Editor’s note: This post was originally published on March 15, 2016.
Editor’s note: TLAP offers confidential assistance for lawyers, law students, and judges with substance use or mental health issues. Call TLAP at 1-800-343-8527 (TLAP), text TLAP to 555888, or find more information at tlaphelps.org.
I knew for some time that I might have a genetic tendency to alcoholism. My mother had warned me about it. I had two uncles that died of it. My father was an alcoholic with multiple DWIs, dating back to his 30s. My older brother also had multiple DWIs.
I was different, though.
I did not have blackouts, legal problems, DWIs. I was a controlled drinker. I drank to a certain level and then stopped. The problem was that, over time, I drank more and more, beginning sooner and stopping later, until there was a point where there was no real beginning, or ending. I went from being the controller to the controllee. But still, I had never been arrested for an alcohol-related offense—or any offense for that matter—unlike my brother and father. I had no difficulties with clients, courts, or the State Bar.
They say you have a moment of clarity. My moment came one evening after everybody had gone to bed. I went to our wet bar to sneak a drink. My 10-year-old son came walking through the den and caught me. He looked at me in the same way that, many years before, I had looked at my father. My son had the same sad, disappointed look in his eyes.
We had a mirrored wet bar. When I turned back to the bar, the reflection I saw was of my father. I was no different. Alcohol had taken over my life as it had my father’s. I could no longer deny my problem.
Did I stop drinking? I tried many times. After the death of my partner, I drank all the time to kill the pain and to cope. Ironically, my brother invited me to my first AA meeting a few months after my partner’s death. We both had been drinking. At that meeting, I heard people share personal details that I could barely acknowledge, much less talk about. There was an instant affinity.
I was not alone. My deep, dark secrets could not be bottled up anymore. I knew I was in the right place.
A fellow attorney I knew approached me after the meeting and invited me to Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers. I began attending LCL meetings in addition to AA and talking with other lawyers in recovery who were of great assistance and comfort to me. I learned how to practice law without using alcohol to cope.
After that first AA meeting, I stopped drinking. My brother did not. He could never embrace the abstinence concept. He died of alcoholism on December 25, 2007, at the age of 58, after being hospitalized several times and being told in May of that year that he would die if he continued to drink.
What did I learn from AA? Right away, I learned to not drink, one day at a time. As simple as that sounds, it was a hard practice for me. I either lived in the present or the past. I was seldom where my hands were. I learned to live in the “now.” What a concept.
I worked the steps with a sponsor. I learned how to handle a stressful life differently, calmly and sanely, and without alcohol. I soon was able to sleep through the night without being attacked by the “night wolves.” I developed a continuing sense of peace and serenity. My horizons expanded.
I am more outward focused. I have a support group and friends that are always there for me, especially when things get dark or crazy.
I now have a genuine confidence that had previously eluded me. I once believed it impossible to change. You are who you are and you die that way. I now know it is possible to change. Transformation is possible. All you need is the proper motivation, openness, and willingness and a program like AA that will work if you apply yourself.