Editor’s note: This post is part of the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program’s Stories of Recovery blog series. 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) and find more information at tlaphelps.org.
After interviewing to move my solo practice to another firm, I celebrated at home with a “solo” bottle of wine. I tried to share the news with my wife, but I couldn’t complete a sentence without slurring. She took a video of me on her iPhone as I tried to re-explain what I had just told her about my interviews. That was a wake-up call.
While I had long dealt with depression, matters only got worse years earlier when my then-firm closed its office and I went solo. Solo practice was not only isolating, but financially terrifying. If clients slow-paid or didn’t pay at all, the food on my table, the tax payments, mortgage, private college tuition payments, and every other bill were literally at stake, too often leaving me working paycheck to paycheck. My family asked why we had to cut the corners off the corners we had already cut even when I was working around the clock seven days a week.
I dealt with that stress by self-medicating. As a solo I had nobody to answer to, so if I drank beer through the day while writing, well surely it was okay to calm my nerves so I could get my work done.
But alcohol didn’t solve my problems. Instead, it compounded my stress, loneliness, and anxiety. When I came home, it isolated me from my family. While I was physically “there,” I was also always somewhere else, mired in self-doubt, self-pity, fear, and self-loathing. My daily goal was to make it to bedtime to start yet another Groundhog Day upon waking.
So, back to the job interview. My wife’s video was a reality check. It confirmed that my drinking wasn’t really just to dull the pain of the bad but to celebrate the good and survive the mundane. So, whatever the day brought, if it ended in the letter “y,” I drank.
I knew I needed help. No question, it was difficult for me to summon the courage to call the Texas Lawyers’ Assistance Program, or TLAP, but when I did, the staff supported and encouraged me and reassured me there was a better way and that I did not have to go through things alone. The concept of lawyers living happily and thriving without alcohol intrigued me.
After embarrassing myself in front of my son one final time, I decided to go all in. I feared attending a cliche recovery meeting, but I knew it couldn’t be worse than my then day-to-day routine. When I joined a meeting by phone and introduced myself, the group applauded me for showing up, invited me back, and offered me support, without judgment, shame, or guilt.
Recovery is hard. But so is parenting, or dieting, or preparing for trial, or, quite simply, being a human being who is alive. In hindsight, I had put in an awful lot of “hard work” digging myself into a position where I had become a mental and physical train wreck. Now I am committed to investing the same energy to turning things around. The bottom line is that there are so many people out there just like me and just like you, who have suffered through the same experiences, and who have good advice, insights, and suggestions to help. We are everywhere— at the courthouse, the grocery store, the doctor’s office, stuck in traffic, or anywhere else you can imagine. The sad fact is that statistics bear that out. We are not pariahs but just humans who need help and help each other.
TLAP helped me find the courage to reach out and find a better and much more fulfilling way of life. My family life, health, and practice have improved dramatically after receiving help freely offered to me from absolute strangers who gave me no judgment or criticism but only support. Many have had it far worse than I could ever imagine, and I respect them so much for their courage and strength—they inspire me every day. If you think there is no hope, then I will boldly tell you that you are dead wrong. I hope you find the courage to make that first life-altering call. There is an army out there to help you once you do so and a whole new life that will be more rewarding than you could ever imagine.