From dread to hope: How I confronted my drinking problem

Editor’s note: This is the eighth story in our Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program “Stories of Recovery” series, featuring attorneys in their own words on how they have overcome 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 us at 1-800-343-8527, and find more information at texasbar.com/TLAP.

Law school made me an alcoholic. Or, to be fair to law school, it was during law school that I crossed over to alcoholism.

In college, I used to drink on weekends and sometimes got drunk. But I could decide when I wanted to get drunk. In law school, drinking was a major social component of my life and was a good way to relax and unwind from the stress of the day. But I began to lose the power of choice in terms of my drinking. I got drunk when I did not intend to. I started to drink to black out and to embarrass myself and my friends.

I graduated, passed the bar, practiced law, got married, went into academia, had children, published articles, received promotions and tenure. All while I was still an active alcoholic. I was a “functioning” alcoholic and was able to practice my profession, attend church, volunteer in many community activities, and still be a good spouse and parent—or so I thought. I needed a drink desperately every day when I got home, though, and after that I might or might not remember the evening. I was not “present” for most of my adult life and was depressed, anxious, and angry at home.

Being in academics, I “audited” 12-step programs for many years before I got sober. I knew there was a problem, but being a well-educated person, I thought I could think, reason, or study my way to a solution. I attended hundreds of meetings and read dozens of books but could not deal with the reality that the only solution to my problem was to stop drinking.

For me, the crisis came when my spouse decided that our marriage was over. I very much loved my spouse and our life together. I could not imagine not seeing my children every day, nor splitting up the life we had built together. But we separated, and I started to attend 12-step meetings and began the long journey to sobriety.

I committed to that program of recovery and particularly came to love and respect the people in our local legal professionals group. I went to the weekly meetings and found people who understood my problem, including the incredulity and pain of asking oneself: “How did a smart and talented person like me get here? I have a good job, a nice home, and family and I am an active and productive member of the community. How can I be an alcoholic?” I met lawyers like me, personable and functional, yet defeated by their addictions and depression. That first year I also attended the annual Texas Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers convention and found even more attorneys who shared my problem, and showed me that a solution was possible.

After a year sober, my life, objectively, was good, but I was separated and getting divorced. I cried every day and began to suffer from thoughts of suicide. I could not sleep and felt that everyone, except possibly my children, would be better off without me. I still had enough sense to realize that I really did not want to kill myself, so I began seeing a psychiatrist and counselor and started on a true road to recovery.

Since that time, now several years ago, I have come to realize that I used alcohol to treat my underlying problems of anxiety and depression. When the alcoholic “medicine” was removed from my system, it was important to get professional treatment since the 12-step program alone could not treat the mental health problems I had. I also now understand that depression is not a “character defect” or personality flaw that can be removed by prayer, service to others, or efforts of will. Depression, like alcohol, can be a sneaky and lifelong disease that needs to be treated and monitored.

Today, my life is good. I remarried, my first spouse and I remained friends, and we did a great job raising two wonderful children. I have true friends, I have my career, and it has thrived. I go to meetings regularly and reconnect with friends at the annual Texas LCL conference.

I still have problems, insecurities, worries, and occasionally a really bad day. However, I now know the difference between a genuine problem and an inconvenience. I value my friends and family and am actually there for them, rather than passed out on the couch or lying in bed with a hangover. Best of all, the future is not something I dread, but something I look forward to with hope for a better day.

Stories of Recovery: Roller coaster ride of perfection

Editor’s note: This is the seventh story in our Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program “Stories of Recovery” series, featuring attorneys in their own words on how they have overcome 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 us at 1-800-343-8527, and find more information at texasbar.com/TLAP.

I’ve been given the precious gift of life three times; when I was born, when I got sober, and when I finally overcome an eating disorder.

My parents are healthcare professionals who gave us a great home and many advantages growing up, but there were unspoken high expectations. We were the “perfect” family outwardly but my heart kept growing cold when I did not receive the time, love, or attention from my father. Unknowingly, I was beginning my quest for that certain male/father figure that would later bring me great misery.

So, I excelled in everything that I did, whether it was being valedictorian, being the best dancer, being the best all around … you name it. I did it and did it well. But I still never got that hug from my dad. I still never got that “twinkle in the eye/I’m so proud of you” look.

I don’t remember when it started, but for about 20 years of my life there was nothing less than a roller coaster of addiction, emotional chaos, blackouts, swollen faces, and nonstop searching for a way out. When I was drinking, my eating disorder was in the shadows. When I tried to restrain my drinking, I’d turn back to unhealthy eating.As I tried to “stabilize” one addiction I’d be de-stabilizing the other.

Men enjoyed being around me when I drank, and men looked at me in a new and exciting way when I would starve myself. I was finally receiving the attention from men that I had longed for and, perhaps, I didn’t need my father’s attention.

I went to two different colleges because I felt that I would be “safe” being an unknown. I never had close friends. I was very good at having acquaintances who thought I was their friend. I showed interest in their lives but they never knew about mine. I would rotate my “friends” like I would rotate my liquor stores.

Despite the moving around that I did, the shame, fear, and insecurity never left. The ongoing search for my father’s attention led me into many affairs that left deep scars. Guilt and depression overwhelmed me. I soon became an expert at isolation. I felt trapped. I felt like I was in that hole in the movie “The Silence of the Lambs” and I was never going to escape.

I found almost total peace when I took my last drink and admitted to God that I was powerless over alcohol. I started slowly crawling out of that hole and enjoying life. I applied to law school at the age of 26 and got accepted. I was at the peak of my recovery from alcoholism. I was finally feeling that fatherly love from my AA family. But I could still hear that voice in my head saying, “You’re not perfect enough. You’re FAT. You’re worthless.”

So, I began taking as many as 30 laxatives three to four nights a week. I spent many nights and in between classes in the bathroom. My face was swollen from the purging. My hair was falling out. My teeth were breaking. And, yet, I still felt like I was in control.

It wasn’t until I was vomiting blood and bleeding internally because I had three bleeding ulcers, due to my purging, that I was tired of “being in control.” I was tired of looking for the man that could love me in a way that a father loves his child. My search for that love ended that day when I realized that my father is God, who loves me unconditionally.

I graduated from law school and have been practicing law for several years. As a female attorney, I will always struggle to be “perfect” and want to control my surroundings. There will always be life challenges. However, when I find myself feeling lost, alone, and controlling the situation, I remind myself that I am a precious child of God and he is the director of my life and the basis of my recovery.

Today, I am happily married to “my gift from God” who is the complete opposite of my father. God sure does have a sense of humor.

Warning signals of an eating disorder include isolation, compulsivity, many trips to the bathroom, frequent illness, weight fluctuation, inappropriate focus on exercise and food, and an inability to maintain intimacy in relationships.

If you think you have an eating disorder, consult a professional. Without treatment, it will never go away.

 

Stories of Recovery: Solving the problem of me

“Lately it occurs to me — What a long strange trip it’s been.” — The Grateful Dead

Editor’s note: This is the sixth story in our Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program "Stories of Recovery" series, featuring attorneys in their own words on how they have overcome 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 us at 1-800-343-8527, and find more information at texasbar.com/TLAP.

I first started using drugs when I was 12. I always felt like I was different from other people and I couldn’t understand why. 

I was frustrated and sad, lonely, depressed, and felt empty inside. I smoked that first joint because I desperately wanted to fit in. When I was high, I felt like I fit in or, better still, I just didn’t care. I was a smorgasbord addict, using any drug that was available. When I used, I didn’t feel so apart from other people and I didn’t feel quite so frustrated and sad. Drugs were my solution. But the problem, which was me, never went away.

I didn’t only use drugs to self-medicate my depression but also when I was happy or wanted to celebrate. Frankly, I would use drugs for any reason and for no reason at all. Sometimes, I had lots of fun but couldn’t remember much detail about it. I was out of control as a teen and caused tremendous pain to my parents. I ran away — twice — at 12 and 13 years of age. I attempted suicide — twice — at 16 and again at 17. I couldn’t understand why bad things always happened to me. I managed to graduate from high school but dropped out of college after only one semester. Partying was more important. My parents and my doctor tried everything they could think of to fix me. Nothing worked.

This pattern of behavior continued over 20 years through two failed marriages and the birth of my daughter, my only child. Finally, I found 12-step recovery at the age of 32. It was becoming difficult to hide my drug use from my daughter and I was afraid I’d die — and she needed me. Also, I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I realized that I suffered not only from major depression, but also from the disease of addiction.

I worked hard at applying the 12 steps. I finished college. That same year I married my best friend, whom I met in recovery. I started a career in law enforcement (of all things!). Today, I’m no longer lonely. I feel “a part of” rather than “apart from.” Joy is real, lasting, and not chemically induced.

I am learning so much! I know that I am powerless over everything except my own thinking and behavior. I have learned that if I want my sanity and any degree of serenity, I have to surrender and accept a power greater than myself (anti-depressant medication works now!). I have learned to have faith in a loving God of my understanding and to turn over my need for control to that power. I have learned about my disease of “self” and to be accountable for my actions. I now understand that I play a part in nearly everything that happens in my life. I no longer see bad things as happening to me; life just happens. I am learning the value of service and to be grateful. I have made amends to those I have harmed. I know that if I use drugs for any reason, I will use for any reason.

My life has not been magically struck wonderful just because I got clean. More than anything, I’ve had to learn that life is still life. And sometimes life is hard — very hard. My husband and soul mate died just two years after our marriage. I was devastated, but I had my recovery friends at my side to help me through. And besides, I had a daughter to finish raising — and she was devastated, too.

After seven and a half years as a law enforcement officer (and 11 years of recovery), they found out about my drug history, which I had covered up. That career was over. I headed to law school not knowing if I could ever become licensed. This time I was honest about everything. At orientation, the director of the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program spoke about their program, as well as the Texas Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers. She directed me to a local TLCL group. There, I found true friends and they and other recovery friends would later save my life, and then my law license.

One week before spring break of my first year of law school, my daughter was tragically killed in a car accident. I learned the meaning of “eviscerated.” Many friends and acquaintances rallied around me. I put one foot in front of the other. I went to 12-step meetings almost every day at 6 a.m. before classes and at noon on Fridays. Through it all, I never took a drink or a drug.

Later, after the Board of Law Examiners decided that I was not of fit moral character to practice law in Texas, my lawyer and dear friend, whom I found through TLCL, argued my appeal to the BLE. Several wonderful people traveled to Austin to testify on my behalf at their own expense. I got my law license. I was honest with my new employer who knows about all my … stuff! I am grateful every day.

Nine years later, I attend my local TLCL group regularly. With over 24 years of recovery under my belt, I am happy, joyous, and free (most days!). I don’t pick up a drink or a drug, one day at a time, no matter what. I’ll guess I’ll just keep on truckin’!

Stories of Recovery: Living life on life's terms

Editor’s note: This is the sixth story in our Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program “Stories of Recovery” series, featuring attorneys in their own words on how they have overcome 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 1-800-343-8527, and find more information at texasbar.com/TLAP.

The first time I got intentionally drunk was on May 26, 1972. I was 12 years old and woke up that morning to find that my father had died during the night. By that afternoon I had dipped into Dad’s liquor cabinet and I was drunk. For some reason I instinctively knew that alcohol was the balm for the pain that I thought was going to kill me. Please understand that I am not an alcoholic because my father died. Rather, what this illustrates is that alcohol was not my problem, it was my solution—to everything—and THAT was the problem.
 

 

I took my last drink on Sept. 15, 1995. I did not intend my last drink to be a warm, leftover beer in a cheap motel in a distant city. Frankly, I did not intend to ever have a last drink, unless it immediately preceded my last breath. Rather, other people—my spouse, primarily—had enough of my drinking and drug abuse and determined to put a stop to it without asking my permission.

Between May 1972 and September 1995 I spent a lot of time under the influence of mind-altering substances, be it alcohol or drugs and typically both. I was, as the term goes, a garden-variety addict (and that includes alcohol), or, to quote a friend, I was about as unique as a 7-Eleven store. The only difference between my escapades and those of others are the adjectives and adverbs. What I used, where I used, when I used, how I used, and with whom I used are inconsequential. What is important is how I felt inside, and that was utterly miserable. My recollection is that every day from the time I came to until the time I passed out, the mantra running through my brain was “I hate my life.” I had (and by some miracle still have) a loving spouse, three incredible children, a law license, and a growing practice, and I was on the way to achieving the externals that define a successful person of my generation. But I was dying on the inside, and continued to take poison in order to get “well.”

I hinted above that it was the efforts of others that halted the downward spiral. The short story is that when I returned from a “business trip” on the specified day, the priest from our church met me at the airport. His cover story was that my spouse was tied up at the office and with one of the kids, so he volunteered to give me a ride. The priest asked if I minded making a quick stop at the hospital and I assented. What I did not know was that the “quick stop” was so that he could drop me off at the detoxification facility where they were waiting for me. And as for it being quick, that was a relative term, since I did not actually make it home for four months. A week of detox was followed by a stay at a long-term residential treatment facility.

My first contact with Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (LCL) came during my stay in detox when a friend of mine thankfully took me to a meeting at his office the evening before I went to the treatment facility. And it was in treatment that the Bar’s investigator (who was investigating me, of course) blessedly suggested that I call 800-343-8527 and speak to the nice people at the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program (TLAP). I made the call in spite of my fears. I don’t actually know what I was afraid of, but at the time I was basically afraid of everything. I cannot remember specifically what the person who took the call told me, but the gist of the conversation was that my personal and professional life was far from over, and in fact was just beginning.

While in treatment I was introduced to the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Since that time, I have worked the program of recovery and continue to do so. Others, many of them brother and sister lawyers, have helped me and I have helped others. Where I used to be an egomaniac with an inferiority complex—a worthless individual about whom the world revolved—I have been transformed into someone who knows that God is firmly in charge of the universe, including my corner of it, and that there are only two things I really need to know about God: there is one, and it is not me.

We are taught that by practicing the 12 Steps, “our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change” and that is so very, very true. I no longer hate my life, but rather relish every day as an opportunity to be of assistance. Life is now something to be enjoyed.

And one of the greatest joys of this life is to be a volunteer for the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program and work with others in Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers. I have had the pleasure of being that person on the phone when someone calls for help. I have been able to visit with lawyers, law students, and sometimes family members of same and offer the same outreaching hand of help that was freely extended to me. I have mourned colleagues who would not or could not embrace recovery, being ever reminded that left untreated addiction is a fatal disease.

I have been given a new life. One that is far better than the one I tried to make for myself. And I have been taught that the only way to enjoy this new life is to live it on life’s terms. Thanks to TLAP and LCL, I can comply with those terms.
 

 

Stories of Recovery: On the brink of suicide, I found new hope

Editor’s note: This is the fifth story in our Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program “Stories of Recovery” series, featuring attorneys in their own words on how they have overcome 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 us at 1-800-343-8527, and find more information at texasbar.com/TLAP.

I could not open my eyes. I could hear someone calling my name but I didn’t recognize the voice. I let myself drift back into unconsciousness.

The next time I woke up, I was alone except for the machines that whirred and beeped around me. I tried to take a deep breath but couldn’t. Tubes pumped oxygen into my lungs and my arms were strapped down to the bed. The instinct to panic was overwhelming. Then, a nurse appeared at my side. Smiling, she informed me that my family was in the waiting room. I didn’t want to see them because I was so ashamed. How could I have wound up like this?

At 12, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression by a psychiatrist who was happy to fill out a prescription for Prozac and send me on my way. During my senior year of college, I found myself once again battling the anxiety and depression. I went to the school infirmary and requested a prescription. It didn’t help so I began to drink on days that the anxiety was particularly intense. I looked forward to it. It seemed like a reward for all my hard work.

The first year of law school was dizzying. I drank on weekends to excess, which was the only thing that seemed to help. It also made things worse. I did dumb things while drinking that I couldn’t explain, things that made me ashamed. But I didn’t stop drinking. I thought I just needed to learn how to drink better.

When I began my first job after law school, I had no idea what I was doing. I constantly felt incompetent and afraid. My anxiety skyrocketed. I spent my weekdays looking forward to the weekend when I could hang out, drink, and relax. So many other people seemed to feel the same way that I never considered for a moment that my behavior wasn’t normal.

My anxiety and depression got worse and worse, leading me to miss work. Then I would feel worse for missing work. Then I would feel more anxious, more depressed. And then I would drink.

After a while, I started losing hope. I began to think of all the ways that the world would be better without me. I just couldn’t see any way out of the darkness.

One night I decided to end my life. It wasn’t a decision the way people imagine. It was a moment of sobbing desperation. I had been drinking all day, working myself into a wretched state. I didn’t want my life to go on the way it was going. Very simply, I couldn’t stand another day like this one. I took a whole bottle of sleeping pills. There wasn’t a lot of forethought, and I certainly did not consider the long-term consequences of this decision. I just wanted the pain to stop. Suddenly, with the finality of my decision staring me in the face, I panicked. I cried out to God that I didn’t want to die.

While I was in the hospital a doctor came in to speak to me. The doctor informed me that I needed to agree to seek treatment or he was going to recommend inpatient treatment, with or without my consent. He handed me a list of outpatient treatment facilities.

That first phone call was the hardest. I thought surely I would lose everything that I had worked for, but I didn’t. God had not saved my life to deliver me into continued misery.

The road to recovery was not easy. I admitted my drinking problem and sought treatment. I underwent therapy and counseling for my anxiety and depression and have learned positive ways to deal with their symptoms. I have found God.

Through my faith, I have learned not to trust in my own understanding of things, and to relinquish the delusion of control. I deal with what I have power over, and I try not to obsess over the things that I do not. I am still practicing law. I have a family and friends and I am happy. I hope that by sharing my story, I encourage another attorney to seek help, restoring value to the years I lost.