Editor’s note: This post 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 tlaphelps.org.
I was raised by hardworking and loving parents in a large Mexican-American family. My parents provided for eight children the best they could, including sending us to private Catholic elementary and high schools. I took advantage of the educational opportunities, studied hard, and exceled academically. By age 25 I had undergraduate and law degrees from prestigious universities, and I was working as an associate at a major national law firm. At age 25, I was also drinking alcoholically.
I began drinking in my late teens because it was fun. In college and law school, drinking was not only a social pastime; it also helped assuage feelings of social awkwardness and inadequacy. Being an ethnic minority and a young, closeted gay man heightened my feelings of being apart, particularly in the mainstream academic and professional communities I inhabited.
Alcohol also appeared to relieve, at least temporarily, the stress, pressures, and worries associated with working as a lawyer. Although all of these social and environmental factors may have influenced my drinking patterns, I believe I was physiologically predisposed to alcohol addiction. Uncles, great uncles, and cousins had also been afflicted.
A prominent symptom of alcoholism for me was drinking to the point of blacking out, something I began experiencing shortly after first beginning to drink alcohol. I drank on weekends, and when I did drink I could never predict the blackouts. These blackouts caused many harrowing experiences.
One such experience occurred while studying and living in Europe during my junior year in college. I had travelled to Munich, Germany one weekend, attended Oktoberfest, drank to the point of blacking out, and woke up, dejected, in the Munich train station on a Sunday morning. Suffice it to say that alcoholism and blackouts brutalized my body, mind, and spirit for years before I hit bottom and recovered. Somehow, someway, I escaped some of the direst consequences of alcoholism, and I also succeeded in school and at work.
At age 31 when I first attended a recovery step meeting, I found it challenging to identify with being alcoholic. I was then a hardworking public defender representing indigent individuals, many of whom were alcoholics, addicts, or affected by serious and tragic events due to alcoholism and addiction. The ingrained and main image I had of an alcoholic was that of a homeless person with a grocery cart, living under a bridge, wearing soiled and tattered clothing.
I, on the other hand, was a well-educated, smart, and accomplished young lawyer. I had never been arrested, fortunately not even for DWI. I was gainfully employed by a prestigious public agency. Etcetera, etcetera. I did not fit the stereotypical image of an alcoholic.
Another challenge was the shame and guilt I felt about my alcoholism. I thought I was stricken with alcoholism due to my bad behavior—chronic excessive drinking—and because morally I was a bad person. I hated and condemned myself for this.
I finally hit bottom at age 33. I blacked out for the last time one early December Friday night. I was very depressed and fearful, and felt my world was coming to an end, but I must have had a glimmer of hope. I understood, in my heart, that if I continued to drink I would die an untimely and tragic death. I became open minded, willing and ready for recovery. Yes, I, a well-educated, smart, and accomplished lawyer, was powerless over alcohol.
Slowly, I overcame feelings of guilt or shame about having alcoholism. Nor do I now condemn myself for it. Alcoholism, having the disease itself, is not a moral failing. I am and have always been a very good person.
I have met good people from all walks of life, of diverse races, ethnicities, and religions, educated and not, rich and poor, gay and straight, who are recovering alcoholics. Alcoholism is a disease that does not discriminate based on any of these factors, particularly not based on one’s education or profession.
Recovery and healing from alcoholism is also on an equal opportunity basis. I am grateful for this and for my recovery.