Just over a year ago, I had everything. A loving wife, great kids, an excellent practice, good partners, a lovely home, good physical health and a leadership role in community affairs.
But somehow I felt restless and discontent. and my practice was becoming a grind. There wasn’t much zip in my life, in spite of all the activity, and I was worried that I was getting depressed. I had been depressed some years back following a death in the family, and I didn’t want to go back to that terrible place.
When I went to my family doctor and talked to her, she asked me the usual questions, which included how much I was drinking. “About the same,” I responded. Each night after putting the kids to bed, I would pull out some office work and have a few drinks, then toddle off to bed. Well, it was five or six drinks. In fact it used to be five or six drinks, but these days it was more like seven or eight.
I drank to relax. I rarely got “bombed”, never went to the bar, never got out of control at a party (I thought), but I did have those drinks just about every day, and once I started drinking I didn’t often stop with just two. Surely that wasn’t a big deal. Everybody drinks like that, don’t they?
The doctor thought it was enough that it might be affecting my energy level, and that to test it I should stop drinking for a while and see a doctor who specializes in substance abuse issues just to make sure there wasn’t a problem.
Well. I had stopped drinking many times before, so this wasn’t going to be a big deal.
But it was. Somehow every night I found myself with a drink in my hand in spite of my earlier intentions to the contrary.
The new doctor did a bunch of tests. The good news was I was in very good physical shape, and my years of drinking had left no obvious effects. The bad news the doctor told me was that if I were a medical doctor, he would be required by law to inform the College of Physicians and Surgeons to suspend my practice licence immediately. Bang!
“You’re joking,” I protested. ‘Not at all,” he replied. “You have crossed the line. You now have a disease. Call it an allergy. You are becoming an abuser. Not just because of the amount you drink, but the way you drink and the reasons you drink. You will almost inevitably drink more and more in the future, and the result will be extreme health problems, likely loss of career and family, and early death. You are one of the 10 to 15% of the population who should not drink. Amongst lawyers and other professionals, about 20% become addicted to alcohol.
“Impossible.” I said. “Ridiculous.” My wife was perplexed too. “You drink a bit more than you should,” she said, “but surely it hasn’t come to this.”
But I was scared. Something the doctor said rang a bell. When I looked back, I realized that I relied on alcohol for relief from tension, stress, the annoyances of my law practice and the pain of confrontation. And of living. Perhaps I did have a problem, but surely not as bad as the doctor suggested.
I spoke to a very competent counsellor. It didn’t really help. I still drank. I read self-help books. I still drank.
Finally, a year ago today, I phoned the Lawyers Assistance Program. I was terrified that someone would take down my name, and that the Law Society would find out about my character defects and drum me out of the profession. Or that the person answering would wonder why I was bothering her. Instead, a friendly voice asked me some very matter-of-fact questions, told me of her approach to her rather similar problems, and within an hour another lawyer phoned me and spent a lot of time talking about my fears and concerns.
I was invited to a meeting of lawyers who had faced similar problems, and found some familiar faces. These lawyers had come to believe they had a problem with booze or drugs and wanted to do something about it before it destroyed them. I found a fellowship of support and friendship, and an extremely simple program. If I meditate calmly for a few moments in the morning and at night, and go to some meetings and work on improving my life with some basic principles, things will get better, and I won’t drink. There are no requirements for participating other than a desire to stop drinking or using drugs. I didn’t have to be sober to get started.
I am a grateful and happy person for having made that call and reaching out my hand for help. The first few months were difficult, but life today is better than ever for me. Each day I am happy to be alive, happy to be in a family, happy to be in a profession where I can be of some use to others and happy to be able to say that, with the help of others, I don’t have to drink to find peace and contentment. I don’t have all the answers, but I am certainly asking much more interesting and healthy questions these days.
If you think you have a problem with alcohol, drugs, depression, stress or burnout, give the LAP a call. You will be glad you did. They are there to help, not judge. It saved my life. Even though “I didn’t have a problem.”