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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.