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.
There is no doubt that I am an alcoholic, and there is no doubt that I was an actively drinking alcoholic for years but didn’t recognize or admit it. It did great damage to my life and the lives of those around me. So how could it be that I, a longtime successful trial lawyer handling complex cases for national and international companies, could have failed to see or understand this crucial fact that is now so obvious to me and to those around me?
There were several reasons. The first reason was shame. My father was loving and attentive, but he was, for all of his adult life, a man who suffered from raging alcoholism. Although he was relatively successful professionally, his drinking did most certainly wreck his life. He was arrested and jailed many times for public drunkenness and DWI, all of which caused me great shame and embarrassment. I was never going to be like him, i.e. an alcoholic. On an intellectual level I knew that alcoholism was a disease, but on an emotional and psychological level, I felt it would be shameful for me to be an alcoholic. There was a lot of nonsense in this, but it was a powerful conviction that drove my actions for many years.
A second reason was that I was afraid that if I admitted I was an alcoholic, it would seriously damage my career—the precise opposite of what actually happened. But more about that a little later.
A third, and maybe the most important, reason was that I did not want to quit drinking. While I was composed and confident on the outside, inside it was a very different story. I was insecure and riddled with anxiety, and alcohol was what I used to banish my fears and quiet my ever-increasing anxieties. Suggesting to me that I should give up alcohol would be like suggesting to a man in deep water who cannot swim and is holding on to a life preserver that he should let go of the life preserver and try to make it on his own. It was out of the question.
Another less important but still significant reason I didn’t want to quit drinking was that I couldn’t imagine what life would be like without alcohol. I thought that being sober and being around sober people would be boring.
It turns out that, in fact, my life is much richer and more interesting than when I was drinking. As far as boredom is concerned, when I achieved a degree of sobriety and was around a group of people drinking heavily, I found out what real boredom was. There are few things more tiresome than to be around people who are drinking heavily. But I didn’t know that then.
Not only is it clear that alcoholism is a disease, it is a disease that is permanent, progressive, and ultimately fatal unless addressed. It would be a form of insanity for someone who has the disease to drink alcohol. So what was my solution? It was simple. I just didn’t admit that I was an alcoholic. That way I wouldn’t have to quit drinking.
The looniness of my way of thinking on that subject still baffles me. It is just like people who have some other serious disease—multiple sclerosis, for example—simply refusing to admit they have the disease, reasoning that then they won’t be harmed. Plus, I truly believed that I could control and moderate my drinking if I tried hard enough.
I thought I was giving up valuable ground if I admitted I was an alcoholic, but I was doing no such thing. If I was alcoholic and admitted it, I was an alcoholic. If I denied it, I was still an alcoholic. The only difference was that in the former case I would have been able to see that I needed to take meaningful steps to arrest the disease. Even though alcoholism is a permanent and progressive disease, it is one that can be brought and kept under control if the person will take a few simple steps. The steps are simple, but not easy.
The first and most crucial step is purely internal; it is for the person to admit that he or she cannot control his or her drinking. This is where I went so wrong. I knew that I drank too much, but I truly believed that if I were careful, I could drink like a normal person and control my drinking. I even bought a Breathalyzer so I could stop drinking before I was legally intoxicated. Really. I’m not making that up. Question: How many normal drinkers do you know who have bought their own Breathalyzer? Alas it didn’t work, and my drinking continued to increase.
Though it is hard to believe that I could persist in this grotesque delusion, it is exactly what happened to me and what happens to practically every person who has contracted the disease of alcoholism. Maybe not the part about buying a Breathalyzer, but every one of us has gone through amazing, almost unbelievable, self-delusion. And my persisting in drinking severely damaged me and my family. Would that I had understood much earlier that I had contracted the disease, because if I had truly understood that I was alcoholic, I would have known what to do. And what would that have been?
It would have been to seek help, help of exactly the kind that the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program offers. It is of paramount importance to understand that recovery without help is extremely difficult, if not impossible, whereas recovery with help is quite doable.
And what is successful recovery? For me it is living without alcohol and not missing it at all. Really. I’m not making that up, either. Before I entered my life of recovery, I could not imagine living without alcohol; now I’m genuinely happy to have it out of my life. My belief that alcohol was necessary for me was just one more of the illusions I entertained that turned out to be the precise opposite of reality.
Remember when I mentioned my fear of career damage? Well, what I found was that the group of people with whom I found help were some of the most intelligent, successful, and supportive men and women I have known, including many, many prominent lawyers, judges, and law school professors. Not only did entering into recovery from alcoholism not harm my career, it helped it greatly.
I wish I had understood earlier. I’m glad I finally did.