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.