Editor’s note: TLAP offers confidential assistance for lawyers, law students, and judges with substance use or mental health issues. Call or text TLAP at 1-800-343-8527 (TLAP) or find more information at tlaphelps.org.
A DWI is the best thing that ever happened to me. I’m not saying I would do it over again if I had the chance—and there is no way to justify that behavior—but getting a DWI put me on the path toward sobriety and toward becoming a lawyer.
I had been sober for periods of time before, but I was smart, talented, eloquent, and capable. I could figure out anything else by myself, and I could figure out the drinking thing on my own just like everything else. Me “figuring things out” resulted in increased consequences and consumption.
I had to retain a lawyer to handle the arrest. This was the first time I’d ever seen what a lawyer did. I didn’t come from a family of professionals, and I was under the impression the only lawyers in town were the ones in the phone book. I watched this person navigate the courtroom, speak the legal jargon, and negotiate deals with an effortless confidence. That, the effortless confidence, was what alcohol gave me when I first started drinking, and what it promptly took away in the drunks to come.
I served my probation, took my classes, and started attending law school on a bicycle. At that time I would have told you, “I’ll be sober forever,” and I would have meant it. As life does, it stacked up and got busier. I saw success, swapped my bike for a car, became a dad. Before I knew it, the life I thought I had no chance at when I got the DWI was mine. Despite my past, I was able to sit for the bar, get my license, and help solve other people’s problems. It’s in moments like these, where I feel successful and powerful, that I am at my weakest.
I can’t blame it on the failed marriage, the lackluster beginning of a career, or anything else. Those things didn’t help though. I started drinking again because I was disconnected from people, felt powerful, and convinced myself that “I can just figure this out on my own” again.
When I finally walked into a Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers AA meeting, I was willing to do anything to stay sober. The day before walking in, I wasn’t willing to go to the meeting because it might damage my career, my reputation in the community. But it is not much of a career or reputation to worry about when you drink the way I used to.
People come to sobriety for a variety of reasons—to stop drinking, to appease the powers that be, to convince themselves they’ve got it under control. Being sober has been so much more than those things in my experience. A college teacher of mine said, “The opposite of addiction is community.” My anecdotal evidence supports his position. The community I found has become my family. They’re whom I turn to when things are going bad and even more so when they’re going good. I came in asking how to stop drinking, but they taught me how to be a good man, how to heal from the abuse of an ex-spouse, how to file a mandamus, and how to stride with confidence (even if it’s effortful).
There are people who are here to help. You don’t have to wait until you’re miserable, on the brink of insanity, to reach out. No one is helpless. You are worth it.