think of to fix me. Nothing worked.
This pattern of behavior continued over 20 years through two failed marriages and the birth of my daughter, my only child. Finally, I found 12-step recovery at the age of 32. It was becoming difficult to hide my drug use from my daughter and I was afraid I’d die — and she needed me. Also, I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I realized that I suffered not only from major depression, but also from the disease of addiction.
I worked hard at applying the 12 steps. I finished college. That same year I married my best friend, whom I met in recovery. I started a career in law enforcement (of all things!). Today, I’m no longer lonely. I feel “a part of” rather than “apart from.” Joy is real, lasting, and not chemically induced.
I am learning so much! I know that I am powerless over everything except my own thinking and behavior. I have learned that if I want my sanity and any degree of serenity, I have to surrender and accept a power greater than myself (anti-depressant medication works now!). I have learned to have faith in a loving God of my understanding and to turn over my need for control to that power. I have learned about my disease of “self” and to be accountable for my actions. I now understand that I play a part in nearly everything that happens in my life. I no longer see bad things as happening to me; life just happens. I am learning the value of service and to be grateful. I have made amends to those I have harmed. I know that if I use drugs for any reason, I will use for any reason.
My life has not been magically struck wonderful just because I got clean. More than anything, I’ve had to learn that life is still life. And sometimes life is hard — very hard. My husband and soul mate died just two years after our marriage. I was devastated, but I had my recovery friends at my side to help me through. And besides, I had a daughter to finish raising — and she was devastated, too.
After seven and a half years as a law enforcement officer (and 11 years of recovery), they found out about my drug history, which I had covered up. That career was over. I headed to law school not knowing if I could ever become licensed. This time I was honest about everything. At orientation, the director of the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program spoke about their program, as well as the Texas Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers. She directed me to a local TLCL group. There, I found true friends and they and other recovery friends would later save my life, and then my law license.
One week before spring break of my first year of law school, my daughter was tragically killed in a car accident. I learned the meaning of “eviscerated.” Many friends and acquaintances rallied around me. I put one foot in front of the other. I went to 12-step meetings almost every day at 6 a.m. before classes and at noon on Fridays. Through it all, I never took a drink or a drug.
Later, after the Board of Law Examiners decided that I was not of fit moral character to practice law in Texas, my lawyer and dear friend, whom I found through TLCL, argued my appeal to the BLE. Several wonderful people traveled to Austin to testify on my behalf at their own expense. I got my law license. I was honest with my new employer who knows about all my … stuff! I am grateful every day.
Nine years later, I attend my local TLCL group regularly. With over 24 years of recovery under my belt, I am happy, joyous, and free (most days!). I don’t pick up a drink or a drug, one day at a time, no matter what. I’ll guess I’ll just keep on truckin’!