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.
My first experience with alcohol at age 13 should have been as good a deterrent as any. A friend and I consumed three quarters of a bottle of 40-proof liquor in about an hour. It wasn’t long before we were both sick. I didn’t drink for years after that.
Alcohol re-entered my life at age 18 or 19, when my buddies and I would run around the music clubs trying not to get discovered for being under 21. Drinking and driving never seemed like much of a problem and I am thankful I never hurt anyone. As my 20s rolled on, I was drinking more and more and cocaine found its way into my life. Years would go by when I couldn’t think of a day when I wasn’t intoxicated, high, or both. But through it all, I was able to work, get an undergraduate degree, and (mostly) maintain friendly and romantic relationships.
I hadn’t always wanted to be a lawyer. I grew up around them and didn’t see much need for yet another lawyer in the world. But when my dad, who was a criminal defense attorney, passed away suddenly, a voice in my life that would have talked me out of law school was gone. It was either law school or business school, and I always enjoyed explaining more than I did selling.
In hindsight, my problems with alcohol and drugs began far before I walked into my 1L year. I had dabbled in trying to get sober but nothing ever worked, in part, because I thought I had all the answers. But the minute I walked into law school, I foolishly believed that I was there to “drink like a lawyer.” And I did.
For most, entering law school is a time to buckle down and get serious. For me, it was an invitation to live off student loans, make it to class every once in a while, and drink or party my way into notoriety.
It’s easy to be the fun guy during your 1L year. Everyone is getting to know everyone else and there’s a real sense of “us against the world” with your fellow section mates. I was always the first one at the bar in the afternoon and usually one of the last out, unless I left early to go score more drugs.
It shouldn’t have been a surprise when I ended up at the bottom of the class after my first semester. I managed to move up the class ladder a few positions in my second semester, but not by much. All the while I was partying harder and harder and isolating myself more and more. I actually thought I was getting good at balancing the rigors of my law school caseload and activities all while my addictions made me feel like a train speeding toward a brick wall.
While I had heard about the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program (TLAP) during 1L orientation, I first sought help for my addiction problems through the school psychological services clinic. I knew I had a problem, but I also was going to be the one to dictate how that problem got solved.
Based on my drinking and drug use, it was suggested that I go to inpatient rehab. I ardently refused, thinking that I would be kicked out of law school if I took 30 days off for rehab. Instead, I went to a few more counseling sessions and paid lip service until they figured there wasn’t anything else they could do to help me. It was during this time that I also finally reached out to TLAP, but I wouldn’t appreciate their full potential in my recovery until later.
It’s hard to describe the loneliness I felt during my third year of law school. I’d taken to spending all of my time either in my apartment drinking and using, or at school trying to maintain the responsibilities I had taken on. Things got worse and worse and it became apparent I wouldn’t be graduating at the same time as my classmates. I also wouldn’t be spending my summer studying for the bar exam.
I celebrated all of this by getting a DWI in May 2014. Looking back, I couldn’t have asked for a greater gift. The Board of Law Examiners told me I’d need to have a character and fitness hearing before they determined if I was going to be allowed to get a law license. My pretrial services officer pushed me to go to intensive outpatient treatment, which didn’t work. And that led me into inpatient rehab at the end of 2014. I walked out of rehab just before New Year’s Eve 2014 surrounded by the “pink cloud” of sobriety, fully expecting that the world would hand itself to me now.
But then that’s the funny thing about getting sober. While there is great pride in working to overcome your addictions, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have to deal with the residual effects of years of addiction. I soon found out that I would be dealing with a large set of residual effects before I could get my law license: passing the Texas Bar Exam, graduating law school, and humbly persuading the Board of Law Examiners that I did, in fact, have the requisite character and fitness to be a practicing attorney in Texas.
Well, the bar exam took four tries and two years, but I finally passed. And I finally graduated from law school. And after two years of continuous sobriety while I studied for and took those bar exams, I am eternally grateful that the Board of Law Examiners saw fit to allow me a law license.
I’ve been a practicing attorney for a little over a year now. The stresses that I was told came with practicing law are all there. And recovery is not always easy, but going to meetings, working with a sponsor, and utilizing the incredible resources and people at TLAP have provided me with a firm foundation to maintain my sobriety.