By Liz Massey, Echo Magazine
Riding the Storm Out
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.”
Leave the Light On: A Memoir of Recovery and Self-Discovery
By Jennifer Storm
Central Recovery Press, 2010