Editor’s note: This post is part of the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program’s Stories of Recovery blog series. TLAP offers confidential assistance for lawyers, law students, and judges with substance abuse or mental health issues. Call TLAP at 1-800-343-8527 (TLAP) and find more information at tlaphelps.org.
My ideal resume would read as the antithesis of conventional resumes. I’d memorialize both my darkest secret and most crowning achievement: “2016: Following an extended period of self-harm, substance abuse, and a Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) diagnosis, I enrolled in intensive therapy treatment. I simultaneously studied for the Texas bar exam. After my time in therapy and multiple attempts, I passed the Texas bar exam. I became a lawyer.”
My personal story of recovery utilizes a different meaning of “AA”: accountability and activity.
As fitness guru Tony Horton says, “I hate it! But I love it!”
I don’t think anyone truly “likes” accountability, but we certainly love what it does for us! We become more stable and fulfilled.
During my inpatient therapy, I was forced to check in with my counselor daily and document which coping skills I had used the night before. I spent the mornings at therapy and the afternoons studying for the bar exam at my parents’ house. I reluctantly asked my dad to check in on me every 50 minutes for a progress update. Before every study session, I recorded myself reading positive affirmations aloud. I felt dumb uttering saccharine phrases I didn’t believe in.
“I see my name on the list of passing students.”
“Hah … yeah, right.”
However, after over a month of begrudgingly reading sentences aloud and meticulously documenting coping skills, it all became pleasantly routine. There was a brightness in the monotony called “stability.”
Today, I have to keep some semblance of structure in my life; else, my BPD brain will run this train right off the tracks. I am accountable to my therapist bimonthly. I downloaded habit-tracking apps on my phone. I am open with close friends and family about recovery.
Accountability isn’t easy and lawyers often have the hardest time asking others for help. I guarantee you, though, despite some feelings of embarrassment, it works wonders.
I read this striking quote on Pinterest: “Everyone needs three hobbies: one to make money, one to keep them creative, and one to keep them fit.” (Who would’ve thought I’d be gathering my life-guiding principles from a social media website fraught with never-ending pictures of houses and clothes I can’t afford!)
This pithy statement is correct: our bodies are engineered for movement. Our brains love stimulation. Sitting down in my office chair all day, making that rear-end imprint on the seat even deeper, drove me nuts. My eyes would glaze over staring at the screen for so long. Exercise quickly became the antidote for inactivity. It became my sanctuary; my one hour during which no one could bother me or scold me. I treat that hour as sacred. My phone is stashed away; it’s only my muscles and I working in harmony to keep me strong and sane.
You don’t have to run in oppressive Texas heat or join an expensive spin class you actually hate to be fit. Just move.
Similarly, I highly recommend picking up a creative activity. I’m biased because I have always loved the performing arts. However, your activity of choice doesn’t have to be “artsy fartsy” if that sounds unbearable to you. Merely engage in an interest devoid of “the law.” Your brain will thank you.
Recovery is not merely the summit of a mountain. You don’t reach “Recovery Peak,” stick your flag in the ground, shout “I’ve done it” and go home. While victory is part of the process, recovery is a life-long journey through peaks and valleys. As I write, I happen to be in a valley. I know it is temporary and the only way out is through.
The other night I decided to get a dose of pure positivity by watching the new documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” about the late Fred Rogers. He said something that struck me deeply: “I don’t think anyone can grow unless he’s loved exactly as he is now, appreciated for what he is rather than what he will be. … Everyone longs to be loved. The greatest thing we can do is help somebody know that they are loved.”
Lawyers, relentlessly subjected to incredible pressure and unrealistic expectations, need to be reminded of this foundational maxim: that they are loved as they are.
It is my hope that in sharing my recovery story, dear reader, you will gather some helpful tips.
More importantly, know that I love you for who you are right now.