Editor’s note: 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) or find more information at tlaphelps.org.
On the good days, I just felt like I was going to throw up at the courthouse. On the bad days, I would excuse myself from the prosecutor’s room, go to the private bathroom stall next to the jury room and kneel on the cold floor in my skirt suit to vomit the hangover out. I would return with a cup of the bailiff’s coffee in a Styrofoam cup to try to mask the odor and have an excuse for my periodic absence. I white-knuckled it for eight hours until I got in my car and headed home to start drinking all over again. I thought the alcohol was a present that I gave myself, a much-needed vacation, overdue self-care, some quality me-time from the 200-deep trial docket, the tense moments as a single mom to a toddler and the excruciating nights and weekends when said toddler was at my ex-husband’s house. Happy hour me deserved the wine-soaked respite from the stress. Next morning me was in for it though, as was any sad fool who had to face angry, hungover me at court.
Addiction starts slowly and with a smile before it turns on you. In college, I thought I just liked to party as much as the next guy. But considering my friend group during that time, it turns out the “next guy” got kicked out of school for his second controlled substance offense, or was forced to go to rehab by his parents, or dropped out to go sell pot full time. In law school, I somehow managed to handily compare myself to others around me and conclude that my drinking was normal. Then came the world of real world criminal lawyering with its gallows humor and swagger; where victory is wrested from the jaws of defeat in tall trial tales that are told over drinks and laughter.
I never wanted to stop drinking when the happy hour ended, when the party was over, when all of the other wedding guests left. I tried to minimize the impact of my drinking to myself and others and took measures to hide how much I drank from those around me. I was miserable and angry all the time. I didn’t want to stop drinking because it was the only coping mechanism with which I was acquainted. I was in denial about how severely I was affected by depression which had plagued me on and off throughout my adult life, but had become severe and dangerous around the time my daughter was born. I could have tried therapy in earnest instead of just remaining guarded on the rare occasions I saw a counselor. I could have tried talking to people about my pain, but was afraid to show any weakness—and that’s what I believed being honest about emotions was—even to friends. Instead, I doubled-down on my drinking and its accompanying swaggering facade.
By the time I realized I had a problem, I couldn’t find a way out of the hole I’d dug for myself. Drinking had started out as my daily mental vacation, my medicine, and solace. Before I knew it I couldn’t stop. At night, before falling asleep while the room spun around my wine-soaked head, I’d started praying to whatever god was listening to help me stop drinking. I’d wake up in the morning and start fantasizing about getting off work to drink again. This cycle continued for almost a solid year until my prayers were answered.
When the cops pulled up to my totaled car, I knew I’d be arrested, publicly shamed, and lose my career. The only word that can describe how I felt when I realized all of that is “relief.” It was finally over. I’d been praying for help to stop drinking and the answer to that prayer came in the form of a wrecked Hyundai and handcuffs. God is funny like that.
Upon learning of my arrest, an old drinking buddy of mine from law school who had a decade sober contacted me and asked if I wanted some help. I was finally ready to be humble and honest and accept help. He put me in touch with the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program, or TLAP, and I learned about the Lawyers Concerned For Lawyers, or LCL, meetings. I was accustomed to being extremely guarded around lawyers and was afraid to show myself, my “weakness” to folks who I could run into at the courthouse. What I found at those meetings was a gift like no other. I found other lawyers who bravely showed me how to be vulnerable by sharing their own experiences and by showing their emotions, even their sadness and fear. I learned from the people in those rooms how to live honestly and freely. I can now wake up in the morning without shame or hangovers. I can be present with my daughter and kind to my coworkers and enjoy living in the moment instead of waiting for a chance to erase the day away with alcohol. The lawyers who are part of TLAP and LCL have given me the courage and the comfort that have kept me going and kept me sober one day at a time.