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 am a trial lawyer. When I started practice 46 years ago, trial lawyers “were required” to work hard, play hard, and drink hard. I took great pride in not drinking until 5:01 p.m. (Well, except for a few beers with barbecue at lunch on Friday.) As a young lawyer, Johnny Walker, Jack Daniels, and I tried a lot of cases. We won some, lost some, but won our share. Trouble started when Jack Daniels became first chair. A symptom of alcoholism is denial. Say what you will, but you can’t drink until 2 a.m. and bring your A game to court at 9 a.m. I really lost control when Johnny Walker became my senior partner. My life at the office and at home started spinning out of control. But I kept drinking.
I got a wake-up call when I failed a liver test. I quit drinking for a year—really only a month—but it seemed like a year. The next liver test was normal, a high normal, but normal. Realizing that I needed to do something about my drinking, I tried two drinks a night. If you take that route, you should stay out of bars because they only give you one-and-a-half-ounce drinks. You must drink at home, and I suggest the 44-ounce Slurpee cup you can get at any 7-Eleven. As you can imagine, it wasn’t long before I failed another liver test. I went back to not drinking for a month, and it was a miserable month at that. I passed the next liver test with a high borderline normal. This time I tried drinking only on weekends and, of course, special occasions. The definition of “special occasions” quickly expanded from holidays and my birthday to win a trial, lose a trial, do a good job on a deposition, do a bad job on a deposition, do a good job answering interrogatories. I failed the next test.
This time my doctor told me I had two options: (A) stop drinking or (B) die. Wanting to show him I wasn’t a wimp, I said, “If I choose B how long will I live?” His answer stopped me cold, and I vividly remember it to this day: “If you’re lucky, not long.” Stunned, I asked, “What do you mean?” He replied, “Cirrhosis is a horrible way to die, and hopefully it will kill you quick.”
I realized that I could not control my drinking. My only option was to stop completely. I was scared to death I couldn’t stop. I was terrified. What saved me? People who loved me convinced me to get help, and I haven’t had a drink since.
Quitting drinking was the scariest thing I have ever done in my life. First, it was such a huge part of my life that I felt lost and didn’t know what to do with all this newfound time. Second, I truly believed my career was over. Who would hire a morally defective lawyer who did not have enough self-discipline to control his drinking? Again, people who loved me helped me. I started going to the gym at 5:01 p.m. When I would go to a function where everyone was drinking, people would offer me a drink. When I refused, they would ask, “You aren’t drinking?” I would nervously explain that I had a problem with alcohol. More often than not, the response was, “No kidding!”
To my surprise, my business did not suffer. In fact, I found people and clients admired me for quitting. There is probably not a family in America that has not been adversely affected by drugs or alcohol. I soon found I was a much better lawyer after firing Johnny and Jack.
I have now been sober 35 years. Had I not sought help, I would have lost my practice, lost my family, and probably be dead. If drinking has become a problem in your life, get help. Alcoholism is a progressive disease. If you are an alcoholic, you will stop drinking some day; it is better to be alive when it happens.