HEALING AND RECOVERY IN LAW
July 27, 2020

Similar to many lawyers, I entered law school with the hopes of eventually helping others. What I did not expect was to be forced to ask for help myself.

During law school, I found myself navigating a surge in mental illness - which in turn affected the trajectory of my professional life. I was diagnosed with clinical depression at fifteen, and what ensued over the next fourteen years was a tedious dance with my precarious mental health which often left me stumbling. I usually felt both directionless and unstable. One of the only things that helped stabilize my life was academics which I pursued hungrily and feverishly. I excelled academically so that I could live a comfortable public existence while I hid a most private and shameful struggle. Alcohol became a crutch and eventually a necessity. The pressures, often self-imposed but unmitigated by feedback I received in peer circles (i.e. work harder, do better, and show no weakness), fed a narrative that I had developed of myself as a silent sufferer with little option but to handle things myself.

Thankfully, during my articles, I could no longer pretend to be handling things myself. The veneer I’d crafted started crumbling and eventually collapsed. I asked for help and was privileged enough to have that help given to me. I am now a thankful lawyer in recovery, and I am halfway through my LLM at Osgoode’s Professional Development campus in Dispute Resolution.

Reading the theory underpinning creative modes of dispute resolution (i.e. narrative mediation and therapeutic jurisprudence) has been surprisingly useful to me as I navigate the world of recovery. I often find myself trying to lean into emotionally difficult experiences instead of recoiling or reacting with fear. My management of conflict, both internal and external, while imperfect still, is improving dramatically. I value honesty now more than I ever have, and I have learned to accept that I simply do not have control over a wide variety of things. For someone who clung so strongly to the illusion of control, that’s a jarring but also strangely comforting lesson. I have a community of peers - academically, professionally, and personally - who are aware of my status as a lawyer in recovery and from whom I continue to receive love and help.

I think the true spirit of the improvement in my mental health is keeping an open mind. The opening of my mind to hearing others, the willingness to engage in continuous deconstruction of my own self-propelled and self-involved narratives, and a sometimes painful striving to unlearn the need to always know the answers. My best thinking needed to change, and I always want that to continue changing.

In my mind are a series of coils which I’m constantly stretching and unraveling. I try and make new stories about myself and new stories about my interactions with others in order to heal. My academic pursuits are thankfully finally complementary. I’m so grateful to spaces like ADR Athletics where those who navigate the slippery territory of mental health can gather and grow together.

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by Jessie Gomberg
BA (Hons), MA, JD, LLM Candidate