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: 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’!

Texas Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers is hosting its 23rd Annual Convention June 1 - 3

by Bree Buchanan

Texas Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (TLCL), a volunteer organization associated with the State Bar of Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program (TLAP), helps those in the legal profession who are experiencing difficulties because of alcohol and/or substance abuse, depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. As part of this effort, TLCL is hosting its 23rd Annual Convention on June 1 – 3, 2012, at the Crowne Plaza Riverwalk Hotel in San Antonio.

Opportunities for socializing will be plentiful! The event starts on Friday evening with a speaker and ice cream social. Saturday will begin with a welcome from State Bar President, Bob Black, followed by presentations (CLE credit for up to eight hours is pending) and an evening banquet and keynote speaker. A highlight of the dinner is the presentation of the Ralph Mock Award to a TLCL member who exemplifies the mission of the TLCL program. The weekend’s events will conclude with a brunch. Registration is $220 and early bird room rates are $109 per night.  Scholarships are available to those who cannot pay the registration fee and hotel cost.

Registration forms can be found at www.texasbar.com/tlap. For more information, please contact TLAP staff, Cameron Vann or Bree Buchanan, at 1-800-343-8527.