Substance Abuse Resources & Disability Issues

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

CAM Testimonials: Leslie's Story

Leslie is in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction for 16 years. Her inhalant and marijuana use during high school escalated to alcohol and cocaine abuse throughout college and graduate school. She also suffers from epilepsy as a direct result of her long-term alcohol and drug abuse. When Leslie fell during an epileptic seizure, she developed a hematoma that caused damage to her brain. Leslie?s Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) presents her with physical challenges. For example, Leslie has limited mobility and her memory, diction, and word finding abilities are impaired. However, she believes her coexisting disabilities never interfered with her college or graduate level education. In fact, she says that her addiction helped her to function to a certain degree. Yet, years later, Leslie indicates that she lost control of her drug and alcohol addiction and was eventually admitted into a substance abuse halfway house for treatment. This was the turning point in her recovery.

It is important to note that Leslie?s physical disability was not addressed while in treatment for her addictions. She believes that staff and her personal ignorance contributed to the lack of concern for her coexisting disability. Leslie believes that everything has happened to her for a reason, and she is grateful for ?her disability, her life, and her recovery.?

I have a history of epilepsy secondary to cocaine abuse. I also suffer from traumatic brain injury as a result of an epileptic seizure more than 20 years ago. I am semiplegic, and my memory, diction, and word finding abilities have been affected by my injury. I am also in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction for 16 years. My physical disabilities are a direct result of my addictions. After having abused cocaine and alcohol for years, I developed epileptic seizures. I was prescribed Dilantin to control the seizures, but I continued to drink alcohol. When I fell during an epileptic seizure, I developed a hematoma that caused damage to my brain. I continued to drink after I was discharged from the rehabilitation hospital. I was prescribed Phenobarbital, but I was afraid to take this drug since I was still drinking heavily.

My physical disability presents some handicaps to my life. I had to change my functioning hand from right to left. Since my right hand is almost useless, I found it difficult to type. My daily activities have also been affected by the accident. My mobility is somewhat limited; I cannot run, and I occasionally fall from loss of balance. My memory is impaired; I occasionally have difficulties finding the right words to use when speaking. Since I am on a very high dosage of Phenobarbital, I was instructed to drink large amounts of fluids such as coffee and soft drinks to maintain my blood pressure.

I first started using inhalants and marijuana when I was a teenager. Although I did not enjoy the feeling, I smoked marijuana for a long time. I attribute my marijuana smoking to peer pressure; using marijuana helped me feel part of the "in-crowd". When I started college in the State of Vermont, I learned that the drinking age was lower than at home. I began to drink more heavily. I also abused hallucinogens, marijuana, and speed. I did well academically, and I was accepted to graduate school. In graduate school, I discovered cocaine, and soon alcohol and cocaine replaced all other drugs. Alcohol and cocaine continued to be my drugs of choice.

I believe that alcohol and cocaine helped me to function as a full-time student and employee. I felt socially more apt, relaxed, and unwound while under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol. Years later, I admitted that I had lost control over my substance use, and was no longer able to function adequately.

My spiritual beliefs are hugely important to me today. I was an atheist when I entered recovery. Although I am not religious, I consider myself to be very spiritual. By meditating several times a day, I am able to feel more assured, motivated, and encouraged. I strongly believe that my higher power left me alive and disabled so that I may advocate for people with coexisting disabilities. My higher power empowers me, and allows me to accept and embrace my disabilities.

When I was in grade school, I was tall and skinny with braces. In high school, I was still tall and skinny, but my blonde hair had grown and my braces had been removed. I felt very popular within my social crowd. I consider my high school academic performance as average. I did not care much about education and attributed this to my lack of direction and goals in life. Once in college, I developed an interest in Veterinary Medicine. After graduating from college, I obtained a Master?s degree in a discipline of psychology.

My substance abuse never interfered with my college or graduate level education. In fact, I feel my substance abuse helped me function to a certain degree. However, while working on my doctoral dissertation, my addiction caught up with me. I never obtained my Ph.D.

I worked as a waitress/bartender while in college. In graduate school, I worked as a research/teaching assistant. I feel I was a good teacher, but I did not enjoy my job. Being a student and an alcoholic full-time did not allow me to be as prepared for my teaching lessons as I would have liked. After graduate school, I worked as a research coordinator at a large company. My alcoholism started to severely interfere with my functioning at work. Eventually, I was told to take a paid leave of absence to get myself together. However, I continued to drink heavily even after I suffered my Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).

There were several substance abuse triggers for me at work. At one of my jobs, I did research on the effect of cocaine on lab animals. I remember stealing the cocaine for my own personal use. I also felt that the academic environment was very stressful; I constantly felt pushed to get published. This was the main reason why I left academia. Looking back at my career development, I would not change anything. I feel that every experience contributed to my present standing at home and at work.

I am financially self-sufficient. My income is generated from my full-time job as director of a residential living center, and two part-time jobs as a consultant and a private therapist (I am a Certified Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselor). I have never had financial problems, even when I was actively addicted.

I have been in therapy for 17 years. I regularly attend AA meetings and CODA meetings. I consider my affiliation with the twelve step group as a source of social, recreational, and emotional support.

I was arrested and convicted of a misdemeanor during the Vietnam War as a result of a protest demonstration. I am proud of why I was arrested, and that the conviction has not negatively affected me at all.

I have never been a client of the state VR system. At the time of my CVA, a person with a Master's degree was not considered to be eligible for services. I felt unfairly considered by the system.

I have been in several detoxification programs, but always continued drinking after each discharge. After I suffered my TBI, I continued to drink. Treatment providers believed that my drinking was a sign that I was suicidal. I was referred to a psychiatric hospital before being referred to a halfway house. The halfway house admitted me even though my presence violated a fire code (because of my slow ambulation). It was at the halfway house that I finally confronted my addiction and opened up to receiving treatment.

My physical disability was not addressed while I was in treatment. I believe that staff and my own ignorance contributed to the lack of concern for my physical disability. While working with a state Vocational Rehabilitation counselor on behalf of my clients at the halfway house, I realized that I, too, had suffered a TBI.

Because I was a functioning addict for many years, all individuals that were close to me enabled me. Because I was employed, married, and financially successful, my addiction was minimized, if not denied. Eventually my life became unmanageable; I was asked to take a leave of absence from work and my husband filed for a divorce. This was the year that I hit rock bottom. I finally confronted my addiction I am very aware that those close to me still try to help me with my cognitive limitations. However, I am no longer allowing any enabling with my addiction. I am grateful for my disability, my life, and my recovery. I feel that everything has happened to me for a reason and this is where I need to be. I would choose to do nothing differently.

I believe that rehabilitation counselors should never enable an addict, whether physically disabled or not. An addict needs to be "slammed" or confronted about his/her addiction. As for my future, I have no particular goals in mind. I am taking one day at a time, and I am open to whatever.?

It is important to recognize that it wasn?t until Leslie worked with clients with coexisting disabilities that she discovered she had one as well. The lack of attention given to her physical disability during Leslie?s drug and alcohol treatment has impacted her life. Through education, a strong support system and her spirituality, Leslie has learned to accept and embrace her coexisting disabilities without using drugs or alcohol. She strongly believes she has remained alive through all the obstacles in her life so that she may advocate for people suffering from multiple disabilities as she has.

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