I come by both of these honestly; my father was also an alcoholic and a lawyer. By the time he died, though, he’d been sober for 15 years. I was still furious at him for the unpleasantries of my childhood, and failed to notice that I myself had crossed the line and become an alcoholic, rather than merely a heavy drinker who could definitely keep up with the boys.
I had been a tomboy as a child (growing up as I did with four brothers), and it may be that both heavy drinking and going to law school were part of that. Even before I got to law school, my drinking had evolved to the point where, when I once heard a friend describe how, as a result of his drinking he had to have a G.P. check his liver every year, I thought this was an extremely intelligent thing to do. I myself could never quite bring myself to do this, although secretly – very secretly, I worried.
I always thought that law school exams were great training for the relentless anxiety of actual practice – and it turned out that post-exam excesses were good training too. Once out in practice, I had no difficulty finding colleagues to drink with, and, as over the years no one was ever so impolite to mention that I might have a problem, I had to figure this out for myself.
What happened was despair. I drank to deal with the endless anxiety and then the drinking began to cause more anxiety than it cured. I began to wonder if people were noticing, and if they were talking about me. There was no one who I could ask or talk to. I began the endless, fruitless, lonely struggle of every alcoholic, to try to control my drinking, and became more and more horrified as I realized that I couldn’t. I began to feel like some crazed animal caught in quicksand, doomed and exhausted. Every day I went to work sick and hungover, and every day I swore I would not drink that night. Every afternoon, when I started to feel a little better, I would start thinking I could have maybe just a glass of wine or a single Scotch. Every night I drank, and every morning I woke to greater self-loathing. I was truly living a death in life.
Amazingly, I continued to win cases and make money. My children were fed, clothed and sheltered and not apprehended by social workers. I was not, of course, able to be a truly attentive mother, but I was able to manage the basics. My marriage (my second) was not in good shape, but was still in existence. Much of the maintenance of this outward semblance of normalcy came from the exercise of a ferocious will to survive, but this was not enough to get me out of the pit.
Toward the end, I could see the outlines of the disaster looming ahead. I would lose my practice and my license. My marriage would end. My children would go to live with their fathers. I would be utterly lost.
At last, in a moment of unspeakable desolation, some huge shift happened inside me. Something gave way and I found myself begging for help. What I actually found myself crying out was “God help me!” This, from a person of no known religion. Astonishingly, from that moment, my daily obsession with drinking vanished. I made the decision to go to Alcoholics Anonymous and do whatever I had to do to get sober. I wept my way through many of my first meetings, in the company of people I had previously thought to be too weird for words. They turned out to be, simply, other human beings caught in the same trap, and, inexplicably and beautifully, willing to help me. After years of outward sociability grafted onto inner loneliness and despair I found myself welcomed back to the human community.
Years later, it turns out that many of my friends are lawyers in A.A. As a result of the support network organized through LAP, I have had opportunities to help other lawyers as I was helped. I have attended workshops and retreats. I’ve heard lawyers and judges from all over North America describe how they have achieved and maintained lives free of drugs and alcohol.
Best of all, my own personal life has changed so drastically that I hardly recognized myself. I’m happier than I’ve ever been. I enjoy my work. I love my children and finally have started to feel like I’m becoming the mother I’m supposed to be. I have great friends. Life is, as my youngest would say, funner.