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.

It’s hard to remember a time when I didn’t feel uniquely awful growing up—where I felt deserving of happiness, friendship, and love. I was a weird kid growing up, which probably made the isolation feel worse. But then I discovered alcohol. And alcohol was the miracle for which I had always been searching.

With alcohol, I was the life of the party. I was friendly, charming, and handsome. With alcohol, I felt enjoyed and appreciated in ways that I didn’t think were possible. The lows were awful, but they were worth it to experience the highs—after all, the lows weren’t that much worse than the ones that I had been consistently living with.

Eventually though, the mistakes, the embarrassment, and the harm I caused others caught up with me. My first suicide attempt at 19 was a product of being unable to forgive myself, move forward, and to otherwise deal with life. For most people, that would be a wake-up call. For me, it was an excuse to lean into my drinking and escapism with full force.

For the next five years, I spent every weekend, and most weekdays, drowning myself in booze. And then I added cocaine to the mix. Cocaine was great because it allowed me to drink more than ever, but it helped me maintain the appearance of sobriety (or at least being less intoxicated). By the time I was a 3L in law school, I was binging cocaine and booze five times a week, usually in spurts of 12 hours or longer.

At the end, it didn’t matter to me who I spent time with, or how awful they made me feel, so long as I could get drunk and high and not be alone. A guy who I frequently got drunk and high with also sexually harassed me repeatedly, but he was the only one willing to get high on a Tuesday night, so it kept happening. My girlfriend at the time constantly lied to me, publicly and privately berated me, and drunkenly threw things at me, but her moments of affection were better than being alone—and I figured I could cover up the rest with alcohol and drugs, even if it made me emotionally absent. “Friends” used me as I used them. What few values, redlines, goals, and healthy relationships I had quickly took a back seat to an essentially never-ending high.

Things began to unravel as the mounting emotional turmoil began to spill over. As my relationship ended, and the nature of many of those friendships became unavoidably apparent, I reached desperation and once again attempted to take my own life. I was 27 years old. This attempt resulted in a hospital stay but even that couldn’t wake me up. I was quickly back to binging, and it took a few more months of embarrassment before I realized that something needed to change.

I checked myself into rehab, and now, approaching almost a year of sobriety, I can safely say that it was the best decision that I’ve ever made. It undoubtedly saved my life—either from the alcohol and drugs, the depression, or both. It seems corny to say, but I have my life back. I’ve been able to address my long-standing depression. I’ve reminded myself of all the loving and caring people in my life, and I have removed those who contributed either to my addiction or my depression, or both. I get to rediscover myself in a way that I would never have been able to while drinking and using. And I get to be there—really be there—for the people that matter to me.

That’s not to say it’s been easy, but it’s been worth it. I have hard days. Most people do. But it’s been so fulfilling to face life and its problems rather than to run from them like I used to. I only get one day at a time, but every day is a blessing—one that I’m acutely aware of in ways that I never thought possible. If you’re struggling, know that you’re not alone, your past does not define you, and that you can get better.