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.
Law school made me an alcoholic, or to be fair to law school, it was during law school that I crossed over to alcoholism. In college, I used to drink on weekends and sometimes got drunk. But I could decide when I wanted to get drunk. In law school, drinking was a major social component of my life and was a good way to relax and unwind from the stress of the day. But I began to lose the power of choice in terms of my drinking—I got drunk when I did not intend to, and I started to drink to black out, embarrassing my friends and myself.
I graduated, passed the bar, practiced law, got married, went into academia, had children, published articles, and received promotions and tenure all while I was still an active alcoholic. I was a “functioning” alcoholic and was able to practice my profession, attend church, volunteer in many community activities, and still be a good spouse and parent, or so I thought. I needed a drink desperately every day when I got home though, and after that, I might or might not remember the evening. I was not “present” for most of my adult life, and I was depressed, anxious, and angry at home.
Being in academics, I “audited” 12-step programs for many years before I got sober. I knew there was a problem, but being a well-educated person, I thought I could think, reason, or study my way to a solution. I attended hundreds of meetings and read dozens of books, but I could not deal with the reality that the only solution to my problem was to stop drinking.
For me, the crisis came when my spouse decided that our marriage was over. I very much loved my spouse and our life together. I could not imagine not seeing my children every day, nor splitting up the life we had built together. But we separated. I started to attend 12-step meetings and began the long journey to sobriety.
I committed to that program of recovery and particularly came to love and respect the people in our local legal professionals group. I went to the weekly meetings and found people who understood my problem, including the incredulity and pain of asking oneself, How did a smart and talented person like me get here? I have a good job, a nice home and family, and I am an active and productive member of the community. How can I be an alcoholic? I met lawyers like me, personable and functional, yet defeated by their addictions and depression. That first year I also attended the annual Texas Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers convention and found even more attorneys who shared my problem—and showed me that a solution was possible.
After a year sober, my life, objectively, was good, but I was separated and getting divorced. I cried every day and began to suffer from thoughts of suicide. I could not sleep and felt that everyone, except possibly my children, would be better off without me. I still had enough sense to realize that I really did not want to kill myself, so I began seeing a psychiatrist and counselor and started on a true road to recovery.
Since that time, now several years ago, I have come to realize that I used alcohol to treat my underlying problems of anxiety and depression. When the alcoholic “medicine” was removed from my system, it was important to get professional treatment since the 12-step program alone could not treat the mental health problems I had. I also now understand that depression is not a “character defect” or personality flaw that can be removed by prayer, service to others, or efforts of will. Depression, like alcohol, can be a sneaky and lifelong disease that needs to be treated and monitored.
Today my life is good. I remarried, my first spouse and I remained friends, and we did a great job raising two wonderful children. I have true friends, and I have my career and it has thrived. I go to meetings regularly and reconnect with friends at the annual Texas LCL conference.
I still have problems, insecurities, worries, and occasionally, a really bad day. However, I now know the difference between a genuine problem and an inconvenience. I value my friends and family and am actually there for them, rather than passed out on the couch or lying in bed with a hangover. Best of all, the future is something I look forward to.