I grew up fairly normally. I did well in school and sports-not the best, but near the top. I had friends and even some girlfriends. I was essentially shy, and I would be so nervous going out on a date I would freeze up. I couldn’t eat for fear I would do something wrong (e.g., spill food, dribble or commit some other faux pas). When I had my first drinks, I was at a party and all of a sudden I wasn’t shy or nervous. I became the life of the party. I knew I was onto something special. I didn’t drink often, only a few times in high school since I was busy with school, sports, guitar and other activities and didn’t have much time or opportunity to drink. In university I drank more often but still only on occasions like dances or parties, where I would need to loosen up to be able to meet girls, dance, sing, tell jokes and “have fun”. I had some problems, but nothing that couldn’t be dismissed as “boys being boys”.
When I got to law school, my drinking increased. It seemed pretty normal. Now I drank not only to party, but to fit in, to be cool, to be part of the crowd and because it was there and there were plenty of people to drink with. I did pretty well in first year, and it is not coincidental that my marks dropped each year as my drinking increased. I justified the increased drinking by saying, “I’m working hard, and law school is boring; I am only waiting to get out and work.” Mostly, though, I drank because it was fun. I loved to drink, and I loved to get drunk. I even drank alone, occasionally. After everyone else had gone home, I’d sometimes continue on. I would deny that I drank alone, if asked; after all, I always started out with others. I also would have denied that I drank in the morning; those weekend mornings when we were on a road trip didn’t count. I would have denied it affected my schooling, even though my marks kept going down and I wrote one exam in third year while still drunk. I kept telling myself I didn’t have a problem.
When I got out of university, I loved articling and working as a lawyer. However, I remember, while articling, having moments of being overwhelmed by the magnitude of life. There would be no new school year to start over fresh and no new season to start again. There appeared to be a continuous, unending struggle ahead of me. I’d have to keep performing and measuring up. After a few drinks I felt okay, great in fact. The fear and sense of being overwhelmed went away. I kept drinking, and my career progressed quite well. I had lots of clients, a great practice and was making plenty of money, had a house, a wife, energy and dreams.
I can’t say exactly when, but it all started to slip away. I was unhappy with my marriage and left. I began to worry about my work, putting in more time but getting less done. I started to procrastinate. I stopped taking holidays or days off. I was afraid to leave my practice for fear it would fall apart. Sometimes I’d sit and do nothing and keep putting things off and worry until I was ill, but I wouldn’t take time off. I stopped getting any satisfaction out of a job well done. I’d feel only momentary relief. Each success resulted in an increase of stress as the fear of failing kept building. I drank more. I worried more. I worked more hours, did less work and drank more. The only time I felt okay was the time between the third and tenth drink, and that time was getting shorter and shorter.
I did try to moderate my drinking, to only drink beer, to drink only with others, to drink only on weekends. But I always ended up drinking when I said I wouldn’t, and drinking more than I planned.
Eventually I got sick of this life and some friends helped me out. I knew people who had been in AA. Some lawyers took me to AA meetings and helped me with my practice when I went into treatment. In treatment I had an experience of peace that I had never known. I began to open up to others and talk truthfully about myself. Eventually I began to have hope that I could rebuild my life and be a useful member of society again. I began getting other forms of help. I learned to ask for help and accept the help that was offered. I found a new way of life. I no longer needed alcohol to feel okay about myself or to talk to others. Other members of the legal community were very good to me and very accepting. I got support from my colleagues in the profession. (This was before the LAP as it now is, existed.) I found the legal profession to be very kind and generous in its support of me as I recovered. The help given by lawyers and the legal community helped me continue on and regain my life; a life that is even better than I ever would have imagined.