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.
Sometimes I am insecure explaining how I became an alcoholic. I felt like I should have had all these reasons to drink heavily, for so long. It reminds me of when Steve Buscemi in“Con Air” refers to how a person ends up a convicted felon: “Name your cliché. Mother held him too much, or not enough. Last picked at kickball, late-night sneaky uncle. Whatever.”
Well, I think back to this quote because I used to wonder when I got sober what was so wrong with me or my childhood. What led me to this place that I considered to be my personal hell? Fortunately, I didn’t grow up in an abusive home or have anything near traumatic happen in my younger years. I felt very loved and cared for. I even grew up in the church and attended church schools all of my life.
So, what went wrong?
I don’t think much of anything went wrong, and I can’t blame anyone. Alcoholism doesn’t discriminate. And while I do think I have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism, I strongly believe I would have developed this progressive illness anyway with my frequent use and abuse. I just didn’t recognize it, or want to anyway.
Alcohol was my drug of choice from an early age. I experimented with my first few beers at age 14, sneaking it at an adult function, and I knew exactly at that moment why adults drank. I couldn’t wait for another opportunity to have fun in this way.
In high school and college, all of my friends liked to overdrink, too, so I didn’t think of myself as abnormal. I guess I thought it was something I would eventually outgrow. And as long as I made good grades, kept up a good appearance, had good relationships, and was doing what I was supposed to do to look great on the outside, then I didn’t have to worry.
Looking back on that time, though, I wasn’t keeping up super-great appearances. I had the most horrible hangovers, some minor legal trouble, and often couldn’t show up for people or class. My biggest problem was that I never blamed alcohol, though. I always just thought I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I made resolutions to try harder the next time I drank.
My senior year in college was when I started to really see more red flags. The “brownouts” began and anxiety and insecurity started to haunt me after my binges. I destroyed a four-year relationship with the man I thought I was going to marry because of alcohol, and I was crushed. So then, I didn’t only drink to have fun. I drank because I was depressed and was depressed because I drank.
One day, I decided to take one of those “How do you know if you’re an alcoholic?” tests. Sadly enough, I thought if I had some boxes still unchecked that I did not need to worry about my drinking. So, I didn’t worry and went on my way. I graduated college, moved to Houston, and focused on starting my adult life.
I’m sure it was unsettling for most people during this transition period to adulthood, but I was especially lost. I decided to go to law school as a suggestion from my father. I didn’t believe in myself and didn’t know how to deal with the pressure. I had goals and dreams that I wanted to achieve, but instead of cutting back on my drinking needs to meet my goals, I started cutting back on my goals to meet my drinking needs. So, I had quit law school after a month.
My next grand idea was to work as a legal recruiter. I remember trying to drink responsibly during the events and get my work done, but the moment it was over I would lose my governor and drink like I did in college. On one occasion a summer associate had to drive my car home for me from the event because I was drunk. Not only that, but I almost lost that job due to my inability to show up on time after those night events as well as excessive sick days.
I became more depressed. A psychiatrist suggested I quit drinking for 30 days and see if my life improved. Those 28 days (not 30, mind you) I made it brought back some sunshine again. I decided to quit that job and re-enrolled in law school. I made a decision that in order to succeed in law school I would start part-time, get serious during the week, and return to being a weekend-only partier.
That seemed to work for a while. Then, in the fall, my life trajectory changed. I became pregnant. My new plan was to get married, have a healthy baby, study hard, finish school, pass the Bar, and go from there. Did I mention I had another baby during spring break before I graduated? I would still over-drink at social events when I could get away with it, but I was so busy that it was a majorly difficult undertaking now. However naively though, I didn’t know my illness was progressing, nor did I ever think I would earn myself a seat in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous.
After I passed the Bar, I decided to put a career on hold and be a stay-at-home mom. I didn’t have a job to go to every day, so I was less accountable to people. The kids eventually started school, so then my idle time became a devil’s workshop. It was the beginning of the end.
I drank because I craved it, physically and emotionally. When I continued to drink, I would add more things to my remorse/shame list, which made me want to drink more to bury those feelings. It became a vicious cycle. I began hiding my drinking and the behavior that comes with that, but alcohol makes you so careless, neglectful, anxious, sick, and depressed that people closest to me started dropping hints that they were worried about me.
I tried every trick in the book to not be an alcoholic. The biggest hint for me was that I could never keep promises to myself. However, I still hadn’t convinced myself I needed to quit drinking because I never drank in the morning or every day. My car was still in the driveway, I had money in my bank account, my family still loved me, and I managed to be a decent mom. I still had a lot to be grateful for.
My consequences became worse as the months went on, though. I started compromising my values. I started ending up in strange places. I started doing things I never would do sober. On a good night, I still would have black or brownouts followed by a day or two of sickness, depression, anxiety, and alcohol on my breath or coming out my pores the next day. I developed so much fear and a little paranoia. It was horrible.
But it wasn’t my ending up in the hospital on Christmas Day, a failed marriage to a wonderful man, or stints at rehab that led to my recovery. It was not because I looked into my sweet children’s eyes and wanted a healthy, present mother for them, and not after tarnishing my reputation in social circles. It was because one day I looked into the mirror and I hated myself. I couldn’t live with alcohol anymore and I couldn’t live without it. I wanted to stop all this madness, but I didn’t know how. My shame, guilt, and depressive feelings made me feel like life wasn’t worth living anymore.
Finally, a lightbulb went off that I should go to an AA meeting. It was intimidating but I made myself go. The people embraced me with love when they found out I was a newcomer. The moment I heard people share, I just knew I had this diagnosis. I identified so much with the feelings of desperation and wanted the laughter and happiness that these sober people had. They seemed to have made this difficult decision to become sober, deal with life as it came, and rely on God and each other to help one another stay sober and get through good and bad times.I was fascinated by the stories of restoration, and I so wanted sobriety. It seemed like such a better life.
That first meeting, I heard the people share about things I did and feelings I had had, too. Someone told me that I never had to drink again. I loved the sound of that. I finally didn’t feel so alone.
I decided that I wouldn’t drink, but what I didn’t clue in on is it is just not about not drinking if I wanted to be happy, joyous, and free. You replace your isolative, lonely drinking with a fellowship and spiritual program that keeps you from needing or wanting to drink. You work spiritual steps to free yourself from the past but also to help you become a better person in sobriety. You continue to go to meetings. There are phone calls to be made and a sponsor to be had. You help other alcoholics. The changes take time and it hurts sometimes to live life on life’s terms.
I wish I had listened to my own advice because I drank again about 20 more times after I intellectually knew all of this. I knew I wanted sobriety, but there was a selfish side of me that could not say no to alcohol when my feelings felt intolerable. I had so much fear and shame about the things I was doing, but I was terrified of the stigma of being an alcoholic.
It says in the book that alcohol is a cunning, baffling, and powerful disease. Even after gaining a year of sobriety I was called back to it, but I didn’t give up. I picked myself up after a bad relapse and got back on that horse. I threw myself into more meetings, more step-work, more prayer, more service, and more literature. I got to know people and tried to relate to them and see what helped them. I started praying more. I started taking it one day at a time.
Quitting drinking has been the most challenging thing I have ever done and thing I am most proud of. Alcoholism is a progressive, fatal disease, and only God and AA give me the strength to not pick up a drink.
During the time I was trying to stay sober and enjoying my sober life, I lost my best friend to alcoholism. It was the most scary, heart-wrenching thing to watch someone lose their battle to addiction, slowly. I now realize that drinking isn’t an option for me. I will have to work this my entire life and not let my guard down, but it is the only solution if I want to be the kind of person I want to be. It is the kind of life that God wants me to live, and I am better in every way for it.
I so enjoy this life, being present, what I hear in meetings, the new and old friendships. Happiness has truly become a byproduct of right living. I married a sober man, and we blended our family in sobriety. Life and relationships don’t come without challenges, but I can say now that I believe I’m a loving, present, and committed wife and mother, reliable friend and loved one, confident female, capable lawyer, grateful servant to others and, best of all, a forgiven child of God who got a second chance.
Alcohol managed to destroy my life from the inside out and then the outside in, but it also led me to a greater purpose. I love who I am today, and I get to go share my story and give other alcoholics hope. I can’t imagine living the way I used to live. I’m so grateful I quit drinking and started living.