Editor’s note: This is the 15th story in the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program “Stories of Recovery” series, featuring attorneys in their own words on how they overcame mental health or substance abuse problems. The State Bar’s TLAP program offers confidential assistance for lawyers, law students, and judges with substance abuse or mental health issues. Call TLAP at (800) 343-8527 and find more information at texasbar.com/TLAP.
I was generally well liked, had done well in school, had succeeded in jobs before attending law school. But even though things on the outside looked pretty good, I carried around a daily sense of low-grade dread.
If I was paying attention to the feeling, I could see that it was insecurity, a foggy but persistent notation that I wasn’t good enough. But most of the time, I wasn’t investigating that shadowy spot in my psyche; instead, I kept very busy with work, social engagements, and especially with drinking.
I drank and smoked pot regularly, and when I started, it wasn’t abnormal in my social circle. It seemed harmless enough. Except that as regularly as I got drunk and high, I would just as regularly wake up with a sinking feeling about how I had behaved the night before. I would recount the activities – the conversations, debates, arguments – searching for what I had done to embarrass myself, or what I had said that was rude, vulgar, or just plain mean to strangers, friends, and those people who I loved the most. This process was always frustrating, because I could not seem to stop from engaging in it, and I never felt like I could objectively evaluate my own behavior.
Even when I would attempt to make an apology to a friend for something I had said or done, I never fully trusted their assurances that it was no big deal. As a result, my feelings of self-doubt just seemed to grow heavier and heavier, until the only thing that would bring relief was another night of heavy drinking. And, reliably, the self-analysis nightmare would start again the next day.
When I began practicing law, my drinking increased. The level of self-doubt I experienced seemed to grow uncontrollably, and the pressure I felt from work turned into a stress cycle that took on a life of its own. Throughout my adult life, I had always feared that someday everyone was going to figure out that I didn’t know what I was doing; that I wasn’t really that smart; that I was a big fraud. Early practice seemed to intensify this fear. I drank to make that feeling fade away.
I would frequently drink and drive. I rationalized this behavior because I had successfully gotten myself from point A to B for years. But increasingly, I began to feel a deep sense of shame about my behavior. It didn’t make me stop, but it was a tangible example that I wasn’t good.
Finally, I woke up one morning, still feeling a buzz from the night before. I drove myself to work. I knew that I didn’t belong behind the wheel. I knew that I probably wouldn’t pass a Breathalyzer, and that I was risking a great deal. Along with that realization, I could not ignore the internal misery that I felt about myself. I didn’t know how to begin to change things, but I knew that I had to try.
A few hours into work, I started looking up 12-step meetings online. I had known a few people over the years who had stopped drinking by going to Alcoholics Anonymous. Getting completely sober and attending a support group like AA had always sounded like such an extreme measure to me. I had never thought a label like “alcoholic” could apply to me. But somehow, that morning, I realized that I had to at least explore the possibility. Maybe there was some hope for me to break my destructive cycle.
Hope, hope, hope, yes there was. Finally I made that call to a friend I used to drink with who had suggested AA. She agreed to meet with me and I was convinced that trying just one meeting was worth one hour of my time.
Frankly, I was just tired of being unhappy. My life just wasn’t working, plain and simple. What did I have to lose?
At the meeting I heard many similarities even though the people seemed very different from me; they were actually pleased to be at an AA meeting. Who knew?
After a few days, weeks, and months of AA meetings and connecting with TLAP for other resources, my days began to improve. I can say after five years of sobriety and some pretty intense work on myself, life is good. On my rough days when life events happen, I have plenty of support to help me return to my good life, one day at a time.
Is it time for you to reach out for help? Call TLAP at 800-343-8527 and TLAP will help you, confidentially, to get started on the life you want.