Recovery is Different From Abstinence

Looking back, with 20-20 hindsight, I suppose there were a few signs. But that’s what all recovering alcoholics are apt to say. I drank in law school, and before that, too. I smoked marijuana. It was a wild, hippie time. I’d like to say I did it all, but I didn’t. I’m basically pretty conservative, careful and afraid of drugs. I stayed away from drugs because I knew that I would love them.

After I got called to the bar, I drank at bar parties and occasionally in between. We drank too much, but we worked too much, too. We blew off steam at our parties. It was fun and part of the culture of the bar. The lawyers I hung out with smoked dope, too. Not much, but sometimes. We laughed at the idea that marijuana could be addictive.

After about a decade of this, it occurred to me that alcohol affected me differently than it did others. I just seemed to have a different relationship with it, almost personal. I seemed to drink differently than others. Again, it was no big deal, and it didn’t cause me a lot of problems. I had hangovers and got sick but so did everyone else, or so I thought. I quit entirely for several months on more than one occasion. I could start and stop at will. I did not, at that point, have a craving for alcohol. I thought that proved I wasn’t an alcoholic. It’s just a matter of willpower and character, they said, and I believed them. How wrong I was. I believed these myths, and knew that I had willpower and character, so I carried on as before.

Several years later I became concerned that I was an alcoholic. I wasn’t happy or fulfilled, and I could tell I was losing control of my drinking one occasion and that I had to pay more attention to my drinking, and not drinking, than others did. I was afraid I would lose control altogether and that the consequences would be dire and final. My friends thought I had finally lost it altogether. They just knew I wasn’t an alcoholic. They were wrong. I just wasn’t a drunk yet. Had I continued drinking I might have eventually fit their stereotypes, but at the time I looked normal, on the outside. No one in my entire life has said, “I want to talk to you about your drinking.” Looking back, I think maybe someone should have said that to me. However, I must confess that they have said that about the marijuana I smoked. Like each time before, when I stopped drinking liquor, I smoked more dope. Of the two drugs, I really preferred the second.

I had some health problems and I decided to quit marijuana as well. What a rollercoaster of emotion that was. I began to have feelings clearly unrelated to what was going on around me and cravings for marijuana, that non-addictive stuff I had thought was so harmless.

I continued to feel restless, irritable and discontented and I wanted something more from life. I seemed to be having difficulty fully living life without mood-altering substances. I met with a member of the Lawyers Assistance Program who referred me to a medical expert on addiction. The doctor confirmed that I was indeed an alcoholic because of my behaviour. He called what I was experiencing “a dry drunk”. I was driving myself nuts. I couldn’t control my moods, emotions and behaviour by my willpower. If you drink, you’re an active alcoholic. If you don’t, you’re a big pain in the ass. He recommended Alcoholics Anonymous, so I could learn how to live sober. “Sobriety is different from being dry and straight,” he said. We just about parted company on the issue of A.A. That would mean I had poor willpower and bad character. What would others think?

The pain I was experiencing being dry and straight continued, so I took the plunge and began going to meetings. All I’ve found is fine, decent people. People like you and me. I continue to be involved with the LAP and have met many very fine lawyers and others of the legal community. I began to get better. I learned I didn’t have to deal with my problems alone. I learned to live life on life’s terms, and I find life much easier and more joyful. I am getting the benefits of recovery, and it’s a wonderful adventure!