Substance Abuse Resources & Disability Issues (SARDI)

Consumer Advocacy Model Testimonials

These short stories depict the complexities and challenges faced by individuals with coexisting disabilities. These stories are true and have been told to the RRTC staff in an effort to educate the larger community about substance abuse as experienced by persons with disabilities. They hope that their stories will eventually lead to increased awareness and acceptance of coexisting disabilities by those working in areas related to substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation as clinicians, educators, trainers, researchers or policy developers.


In the following case study, Cathy describes personal experiences related to her struggles with disability, addiction and lesbianism. Cathy started abusing alcohol during adolescence as a way to deal with the challenges caused by her physical disability. Cathy?s drinking increased after she came out as a lesbian during college. She sees her coexisting disabilities as major contributors to her dropping of out college, her lack of trust in people, and her obsession with control. However, with the help of spirituality, a sober social network, and substance abuse treatment, Cathy was able to conquer her addiction, accept her lesbianism, and achieve personal independence from her disability. Since her recovery, Cathy has made several positive changes in her life, and is now is able to share her fears, struggles and triumphs with others. Although it has taken Cathy a long time to know herself again, she ?likes herself?, and feels she is ?worthy of a good life.?

Even though I'm disabled, my story is like most alcoholics. I am the daughter of an alcoholic. My mom was a single parent who dealt with many stresses related to being a parent of two disabled kids. There wasn't legislation in place that protected our rights to mainstream services such as regular childcare services. My mother could only afford to hire fourteen-year old girls to baby-sit my sister and me. My childhood was fairly unsupervised, and I always felt on my own.

When I was fourteen, my mother entered into recovery. I started using alcohol around this time. I began my drinking career at a Muscular Dystrophy Summer Camp. The campers' parents were aware that we drank, but seemed to find comfort in their children partaking in "normal" adolescent behavior. At camp I made several friends; however, until then, the only other disabled child I had been around was my older sister.

I drank alcohol throughout high school, mostly after school or on the weekends with friends. I was rarely asked for any identification; I attribute this to the fact that I use a wheelchair and either cashiers assumed I was older or just felt sorry for me. Ironically, these were the few times I wasn't infantilized because drinking made me feel grown up. In my senior year, I started using other drugs as well such as cocaine and marijuana. But alcohol still remained my drug of choice.

The summer after high school I came out as a lesbian. Although my disabled friends were accepting of my identity, they didn't really embrace it. I went to events and parties to meet other lesbians, but felt uncomfortable and mostly invisible. Drinking alcohol would help me to feel more at ease in these settings.

I used alcohol to both cover up feelings and facilitate feelings. When things got rough, I would drink. Alcohol helped me express my feelings of sadness or anger with my friends. When my life became unmanageable, I did not know how to ask for help. Instead, I would get so drunk that others would have to take care of me. When I received good news or had accomplished something, I would handle positive feelings by drinking.

After high school, I moved to San Francisco to attend a State university. I made friends in the dorms and continued drinking alcohol and using pot and cocaine. Most of my friends were other disabled folks who drank and got high a lot. I was a vocational rehabilitation client with a vocational goal of either becoming a speech therapist or an elementary education teacher. I really wanted to be a teacher, but I didn't think I could make it through the required years of education.

The summer after my first year in college, my social network expanded greatly. I made several friends, most of them lesbians, by becoming involved in peace activism. This circle of friends drank alcohol, but used more experimental drugs like amyl nitrate and hallucinogens. I started eating hallucinogenic mushrooms that summer. I also participated in a weekend retreat for young disabled women. At this retreat, I met a group of disabled women that invited me to attend weekly ?happy hour? gatherings at a local bar. Some women came to socialize, but many drank heavily like me.

At school, my grades were never very good. I took several Incompletes and dropped out completely for one semester. My rehabilitation counselor did not provide me with any guidance even though I had missed several appointments with her. She seemed to attribute my poor performance to my disability, and never questioned to find out if there was something else amiss.

After my third year, I quit school. I got a job at an organization for disability public policy. Even when drinking blatantly interfered with my job, I was not put on notice or even questioned about my behavior. Because the disability community is small, everyone was aware that I had a problem, yet no one confronted me.

When I was twenty-two, I began to spiral down pretty quickly. I started to endanger my life as well as that of others?. I began to drink myself into unconsciousness. My social support started to intervene, but backed off even though I was clearly in a sick state.

A few months after, I received a call from my drinking buddy that I met at Camp. She asked me to attend an AA meeting with her. We went to a group meeting where all kinds of people went such as professionals, skid row, men, and women of all ages. She didn't stop drinking, but I did. I was twenty-four years old.

I can't really put my finger on the pivotal factor that lead to my recovery. I had surrounded myself with people who didn't drink; some were in recovery, some were not. My two roommates did not drink and the woman I was involved with was in recovery. I had a few good friends who were what I call "co-drinkers" since they drank with me as the only way to socialize with me. Once I quit, their drinking nearly stopped completely.

I had just started working with an excellent therapist (also a disable woman) who forced me to take responsibility for my behavior. She didn't allow me to blame my poor choices on anyone or anything but myself.

I didn't go into treatment, or even attend meetings right away. For the first year, I "white knuckled it." But I was barraged with memories and feelings of fear and lack of safety from my childhood. These overwhelming feelings lead me into a state of depression. Finally my therapist suggested I attend AA meetings.

Although I hadn't been raised in any religion, AA's Christian undertones did not bother me. It was easy for me to "take what I needed and leave the rest." Someone had advised me to define my own Higher Power as whatever was important to me. I needed to identify an entity that I could put faith in, something that would keep me sober. In my earnest to remain sober, I began to work the twelve steps. Wanting to immerse myself in recovery, I committed to attending 90 meetings in 90 days, but discovered it was impossible because there weren't that many wheelchair accessible meetings.

At AA meetings, I found a community of people who shared my stories. At first, it was difficult for me to sit still and listen, for I was caught up in judging others by their appearances. My political stance always influenced me to view people who were not disabled, gay, part of the working class or female as "other." The experience of recovery enabled me to see people beyond their shells. In listening to people share their fears, struggles and triumphs, I was able to see humanity in all people.

When I entered recovery, I recognized that control was a critical issue for me. In my daily life, I clung very tightly to a routine. I came to a realization that so many aspects of my life were out of my control. However, it was hard for me to realistically identify the elements in my life that I could and could not control. Up to that point, I had it all backwards. I would try desperately to influence how others treated me. I would feel overwhelmingly guilty or responsible if someone in my life felt physically or emotionally hurt. I began to see that even though I could not change these situations, I could change how I let them affect me. When I was drinking I was a very bitter, distrustful person. But when I was able to forgive myself for my mistakes and have patience for my daily transgressions, I began to trust others.

It was easy for me to begin taking responsibility for the parts of my life that I had control over. When I realized how much pain and worry I'd caused others when I was drinking, guilt motivated me to do anything I could to make it up to those who stood by me. I felt embarrassed over how selfish I had acted.

Accepting that I couldn't control everything was an entirely different matter. This required inner faith, trust and hope. I went back to trying to define my Higher Power which was the entity that I needed to "turn things over" to. I reflected on my life and realized how lucky I have been during so many rough times of my addiction. I started to feel that someone or something must have been looking out for me. When I trace the path of my recovery, I believe that everything has happened for a reason.

I count the blessings in my life from childhood through present. I had an older sister with a disability who acted as a built in role model in my family. Although I have hurt many of the people whom I care about, they have stood by me and supported me through this process. Many of my friends have been shunned by their families after they came out as gay, but my family still loves and accepts me for who I am. By looking at my life through this perspective, I realize I have faith.

As parts of my life continue to improve, I believe that I deserve to have a good life. I plan for the future, which is something I have never done before. I realize that up to this point, I have never really had hope for the future. Some of this may have been a result of my disability, but primarily I think it is a typical mindset of most alcoholics. We don't value life because we don't think we deserve it. It has taken me quite a while to get to know myself again. But, hey, I like myself. I feel that I am worthy of a good life. I view life as very powerful and very precious. During my first year in recovery, I made several changes in my life. I quit my job, I ended a harmful relationship, and I received treatment for specific health problems.

Whereas I used to assume the worst of people, I now assume that they have honorable intentions. I don't make excuses for people, but I recognize that sometimes their actions are the result of fear or feelings of inadequacy. I don't put my faith in one entity; I trust in human spirits, life and the earth.

Cathy's support network was aware of her addiction and the impact it had on her life. However, nobody, including counselors, confronted her about getting help. Cathy believes that her support network attributed her bad grades, her lack of attendance to rehabilitation treatment, and her bitter personality to her physical disability. Cathy sees her addiction to alcohol as the strongest influence on her behavior. Cathy's act of taking responsibility for her own actions was a turning point in her recovery. Cathy now plans for the future and, like Leslie and Johnny, feels everything has happened to her for a reason.


My name is Charles and I am an addict. Today I am living sober and my life has changed for the better. I was once hopeless and had no idea what to do with myself. Drugs had taken me over, but I wasn't exactly sure that was my problem. I thought I was crazy.

As kid I drank alcohol and got into trouble. I have had many underage consumptions, many disorderly conduct, and criminal damaging charges. I have wrecked my mother's car, destroyed her home, and many other "damaging deeds" I was not proud of.

The courts had sent me to Crisis Care to be evaluated. The courts thought I might have an alcohol problem. I was not ready to be honest with myself or anyone else. I lied on every question they asked me. If I told the truth I thought Crisis Care would have me locked away for sure. Besides, everyone I knew acted the same way that I did. I looked up to people who drank and did drugs. Crisis Care only sent me to drug education classes. I don't remember much about the classes. I did decide to cut back my drinking, eventually. Drinking definitely made me crazy, but that just meant that I had to find another way of getting high. I didn't know how to cope any other way. I've used every type of drug, but the one I loved most was painkillers.

With this drug I found my best friend. I found a feeling that I always wanted to feel. I had many ways of getting my drugs, and I got them everyday. They made me feel great. I could talk to people more easily, going to work seemed like less of a burden, and I had many friends. I thought I was happy. Drugs seemed to help me feel normal. I thought drugs and alcohol helped me cope with my messed up life. I used drugs and alcohol to help me feel more comfortable around people. Life's worries and problems seemed to pile up on me. I didn't care, because I had my drugs and I could feel so good even when things were so bad. I have two aunts and an uncle who overdosed on drugs. I didn't understand their addiction. I though it was just the way they were. I told myself I could never be like them.

The painkillers I was using just weren't working anymore. I moved to different substances that were more potent. My tolerance kept getting worse. It took more and more drugs as time passed. If I didn't have my fix I became very sick. My body had a way of saying, "Get more drugs." I didn't argue, I knew I was hooked. I kept trying to feel that awesome feeling I once felt, but I seldom did. My life became misery on drugs and off drugs. I made strange decisions to make my drug use possible, like moving out of my apartment into a broken down house that had no heat. I didn't have to pay rent there. Matters were getting worse. The only thing I cared about was my drug. I seemed to believe it was my only escape. I wanted nothing to do with anyone or anything unless it contributed to me getting high. It was my only necessity in life; I was consumed. Everything else was secondary to me at this point.

I wanted to get cleaned and tried. I would go to my sister's house in the country to try and detox myself. I thought if I could just get the drug out of my system...I could stop. I could only make it two or three days. I felt my only chance to end my misery was to die. I knew the way I was living would contribute to that outcome soon enough. I thought about my aunts and the way my family was affected when they died. I didn't want to put anyone lese through that pain. I called my mother and we made a plan for me to go to the hospital. I figured that if I could get these drugs out of my system I could surely stay sober. I ended up at Miami Valley Hospital to detox. I was there for about one week. I spent my 22nd birthday there. I was glad to be there, but it was a terrible time for me. The day I left the hospital something happened to me. Emotional pain; full of regret, shame, and sadness swept over me. I could not even speak because I was afraid the tears would pour out and people around me would see me crying. In the midst of my crisis I wanted people to think that I was all right.

I stayed sober for about one week after my hospital stay. I kept saying every time I used that it would be my last. I made excuses for using drugs by just using Methadone. After all Methadone was a drug that helped people get off of painkillers. In a short time, I was right back where I was before. Using drugs to live and living for the drugs was what my life had become. I wanted to die again.

Somewhere inside me I must have had just a little more hope. It may have come from my mother; she had entered into a rehab. program for her drinking. I made another appointment with Crisis Care. I remembered Crisis Care from when I was sent there before from the courts. I was going to be honest with them this time. They had evaluated me, and then sent me to a place called the CAM Program. I was beginning to have more hope in my life. Just maybe I could get help. I began to feel that my addiction was not my only problem. I needed to be honest; I had no other choice. I knew I was sick and it was definitely showing. Probably more so in other's eyes than my own.

I went to CAM and first was evaluated with questions that were a little strange to me. Then I was introduced to my counselor. We talked awhile. She asked me questions like, "What kind of things do you want to accomplish in your life?" "What do I want to get out of CAM?" I really had no idea what to say. They couldn't give me what I wanted. I wanted a life, to feel somewhat "normal". I didn't want to keep chasing drugs. I wanted a better job. I felt I wasn't able to do all of those things on my own, and no one could possibly give me what I wanted. I felt so silly being there. Again, I wanted everyone to think that I was just fine.

I couldn't hide my misery anymore, and I really had nothing to lose. I gave CAM a chance. I was a little leery of talking to my counselor, because I was afraid my honesty would have me put n jail. To talk to someone openly involved a lot of talk about illegal drug use. I did eventually trust her and let her in to my world. At times just showing up for appointments helped. I began to gain more hope. I was actually doing something about my drug problem. Letting someone "normal" look into my life and help me figure out what to do differently, surely could not hurt. What I had been doing alone was killing me.

It began to feel all right to share with them my struggles. My counselor and I talked about my past, my future, my needs and how it could be possible to fulfill my life. I learned that taking better care of myself began at sobriety. She suggested inpatient treatment. I really needed to get a way for a while and learn about recovery. My caseworker took me to the treatment center every Friday for pre-admissions groups. I was hopeful that attending these groups would provide me with a bed date much sooner. My caseworker was my first influence of sobriety, first hand. We made appointments and just hung out. My caseworker even visited me in treatment. By the case worker just being there and treating me like a human being was good. I had someone on my side. I started to believe that it was possible that I could make something of myself.

During my stay at the treatment center I learned how important it was to have a support system. I found a connection there with other people struggling with life as I did. I formed friendships. After leaving the treatment center I began to get involved with Alcoholics Anonymous for support. I continued to go to appointments at CAM. My counselor really encouraged me t go to college. My caseworker took me to Sinclair Community College and showed me the ropes; how to enroll, how to apply for scholarships for school. Most importantly they encouraged and believed I could succeed in life by just staying sober.

I have been clean and sober for nearly one and a half years. I now have my own car and apartment. I have good friends. I am getting closer to a new career. I look much healthier. I am able to overcome many of life's challenges; at time with a little help of course. Many great things have happened to me in just one year. I am growing up nicely. I am now taking care of myself, and it did all begin at sobriety. Thank all of you at CAM for encouraging and understanding me when I thought no one could. It was truly a blessing.


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.


Kevin's life looks a lot different now than it did 5 months ago when a judge ordered him to get drug and alcohol treatment and he was referred to CAM. Arrested for buying cocaine and with a lengthy history of alcohol and drug use in his past the future did not look very bright.

Although Kevin was able to complete high school he reports that he started drinking and using drugs in elementary school. He reports that graduating from high school he recalls, ?having a chill up my back. This made me feel odd and out of place so me and a friend had to celebrate at a party with lots of girls and booze. We stole 3 fifths of alcohol from a convenient store and partied until we passed out?. Despite having a family friend who died as a result of drinking and warned Kevin from his death bed not to go down that road Kevin's use continued with disastrous outcomes.

To support the expense of his drug and alcohol use Kevin worked two jobs. One day, ?my friend and I were on our way to our second job where we had worked together for three or four months. I don't know why but we decided to pass up our exit for work. The next thing I remember was being in the hospital in a halo with a broken neck with my jaws wired and a staff person telling me a severe car accident had almost taken my life.?

Following 3-4 months of rehabilitation Kevin was finally physically able to go to his trial for the accident. The accident resulted in the death of three people and Kevin was found guilty of three counts of Reckless Homicide. A prison term followed. Two days after his release from prison Kevin found himself at a bar drinking.

Later, Kevin found himself married and was able to witness the birth of his son. His continuing alcohol and crack cocaine use eventually led to his marriage falling apart. On the night his wife left he felt that she was better off with someone else than sticking with him.

His attempt to buy crack the night his wife left led to another arrest. In court the judge recommended drug and alcohol treatment for Kevin and he was referred to CAM. Kevin attended the AWARE groups and received Individual Counseling. He also became active in Alcoholics Anonymous. With 5 months of sobriety under his belt Kevin writes, ?Being sober and going through AWARE I and AWARE II I have learned I have so much more to live for. Thank you so much CAM?.


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.


Three years ago, Matt felt proud of himself for his ability to win races and play basketball, his popularity among his many friends, and his ambitious career goals. Now, following a life-threatening car accident, Matt's proud of how he can once again walk and talk, how his drug test comes out clean week after week, and how he's been sober a year.

The reasons have changed, but pride is pride. It still feels wonderful. In high school Matt participated on the Brookville, Ohio High School track and basketball teams. Always an active and amiable young man, he "didn't like sitting still," and enjoyed partying with his friends when he wasn't participating in sports or working. In fact, he'll tell you with a grin, during his first year at Ohio University at Athens, Ohio, "classes got in the way of my partying," and his grades hit bottom. The following year he worked harder, his grades rose, and he seemed well on his way toward getting his diploma in electrical engineering.

All that changed on August l6, l997, the summer after his sophomore year at O.U. On that day, Matt left the home he shared with his mother, grandmother, and two brothers to drive to his job at a restaurant. The night before, he and his girlfriend had partied with friends--"horsing around, a little of this, a little of that"--and he'd overslept. Although he has no memory of what happened that morning, he believes he was in a hurry to get to work. Whatever the reason, he swerved into a ditch, then overcorrected and hit a tree, then another tree. Within minutes, Good Samaritan Hospital's Care-Flight transported Matt to Dayton where, because his brain was swelling dangerously, physicians induced a coma.

Matt stayed in a coma for four weeks, while his brain stabilized, and family members stayed with him around the clock, renting a room at the hospital. While Matt was in a coma, doctors told his mother he'd never walk again. But they hadn't counted on Matt's determination, his faith, or the support he received from his family. When doctors reversed the coma-like state, he was transferred to Miami Valley Hospital for rehabilitation. He needed to relearn walking and, because one of his vocal cords no longer functioned, talking as well. Doctors estimated that he'd need at least 6-7 weeks of intensive rehabilitation.

But to Matt, that sounded too long. The hospital bills were mounting, and his long hospital stay put a strain on his family. "I pushed myself," he says. "I prayed a lot. Before the accident, I wasn't really religious, but now I'm a big believer in prayer." He adds proudly: "There wasn't a church around here where folks weren't praying for me." His faith and determination paid off. In two weeks, Matt could walk by himself. In three and a half weeks, he was sent home, and he continued daily outpatient therapy for the next three months.

Although now Matt could walk and talk, he still didn't have complete control over his movements, and making himself clear was often an effort. But he wanted to move ahead, to get out into the world. Not having a job didn't suit him. "I'd always worked," Matt says. "I didn't want to just sit around."

Matt's grandmother got him a job washing dishes in the nursing home where she worked. But Matt couldn't control the tremor in his left hand, and the job didn't work out. Next Matt decided to return to college--at least it would give him something to do. In winter of l998, he began courses at Sinclair Community College in Dayton, once again pursuing electrical engineering. He did fine his first quarter, when his classes were largely repeats of those he'd already had at O.U. But the second quarter, when he took classes with new subject-matter, Matt found he couldn't concentrate or pay attention. He failed both courses.

At home, with no job and no school, all those empty hours and all that disappointment led to depression. One night, Matt went into the garage and slit his wrists.

Following his suicide attempt, Matt ended up once again in Good Samaritan Hospital, only this time in the Mental Health Unit. During that time, as usual, Matt was a quick-study. "Being there, talking to people," he says, "made my problems seem so small." Three days later, he was sent home. At this point Matt got involved with HIRE, a Dayton-based program that provides vocational training for people with disabilities. During the HIRE program, he was referred to another Dayton program, Consumer Advocacy Model (CAM), which works with disabled people who have problems with substance abuse.

"Substance abuse occurs at a much higher rate among the disabled than among the general population," says Kristen Dunn, the director of CAM. For some people, their disability happens as a direct result of their substance abuse. For others, substance abuse begins after the disability as a response to pain management, or to depression related to the disability. In Matt's case, both pain management and depression pointed to potential problems with substance abuse. Before his accident, he'd enjoyed a good party, frequently drinking beer or smoking marijuana with friends. After his accident, he sometimes sought the temporary relief that liquor could bring, but soon discovered this road could lead to disaster.

"I can't have alcohol or marijuana," he says now. "They mess up my medications." As with all CAM participants, Matt's first step in the program was a thorough assessment, a three to four hour process which determines the person's specific needs. Matt's assessment revealed that he suffered from Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), which helped explain his difficulties when returning to school.

Following the assessment, CAM staff designs a customized treatment program for each participant. For Matt, like most CAM clients, that program began with AWARE, an eight-week long twice-weekly group in which a facilitator presents information on substance abuse and leads discussions.

"Our facilitator brought up topics, asked for opinions," Matt says of his experience with the AWARE group. "We talked about how to stay sober, how to get through the day." For Matt, as for many CAM participants, the initial educational group was followed by a weekly support group, in which participants share stories and look closely at therapy issues. Matt found this group especially helpful.

"Most people in that group were older than me," he says. "They were trying hard to stay straight. It seemed like our talks were on a higher level."

Throughout this process, Matt also had weekly sessions with a counselor, to make sure his individual needs were being addressed. This individual attention is critical to the success of the CAM program, according to Kristen Dunn. "Wrapped around everything is the individual counseling and case management. Our program provides more individual attention than most programs because of what a disabled person goes through." Life began looking up for Matt. As well as his new sobriety and support from the CAM program, he had considerable support from his close, loving family. He and his grandfather embarked on a major project, the building of a brick driveway in front of his home. And Matt especially enjoyed spending time with his four-year-old brother, Mark, who had been born when he was away at college.

When Matt decided to re-enroll in Sinclair Community College, his CAM counselor, Bernie, went with him to help fill out the admission papers. Matt has a new major now, and new goals. Being with his little brother showed him how much he loves children, and he's studying for an Associate's Degree in Early Childhood Education. He works hard, and classes are going well now that Matt knows some techniques to help him deal with his ADD. "My concentration's a little better," he says.

Matt still meets weekly with his counselor, to check in and report on how things are going. The weekly meeting also includes a drug test, and passing it each week makes Matt feel good about himself. "Most of my friends can't say they've been clean for a year," he says. "I like saying that. It makes me feel proud. Now that I'm sober I can go straight to my goal."

For CAM participants, according to Kristen Dunn, success is threefold: getting sober, developing a sense of self-acceptance, and finding a vocational goal and beginning to work toward it. Given these criteria, Matt can count himself a success. While he still struggles daily with the challenges of his body and mind, he feels hopeful. When Matt talks about his plans, his face lights up.

"I feel good about my future," he says, describing his plans to eventually teach in elementary school. "Children are so innocent. If you can help pull them in the right direction, you'll be amazed what can happen. You can step back and look at what you've done and be proud of yourself."


It would be hard to lose more than Sandy lost to alcohol: her marriage, her son, her work, and almost her life. But now that she's sober, Sandy has found something no one can take away...

"For the first time in a very long time," she says. "I feel good about myself."

After graduating from a Dayton high school, a strong desire to help people led Sandy to the Dayton School of Practical Nursing. An attractive, friendly red-haired woman with a ready smile, she loved nursing, and was good at it. She married and, for four years, worked at St. Elizabeth's Hospital in Dayton.

Then things began falling apart. When her husband moved to Denver, Sandy stayed behind. After a while, she lived with a boyfriend who did drugs: dope, acid, booze. Pretty soon Sandy traded her full-time job for a part-time one, spending more and more time getting high.

Wanting to make her marriage work, Sandy moved to Denver to be with her husband. After they had a child, she worked as a school bus driver, then returned to nursing. Before he quit, Sandy and her husband drank heavily, and he wanted her to quit, too. When she didn't, he left the marriage, then hired an investigator to follow Sandy. Because of her drinking, she lost custody of her son, and also lost her job.

Lonely and discouraged, Sandy spent a lot of time in bars--she met her friends there, or just hung out. One night in June of l997, as she drove home from a bar, her car crossed the center line into the lane of oncoming traffic, and she hit a car head-on.

The other driver had no serious injuries, but Sandy wasn't expected to live. After she came out of a six-week long coma, she had to relearn to walk and talk. Being a patient felt wrong to her; she should be the nurse, the helper, not the one who got help. So she worked very hard at physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and proved the doctors wrong. After six months, Sandy was released.

"I thought everything would be just fine now," Sandy says of getting out of the hospital. "But it wasn't. It was just the beginning." It was the beginning of a long, hard road to recovery. Sandy returned to Dayton to live with her parents, but she longed to see her son, so moved back to Denver. There, to save money, she lived with a series of friends, most of whom drank or did drugs. Sandy continued her drinking. Seeing her son every other weekend helped ease her ache for him, but Sandy still longed to go back to work. But her accident left her with difficulties that just wouldn't go away. She had trouble reading and writing, and couldn't always think clearly.

"I walk and talk and look normal, but my brain is the problem," she says. "Sometimes when I try to talk the words don't come out right. It makes me angry." Sandy felt so much anger she thought she was going crazy. She kept drinking, and became suicidal. "I realized I'd lost my marriage, my son, my job," she says. "I couldn't figure out why God put me back here."

Sandy found some relief in time she spent with her neighbors, two young men who worked for the Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). They'd stop in to talk with her, and she enjoyed their discussions. Soon she began attending the local Mormon church.

"I'd never thought much of religion before," she says. "But when I went to church, I liked it." But Sandy's life still wasn't working. She kept drinking, and had no prospect of work. After a year, Sandy returned to Dayton. Here, she attended another Mormon church, and began going to HIRE, an agency that prepares the disabled to go back to work. At HIRE, she discovered that she'd have to give up her dream of returning to nursing, because her cognitive problems made some aspects of the job, like giving out medications, unsafe.

At HIRE, the staff referred Sandy to Consumer Advocacy Model (CAM), which works with disabled people who have problems with substance abuse. "Substance abuse occurs at a much higher rate among the disabled than among the general population," says Kristen Dunn, the director of CAM. For some, like Sandy, their disability occurs as a direct result of their substance abuse. For others, substance abuse begins as a response to pain management, or to depression related to the disability.

As with all CAM participants, Sandy's first step was a thorough assessment, a three to four hour process which determines the participant's specific needs. Next, Sandy took part in AWARE, an eight-week, twice-weekly educational group in which the facilitator presents information on substance abuse and leads discussions. Following AWARE, Sandy began attending a support group which focuses on therapy issues.

For the first time in her life, Sandy faced her problem with alcohol. Before, she says, she thought she could control her drinking. Now, hearing other people's stories, Sandy realized she couldn't. "It scared me," Sandy says. "Listening to other people talk about their drinking, I realized that we were all in the same boat." Hearing other people's stories also offered inspiration.

"You can get out of that boat. It's your decision," Sandy says. "I realized I'm 47 years old and it's time to wake up and see what I've lost." One step at a time Sandy changed her life. She stopped drinking, stopped going to bars, or hanging out with people who do so. She attended weekly AA meetings, one of the requirements of CAM. Instead of suppressing her anger over her disability, she talked about it with those in her support group, and during her weekly meeting with a CAM counselor. The caring she felt impressed her. "You can see their caring in their faces," she says of CAM staff members. "It's not because it's their job. It's because they really feel that way."

The personal attention that means so much to Sandy is a critical factor in why between 40 and 60 percent of CAM participants stay in recovery. "Wrapped around everything here is the individual counseling," Kristen Dunn says. "CAM offers more individual attention than most programs because disabled people have to go through so much." For CAM participants, according to Kristen Dunn, success is threefold: getting sober, developing a sense of self-acceptance, and finding a vocational goal and beginning to work toward it. According to this definition, after less than a year in the program, Sandy's well on her way.

She's been sober five months. She lives on her own. Through a local program, she's learning to read again. And she has a part-time job in a nursing home, a place she's wanted to work for a long time. This time, though, she's in the laundry room. "The laundry is okay for now," she says. But not forever. Her goal is to attend Sinclair Community College, become a mental health technician, and one day once again help others.

Most of all, Sandy feels good about herself, about the long road she's traveled and how far she's come. "I have dreams for the future," she says. "And I'm going to reach them."

For more information about CAM, please contact:
Kristen K. Dunn MRC, PCCS, LICDC, Program Director
Melissa R. Jones MRC, PCCS, LICDC, Clinical Director
Consumer Advocacy Model
6 South Patterson Blvd.
Dayton, OH 45402

(937) 222-2400 Phone/TTY
(937) 222-7522 Fax

Last edited on 01/28/2015.