Learning about myself

I was sitting in a Trial Lawyers’ Association seminar and, at the end of the day, a video was shown. When the video began to portray a lawyer beset by problems caused by his alcohol abuse, I sat mesmerized in my seat. A colleague sitting beside me got up, disgusted, and left early on, but I was captivated-not because the video portrayed my own abuse of alcohol but for reasons unknown to me. After the video had finished, I found myself rushing to the front of the room and saying that I would like to become involved in the Lawyers Assistance Program. I could say little about my motivation, other than that I wanted to “help”.

Little did I know that my life would begin to change dramatically from that point. Within a very short period of time, I began to realize that my common-law spouse was addicted to alcohol and drugs. I also awakened to the reality that my former common-law spouse, also a lawyer, was addicted to alcohol and that he had suffered very significant problems as a result. I also realized that it was not a coincidence that I had been attracted to these two men who both had substance abuse problems. I finally came to realize that I had been tremendously affected by the “family disease” of alcoholism and that I also played a vital part in this destructive dance.

I am the eldest of a family of five, and both my parents abused alcohol. In the jargon of family systems theory, I was the classic “hero”. I tried to succeed at everything, and anything less was unacceptable. I excelled in school, in my undergraduate studies, and at law school. I had many friends and enjoyed a number of hobbies, at which I also tried to excel. I hadn’t realized that my need to be perfect in everything I did was causing havoc in my life and was having dramatic effects on my health.

Loving someone who is addicted to alcohol or drugs, or who has a mood disorder, has devastating effects. The loved one may be the parent, child, spouse, friend or employer, but there is a ripple effect caused by that person’s addiction nevertheless. Those of us who have been or continue to be negatively affected by another person’s behaviour are challenged to work at recovering from these effects. This can often be a lifelong process.

I began making tentative steps in my own recovery and began attending Al- Anon. I knew little about what it meant to be “co-dependent” or what the symp
toms were. I soon learned that my need to control, an asset in my legal practice (or so I thought), was the hallmark of a co-dependent. When I finally accepted that my life had become “unmanageable”, I began making progress in my own growth. I became open to methods by which I could change and actively sought out various ways to do so. I took courses, attended seminars and actively worked toward recovery. I began a step group of nine professional women who have joined together, now for a period of four years, meeting each week to work on the 12 steps. Our step group has affected each of us in dramatic ways and, every week, several members of the group express their heart-felt appreciation for our group and for their own growth.

Over the eight years since I have become involved with the Lawyers Assistance Program, there have been many hills and valleys. My life has changed in ways I never would have imagined. My spouse has now been in recovery for six years, and my brother, who was struggling with his own addiction to drugs, is also in recovery. Over the years, there have been many periods that seemed bleak, yet I was able to turn to my programme for comfort and strength. I have struggled with my own infertility, career burnout and a number of transitions and my spouse’s health difficulties (including a heart attack and resulting depression) as well as the usual number of problems with which we are challenged each day. I am very grateful for the growth I have experienced and for the support of my friends in recovery and the Lawyers Assistance Program.

Little did I know eight years ago that, as a result of my involvement with the Lawyers Assistance Program, I would come to understand addiction and my own part in this disease. Today, I work at keeping the focus on myself, and letting go of the need to control people, places and things.