Book Review: Leave the Light On

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Posted in Recovery Tips, Saturday, 10th July 2010

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.

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