Alcohol Obsession? Check Your Calendar

I was obsessed—insanely so—with alcohol while I was still drinking. This obsession left its calling card on my appointment calendar. Now, as a recovered alcoholic attorney, the “obsession to drink” is removed, but before we get into that, let’s discuss some vocabulary.

Desire: wanting something.

Craving: wanting more of something.

Obsession: thinking and planning your life around something.

These days I’m not obsessed with alcohol, nor do I desire to drink, because if I take even one drink there’s one thing I know for sure—I will crave more. And, that path leads steeply downhill.

“More” was my drink of choice

When an alcoholic like me (and in this characteristic, all alcoholics are exactly like me) takes even one drink, something chemical clicks “on” in the brain and we crave more and more, and…more. I’ve said before that I’ve never had a single drink in my life. One lead to two, two led to 12. Almost every time. That’s “the phenomenon of craving”, but in addition to the desires and cravings, I was obsessed.

I was obsessed with alcohol

Obsession with drinking can show up on your calendar. It did on mine. You CAN be an alcoholic attorney without having a calendar obsessively organized around alcohol. I wasn’t that kind of alcoholic, my calendar was almost completely organized around drinking. Consciously or subconsciously, I was literally planning my schedule around alcohol.  I had my assistant trained to do the following:

Non-drinking clients (there weren’t many) were scheduled to meet on the phone or in the office between the hours of 9am and Noon so I was sober without any smell of alcohol on my breath, but not so early that I didn’t have a little time to recover from the previous night’s drinking.  There was almost always a previous night’s drinking, and even if I might take a rare evening off, such a night wasn’t predictable enough to plan around, so it was best to assure a little extra time to get going in the morning.

Afternoon meetings with non-drinking clients were minimized.

“Fun” clients (those that drank) were never scheduled in the morning because we’d miss an opportunity to have a drink.  If they drank like me we had long-lunch meetings. (Alcoholics easily recognize people who drink like us v. those who don’t, won’t, or can’t.)

If they drank, but not like me, then we’d meet at the end of the day, maybe a quick meeting in the office if something was confidential, or maybe directly in the bar if we were checking the status of something or just catching up on the “business-development relationship.”

If my calendar became a little empty I’d reach out to the clients and schedule those long lunches or happy hour meetings. Of course those people enjoyed having their lawyer care enough about them to reach out and schedule time. Don’t get me wrong, I did enjoy meeting with them, or I wouldn’t want to go drinking with them, but after I got sober I realized that I was really just finding ways to drink, and hooking a justification to it by including a client.

As I sobered up, I stopped scheduling the drinking lunches and the happy hour meetings.  I was also able to get an earlier start. I’d always envied those people who could get up early and work on personal or work tasks to get more done before 10am than I used to accomplish in a whole day. Now I know how that works. They aren’t drinking every night.  They aren’t alcoholics like me.

Take a look at your calendar

How many meetings are you scheduling around alcohol? Are you paying attention to the clients and colleagues who are “fun” (drinkers) or “not fun” (non-drinkers)? Are there people in your life that won’t hang out with you unless you’re going to a bar?

I’ve found that one of the manifestations of alcoholism in the legal profession shows up in black and white – on the calendar. If yours is scheduled with “fun” clients, long lunches, and happy hour events, you might be showing the obsessive signs of an alcoholic attorney. Do everyone in your life a favor, including yourself, and contact your lawyer assistance program to see if they can help.

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

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  • anonnaanotsure

    Hi, AA, me again. Yeah, the calendar thing resonates. So, no, I don’t have a copy of the HFA book (yet), and yes, I did check out my state bar’s lawyer assistance program (which I have some historical familiarity with, having served on a grievance committee for three years)…was underwhelmed that the website seemed not to have been updated for over two years, got that right, two years. Given my super exploratory orientation, and tremendous desire for anonymity, that was a little off-putting to say the least. Yes, I could go check out the neighborhood AA meeting at church this Tuesday, but no…me and my ego/civic profile aren’t quite ready for that in my pretty small town. I know that is not necessarily the *right* attitude, but it’s mine and I’m living with it.

    Might I ask what state you practice in, AA?

    I’m in Florida, so if anyone reading this wants to enlighten, have at it.

    TIA.

  • Sorry I missed your comment post.

    To answer your question, “not Florida.” :-)

    I was underwhelmed with my state’s efforts as well. I’m not in “the” major metropolitan center of my state. All the numbers of individual lawyers listed to call as “hotlines” are for folks in that city – 60 miles away. So, I emailed. It bounced. I called all 4 of those numbers, nobody answered or called back until I went through the list again 10 days later. If left to my state’s assistance program, I could have been dead. I have since asked to be added to the list but the response I received was “ya, we’ve not gotten much traction in the ‘rural’ communities.” (I live in a town with a Division 1 University – far from what I’d call “rural.”)

    When I went to my first 12-step meeting, my spouse went with me – partially for support and partially to make sure I didn’t back out. I was scared. I was scared I would be recognized because I’m pretty active in the community.

    I was recognized. In fact, the woman chairing the meeting was someone I used to drink with fairly regularly. She stopped short of saying “I’ve been saving a seat for you.” – but her eyes showed a genuine relief to see me asking for help. She gave me a copy of The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. She circled other meetings that I might feel comfortable attending. She made me feel welcome and sincerely loved and it’s a moment I cherish. After that experience, I HOPED to see people I knew from around town in meetings, and I did. They all made me feel very welcome.

    At one of my first meetings I saw a client. When she noticed me she said: “What the F…! I knew I liked you for some reason!” and welcomed me. Others followed. Now I see people from “the program” all over town (especially in coffee shops). I don’t see a lot of other lawyers in meetings, unfortunately because I know they’re out there.

    Finally, when you show up in a room for a meeting, the concept of Anonymity is more than just a concept. You’ll find other professionals there. Anonymity is KEY and always respected when you see someone around town. It’s truly amazing.

    Finally, I had to remember that I was doing stupid drinking things in public, so how can pursuing recovery anonymously be something to feel bad about.

    1. Congratulations for at least reaching out to your Assistance program. I’m sure most states have very responsive programs that help. But, if you don’t feel comfortable there, then….

    2. PLEASE face the fear and walk into that AA meeting at the church – TONIGHT! (They’re almost always in churches, but don’t let that stop you…). You can sit in the back. You’ll be asked to share your first name. You don’t have to say “I’m an alcoholic” unless you are one. Meetings are about helping “newcomers.” When they ask if you want a phone list and newcomer’s pack – say YES! It’s free, don’t worry, there are no traps. If they ask if you want a 24-hour “keep coming back chip” – say YES! It’s free, don’t worry, there are no traps. If you’re lucky enough that you know someone in the room, they’ll probably engage you in conversation after the meeting. Let them. If they ask you to coffee – GO!

    You will remain anonymous, but you don’t have to be alone. And, you never have to pick up another drink in your entire life if you don’t want to. The 12-step program is about figuring out how to “not want to.”

    If you would like to talk individually, I’m happy to have a call. Just shoot your contact info through the editors here at lawyerist and they’ll get it to me confidentially. I’ll call you our you can call me. Anytime.

  • Here’s that email.

    editor+aa@lawyerist.com

  • anonnaanotsure

    Wow, and thanks. I really appreciate your candor and *support*. BTW, you didn’t ‘miss’ any comments, I was referring to comments under one of your earlier posts :).

    Your point to doing stupid things while out drinking v. seeking recovery is well taken, and I appreciate also your specific info re the ‘for real’ Anonymity. Churches don’t scare me, fam and I go almost every Sunday and are actively involved, and I do have at least the Higher Power thing going for me – I believe. What I’m scared about is being ‘outed’ in my community/some sort of judgment by our congregation, a member or even our pastor.

    This is horrible to admit, but the other big issue I am worried about is how spouse will handle. Spouse enjoys drinking, but is generally free of the need for ‘more’ when ‘more’ is redundant – ie, spouse is a heavy social drinker, but spouse probably is not an alcoholic which I probably am. And when spouse’s family members (a few) got sober, spouse was like ‘but, why can’t __ just have a glass of wine at the party?…My ___(relative) is not an *alcoholic* . Now they are too serious/selfabsorbed/no fun and they spend all their time with crazy people in 12 step mtgs’.

    This freaks me out b/c I am afraid that spouse will react that if I ‘officially swear it off’ (ie, go to a meeting, esp one in our community where spouse is more prominent than I am), spouse will feel that I (a) publicly confessed weakness;(b) will become forever some sort of pariah; and (c) will forever be self absorbed in ‘recovery.’ Spouse is a wonderful, loving, generous person and the love of my life, not shortselling spouse at all, but I am very skeezy about *all that*. Likely beyond the appropriate scope of blog comments…..

    I probably will use the editor email that you offered (thanks!) to set up an offline communication, although my chicken livered self is pretty fearful of even doing that, so it may take a few days (more accurately, a few more bleary mornings…contrasted with the bright ones that occur when I don’t drink, or very consciously drink ONLY a glass (not more than three) of wine – vast discipline involved).

    Thanks again for your kindness and generosity of spirit. I hope to move in your direction.

  • :-)

    By “miss” I meant that it took me a day to respond. I understood your references.

    On the spouse topic, I understand what you’re saying although I’m in a different situation. My spouse only drank out of the desire to hang out with me and it’s what I was doing. With all this stuff going on, one might consider having a heart-to-heart discussion with spouse. My experience is that spouses who love us want what’s best for us, even when that’s hard for them.

    This doesn’t mean that your spouse will have to stop drinking, although avoiding putting you in the position to have to kiss a martini would definitely be helpful at least at first. Maybe spouse also has fears. Like I said, my spouse and I went to the meeting together for mutual support.

    Maybe your spouse will be upset in the short-term because your cramping spouse’s style, or spouse could be afraid that if you sober up and start touching your full potential, you might become as prominent in the local community as spouse…paradoxically because you’ll have a whole new set of true friends in the recovery community. There could be about a million reasons… Talking to spouse makes sense.

    If you’re not comfortable doing that one to one around this topic, maybe engage a couple’s counselor to help. My spouse and I are figuring out a lot of new stuff and use professional counseling (outside the recovery program) to help us navigate the changes that come up.

    I remember right as I was getting to the age where I could have a drink at family events (around 16) and had just started drinking myself, one of my favorite uncles got sober. The family meals went alcohol free (although Grandpa would still slip whiskey into his coffee cup…). I was pissed. That should have been a sign for me.

    Q:Why was I pissed off at my family for removing booze from family meals when I was still only 16?
    A: Because I craved the stuff.

    It was that way my whole life. I didn’t like kids birthday parties unless the adults were drinking. I didn’t like visiting friends if they only had 2-3 beers in the fridge. I thought exactly the same way you’re anticipating your spouse reacting, which might indicate that either you are projecting your own fears onto your spouse, or that your spouse may be someone who craves alcohol too.

    As for the pastors and other community members – the classic fear is that they will think less of us. I’ve had completely the opposite reaction from 100% of the people in my life. They ALL, without fail, congratulate me on recognizing that I couldn’t make this change on my own and asking for help to correct the situation. Clergy see it all and they know the problems untreated alcoholism can cause to a marriage, family, and community. They’re always relieved that they won’t have to pick up the pieces of “this one.” They’ll also appreciate knowing who they can send someone else to who needs help. They may even know someone in your community that can help you and has been through what you’re going through.

    We all get into this insane place where we think we’re “terminally unique” and think that nobody has faced what we’re facing. Granted, we’re individuals, but our situations unfold in amazingly similar fashions. It’s part of the package.

    Remember, there’s no shame in asking for help. We lawyers forget that all too often.

    Send me an email at that address listed above, or I have a direct email set up at alcoholicattorney@gmail.com if you don’t want the layer of the editors here. I’m happy to talk, it’s easier than typing everything out, and you’re right that some of this is getting beyond what you or I would like to post on a high-traffic blog. But, if this works for you, I’m willing to type. This is why we started the series. To share some stories and maybe help other attorneys work through the barriers we all face when we take an honest look at our relationship with alcohol.

  • Oh, and I’m glad you’re OK with the spiritual side of recovery. I found that my understanding of spiritual concepts became an experience instead of just a concept almost immediately. I probably won’t be writing a lot about that here because some people are really hung up on that, but I’ll probably do at least one post on moving past that hurdle.

    New stuff will always be coming up in life relative to yourself and to you relationship with your spouse. I’ve been sober a while now, but we still need help as we process new situations together, or old situations that need to be faced again, but this time with better tools. Life doesn’t stop happening when you stop drinking (although we tend to think it will). The difference is that you’ll be able to face those things sober. Sometimes you’ll need the help of someone trained to help. Sometimes you’ll need the help of untrained people who have been there.

    We may be highly educated, confident, capable people, but we’re human too and the experience of being human is something we should try to enjoy while we have it. I basically numbed the experience of live for 26 years. That is time I’ll never get back, and I hurt some people along the way, which will take some work to fix. But the things that come along now I can face – good and bad, with the help of my spouse, my family, and the true friends I’ve made in recovery.