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 use or mental health issues. Call or text TLAP at 1-800-343-8527 (TLAP) and find more information at tlaphelps.org.

It is amazing how much damage can occur to your life in a few short years, and it literally takes decades to rebuild it.

Tragedy changes lives. For me it was a wonderful beginning—I was the best, the brightest, and well-liked. Around 18 I started using drugs and alcohol, then I started getting in trouble, then I nearly lost it all. The truth is that the void of substance abuse hollows you out like a years-long hangover. You can quickly become part of a subculture of people who are all dancing to the tune of moral depravity. As a result, the police become your nemesis and cease to be protectors, your “good” friends become people you can’t trust anymore, your family becomes people who harass you every day with their social norms. You are low hanging fruit for predators too. When you run out of money, you might even steal cigarettes from a car and get arrested for burglary. Every moment is a mental outrage. Every day a flawed plan that fails. That cycle persists until something happens. Then something did happen. I stopped using. That wasn’t the end.

There was a moment when I thought I was in recovery in my life. Unfortunately, all I had really done was remove the substance users from my life and replace them with people who didn’t use substances but had serious psychological problems. It felt like a cozy home. I was accused of kidnapping a girlfriend. To make matters worse, there was egregious prosecutorial misconduct in my case after I was arrested. Some of it became known to the court at the time of the case. The judge admonished the prosecutors involved and demanded my release that day with probation instead of the 60 years the state offered. Getting arrested and spending a year in jail waiting for trial made the world collapse on me. Day by day without freedom and no hope was sobering. It was surreal.

After I was out, I changed absolutely everything about my life. I was lucky to have a loving family who had a place where I spent more than a year reflecting on how I got to where I was. My life was a train wreck. The silence of solitude was wonderful. I finally decided that my life wasn’t over, and I shouldn’t quit. So, I began to seek a better life. However, it seemed like my life would never start over. Every job application questioned me about my past, and I struggled with the answer. Over the years, my life was a daily fight to live; I fought just to stay free it seemed. I was branded with a mark and shamed by society for something that I had not done. I fought for every inch of ground gained, but I did gain ground. I prayed a lot too. Then the day finally came after nearly a decade that I could not take it anymore. I chose to do something about it all.

I got a GED. I went to junior college. I completed about three semesters. I was accepted to a university and graduated in two and a half years with a Bachelor of Arts. I applied to multiple law schools knowing that it would be very difficult to get in, but I was accepted. The odds were always against me.

While in law school, I clerked for a judge. The judge looked into my case and discovered more evidence that had not been disclosed. When I graduated from law school, my family helped me approach the county where the prosecutorial misconduct occurred. I was finally free.

I became a lawyer and have won many trials. I am helping many people. Now, other people let the past haunt them, but not me. Those experiences in life make me a better me today and help me understand others. I have a lovely family and a happy life. What I can say is that we all have a path to walk in this world—part destiny and part choice—but it’s all yesterday in the end and you have to walk down the path but take nothing with you as you go and just keep on walking.