My story is not so different from those I have heard from other alcoholics, save for some of the details. I had a lot of good times that involved drinking, but eventually the fun disappeared.
I enjoyed the effect that alcohol had on me from the very first time I drank. I felt relaxed and in control. For a very long time having a drink helped me feel as if I fit in, made it easier in social situations. I always felt a little shy, as if I was different in some way I could not name, but also could not let anyone see. I felt this way despite being popular in school, president of my class and a top athlete. Drinking took away the discomfort.
I noticed that my drinking was different from that of my friends. I never suffered hangovers or the physical sickness that my friends did. When we went out for a couple of beers, they were always ready to quit and head for home just as I was getting going. Slowly, I changed friends to find those who drank more as I did.
As I moved on from high school, I naturally found friends there who enjoyed “having a few cocktails” (or a few more than a few). The same happened when I articled and started to practise. Without my really being aware of it, alcohol became a bigger factor in determining which other lawyers or staff I socialized with, which clients I socialized with, which firm functions or other social functions I attended, where I ate, what sports teams I played on and what I did for hobbies. If there was no opportunity to have a few drinks, I was not usually interested. The whole point of going to a football game, playing squash or basketball was to have the opportunity to go for a few beers afterwards.
Slowly, alcohol went from being an influencing factor to the dominating factor. I was no longer drinking for fun, I was drinking to relieve the stress of my work, to deal with the difficulties in my marriage, the frustrations of being a parent and the feelings of guilt I was having. It seemed that any feeling I had needed to be numbed by alcohol. More and more those feelings were guilt, remorse and shame.
Guilt, remorse and shame were arising (I now know) as a result of living a life that was inconsistent with my values. I thought I was a good lawyer, but I was neglecting my practice. I thought I was a good husband, but my wife would not even speak to me. I thought I was a good father, but my children were afraid of me. Even my dog growled at me when I went past, such were my moods.
It never occurred to me that I was an alcoholic. I had a picture in my mind of what that was and it was not me. The picture changed a little as my drinking got worse, but I was too smart, and I had achieved too much, to be an alcoholic. I thought alcohol was my solution, not my problem.
Eventually I could see that my drinking was starting to get a little out of hand. More people were starting to notice. I still thought I could handle it. I was wrong.
I thought I could hide it. I was wrong. The law firm I worked with made arrangements for me to meet with Derek LaCroix from the Lawyers Assistance Program and a doctor specializing in addiction medicine. Of course I lied to both of them. They recognized the problems I was having with alcohol, but I still refused to see them.
Luckily, my life got worse. My behaviour got worse, my health declined and my spiritual and emotional state declined to a point where the slide had to end somehow. I no longer got any comfort from alcohol. I felt horrible when drinking and when not drinking. Finally, I was beaten enough to try something different.
With the help of Derek LaCroix, I was introduced to some LAP volunteers and some others who have helped me to change my life. I was introduced to the 12- step program of recovery and slowly my life began to change. I say slowly because I did not surrender easily. I went to two treatment centres and a detox facility. I spent about eight months away from work.
After a time, I began to see not so much how I was different from other alcoholics (or addicts), but how I was the same. I may never have been in a physical jail (or done some of the other things many other alcoholics have), but how I felt was the same. I was imprisoned by my fears, selfishness, pride and sense of isolation.
Now, I know I am not unique, not the only one who has felt the way I have. Today, no matter what goes on in my life, I know I will be okay. I know I do not have to do everything myself. I can ask for help from my friends, co-workers or a power greater than myself.
Before I sobered up, I had a job I hated, a wife I hated, children I had no use for and a dog I did not like. Today, I have a job I love (with nearly no stress), a wife I love, children I spend as much time with as possible and a dog that is wagging his tail when I get home (because I take him for a walk). I have the same job, same wife, same children and same dog. The only thing that has changed is me.
I have learned to be less interested in myself and more interested in others. I am a better lawyer, husband, father and son because I am learning to be kinder, more patient, more tolerant and more respectful of others. It seems the more I give, the better my life becomes. I have learned this through my involvement with a 12-step recovery program and with LAP activities.
I am pleased to be an LAP volunteer in my community and to be able to help other lawyers having difficulties to know they are not alone, and that they do not have unique problems that they have to solve on their own.