Editor’s note: This story is part of the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program’s “Stories of Recovery” series. TLAP 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.
If you’d told me I would look better and be happier at 40 than I had been at 30, I would have laughed, said you were nuts, and poured another drink. On my 30th birthday, my husband threw me a surprise party. Our then 3-year-old daughter squealed and screamed as I dropped a few F-bombs at the surprise. It was the most wonderful thing he’d ever done for me and I was beyond happy. Thirty felt pretty awesome and looked pretty good from the outside.
But, I was also a drunk. Not the “under-the-bridge” kind of drunk—though I understand it is the same disease. I was the “mommy-needs-a-drink-to-get-through-bedtime” kind of drunk. I drank every day for many years, except when I was pregnant. I never lost a job or case or got arrested because of my drinking. I don’t say that as if that’s some sort of accomplishment and not dumb luck or the grace of God. The way I was drinking, there is no question that my alcoholism played a part in ending my marriage.
In recovery, we are taught to focus on “our part” in situations and problems. Since we can only be responsible for ourselves, we look to our behaviors and actions when we are troubled. That requires me to be rigorously honest about the effect of my drinking on my ex-husband and children. While many of my friends and family would tell you I was, and am, a wonderful mother, I was still an alcoholic who could not control or stop my drinking. That all changed in the summer of 2014 when my partner of 18 years—my soul mate, my best friend, and the father of my two beautiful children—said what I feared the most.
“I don’t love you anymore and I’ll never love you again.”
I know I have a higher power because the next words out of my mouth were divinely inspired and I didn’t believe a word.
“Well, I’m lovable. Don’t waste any more of my [expletive] time.”
In the days that followed his pronouncement, I only raised my voice once. I screamed at him, “Words have consequences. Don’t ever forget that you did this!”
The truth was that his words were a consequence of a growing divide between us. I had grown so dependent on alcohol, I wouldn’t make dinner before at least two drinks. Then, by the time we’d all eaten, I was too loaded to bother with the dishes or other chores. He had asked me to go to couples counseling but I’d refused, insisting that if he was unhappy, it wasn’t my issue. I was in deep denial of the effects of my drinking, and I was lost in a pit of self-loathing only another alcoholic or addict can fathom.
I picked up the phone two days later and called the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program (TLAP). I couldn’t eat or sleep and I couldn’t seem to stop crying. I was in an emotional crisis that was quickly becoming physical shock. Cameron, with TLAP, took my call and became like a fairy godmother to me that day.
“I’m an alcoholic and I don’t know what to do,” I said.
“Do you think or do you know?” she asked.
“I know. I’ve known for a long time.”
“Then the first thing you need to know is that you are not alone,” she reassured me.
Hearing those words unleashed a new wave of sorrow and I felt something within me crack. My recovery started right there with the miracle of desperation. A sudden and urgent self-awareness saved my life. I knew without a doubt that I could fall into a bottle and never come out. I knew that if I dove into alcohol for this type of pain, I would not only kill myself, but I would harm my children irreparably.
Any fear of chemical withdrawal was moot as I realized there was no way it could possibly hurt worse. I told myself I might as well quit drinking. I do not recommend this approach, however, and would encourage anyone suffering from physical withdrawal from any substance to seek professional medical attention immediately!
People talk about “hitting rock bottom” in a lot of contexts and it means different things for different people. For me, I was brought to my knees by the fact that my husband loved someone else and “just wanted out.”
I was spiritually and emotionally bankrupt. My identity and self-worth were completely tied to my relationship with him. We’d known each other our whole lives. I was a codependent alcoholic with terribly low self-esteem. The depth of my heartbreak was my greatest gift in recovery, though. I was willing to surrender completely and admit, without reservation, that I was powerless and my life had become unmanageable.
The willingness to ask for help, find other recovering lawyers in a Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers (LCL) group, and own my own baggage have been the keys to a successful divorce and beginning a life in recovery. None of it has been easy, but it is the best thing that could have happened for all of us. The marriage was toxic, I was sick, and the kids deserved better.
Where am I today, over 400 days after he uttered those fateful words? I am about to turn 40 and I’ve lost 40 pounds. I’m letting my gray hair come in naturally because I’ve proudly earned every strand. I have an embarrassment of riches in the form of friends and loved ones. I am more fulfilled in my practice than I’ve ever been. My children and I are a team, facing life together one day at a time.
And, I’m in love with myself and my higher power, as I understand Him. I heard once that we don’t ever have to raise our children alone. We are always understaffed for the job of parenthood, whether we are single or coupled. I’ve learned to rely on my family, friends, and my HP every day to stay sober, stay connected, and live my best life.
If you are facing your own version of rock bottom, trust me when I tell you that you are not alone. You need never be isolated in your suffering unless you choose to be. Dig deep and find the courage to reach out.
Call the TLAP hotline. Say the words you’ve been too terrified to say to someone who can help. Embrace the miracle of desperation, surrender, and start a journey of recovery for yourself and the people who love you.