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Recovery, A Feminine Perspective

I always liked partying. I liked the way drinking made me feel. I knew I drank more than most of my friends, but I didn’t think too much about it. I played around with some drugs, but I never went to great efforts to seek them out. I was pretty much content with drinking. It was cheap and available. Partying after work and classes was fun. By the end of my senior year in college, I knew drinking affected me differently. I didn’t have a stopping point. Once I started, I lost all perspective. There were times I tried to slow down and pace my drinking. Sometimes it worked, oftentimes it did not. Looking back now, the chaos was constant. I believed I just had to get ahold of my finances and accept the fact I had more bad luck than most people. It always seemed I was running on the edge, barely able to get by, but then somehow making it nonetheless.

My experience with opiates began in the closet out of curiosity. I was truly intending to just see what it was like-to experience it. The warm rush slowly moving through my body as it pleasantly calmed and soothed my anxiousness was beyond anything I had ever known. I remember thinking this was the piece I had been missing my entire life. Using my secret vice, it helped me cope and was truly the best friend I’d ever known. The secrecy and paraphernalia was part of the ritual. I could be so high and feel so good and no one would know I was in an altered mood. Having the secret was powerful, and in no time at all I became its slave.

My drinking persisted as my life was steadily and continuously going awry. I never thought about the magnitude of what I was doing to myself. Using and finding ways and means to get more became my way of living. As my addiction progressed, so did my need for more drugs. I would often catch myself nodding off, unable to write, see, or even comprehend where I was. These behaviors are what eventually resulted in me losing my license, entering treatment, and getting sober.

Getting off of the drugs was the easy part. I say that not in any way to discount the significance of withdrawing from drugs. I could not move forward in my recovery without being totally abstinent from mood-altering substances. The drugs were the symptom for me. They covered up the gnawing emptiness I felt deep inside. For me, this cavernous place constantly yearned to be okay and to be good enough. In my active addiction I used whatever I could find from the outside to fill this place on the inside-almost to the extent of extinguishing myself. In recovery I have learned that it is not an outside job.

As a woman and a mother, recovery presented additional stumbling blocks. Most of these came from my own beliefs-all of which were forms of judgment and, in the end, I became that which I had judged. Somewhere in my history I learned that I belonged to the inferior gender. Being a woman meant I had to try harder, do more, and rein in my femininity in order to prove my worth and make it in this world. I found myself living my life to prove a point, which was not living at all.

Prior to entering treatment, I realized that I was very sick and as much as I tried, my attempts to get a grip on my life were not working. Treatment and leaving my children were probably the two hardest things I’ve ever had to do. It went against all of what I thought was truth. At the time (obviously my idea of truth was somewhat distorted) I remember thinking, “What kind of mom leaves her kids?” On May 1, 1995, I kissed my four-year-old daughter and my seven-year-old son goodbye and left for treatment.

In treatment, as the fog began to move, I was left raw with emotions. I learned that, despite my intelligence, I knew very little about myself. I felt broken, weak, and alone. I was terrified that my treatment team would conclude my worthlessness. I remember my counselor telling me clearly, “When you look at you…you will get well. If you keep looking at other people, places, and things, you will stay sick.” This began my journey of recovery.

Taking a rigorously honest look at my life required that I ask for help. I would have preferred to just read the directions, but my counselors told me that was not how they did it. Instead, they suggested that I consider the possibility that my way of doing things wasn’t working too well. I was so full of fear and doubt that I could not see the obvious. Facing the truth and coming to terms with my own behavior and my self destructiveness was difficult, but not nearly as difficult as staying sick.

My journey in recovery has been filled with several lessons, many of which I had to relearn in the face of reality. Today, I cherish the essence of being a woman and what that means to me. I truly marvel at my femininity. I obtain strength from my intuitiveness and compassion for others through an attribute of sensitivity. More importantly, I learned that what I think about myself reflects in everything I do. I love being a woman, a mother, and a professional. I am an alcoholic and a drug addict, and I know beyond any shadow of doubt that recovery is possible.

Working the 12 steps, going to meetings, and sponsoring women in the program is what keeps me sober. The 12 steps keep me living in the middle and remind me that I am not in charge. I believe, as it is written, that acceptance is the answer to all my problems.

As a professional, I carry this message of recovery to lawyers, judges, and law students suffering from addictions and other mental health disorders. I am truly privileged and humbled to do this work and I am grateful every day to be alive.

-By Jeanne Marie Leslie

Jeanne Marie Leslie is the Director of the Alabama Lawyer Assistance Program. This article originally appeared in the Fall 2009 edition of Highlights and is reprinted with permission.

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