Alcoholic Attorneys Can Stop Drinking Anytime

Alcoholics, including alcoholic attorneys, think we can stop drinking anytime. We’ve told ourselves that dozens, maybe hundreds of times. But it really hasn’t worked for many of us—at least not for very long. I tried to stop drinking on my own for just one year. I couldn’t do it.

A while ago, on a December 30th, I had a long afternoon of celebration with some friends at a bar. Martinis, beer, even a little food had been the focus of the day. My spouse had asked me to pick up some batteries on my way home from work that day, so after saying goodnight to the gang, I stopped past the hardware store and picked up the batteries and drove home.


The next morning, my spouse asked me for the batteries. I said “I’m sorry, I completely forgot.” Then I went out to the car to drive to work and saw the hardware store bag on the passenger seat.

“S—t!”

I couldn’t lie to myself anymore. I’d driven home in a blackout. I didn’t remember going to the hardware store. NOT good. Dangerous. Stupid.

Again.

I could have just gone to work that day and “picked up the batteries I’d forgotten.” Instead I chose to own up. I took the batteries into the house and my spouse said something like “don’t you think this is a sign for you to stop.” I admitted it was.

That day I set a goal to take the next calendar year off drinking. Within a couple weeks, I’d retrained all the servers at my regular lunch and happy-hour joints to bring me “NA” beer instead of my usual beer, martini, or scotch. At lunch one day with several friends, one person at the table, who I knew had been sober for over 10 years and was an active member of a 12-step recovery program, said “you know, ‘normal’ people don’t have to think about taking a year off.” I didn’t respond and it was left at that, but the seed had been planted.

Dry Drunk

I was miserable. This is what we call a “dry drunk.” People knew of my self-imposed prohibition and frequently asked how I was doing. To most I smiled and said “fine.” (We alcoholics are very good at lying, hiding, denying, acting, and blending.) I explained to some that I was struggling because I had no way to reward myself for the little successes. I had previously celebrated my little victories by taking a long lunch, or popping off to the bar in the middle of the day, or having a drink while handling some administrative tasks in the office to finish up the day—sometimes all three on the same day.

I didn’t know how to live sober.

The Bungee Cord

I’d been drinking alcoholically since I was 16 and there are a few (understatement) things I haven’t learned about being a grown up.

My “year off” lasted seven and a half months. In spite of single-handedly keeping the O’Doul’s Amber brand afloat for at least half a year, on a hot day in July while helping a friend move, the calling of a cold one won out over my year’s goal. It was like I’d strapped one end of a giant bungee cord to my next drink at the end of the year and the other end to my will power. The tension pulled my next drink and my will power together in the middle. A gallon (literally) of beer finished the work of that day and another gallon and a half helped with the next day’s work. Again, I was off to the races.

You have to understand, and this was undeniably real for me: alcoholism is a progressive disease. It just gets worse, never easier, never better. Additionally, and this is the scary part, the progression moves forward whether you are drinking or not. When I started drinking again, the down elevator of progressive alcoholism wasn’t on the floor where I’d stepped off in January—it was like I’d never stopped—but that’s a story for a future post.

If you’ve experienced something like this, do yourself and your family a favor and ask for help. We attorneys have a very strong case of self-reliance and think we are strong enough to stop drinking on our own. You’re not. I’m not. Getting help is actually really easy, once you decide it’s OK for you to not have to do everything yourself. You don’t. The disease of alcoholism tells you that you don’t have it. It tells you that you don’t need help.  At the very least, pick up the phone and call your local attorney assistance program and talk with someone that’s been where you are today. It’s easy. Do it. Or just email me here at editor+aa@lawyerist.com.

(photo credit:http://www.flickr.com/photos/njj4/4291161451)

  • http://constructionlawnc.com/ Melissa Brumback

    Thanks, AL, for sharing your very personal story with us all. I hope you are doing well and are getting the support you need.

  • Anthony Bushnell

    Thank you for making these posts. This is extremely valuable and important. Having clients and friends who struggle with alcoholism, I know you’re hitting the nail right on the head. Most alcoholics think they can handle it and that it won’t get worse. But it always does. I hope these posts have a very wide reading. Many of our fellow lawyers really need to know they have to get help with this and that help is free, easy, and confidential. Congratulations on finding the freedom of living sober, and on reaching out to others. These may be some of the most important things you ever write.

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/alcoholicattorney/ Alcoholic Attorney

    Thanks for the encouragement. The goal with these posts is simple – take away a bit of the fear and isolation for people who’s lives are becoming or are already unmanageable so that they will pick up the phone or send an email and ask for help. There’s no shame in asking for help. Really. And, it gets better very quickly. It’s WAY easier facing the challenges of life sober than it was drunk.

    For all those years it was like I was trying to “fix” life with the wrong set of tools. Just like it’s not your fault if you fail at driving a nail with a screwdriver, most alcoholics – including lawyers – were never given the right tools to “live sober.” And, getting help can be free. Amazing.

  • John Doe

    I love your post and I thank you for writing it. Alcoholics in every profession need this kind of think in order to realize their problem and realize that it can be fixed and that there is a support system out there.

    However, I cannot agree with you or others that alcoholism or drug ADDICTION is a disease…because it is not a disease. It is an addiction. When you or anyone else calls alcoholism a disease, you downplay what a disease is and you give real disease inflicted people less credit for overcoming or not overcoming their problems.

    It’s not that I care what you, the alcoholic, thinks, it’s that I don’t want society thinking alcoholism is excusable. It’s not “Bob’s” fault that he got heart disease…it’s not “Jane’s” fault that she got alzheimer’s….However, it is your fault you are an alcoholic!!!! Don’t excuse yourself for your weaknesses. I’m sorry that I am not an alcoholic and you’re right, I don’t struggle with an addiction, but maybe I don’t because I realize that if I were addicted, it would be because of me….

    A disease is serious. Alcoholism is a tragedy for the alcoholics, their families and their friends but it’s because of them, not because of an outside source.

    You were sober for seven and a half months…until YOU decided to drink “one” beer…that’s not a disease. That’s a weakness.

    Again, I thank you for your post and I encourage everyone out there to help others who may be “plagued” with this “illness” but please be honest with them. Tell them that it’s on them if they are sober or not. It’s not a disease and they are in control.

    • http://www.dorislaw.com Charles Rotenberg

      Glad that you know more than medical science. Alcoholism and addiction are considered to be diseases. Becoming an addict or alcoholic is not a matter of choice – nobody knows what causes it. Two children can grow up in the same household and drink the same way, but at some point one can become alcoholic and the other not.

      It is pompous and ignorant in the extreme to suggest that it is someone’s fault that they became an alcoholic or addict. And who exactly are you to be the guardian of what society thinks?

      Since you clearly state that you don’t know about addicition, you are not in a position to judge and to determine who is “at fault”. Nobody knows how someone becomes diabetic any more than they know how someone becomes an addict or alcolic. Once diagnosed, however, they have responsibility to treat it properly.

      This is not to remove responsibility. Once diagnosed, a diabetic has to eat properly to manage the diseases. In recovery we say that we are not responsible for our addiction, but we are responsible for our recovery. To be clear, I am not responsible for having become an addict – if we don’t know what causes it, we can’t be responsible for being afflicted with it. I am however responsible for my recovery. To a degree you are correct that having a drink after 7 & 1/2 months is a choice, and for that the author is responsible. But he is not responsible for having become an alcoholic.

      You are lucky if you have had no involvement with alcoholism, YET. But I can assure you that someone in your family will suffer with this disease and I can only hope that when faced with it you will be more open-minded.

      For the record, I have lived with this disease and it is 17 years since I felt the need for a drink or drug. But it is a daily exercise and it is definitely a disease.

  • http://lawyerist.com/author/alcoholicattorney/ Alcoholic Attorney

    John,

    I appreciate your feedback and understand your position. Obviously, there is a certain amount of will power needed to decide to stop drinking. I’m no medical expert, so I’m not going to engage on the subject. However, I will share a few third party resources including:

    “Alcoholism has been recognized for many years by professional medical organizations as a primary, chronic, progressive and sometimes fatal disease. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence offers a detailed and complete definition of alcoholism, but probably the most simple way to describe it is “a mental obsession that causes a physical compulsion to drink.”
    -http://alcoholism.about.com/cs/info2/a/aa022697.htm

    This is just my opinion, but if it helps people ask for help to call something a “disease” (lack of ease) – then call it a “disease.” Maybe it’s rightly classified as a “mental disease” – but I’d much rather insult a cancer patient with the offending use of a word than see an alcoholic die because she couldn’t ask for help with this “disease” when her will power failed.

    Thanks again for the comment.

  • http://www.attorneysync.com Gyi Tsakalakis

    I’m not a medical professional either, but John’s dismissive over-simplification of substance abuse and alcoholism as a mere “weakness” is, to put it diplomatically, ill-informed.

    Webster’s (online at least) says: a condition of the living animal or plant body or of one of its parts that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms.

    At the very least, there is strong documented dual diagnosis evidence between the prevalence of mental illness and substance abuse. Or are we not recognizing mental illness as a disease either?

    However, the semantic argument of whether alcoholism is a disease or not is not what compelled me to comment. It is John’s implication that substance abuse is a mere lack of willpower that can be so easily overcome by a simple choice not to drink. If this is what John is implying, he is gravely misinformed. If not, then I apologize for my misunderstanding.

    Again, I’m certainly no expert in this area, but reducing substance abuse to a mere lack of willpower is, with all due respect, just plain ignorant.

    Whether we define substance abuse as a disorder, ailment, illness, sickness, problem, affliction, condition, debility, defect, or infirmity it’s a much more serious problem than mere “weakness”.

    And it is especially problematic when coupled with the responsibilities and obligations entrusted to a legal professional.

  • http://www.attorneysync.com Gyi Tsakalakis

    Ok, so maybe I’m obsessing over this, nonetheless:

    Dependency on alcohol, also known as alcohol addiction and alcoholism4, is a chronic disease.

    http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm#alcoholismAbuse

    (CDC stands for Centers For Disease Control)

  • John Doe

    I did not mean in any way that addicts have a lack of willpower. Addiction is addiction. Just like I don’t want to insult someone for having cancer, I don’t want to insult someone for having an addiction.

    My point about not calling alcoholism a disease isn’t because I don’t want real disease goers being insulted, it’s because I think saying it’s a disease gives alcoholics the excuse to where they think it’s something they can’t control.

    In the sense that an addict must fuel his addiction or he gets the shakes, gets headaches or dies, addiction can be a disease.

    BUT, in the sense of this original article, alcoholism IS NOT A DISEASE.

    After 3 months of being sober, only a WEAK MINDED person decides to take a sip of alcohol. After sobering up, only a weak person gives in to the thing they were once addicted to. I’m not in any way saying that alcoholics don’t have physical or mental problems when they are addicted to the drug, because they clearly do have a dependency, that’s a fact that I didn’t think needed covering.

    Again, my only point about the disease is that it’s not a disease if you have a choice. If you go up to a 18 year old or a 30 year old who has never tasted alcohol and tell them if they take one sip of alcohol they will become an alcoholic, only a stupid person would take that sip! More so, if you showed them what their life would be like if they were an alcoholic and what their life could have been like had they been an alcoholic, they would still be just as stupid to take that first sip.

    An alcoholic who has been sober for however many months or years knows what problems alcohol causes, hence why they stopped drinking and why they choose not to drink on a regular basis. So, to take that sip 5 months or 5 years later, that isn’t because that person has a DISEASE. It’s because they make the choice to sip alcohol.

    I realize our country is going down the tube in many ways, I’m only being real as I believe you should be. Addiction is a horrible problem that is hard to overcome. But, once the addiction is over, the “disease” aspect of alcoholism is gone.

    To someone else’s point, I agree with you. If calling it a disease helps them seek help and/or over come their addiction or problem then by all means call it a disease! But, I believe that calling it a disease allows people to think they aren’t in control, when they are. Alcoholics drive on our roads every day. They know they are alcoholics. Yet, we still prosecute them for drunk driving. But to some of your arguments, wouldn’t that be discrimination? Why would we prosecute someone for having a disease?!

    • http://www.dorislaw.com Charles Rotenberg

      17 years later, I can assure you that the addiction is NEVER over and the disease is never gone. You can say as many times as you like that it is not a disease, but you don’t know what you are talking about. It is not up to you to worry about whether calling it a disease is somehow giving someone a pass on their responsibility.

      To suggest that only a weak minded person would take a drink once they know they have the disease of alcoholism is pompous and judgemental in the extreme, aside from being outright wrong.

      Those of us in recovery go to “anonymous” meetings. However, i find it curious that one who claims not to have this affliction finds it necessary to hide behind the anonymity of “John Doe”.

  • David Deaux

    Thank you very much for writing these blog posts. AA saved my life.
    In my case, the despair of being unable to “quit” coupled with the unmanageability of my life, had me quite content to lose everything and die the alcoholic death. But the love and acceptance that I experienced from strangers whose stories I could relate to; the hope and laughter that I found in the fellowship; and the continued encouragement shaped by collective experience, not only saved my life it gave me my life back.
    Thank you again for your efforts in writing this blog and for sharing your experience, strength, and hope with your fellow travelers.

  • http://constructionlawnc.com/ Melissa Brumback

    Doe–
    I think I understand your point; however, there is both physical addiction and psychological/physiological addiction. Yes, after 3 days or whatever of not drinking, all the physical addictions are “gone”…. but folks struggle daily, monthly, yearly, to keep the psychological addiction at bay and stay on the wagon. They say nicotine withdrawal is over in about 3 days, so why is it so hard for smokers to stop? Because there are psycho-social, physiological addictions still at play. (I may be messing up my terms, but you get my point). Same with alcoholism. And yes, if someone is an epileptic and drives during a seizure, they will be in just as much trouble as a drunk driver. (Esp if they were trying to wean their meds or otherwise it was “their choice”).

  • John Doe

    Melissa,

    Thanks for acknowledging my point. But to yours, I am sure that 90% of people who know they are prone to seizures don’t drive because they know they have the disease and respect it. That was my point for mentioning the drunk driving thing.

    Thanks for contributing and thanks to the website and original poster. Take care.

  • anonnaanotsure

    Well, thanks so much AL and all the commenters. I grew up in the custody of a non-functioning alcoholic, who had nothing to do all day but drink. Not unusual to those circumstances, I became the ‘best little kid in the world’…said custodial parent eventually got ‘sober’ in AA (including a few relapses remarkable primarily for their intensity followed by several years of dry drunks, not to mention that nearly 40 years later, I still have yet to be the recipient of the ‘amends’)…and now I am what undoubtedly would be characterized as a ‘high functioning alcoholic attorney.’ Bottle of wine a day, sometimes less and often more. Only at night, work never directly involved. No real consequences – job is fine, no dui’s, no real drunk time risk taking that would lead to same…but unquestionably life would be ‘calmer’ and ‘cleaner’ without the wine. And I have more than my fair share of the ‘what batteries’ type episodes AL describes, past and present.

    All of that said, I don’t have it in me to give it up – I still get all my midlaw, relatively high end trial and appeal work done, albeit at occasionally a more cottonheaded level than might be ideal, and I contribute my fair share of support to a major household operation of demanding spouse, kids, pets, team sports, church and all the rest of it. I just can’t imagine not being able to ‘drink off’ the stress, uncertainty and boredom that is inherent in this frazzled hamster wheel of a life. And having spent many years accompanying the parent to zillions of AA meetings, extra-meeting get togethers and AA conventions, as well as Alateen, Alanon and ACOA, I have some (a lot of) resistance to submitting to that regime – even though the fundamental teaching is that “there is no easier, softer way.” I look at people that I know don’t drink regularly and I envy them – their easy early mornings, their clear eyes and skin, the fact that I am sure they are ‘quicker’, more linearly productive than I am on a fuzzy morning, and in better physical shape (although in early 50s I am still pretty (remarkably) okay, who knows why) – but I don’t envy them enough to give up my bottle of wine every night. It just makes the day tolerable, the night survivable and the rough edges smoother. But it also makes me less than what I would be without it – I’d still be a high functioning attorney, just myself jumping out of my skin.

    If a magic wand could be waved over me that would let me have 2 glasses of wine twice a week, I’d buy it. I’d even trade most of my retirement account for it. But giving it up – don’t see it happening.

    Any insight?

    • http://ethicsmaven.com/ Eric Cooperstein

      @annona I wonder if your spouse, kids, and colleagues would agree that you are “high functioning.” And would they tell you the truth if you asked them?

      I don’t think the term “high functioning” is meant to be used as a badge of success. It’s just a comparison to other alcoholics who are less able to function. But it doesn’t mean you are less of an alcoholic or that you are immune from crashing in a nasty, life-changing way.

  • http://constructionlawnc.com/ Melissa Brumback

    Thanks for your honesty, anonna. Sounds like you’ve been through a lot. Have you thought about seeing a therapist or psychiatrist? Perhaps you have an underlying depression, that you are self-medicating with alcohol, which could be better addressed with daily medication? (not a doctor, just playing one on the internet). Something to consider if you haven’t.

  • http://lawyerist.com Alcoholic Attorney

    annona,

    Thanks for sharing your situation. You are definitely not alone. I was just talking with a friend the other day about the need, and he admitted it was a “need” to have a few glasses (probably closer to a bottle) of wine every night to settle down from the stress of a litigation practice.

    I don’t judge any of that, because I was there myself and know the feeling.

    The timing of this is amazing because I just submitted a new post on “High Functioning Alcoholic Attorneys” to the lawyerist editors yesterday. I’m sure it will go live soon, but until it does, I have two suggestions.

    1. Get the book “Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic: Breaking the Cycle and Finding Hope” by Sara Allen Benton. I’m betting you already have it… :-)

    2. Call your local Attorney Assistance Program and see if they can put you in contact with some other lawyers in your area. They’ll be happy to talk confidentially, for free.

    The tough part is that we all know in our heart that Melissa is right. The alcohol isn’t the problem, it’s just the really bad solution to the underlying stuff. It may be depression, although it might not be. I’m not qualified to diagnose any of that. But there’s going to be something behind the curtain that you’ll need to deal with – it’s that way for all of us. I’m dealing with a bunch of fears that I was always afraid to face – most of them completely irrational, but debilitating none-the-less.

    I’ll share just a few more things, then shut up:

    1. I’ve found the underlying day-to-day stuff much easier to tackle sober than drunk (especially since I just ran away from things by drinking).

    2. Once I finally turned and faced those things, WITH HELP, I found them manageable and most of them have gone away – so I don’t have to run away from them anymore because they’re just – GONE.

    3. Before it gets easier, it gets different, and different is never comfortable. But, it’s worth it.

    Thanks again. I hope this helps. There’s no shame in asking for help.

    Best to you.

  • David Deaux

    Annonaa,

    You asked for any insight. I can only share with you my experience.

    For a long period of time I was the type of functioning alcoholic that you described. I never had legal problems (dui’s etc), however I frequently drove drunk, blackout “battery” situations that the original post mentioned were not unusual. Yet during the work day I was able to function at a relatively high level, (commercial real estate development and complex business litigation). However, I drank hard every night to “take the edge off”, deal with life, depression, stress of the practice, stress of life, and just to be able to get to sleep.

    I managed to keep the many “balls” in the air and compartmentalize my life so that I was productive at work, active in non-profit boards, active in my church, and somewhat present for my family and children. But life, as it often does, has its bumps in the road. When I was faced with various of life’s difficulties at one time, I began to drink more and more. It was the only source of relief and escape that I had. Eventually it stopped working. Sure, I could get drunk, but the relief and escape that I had previously found, no longer was there. Not sure what was going on, I drank more and more, and at that point began to drink during the day, or at 3am when I woke up exhausted but unable to go back to sleep.

    Eventually, alchohol was all that I had to get me through the day and the only way I knew how to deal with/escape life. While I never had the legal consequences, at the end I was on the verge of lossing my family, I squandered a tremendous amount of money looking for relief or distraction, sank into a deep depression, and isolated professionally and personally.

    At the end, I had no hope and no idea what could possibly help. It was then that I found the rooms of AA. There I found understanding, acceptance, and love from absolute strangers. For a while I continued to drink, but I kept coming back. Eventually the pain was sufficient, and I gave up my pride and ego and started listening to the suggestions. Life began to turn around. It was a gradual process, but I would not trade anything for what I have today -peace with myself and life, without having to mood alter.

    Best of luck. You are not alone. (I was amazed at how many fellow lawyers I regularly see at meetings.)

  • dawn b

    mr doe,
    thanks for your take on things. as a recovering alcoholic myself, i’ve heard many opine that the disease of alcoholism is a choice. i suggest you read the book “under the influence” by dr. james milam to get an idea of the genetics of the disease, and the way the body of an alcoholic begins to process alcohol as if it will someday be it’s only source of nutrition from the first drink onward, looong before there is a problem. i understand compulsive behavior (gambling, sex addiction, etc), and alcoholism is not one of those behaviors.
    no alcoholic i know ever woke up one day and said “this is the day i’m putting the pedal to the metal and REALLY becoming an alcoholic, no more social drinking for me. i’m going to go all the way and descend into a hell i think there is no getting out of and will someday wish to end it by whatever means”.
    may you and yours be healthy and happy and never have one moment’s worry over anyone’s “chosen” behaviors.
    namaste!