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 1-800-343-8527 (TLAP) and find more information at tlaphelps.org.
We lawyers are all pretty clever.
We spend our careers trying to distinguish our facts to gain an advantage in a case. At first, chasing that advantage felt exciting but, in time, it began to feel stressful, and I began to need to “take the edge off” those feelings by drinking them away. Now in my eighth year of recovery, I’m convinced that I cannot safely use drugs or alcohol to “take the edge off,” even where others safely can. By enlarging my spiritual life after getting clean and sober, I’ve been so much more joyful, peaceful, and true to myself that I don’t want to use them anymore.
If you’re scornful about that, I hear you. Until 2009, I thought “better living through chemistry” was an ideal to be practiced so that we all got the proportions right for ourselves. If I had a problem, I’d seek a doctor to solve it. This worked, until it didn’t work anymore. What I didn’t get was that I didn’t have to figure out everything by myself, and that my fears and feelings were similar to others’.
It didn’t start that way. I was naturally competitive, and an athlete most of my life. I didn’t drink or use drugs much during high school and college, but that was when I started “experimenting” because it made me feel grown up, cool, a part of something. I wasn’t afraid to talk to guys when drinking or smoking pot. If I honestly look back, I was in denial in high school when I said that I didn’t like drinking or smoking because it changed the way I felt, and I wanted to stay “sharp.” All I knew was that I didn’t want to end up like either my alcoholic grandfather or a brother then struggling with drugs.
I was successful for decades, despite some consequences. I accidentally killed the family cat the first time I drove drunk in high school. Sometimes, I blacked out or made a fool of myself. I figured that everyone drank like me.
The problem was that the problem was me. I thought I’d cleverly scaled the social ladder and the career ladder, and that I’d kept up with the Joneses, at least for right now. That, I would celebrate. However, I rarely had peace—more like fear that I was an imposter, or that I’d taken a wrong turn somewhere.
So I lived a double life. I lived how I thought you thought I should live. This made for more “taking the edge off,” or “celebrating.” I needed to look good, so I worked hard—at work, and at sports.
Then I broke my back, which changed my life.
It took a year and a half for doctors to determine I needed surgery, after which I still couldn’t play the law firm game, or sports, or most likely have children. At the end of that year, naturally I figured my life was over. I’d been on increasing doses of an opiate pain cocktail to treat my back pain, and I chose the drugs.
Although I didn’t know it at the time, this gave me the “peace” I thought I needed. I wouldn’t have to worry about those fears, those disappointments! I wouldn’t have to try hard to impress you anymore. I could just check out—and I wasn’t my grandfather or my brother because, you see, I was taking prescription medication. I needed it; they didn’t. I was different.
I learned about the disease of alcoholism and drug addiction in treatment. I wasn’t a weak person; the disease affects my reasoning and reward center, and at some point, I can no longer control how much I take. However, it’s also a spiritual malady, because I had no way to cope with life.
Ultimately, I’d tried to cope with life by using alcohol and drugs. When I heard that, I thought, “No way I’m buying into this; I’m an intellectual—spirituality is for followers, and I’m a leader. Everyone has probably overreacted.” But I had to be honest with myself and open-minded to people’s suggestions.
I quickly learned that normal people don’t need an intervention. It didn’t matter that my drugs were prescribed, that I took them according to prescription, and that I didn’t doctor shop. I didn’t have to doctor shop, because my doctor gave me all I “needed,” and over the eight years I was on those prescriptions my dosage was increasing. I also learned that drugs and alcohol weren’t working as a solution.
I decided to try recovery, because I didn’t have a better answer, and at first the successes others were experiencing kept me going, day by day. I’m learning to be true to myself and my purpose, and I get this from spiritual actions such as prayer, meditation, and helping others. Also, the power of this disease scared me. For example, a friend with whom I used to party in college recently died of liver failure.
It takes work, but so does investing, or getting into shape. Who knew the results would be amazing? Although my back still limits my activities, my life and spirit feel infinitely bigger. I stay in recovery today because I find joy in other pursuits, and in my relationships with family and friends.