I entered law school as a sober alcoholic. I had moved to a new state for school, and a personal trauma plus the stress of my first year of law school nearly derailed my dream. But because of a presentation from an LAP representative at my law school, I was able to use the resources available to law students from LAP to stay sober, save myself, and save my career.
My story is nothing spectacular, but it is an honest recount of a long journey. I won’t try to impress you with outlandish stories of drunken debauchery or drug-fueled binges. Yes, all that stuff happened. For me, the healing began once I was willing to look at the causes and conditions that allowed those things to happen.
I grew up in the Midwest with two loving parents who celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary this past summer in Idaho with my husband and me at Chandler’s Steakhouse. My two younger brothers are great people and I enjoy a special connection with them. My family lives close and we spent all major holidays together. We did not have everything we wanted, but we had everything we needed. I always did well in school and excelled in music.
See what I mean? Everything seems pretty normal on the surface.
Beneath the surface, the problem was me. I felt like I didn’t belong anywhere. I never felt connected with my family. We didn’t talk about things, especially if it involved feelings or anything remotely uncomfortable. I couldn’t wait to leave my hometown. I never felt that I could really be myself around any of my friends. I received a college scholarships for music, but I still felt I wasn’t good enough. I enjoyed looking down on others to mask my own insecurities. I had the biggest ego with the lowest self-esteem.
I started using drugs as soon as the opportunity presented itself during college. The only objective was to feel different. Constantly feeling uncomfortable in my own skin was exhausting and after 18 years I finally found an outlet. I remained high for the next 10 years.
Drinking was my favorite way to check out because every time I drank alcohol, it was for the sole purpose of getting loaded and usually resulted in a blackout. My alcoholism steadily and persistently progressed, though. I began attending Friday happy hours with coworkers once I started my career. These evolved to include several days a week, and in four and one-half short years I became a daily drinker.
Multiple run-ins with the law should have derailed my career, but family, friends, administrators, and judges always gave me a break. I never suffered the consequences I deserved. These people had the best of intentions; they wanted to give me a second chance to get my life together. They really just enabled me to continue doing what I was doing.
It was easy to justify that changes were unnecessary because my life wasn’t yet “that bad.” I was still gainfully employed, had a roof over my head, and my car was paid off. I could conveniently focus on those facts and overlook that I was defaulting on my student loans, drinking myself into debt, and taking on a second job to support my drinking and drug habits.
I could also conveniently overlook the impact my addiction was having on my personal relationships. I was constantly loaded the last two years I was actively using and was isolating myself so people wouldn’t see how bad it was. My parents never heard from me. My mother worried. My dad had to hear about it. I borrowed money from everyone and paid no one back. Two romantic relationships ended because the other person couldn’t deal with my drinking.
Then, I met someone who would change everything. We fell madly in love and partied hard for the first 10 months of our relationship. He decided at that time he was done, entered treatment, got sober, and remained sober through a 12-step program. I wasn’t ready to join him on that journey because I couldn’t imagine my life without alcohol, but I had a front row seat to watching someone’s life improve through sobriety. He became happy again and that was irritating.
I continued drinking for another year and a half, often against my will. Putting down the drugs was easy, but I could not stop drinking. He noticed and told me he couldn’t continue in the relationship this way. As much as he loved me, he had to put his sobriety first. I was happy to leave because no one was going to interfere with my drinking.
My rock bottom happened one random night when I went out to party with friends and could NOT get sufficiently loaded. I left that party and went to the bar by my house. It was my go-to place because it was less than a mile from my house, so it wasn’t technically drunk driving because it was so close. (Seriously, this is the crap I told myself.)
While I was on a bar stool, the thought occurred to me:
“Maybe this isn’t working for you anymore. Maybe you should try not drinking.”
I know now that was a Higher Power intervening. The next day I sobered up and went to my first AA meeting. I don’t remember the discussion in the meeting, but I do remember that it was the first time I heard anyone talking about the things I was feeling. I kept going back, got a sponsor, and started working the steps. My ex said if I was going to start attending meetings and get sober, we could probably work things out. I moved back in and we married six years after I got sober.
He supported my sober dream of going back to school. We moved to Idaho so I could begin law school. There are no words to describe the excitement I felt about walking through the fear and making it to this moment!
But life happened. Things didn’t go according to plan. I experienced a trauma during my first year of law school that almost derailed my sober dream.
I tried to cope as best I could but with moving to a new state, setting up a new home, and starting law school, I didn’t get connected to AA right away. The traumatic event and no local support system with the stress of law school was a perfect storm for self-destruction.
One of my professor’s reached out and expressed her concern about my performance in law school. I cried in her office and thanked her, but nothing changed because nothing changed.
Two months later, I was back in her office facing a much harsher version of the previous conversation. She essentially told me I wouldn’t last long in the legal profession if I continued this way. I hated her for putting a spotlight on my shortcomings that made it impossible for me to ignore them any longer.
Then, LAP made a presentation at my law school. I talked with a representative after the presentation and she gave me her phone number. Of course, I didn’t call. Her number sat in my phone for eight months.
One day I was in enough pain that I found her number and actually called. She answered. Two days later we met for coffee. The next week we met again. I became comfortable enough with her that I wanted to call, and we started talking about the things inside that were holding me back. We talked about the trauma I experienced. She had a similar experience and told me how she walked through it to the other side.
Before I knew it, we were laughing about it! It’s possible to find humor in anything and laughing makes everything better. Yes, it was a bad thing that happened. She just asked me point blank, “How long do you want to carry this around and be miserable? You can let it go anytime and free yourself.” It took the power out of the traumatic event because she reminded me that I didn’t cause it, I can’t cure it, and I can’t control it.
Having a safe place to go and a confidential resource saved me personally and probably saved my future legal career. I feel like I’m thriving again because I’m not alone. I never have to be alone unless I choose to be.
This woman is always a phone call, text, or cup of coffee away and all because LAP made themselves known to group of law school students. I will be forever grateful to this small group of LAP volunteers who are willing to reach out and give their time to help our profession.
On that day, LAP’s presentation resonated with one law student. When that law student was ready to reach out for help, LAP answered. With her continued help, I’m coming out of my depression and, most importantly, didn’t have to drink or use.
I’m still sober and finding happiness again. I did NOT get sober to be miserable. If you or someone you know is struggling, reach out to LAP when you’re done being miserable. If it doesn’t work for you, LAP will refund your misery.
The author of this article wishes to remain anonymous. All information exchanged with the Idaho Lawyer Assistance Program is 100% confidential and will not be reported to the Idaho State Bar. You can reach the 24-Hour Hotline at 866-460-9014.