I contacted LAP when another lawyer, who was also a good friend, suggested that I call Derek LaCroix. I was a first-year law student, and I had begun to worry: law school was going to come to an end in two short years, and I was living with secrets.
I had left a good job with a pension and benefits to pursue a career in law. I was now beginning to dread my search for articles. I was filled with fear and doubt. My secrets were sure to come out, and I did not believe that anyone would understand. I had seen the Law Society admission application form and knew that ultimately I would have to disclose my past addiction to alcohol and other drugs and incidental problems with the law.
While I was growing up, my family was poor and riddled with alcoholism and mental illness. I remember what it felt like to go to school hungry. Other kids made fun of me because I was awkward and wore “hand me down” clothes that looked funny and didn’t fit. I felt inadequate, alone and fearful, and I was afraid to go home. I tried to stay away as much as I could, as I was frequently beaten and violently sexually abused, and I was told that I was stupid, useless and would never amount to anything. Unfortunately I believed it.
By the time I reached the age of 18, I was a full-blown addict. I had run away from home for good when I was 15. I had become caught up in a vicious cycle. I lived to “use”, and “used” to live. I drank as much alcohol as I could to try to quell the intrusive thoughts and feelings I experience daily. I sold drugs and did whatever I had to in order to get by. I had frequent troubles with the law. I had no job prospects, a grade 8 education and no social skills whatsoever. I hated myself. I was full of pain and fear, and I trusted absolutely no one.
By my mid-20s the pain of living had become so great that I couldn’t stand it anymore. I tried to kill myself but failed. I eventually experienced a life-threatening infection, as a result of my addiction, that required hospitalization.
The doctors were not sure if I would survive, and I remember thinking that it wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. I recalled the few occasions I had allowed myself to have dreams as a child. I had never once envisioned myself as a street addict. It was, nevertheless, exactly what I had become.
Fortunately someone suggested that I go to treatment. As crazy as it sounds, I didn’t think I was an addict, so what would I need that for? I thought my problem was that I was unlucky and didn’t know how to drink properly. I didn’t have a lot of options at that time, though, so I reluctantly agreed and didn’t think it would work.
Because I was in such desperate shape when I went to treatment, I decided to do whatever I was told. As a result I was able to give up alcohol and other drugs. I was introduced to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, where I came to realize that I had a disease called addiction and that it was a medical issue, not a moral deficiency. I came to understand that no amount of alcohol or other drugs were safe for me to take; if I did take them, I had no control over how much I would use or where I would end up. I realized that I had a choice, and by making different choices my life began to change. It was slow and hard work. I spent more than seven years in therapy to deal with the wounds of my childhood, but I started to get better and began to heal. I started to believe in myself.
In my 14th year of recovery, I applied to law school and was accepted. By that time, my life had been transformed into something wholly unrecognizable from those early recovery days. I was very fortunate to have had an opportunity to get an education. I obtained undergraduate and graduate degrees and had the opportunity to help others overcome their addiction, but I had always wanted to be a lawyer. Now I had a chance.
Despite years of therapy and attending countless recovery groups, workshops and events, by the time I attended law school those old feelings of unworthiness and doubt began to creep back in. In the back of my mind I knew I had a past, and my classmates all seemed so smart and eloquent. I still had a bit of a rough edge about me and started to think that I didn’t belong. I briefly started to wonder if someone was going tell me they had made a mistake in letting me in and would ask me to leave.
Despite my early doubts, I thrived in law school. I enjoyed studying the law and did well in my classes. In the back of my mind, however, I was dreading the process of applying to the Law Society for admission to practice. I was once told by a lawyer that drug addicts with past convictions, even if they had been pardoned, were not welcome in the practice of law.
When I finally made the call to LAP, I was able to meet with Derek. He was understanding and non-judgmental. I had not heard of LAP before, and I initially thought that the service was available only to practising lawyers. I was amazed that as a law student I qualified for assistance. Derek assured me that any member of the legal community could access LAP without charge and that our discussions were confidential.
Derek helped to address my concerns. He told me that I was not alone and that LAP would support me. He gave me several suggestions that I could take action on right away. He gave me the names of several lawyers I could speak to who might be able to help. He also provided encouragement and helped me develop a plan for articles. This proved to be invaluable. I met lawyers, judges and benchers who were compassionate, understanding, supportive and just wanted to help.
By talking with Derek and attending LAP groups, I began to let my guard down. I felt less anxious and started to see my past experience as less of a liability and more as a vehicle that I could use to make a contribution. I began to share my experiences more openly. I began to see that I do not have to hide from my past, nor do I need to shut the door on it. I came to believe that I was worthy of love and that I had a contribution to make to the practice of law and the legal community.
Since my contacting LAP a lot has changed. I obtained an outstanding articling position with a well-respected firm and ultimately was admitted to the practice of law. Because of the assistance I received from several lawyers, I was afforded a great articling experience. My application was relatively uneventful and certainly did not warrant the amount of fear and dread that I afforded it. I could not have done this without Derek, LAP and other lawyers who gave freely of their time to help. I am grateful that there is a solid network of lawyers across B.C. who are willing to share, to encourage and to help anyone who needs it.