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.
I have always felt like an outsider and a loner. As a child, living in a household with parental drug addiction, poverty, severe physical abuse, and serious violent trauma, certainly contributed to those problems. I worked very hard to make a better life for myself and took pride in leaving my past in the past. I scorned weakness in others.
My immediate family splintered, and I started finding my own home at 13 years old. Living in a shadow foster care system, I experienced serious emotional and psychological abuse, as most of the households I lived in were full of adult drug abuse, alcoholism, and severe dysfunction. Fortunately, though, I moved to Austin from rural impoverished areas in Texas at a young age. I had access to more education and progressive thinking than I would have had otherwise.
I love practicing law, and the type and manner of law in which I practiced gave me the perfect arena in which to battle my childhood demons. I feared authority figures, so I became very aggressive and reactive. The negative aspects of our legal culture reinforced many of my most self-destructive survival skills from childhood. I enjoyed success on paper, but my personal life with my husband and child was a train wreck.
I developed a crippling pill addiction, horrible drinking problem, and chronic pot smoking habit as a way to tolerate life and cope with normal life and practice issues. I almost died more than once during this time period, but I maintained a perfectly normal façade to show others. Of course, no one really knew me at all. I had no friends outside of professional acquaintances. Even professional acquaintances were not real friends, as I was always posturing and competing with others in my mind.
When I found recovery, I learned that some of my substance use issues were related to self-treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I learned that unresolved childhood trauma can still affect our lives as severely as the worst of substance use problems. It was not uncommon for me to disassociate after becoming sober, before I began additional self-work to heal childhood trauma.
I had severe PTSD and had to do a tremendous amount of family of origin self-work after I got sober. It was a very difficult time, but with excellent therapists, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) treatment, and three 12-step fellowships, I was able to recover and find a way to live that is happy, joyous, and free. I can establish clear boundaries in my life and practice loving detachment with others. I am no longer the lone martyr of law but a happy legal practitioner. I did not lose my “edge” becoming a sober, well-adjusted lawyer, which is what I most feared.
In recovery, with the support of TLAP groups and resources, I now practice law more effectively than ever. I can now serve my clients and my community as a real lawyer. My experiences have allowed me to assist others out of very dark times, and I do not regret a thing about my life. I am comfortable in my own skin, and I love myself very much. I am present for my family and can be a real friend to others. I am so grateful recovery offers another chance to live and that I had the courage to take that chance. Sharing fellowship with others who have also made that choice to live makes life that much more meaningful and rewarding. Life is peaceful, not full of turmoil. I wish the same for all lawyers who may be struggling with substance use, mental illness, and unresolved trauma. Life can get better if you are willing to share the recovery with others.