Substance Abuse Resources & Disability Issues

Josephine F. Wilson, D.D.S., Ph.D., Director

CAM Testimonials: Johnny's Story

Johnny is a 60-year old man who is diagnosed with cerebral palsy (CP). He is also an alcoholic in recovery. During his childhood and adolescent years, Johnny was given special treatment in all aspects of his life which prevented him from learning about or dealing with his disability of CP. It is important to pay attention to the familial, social and academic pressures that contributed to Johnny?s earlier stages of drinking. Johnny sees these as being the catalysts to his adult alcohol addiction.

Johnny ?s coexisting disabilities interfered with his employment, family relationships, spirituality, and judgment. However, despite his disability and his addiction, Johnny obtained both his Master?s and Doctoral degree in a counseling profession. Johnny has been sober for 24 years and presently works as a Full Professor. When asked if he would do anything differently in his life, he stated, ?Nothing, I would do nothing differently?.

I have cerebral palsy and a history of alcoholism. My cerebral palsy is manifested in a shuffling gate and mild dysarthria. I was born in a rural area of Texas where there was ?little awareness? of CP and disabilities in general. My family moved to San Antonio when I was 2 ? years old. I have an older brother with whom I have a strained relationship. I attribute the difficulties to my brother?s jealousy over the attention and ?special breaks? I was given by my parents through childhood. Some examples of these breaks were having no chores or responsibilities, getting a lot of attention from my mother, and having my college paid for, while my brother?s was not. I tended to isolate myself socially, and was generally uncomfortable with strangers. Peers occasionally teased me.

I attended mainstream classes until the fifth grade, at which point I was transferred to a special school in another part of town. I consider this a bad experience that had a negative impact on my self-esteem. I felt I was at a different cognitive level than most of the other students, and, therefore, was not challenged. In addition, my relationship with neighborhood friends changed because I was in a different school. I was transferred to a regular school in seventh grade, but I felt far behind the other students.

I was born with CP. I began using alcohol at age 15. My use did not become problematic until after I got my Master?s degree. I figured if people are going to think I look drunk, I might as well be drunk. Initially, alcohol improved some of the symptoms of my cerebral palsy by relaxing my muscles. Some of my CP related handicaps are poor handwriting that often represents me unfairly in professional settings, falling from balance loss, difficulty learning to drive and societal attitudes. My alcohol abuse interfered with my family life, spiritual life, employment and judgement. In 1974, I was drinking all the time, and was neglecting my family duties. My behavior was causing tension in my marriage. One time, for example, I remember coming on to a student in my home right in front of my wife. At this time, I was also diagnosed with high blood pressure. I began to feel poorly about myself and decided to enter into alcoholism treatment.

I began drinking at age 15 initially to help me sleep, make me more comfortable socially and to relax my muscles. I also used prescription Quaaludes. My drinking increased when I began pursuing my Master?s degree. I attribute this increase to social pressure.

Spirituality is very important in my life. I was raised a southern Baptist. During my drinking, I turned away from my religion and turned to agnosticism. Now I have a great spiritual life that has helped in my recovery. I used to be cynical and saw the world as chaotic. Now I see meaning and reason for things. It has made me a better, more serene person. It has restored my faith and provided me with feelings of comfort. I still do not believe in formal religion or rituals, but I do believe in a higher power. Spirituality has sustained my recovery by giving me a philosophical sense of my CP. I understand that I can use my disability to help others. Some people think I?m inspiring ? I hate that word. My wife of 36 years, friends, two adult children and grandchildren make up a strong source of emotional support which has also helped in sustaining my sobriety.

I shall describe my earlier years in school as bad. I did not socialize with other students in my special education school because they were mostly at different levels than I. The special school did not teach me the necessary skills for high school. In high school, I did not feel challenged and believed the teachers let me slide. Because of my lack of preparedness, my first and second years of college were difficult. By my 3rd year, I caught up and took school more seriously. Overall, I feel school was a positive experience.

My alcohol use did not interfere with my education significantly while getting my Master?s degree because I mostly drank on the weekends. While studying for my Ph.D., my drinking almost caused me to flunk out. I failed two comprehensive tests because I was drinking and did not study. I can only describe this as a humiliating experience. My cerebral palsy never impacted my finances for education. My undergraduate education was paid for by the state OVR, and I received a United Cerebral Palsy (UCP) scholarship for my Ph.D.

One positive memory of my educational experience is when I came to the realization that I had a brain. This did a lot for my self-esteem. There were a few professors who had faith in me, and whom I found inspirational. I now try to model myself after these professors. The negative factors of my educational experience have been being placed in a special school, not being challenged and being ridiculed.

Overall, I feel satisfied with my education. However, I wish that I had been taught to deal with my disability earlier as it would have helped my emotional development. I also wish I had been a better student, and not drank so much. I got my first job after I received my Master?s degree. From 1961 to 1962, I worked as a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor at a National Foundation. From 1965 to 1966, I was an Assistant Professor at a State College. From 1966 to 1967, I held an office job at an Educational Research Information Center. Since 1967 to present, I have been a full Professor of Rehabilitation Counseling at a State University.

I left all my jobs for better positions. At the University, I have been promoted from Assistant Professor to Associate Professor to Full Professor. I also received 2 longevity awards. I would have gotten fired from the Educational Research Information Center due to my drinking if I had not left. My drinking also indirectly delayed my promotions at the University since I consistently used poor judgement.

My vocational goals have been met and my cerebral palsy has not had a tremendous impact on my work life. Work had been a trigger to my alcohol use. The specific factors include dealing with authority, stress, peer pressure, and wanting to please people.

Some of the positive aspects of my work life include my love of teaching, publishing, enjoying my students and increasing my self-esteem. The negative aspects of my work life include people pleasing and trying to prove myself to others. In hindsight, I would do nothing differently in my career.

I am financially independent based on both my and my wife?s salary. I presently do not receive and never have received any financial support. I do not receive any counseling. I am involved in the following community activities: I am a member of an Advisory Committee for Citizens with Disabilities, trainer of the local police in disability awareness, participant of a 12-step program, and board member of a Vocational/Alcohol Rehabilitation Center for Women. My leisure activities include spending time with friends and family and watching TV. I have never been part of an independent living center and have never been convicted of a crime. The State VR system paid my college tuition. Overall, my experience with the State VR has been positive. My VR counselor did not know about my alcohol use. I have participated in AA for 24 years. I referred myself to treatment when I hit rock bottom. I did not want to go into a formal drug treatment program. My cerebral palsy was not addressed in AA, but my treatment has helped me have a sense of humor about it. I believe it should be addressed ? specifically, how social and emotional factors can impact on alcohol use. Vocational Rehabilitation was not included in my Alcoholism treatment.

My wife and mother have enabled my alcoholism by putting up with it and making excuses for me. My wife went to Alanon to help her learn how to deal with me.

I did have a slip for one afternoon three months into my recovery. I do not know what triggered it. Immediately afterwards, I went to see my sponsor, got a little lecture and continued in my recovery. Since my recovery, my functioning has improved largely because my self-esteem and confidence have improved. I believe self-esteem and fear have been the main factors in my staying alcohol free.

I believe counselors need to take their client?s substance use seriously and not make excuses for them. Counselors need to learn how to confront clients. As for the future, I plan on continuing to do what I do, and to keep waking up in the morning.?

It is important to recognize that Johnny does acknowledge the challenges he has faced as well as the impact alcoholism has had on his life. Johnny?s disability of CP was never addressed in his alcoholism treatment. This supports Johnny?s belief that society has ?little awareness? of CP and disabilities in general. He strongly wishes that he had been taught to deal with his disability earlier as it would have helped his emotional development. Johnny shows a strong appreciation for his hard road in life. He now shares the acceptance and understanding of his coexisting disability with others suffering from similar disabilities.

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