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.
I am a lawyer celebrating my first year as a solo. I am a horse trainer, a wife, a sister, and a Pinterest queen. I am also an alcoholic.
I didn’t drink until I was almost 21. Alcohol didn’t interest me. I was busy with school and my horses. None of my friends drank much, and I didn’t understand the appeal. My last year of college, I started working a service industry job and drank socially with my co-workers. Weekly. Twice a week. After a tough shift. After every other shift. Before shifts. At home. On my way home. Within months, I went from a non-drinker to a daily drinker. I genuinely believed I didn’t have a problem. Other people did it, and they were fine. The ones that overdid it, well, I wasn’t one of those people. I had a degree. I was smart. I wasn’t going to ruin my life with alcohol. I wasn’t one of those losers.
After about a year, I found myself playing “drinking games” with myself. I would bargain with myself, make promises, count cans. If I could go two days dry, I could have a day to drink. If I made it the whole week, I would reward myself with blackout drinking binges over the weekend. My plans revolved around whether or not there would be beer or wine available. I started hiding my drinking. I would have “a couple glasses of wine” at a friend’s house over dinner, then go home and drink a couple bottles. I lost my job. I told myself it had nothing to do with drinking. I lost friends. We grew apart, I said to myself. I couldn’t maintain a relationship more than a few months. I was young and wild, I told myself. I was a free spirit. I was blacking out once a week, sometimes on less than a six-pack of beer.
In October 2011, I got my first DWI. I decided to go to law school to salvage my life and make something of myself. I received a negative preliminary determination letter in my 1L year. The board thought I had a drinking problem. That was when I first learned about the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program (TLAP). It took me another two years and a second DWI to pick up the phone and call.
That first call was a nightmare. I was horrified, embarrassed, ashamed, and extremely hungover. I spoke to a woman over the phone, Cameron, and suddenly I just had to tell someone, anyone, about my terrible, impossible situation.
I know exactly what I sounded like—I’ve since heard countless nearly identical distressed dialogues at newcomer AA meetings. Cameron asked if it was all right if she gave my number to a lawyer “in recovery.” I agreed, unsure of what “in recovery” even meant. Were they going to commit me to a hospital? For being a drunk? Can I die from this? Am I the worst case they’ve ever taken?
Five minutes later, a retired attorney called my cellphone and we spoke for over an hour. I was in disbelief at what she told me. Everything I was experiencing was textbook alcoholism. She knew about the games I played with myself, because she had played them. She understood the panic, the hopelessness, the defiance, the determination to save myself and my repeated failures. I was not terminally unique. I was not suffering from some impossible, unknown, unsolvable incapacitation. I was an alcoholic. And I was treatable.
I did not get sober that day. Two months later, I took the bar and went on a three-day bender. The Sunday after the bar, I drove home sweaty, chilled, and sick. I pulled over several times to heave. I couldn’t avoid myself any longer. I couldn’t lie to myself. I couldn’t pretend I had everything under control. I had managed to get through law school and take the bar exam. I had a cute car (had to get a new one after I totaled the other ones), a great husband, and a mortgage. I had a closet full of size 2 Ann Taylor skirt suits, and I could recite the bar essay answers by heart.
I had vomit in my hair.
I managed to pull into a Half Price Books and bought a copy of the Big Book. The clerk practically threw it at me in an attempt to get me out of the store. She probably thought I was homeless. I smelled homeless. I read the book cover to cover that evening. When I finished it, I called TLAP and my mentor. I went to sleep sober that night.
I passed the bar, but I did not have a law license. Not yet. I had to prove to the board that I was serious about treating my disease. And I was serious, except for the fact that they recommended I take tests (that cost money), get a series of counseling sessions (more money), and see a psychiatrist (basically a million dollars). The list of “must do’s” seemed impossible. I didn’t have health insurance and I was tens of thousands of dollars in debt from my DWI costs, not to mention my loans were kicking in. So, I called TLAP. They offered assistance in helping me find affordable care, giving me information about grants and free programs, and gave me access to a phenomenal psychiatrist who specializes in alcoholism, anxiety, and depression in professionals. I started attending Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers meetings in my area and over the phone on Fridays. Through TLAP and the lawyers I met in the program, I was able to find AA meetings close to me. My recovery network continues to extend today.
On August 1, 2015, I woke up hungover and went to bed sober. I have two years of sobriety under my belt, a license to practice law, and I’m going to bed sober tonight.
One day at a time