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A story of recovery.

"We've been talking about you and your `drinking problem' at Management Committee meetings lately."

"What do you mean my drinking problem? How about Sam and Ken and Jim? You know, our other partners who like to drink and party and relax just like me!"

"But it wasn't them who took some of the secretaries out for lunch, took them home with a couple of cases of beer and never showed back up the rest of the afternoon. It wasn't them who had to get `rescued' from the jailhouse by their pregnant wife after a scuffle with the cops. It wasn't them we were talking about, it was you! But we want you to know that we are behind you 100 percent. If you need time off, if you need money, if you need to go to a hospital, or whatever, we'll back you up."

(I can't believe this is happening; but most of all I can't believe they're offering to help me. I've felt more and more like an outsider with this group. They must have something up their sleeve--I'll just show them that I don't have a problem!")

My name is Bill, and shortly following that encounter with the only one of my law partners I really respected at that time, I called a local agency which deals with alcohol and drug problems and asked if they offered a "diagnostic interview," confident that they would give me a certificate or a note declaring, with requisite expertise, that I was right ... ol' Bill is not an alcoholic and does not have a drinking problem!

Well, I "passed" the alcoholic test with flying colors (the simple questions Ann Landers publishes from time to time: "Have you ever had some drinks just to get ready to go to a party? Have you ever had drinks in the morning to feel better after the night before? Have you ever promised to yourself not to drink, or to switch to just beer or wine, and broken your promise soon thereafter? Has your drinking ever interfered in any way with your work or with your family or personal relationships? etc., etc.). For me, something clicked when it was pointed out that only alcoholics (and not just heavy drinkers) can have alcoholic blackouts. You know, not remembering the second half of Monday Night Football games; not remembering the drive home the night before and checking the car for damage the next morning; having to ask your wife what kind of spectacle you made of yourself at the dinner party, etc. I had years of these recollections (or lack thereof!), and something "clicked" in my deluded mind at that moment with a simple realization. "Yes, indeed, I am an alcoholic.... What now?"

A few more minutes of her questions about my drinking situations and patterns, and some honest answers from me, yielded her simple and logical solution, which she told me had kept her and others alcoholics sober for the past number of years; ... "We're just not picking up a drink today."

When I got back to the office later that day I didn't announce any earth-shattering decisions to my partners or co-workers (since I had huge doubts about my own ability not to drink or to change what had become a way of life for me). Instead, I decided to call the FLA Hotline for some further information. That was in the early days of The Florida Bar sponsored program to help lawyers with alcohol or substance abuse problems, and well before we had our present extensive network of attorney support groups; but the following day (and now two whole days without a drink!) I did receive a welcome phone call from a local fellow attorney who told me, "My friend, if you want to get sober and have any chance of staying sober, you need to get hooked up with Alcoholics Anonymous. There's a Beginners' Meeting tonight at 8:00 at a church [I never darkened the doors of churches!] near your home." Pretty strong stuff, but he was dead serious, while at the same time sounding very happy and positive, and declaring himself to be, "The luckiest guy on earth; sober in AA since 7/7/77." I knew not a soul in AA; I had never heard of "The Twelve Steps" of recovery; and I was scared as hell at the prospect of going to a church to meet with a bunch of drunks!

Well, as the last 16+ exciting and ever-improving years have shown, my FLA contact attorney was absolutely right. I needed AA desperately! I am totally positive that without the help of Florida Lawyers Assistance, and the solace and strength that is available through learning and practicing the AA principles through their proven Twelve Step program of recovery and spiritual and emotional growth, I would have just continued straight down the path on which I had been headed for about the previous 15 years--heavier and heavier, and more inappropriate and more inappropriate drinking, coupled with and followed by guilt, remorse, bizarre mood swings, isolation, loneliness, and even abject despair--even as the outward appearances of my so-called "professional life and career" and my "ideal" family life seemed well in order.

Nothing could have been farther from the truth or from reality--I had become (or maybe I was born that way) a "real alcoholic," with a powerlessness over my drug of choice, alcohol, and with a truly unmanageable life (strong words, but a perfect description of my secret inside life and private feelings). My wife had written me letters and left them on my pillow when I was out "on the town," or just passed out in my living room chair, begging me to stop hurting her and the kids with my drinking. So I would just drink beer for a while, or give up the martinis or the rusty nails, or some such "cure."

Naturally, nothing worked--similar behavior always leads to similar results--and before long another episode would lead to yet another "letter" or to the "walking on eggshells" routine. What a living nightmare; and I thought I was basically just relaxing after work with my law buddies and fellow sports fans. (Yeah, I was relaxing all right. I bet I'm still the only lawyer in this circuit who ever got thrown out of the same lowlife biker bar twice for too obnoxious behavior!)

When I was finally forced to confront the facts of my drinking and my resulting behavior something broke through and caused me to admit the mess which I was making of my life due to my perverse relationship with alcohol, my one-time "friend," which allowed me, or perhaps made me, able to withstand the imagined stresses of being a trial lawyer.

When I made this admission and went to my first AA meeting on Friday, December 10, 1982, and picked up my first and only "white chip" (a common token or symbol used in many AA groups, which some say denotes the concept of surrender), I knew that I was "home" among many others with backgrounds or stories remarkably similar to mine, at least on an emotional or spiritual level; and that if I would stick with these folks and do what they were doing, rather than continue to do the things I had become accustomed to doing and feeling on a daily basis, things would have to get better.

Well, now over 16 years later, and without having found it necessary to pick up a drink or another white chip (following a relapse or "slip," as too many unfortunates do), I am here--all here--sober, grateful, happy, reasonably successful, proud of my wife and my kids, able to have rewarding and productive relationships (God, I used to hate that word!) with friends, co-workers, golfing buddies--and, very importantly to me, I am able, as a sober and thankful alcoholic in recovery, to "be there" for the other lawyer who might now be going through the hell of alcoholism or drug addiction that I went through before I called the FLA Hotline for help. In fact, now it's me on the other end of the phone advising the suffering lawyer to, "Get your butt to an AA meeting.", "Don't drink and go to meetings.", "Just bring your body and the mind will follow.", "Take it one day at a time.", and all the other bits of AA wisdom I have learned over the years!

God willing, and with the continued help and support of all my friends in AA and FLA, I'll be here, still learning, still growing, still helping and still being grateful for the new life, both personally and professionally, that has been given to me through the realization and the practice of a pretty simple proposition: "Hey! I choose not to drink today, even if my butt falls off, and I plan to make the same choice tomorrow, and tomorrow...."

As I have told many of my AA/FLA friends, if there was a pill I could take which would guarantee that I could drink again and never lose my job or my family or get a DUI, and never even have another miserable hangover; but if I took the pill I couldn't have the same friends and feelings I get from AA/FLA, I sure wouldn't take that pill! I may be stupid, but I'm not crazy!

Believe me, as I think Abraham Lincoln once said, "Misery is optional." I (and you) don't have to go on drinking like that, living like that, and, most importantly, feeling like that.

If you think you might need help, as I did, or just want to talk to somebody who might have been where you are, pick up the phone and call the Florida Lawyers Assistance Hotline, 800-282-8981. The call is free; it is totally confidential; and there probably is another attorney, or even an attorney support group, in your area who stand ready, willing and able to extend the helping hand of understanding, fellowship and shared experiences to you, the alcoholic or addict who still suffers.

After all, that's the reason for AA and FLA We are not a club or professional society, or a business promotion networking organization--we are a band of survivors of many personal and professional battles ... and we've "retired" from drinking and drugging. It works, thank God --and heartfelt thanks to the FLA Hotline for being there when I needed them!

This story was written by an attorney in a metropolitan area who was an associate and then a partner in a medium-sized law firm for many years. He is now, and has been for over 10years, a sole practitioner in the same city. He has also served on the Board of Directors of Florida Lawyers Assistance, Inc., for some time.
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Publication:Florida Bar Journal
Geographic Code:1U5FL
Date:Dec 1, 1999
Previous Article:How I broke through denial to achieve sobriety.
Next Article:A view from the bench.

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