Editor’s note: This is the 11th story in our 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 1-800-343-8527, and find more information at texasbar.com/TLAP.
I drank my first full beer at age 9. It was decades ago, but I remember it vividly. My parents were having a party and my childhood best friend and I stealthily looted two Coors Lights from the cooler and retreated to a back room. Fearing discovery at any moment, we drank those beers in about three gulps. Even now, I can feel the warmth and comfort that washed over me. I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular; I just felt good. I had never known such easy access to a euphoric feeling. It is not an overstatement to say I was hooked on that feeling from that day forward.
On the surface, I had every reason not to be a drug addict and an alcoholic. I came from an upper-middle-class household. My family was loving and attentive. I suffered no abuse and wanted for nothing. Outwardly, I was social and made friends easily. Inside, though, I frequently felt isolated and disconnected from my peers. Drugs and alcohol closed the gap.
By age 12 I was getting drunk and smoking marijuana regularly. Of course, I chose friends who were doing the same thing, so it seemed perfectly normal. We were just kids being kids, or so we thought. I didn’t have to worry about fitting in at social functions; our social functions all revolved around drugs and alcohol and everyone fit in. By high school, I was drunk every weekend, smoking marijuana most nights, and hungrily ingesting any other mind-altering substance I could procure. Unconsciously, I went from trying to find that familiar feeling of warmth and comfort to seeking oblivion. I had plenty of good times. I also had far more than my fair share of shame-filled mornings and confused apologies for something I said or did in the previous night’s abandon.
On the outside, I maintained the appearance of a normal and successful high school student. I was a high achiever — I had to be to have the freedom to drink and use drugs in the way I wanted to. There were hiccups, of course. I got my first DWI at 17, which seemed a terrible inconvenience at the time. A plea deal mandated six months of unsupervised probation and court-ordered counseling. The counselor told me I was an alcoholic (he wasn’t privy to the drug use) and that the only cure was to stop drinking. That notion was unfathomable to me, and I didn’t consider it for an instant. I was heading to college and was doing just fine, never mind that I couldn’t even manage to stop drinking during my probationary period.
By college my life was becoming more and more unmanageable. I was arrested for intoxication three more times, including two more DWIs. This time, I was court-ordered to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. Outside of television, it was the first time I’d heard of AA as a place where alcoholics could go to get help. I didn’t attend a single meeting but managed to be successfully discharged from probation anyway. These events did not convince me that I needed to be sober, but they did convince me that any further DWIs would mean serious consequences. The logical solution, it seemed at the time, was to lay off drinking for a while and to instead use other drugs that, while equally intoxicating, produced a less appreciable effect to the outside observer.
That was the insanity of my thinking when I began law school. By that time, although I was finally drinking less, I was physically dependent on drugs to get through the day. Ease and comfort and youthful revelry were distant memories. All that remained was a grim routine of searching high and low to find drugs while hopefully (and frequently not) leaving some time to finish the reading for the next day’s class. Up to that point, even with my addiction staring me in the face, I never wanted to be sober. But by the end of law school, I wanted nothing more than to be free of the constant and compulsive need for drugs. I just couldn’t get there.
I was still trying to manage my own affairs. I was embarrassed and afraid to ask for help. I tried moderating, quitting cold turkey, seeing a doctor for medicinal maintenance. I always ended up high again. My personal relationships and physical condition were cratering. I managed to graduate from law school and pass the bar exam, but with the wreckage I had created there was little chance that the bar would give me a license. I got a job as a law clerk but was still using drugs every day.
The end came after being up for several days using drugs. I was hallucinating and a friend called the police out of concern. Once again, I was taken to jail. When I bonded out the next day, I made two phone calls. The first was to find a fix; the second was to my family for help. I was totally broken, and had finally surrendered. I went to rehab two days later and have not had a drink or drug since.
It goes without saying that my time in rehab changed my life. For the first time since I was 12 I was open to — albeit not completely assured of — the notion that I could live a happy and fulfilling life sober. I was introduced to the 12-step programs of AA and NA (I actually attended this time around). There, I observed other addicts and alcoholics with stories similar to mine who seemed genuinely content. This was not, as I had feared, a venue for lectures and sermons from a staid group of white-knucklers, but a group of recovering addicts and alcoholics who had been to hell and lived to tell about it. They laughed, they cried, and they were honest about what their life was like before and what it was like now. Over time, through that experience, strength, and hope, I have learned how to live sober. I was able to develop a relationship with a higher power of my choosing and to be of service to my fellows.
I have been incredibly fortunate in sobriety. I was able to obtain a probationary, and subsequently a full, license to practice law. I am able to earn a living practicing this profession that I love. I have a beautiful family that has never had to see me as the addict that I was. I have had the great privilege of helping other people struggling with alcoholism and addiction.
To be sure, my life has the same challenges as everyone else’s, but I no longer need to be loaded to face them. While I can’t say exactly what would have happened if I had not finally picked up the phone and made that call for help, I can say unequivocally that it saved my life.