Leave the Light On: A Memoir of Recovery and Self-Discovery

Overview


A revealing, hopeful account of a young woman's ascent out of the bleak despair of addiction and how recovery helped her confront the traumas and secrets that kept her living in the dark for so long.
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Overview


A revealing, hopeful account of a young woman's ascent out of the bleak despair of addiction and how recovery helped her confront the traumas and secrets that kept her living in the dark for so long.
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  • Leave the Light On
    Leave the Light On  

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Library Journal
In the follow-up to Blackout Girl, her memoir of alcohol addiction, author Storm continues her compelling journey to fulfillment as a functional, substance-free human being. Fresh from a 28-day rehabilitation program, Storm finds she must shed many friends and routines from her past in order to work her 12-Step AA program and move forward in her life. Along the way, Storm chronicles her day-to-day in its frustrations and mundane details, but also faces a life-threatening medical emergency, comes out as a lesbian, has a first gay sexual encounter, plans the first-ever Penn State Queer Prom, and finds her passion as an activist. Throughout, she relates her story with candor, humor, and insight, making this an engaging and occasionally thought-provoking memoir of growing up, getting over past mistakes, and extending oneself to others and the world at large.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Midwest Book Review
Recovering from assault and addiction is an endeavor none should have to face. Leave the Light On: A Memoir of Recovery and Self-Discovery is a sequel to Jennifer Storm's earlier memoir, Blackout Girl. Focusing on the long road to recovery, she tries to live her life free from drugs, facing her past mistakes and tragedies when trying to learn to love once more. Leave the Light On is poignant and a reminder that recovery is always possible.
— James A. Cox
Gay Phoenix Arizona

Riding the Storm Out
Recovering lesbian describes her life in sobriety in Leave the Light On By Liz Massey

Many young adults hit a major turning point in their early 20s. For some, it stems from the reality of having to find that first job after college; for others, it's sparked by a realization that a relationship, or a career path, has turned out not to be all it seemed.

But for Jennifer Storm, age 22 arrived with a truth that rested on the edge of the razor she used to slash her wrists with during a suicide attempt: she was an alcoholic and drug addict and her life had become unmanageable. After 10 years of abusing alcohol and cocaine, Storm landed in a rehab facility after this desperate act — and began a new chapter of her life.
'Rehab was the jolt that I needed to put it all into perspective,' she said. 'It was absolutely critical … it saved my life.'

Storm described the long, difficult road leading up to her stint in rehab in Blackout Girl: Growing Up and Drying Out in America, published in 2008. This year, she's back with a new memoir, Leave the Light On, which covers her post-rehab life, her early recovery experiences, and her emergence as a lesbian activist.

She said the impetus for this book came from feedback she received while as she toured the country several years ago promoting Blackout Girl.

'I had about 10 years of sobriety then, and people would ask me how I got to that point,' she said. 'There are so many memoirs that cover the gritty details of addiction, and not nearly as many that talk about how to maintain sobriety.'

Addiction began at age 12

Storm's latest book is unique in that it is one of the few recovery memoirs written by a young lesbian. Joe Amico, president of NALGAP: The Association of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Addiction Professionals and Their Allies, noted that he knew of almost no other autobiography that covered the same ground as Storm's.

'I am not aware of any other lesbian memoirs on recovery,' said Amico, who for many years ran a therapy practice in Phoenix. 'To have a book that tells recovery from a lesbian perspective is significant.'

Leave the Light On discusses the issues that led to Storm's alcoholism and drug addiction, which began at age 12 following a rape. After the suicide attempt that landed her in rehab, Storm sought a therapist's help to begin unraveling all the threads that had kept her bound to her addictions: the rape, the death of her mother and an inability to sit with painful feelings. She also began dealing with her sexual orientation, a part of her self that had been carefully hidden.

'Once I came out of rehab, I knew I wasn't going to use again, so I had to deal with why I did it,' she said. 'One of the tenets of the (12-step) program is honesty … how could I work a program and hide this significant part of my life?'

To concentrate more fully on staying sober, Storm moved from her hometown of Allentown, Pa., to State College, several hours away. Even with this move, made possible with the assistance of Storm's father and stepmother, she said leaving behind her drinking and drugging friends was one of the hardest things she had to do in early recovery.

'I had to give up my whole friendship network, really,' she said. 'Our common bond was partying. Without it, I had little in common with people I had considered my closest friends.'

Rebuilding life around therapy

Storm initially rebuilt her life around recovery meetings and weekly sessions with her therapist. Later she focused on experiencing academic life once she applied to attend college at Pennsylvania State University. She came out and joined Lambda Delta Lambda, a lesbian sorority, which gave her a push into on-campus activism.

'The sorority gave me a social outlet outside the bars,' Storm said. 'Don't get me wrong — these groups still have a big drinking component, but they also have a huge service component. And many of the sorority sisters were (LGBT) activists, which got me into activism, which is at the core of what I do today.'

After starting and leading several LGBT and diversity-oriented groups during her undergraduate days at Penn State, Storm currently channels her activist energies into her job as executive director of the Victim/Witness Assistance Program in Harrisburg, Pa., a non-profit agency that provides support and assistance to crime victims. She also maintains a brisk schedule of public speaking engagements related to the needs of young LGBT adults in recovery.

When she speaks to young people at college campuses around the country, one of the things Storm said she tries to get across is that they can choose to live a chemical-free life. That notion of choice is something that she said surprised her at the beginning of her sobriety, and continues to amaze her today.

'When I got sober, I couldn't believe I had lived 10 years of my life the way I had, when I had so many other options,' Storm said. 'Recovery was hard, but the fact that, on any given day, I could make the decision not to use meant that anything was possible.'

VITAL STATISTICS
Leave the Light On: A Memoir of Recovery and Self-Discovery

By Jennifer Storm Central Recovery Press, 2010

— Liz Massey

DrugTreatmentCenterGuide.com

Book Review by Suzanne K of "Leave the Light On: A Memoir of Recovery and Self-Discovery" by Jennifer Storm.

This is the second memoir by Jennifer Storm. Her first, Blackout Girl: Growing Up and Drying Out in America, depicted her haunting descent into addiction which occurred after she had been raped at age twelve. In Leave the Light On: A Memoir of Recovery and Self-Discovery, Storm picks up where the first book left off. Even without reading her first memoir, readers will be captivated by Storm's account of life in recovery.

Anyone who's been through treatment for addiction knows that recovery is a scary time. You worry about it when you're nearing the end of your treatment, and you worry constantly about it during the early days of your recovery. This happens regardless of what your drug or addictive behavior of choice is, how long you've been addicted before you seek and go through treatment, whether you've relapsed once or several times since treatment, who you are, where you live, how much money you have, how old you are, your sex, religious, political or any other type of affiliation. In short, recovery takes some getting used to.
And there's no better primer than reading Storm's tale of making it through the period of early recovery – without losing her sanity.

This is not to say that there weren't some tenuous moments. Whose recovery is smooth sailing, anyway? Not anyone that this writer has heard about. Truth to tell, however, Storm's account doesn't veer into details about protracted and numerous relapses. She does say that she did relapse at one point, but got back into treatment and subsequently was Keaable to maintain her sobriety.

The fact that Storm survived her addiction and suicide attempt (she cut her wrists) is a testament to her underlying courage and determination to live. The memories of the rape, the guilt and shame and self-hatred that plagued her for years and she buried with alcohol and drugs took a lot of therapy and many hours of 12-step meeting attendance and one-on-one discussions with her sponsor to overcome.

You often read in articles and advice about recovery that you should follow a regimented schedule in your first weeks and months after treatment. With no more 24-hour monitoring or every minute accounted for with therapy, meetings, or scheduled lectures or activities, the sudden freedom of recovery can throw anyone into a tailspin. Storm tells readers she very much needed the comfort of stability, and keeping to a regular daily schedule helped her begin to climb up from the depths of self-doubt and despair. Reciting the Alcoholics Anonymous Serenity Prayer also kept her from losing her grip.

Newcomers to recovery will find helpful tips scattered throughout the book. For example, Storm says that it's a good practice to mix up your 12-step meetings. Why should you do this? For one thing, it helps to keep things fresh. You won't be hearing the same people tell the same stories over and over again. By attending different meetings, you'll also be exposed to more people in recovery. Since it's tough to meet new people when you're still feeling raw and vulnerable, this is an excellent and non-threatening way to get to know new people who are clean and sober.

Another tip is to be cognizant of the so-called 12-step rules. Every fellowship has a few of them, whether they're called rules or just recommendations. Did you know that you shouldn't make any major life changes in your first year of recovery? This includes getting married or divorced, selling your house (unless you have to for financial reasons), and so on. You shouldn't date in the first year – so, no love interests (especially for women who have been traumatized). You also can't share your story until you've got a full year of recovery under your belt. And you can't lead a meeting or sponsor anyone until you reach your first year recovery milestone.

Attending 90 meetings in 90 days (the '90 in 90' rule) is also strongly recommended for newcomers. The first 90 days are the most critical for newly sober individuals. This is a time when internal self-worth issues are most common. Storm found her salvation in keeping herself busy and involved in the 12-step program. She relates that in early recovery it's easy to get sucked back into negative thoughts or wallow in self-pity of depression that follows such a major life change (going through addiction treatment and starting recovery).

Early recovery is also a time when panic attacks frequently occur. They usually come and go quickly, but can be devastating nonetheless. Storm recounts she committed to her Higher Power and just rode it out whenever panic overwhelmed her.
Desires and cravings, as every addict who's gone through treatment knows, are two different things. They're both tough to deal with, no matter when they occur. When old triggers resurface, Storm advises those new to recovery to recite the Serenity Prayer over and over. In addition, take deep and cleansing breaths while you say the words. You also need to avoid old people, places, and things that caused you to use in the past. And you simply must remain vigilant about your disease. You have to put your needs and your recovery above everything and everyone else.

In an easy-to-read style, Storm takes the reader through her early days in recovery. As she recounts her struggles to move into her own place, overcoming her conflicting thoughts of her own sexuality, dealing with old and new friendships, her up-and-down relationships with her parents and siblings, going on to college, starting a career, and, ultimately embarking on intimate relationships, readers cannot help but find insights into their own lives.

This memoir is not a manual or workbook for how everyone should manage their recovery. Each person is unique and must take his or her own path. But the book is a page turner, and Storm's fresh and sassy style is completely engaging.

As for Storm, we'll probably hear more from her in the future. As Executive Director of the Victim Witness Assistance Program in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, she has put her passion into helping others. She remains clean and sober – and happy at last.

— Suzanne K

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780981848228
  • Publisher: Central Recovery Press, LLC
  • Publication date: 4/1/2010
  • Pages: 235
  • Sales rank: 702,725
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Jennifer Storm

Jennifer Storm: Jennifer Storm is the Executive Director of the Victim/Witness Assistance Program in Harrisburg, PA. She graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a BS in Rehabilitation Services and a Master's Degree in Organizational Management from The University of Phoenix.

In 2002, Governor Edward G. Rendell appointed Ms. Storm as a commissioner to the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. She was later appointed to the Homeland Security, Law Enforcement and Justice Systems Advisory committees where she also serves on the Terrorism Prevention and Local Law Enforcement Subcommittee.

Her media appearances include appearances on all major networks as a spokesperson for victims rights. She has been profiled or appeared in We, Magazine for Women, Central Penn Business Journal, Curve Magazine, Rolling Stone, TIME, and many other media.

Ms. Storm is the author of Blackout Girl: Growing Up and Drying Out in America (Hazelden, 2008) and the follow-up memoir, Leave the Light On: A Memoir of Recovery and Self-Discovery (Central Recovery Press, 2010).

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Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

Floating On the Pink Cloud

'Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us… give us….' Blood was dripping over my fingers that clutched tightly around a rosary—the rosary that had been handed down by generations of emotionally unstable women. The rosary I was trying to use to connect to a God whom I never really spoke to until this moment, as I screamed out, 'Give us… give us….' Frustration overcame me when I couldn't remember the words. My grip tightened until I couldn't distinguish the blood running out of the gaping wounds in my wrists from the blood emerging from slices the crucifix was making. Suddenly the wound, the gaping space of black emptiness in my left wrist, came alive and began to breathe. I realized in horror that the gap wasn't breathing; it was laughing. It had taken on a lifelike shape. The violent gash I had just created with a pretty, pink razor was erupting like a volcano, laughing and spattering blood everywhere. Then it began chanting, 'Our Father, Our Father' in a childlike, mocking tone, as if it were taunting me for my inability to complete the prayer—or the deed.

My body bolted upright in bed as I was violently ripped from the nightmare. Sweat beads slowly traveled down my spine as my eyes attempted to adjust to my surroundings. Immediately my right hand found my left wrist, and my fingers gently traced the soft, raised pink scars that had begun to close the flesh I tore apart only months before in a desperate attempt to take my life. I drew a deep breath into my lungs as I pulled my knees to my chest, hugged my arms around them, and slowly exhaled, thanking God it was only a dream. It was a dream that wakened me all too often, although it was the memory inside the dream that made it worse to deal with. I slowly looked around the room for the clock. I didn't have my glasses, so everything around me was out of focus. I saw a bright red, fuzzy blur of numbers but couldn't make them out. I squinted tightly to try and focus my eyes around the numbers, but it was no use. I found my glasses on the table and placed them on my nose. As the lenses dropped down over my tired eyes, they revealed 6:30 am in a bold, red glow. I was still so used to getting up early from being in a structured living environment for the past eighty-odd days that it almost felt normal to be awake at this hour.

Two things hit me simultaneously: I was alive, and I was safe. These two things I must constantly remind myself of, and they still feel slightly surprising, especially when I'm awakening from the nightmares of my past. God, the nightmares had been awful. They are little reruns of the horror show of my addiction, my fear, and my desperation that drove me to the last night I used. These mini-movies danced around in my subconscious, and I would have given anything to cancel the upcoming repeat performance.

I was living in Matthew's home. Matthew was a guy I met in the rehabilitation program I had been in for twenty-eight days. We weren't supposed to be dating because the rules of recovery dictate no intimate relationships or major changes for the first year. I was still breaking rules. That much hadn't changed. I moved in with him and his father in State College, Pennsylvania after leaving the halfway house in Lancaster and lived in the room that was his sister's until she moved out when she got married. Matthew and I were dating, if that is what you want to label it. I had no idea what we were doing because I had no idea from day to day or moment to moment what I was doing. What I wanted and who I was were total mysteries to me. I was catapulted into this new life and these new surroundings, and I felt as awkward as a newborn fawn trying out its legs for the first time, all wobbly and unsure. At least a fawn has its mother's safe underbelly to retreat to when it is unsure. I was here virtually alone.

I swung my feet over the bed and stumbled out toward the hallway. I heard the clanging of coffee mugs in the kitchen to my right, and I knew Matthew and his father were most likely getting ready for work. They had jobs, purpose, and something structured to look forward to. Me, I was twenty-two years old and still floating around in this bubble, this 'pink cloud' they call early recovery. I had yet to find a job or purpose or anything other than my daily twelve-step meetings and Oprah to keep me sane.

My days had been pretty boring as I adjusted to living outside the daily grind of confinement. I went from having every hour structured with activities that I had to complete or else, to a freedom that didn't quite fit yet. I felt incredibly vulnerable and naked all the time. Like a snail slowly poking its head out into the world for the first time, I realized the world was way bigger and scarier than the comfort of my shell, and I quickly retreated back. I would normally just crawl back into bed and cover the sheets over my head like the snail; but unlike me, the snail doesn't have a horror flick waiting inside its shell. Best to avoid sleep. At least while I was awake, I could stop most of the nightmares or quickly disengage them when they flooded my memory like flash photography, quickly blinding me and shifting my balance.

Anyone who tells you early recovery is easy is full of shit. It is the hardest transition and transformation I have ever made in my life. And it never ends. The processing, the talking, the crying, the feeling never stops or I will stop—stop being clean and in recovery, that is. And for me, that would mean to stop living. I was saved somehow from the desire to use and from the survival instinct to run from everything. Now it was my job to maintain the new life that I had been given and to build upon it—to stop running. I felt like that new life was a direct gift from God, and violating that gift by using would be like giving a big ole middle finger to my Higher Power. I was not willing to do that. Even though I was not sure who my Higher Power was, I was pretty sure I didn't want to piss off him or her just yet.

Recovery is the biggest commitment I have ever made. It is a lifelong changing of behavior and a full shift in thinking. I had to become willing to set aside all I ever thought I knew and open my mind to new ideas and approaches and a completely different way of thinking. It required a deep level of humility and willingness to accept that my ideas and my thinking weren't the best at times. These are tough things for the ego to deal with and let go of. I was more comfortable being right and being stubborn about how right I was. I liked to argue, and I was creative and quick in my intellectual debates. I could make a case for anything and have it come across sounding accurate. I have the gift of bullshit, like most attorneys and addicts. The beauty and sometimes annoying reality of recovery is that I am not unique in this gift, and, as the old saying goes, 'you can't shit a shitter.' I had to be willing to put that aside and try to be open to accept that I was wrong and then listen to someone else tell me what was right. Well, that was just exhausting. But it was a process and one with a built-in learning curve. It was about progress not perfection. I had a 'get-out-of-jail-free card' to make mistakes and have someone guide me through those mistakes and show me how to do it differently the next time.

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