A good act does not wash out the bad, nor a bad act the good. Each should have its own reward. – George R.R. Martin
Was it you or I who stumbled first? It does not matter. The one of us who finds the strength to get up first, must help the other. – Vera Nazarian
No matter what a waste one has made of one’s life, it is ever possible to find some path to redemption, however partial. – Charles Frazier
Your current circumstances are part of your redemption story He is writing. – Evinda Lepins
The MBA started a local LAWYERS ASSISTANCE PROGRAM committee a few years back as an extension of the state ALAP program. The present members – JAY MCDONALD, BEN HEINZ, GABY REEVES, HANK CADDELL, GINGER POYNTER, AND MATT MCDONALD – are serious about their mission. They want to get the word out to lawyers suffering from addictions, depression, or both, that there is hope and help and a better way to live. And, a lawyer can get help without losing his license. They believe that the more people understand addiction and mental health issues, the more these diseases will be destigmatized and the more lawyers will seek help sooner – before it is literally too late.
Our committee asked me to address their mission in this column. I was more than happy to do so, but wanted to treat the subject with the respect and seriousness it deserves, and I was not sure what the message should be. I went to my usual secret source, The Google, and was blown away. Put in any search you want with a combination of the term “lawyer” and “alcohol,” “drugs,” “mental health,” “addiction,” or “recovery” and you will be reading through 2035. Not having that much time on my hands, I called a longtime friend who has been very active not only with his own recovery, but also with helping other lawyers find their way back. He invited me to meet with his group – LAWYERS IN RECOVERY. So … I recently sat around a table in a conference room downtown with 8 other folks – seven men and one woman.
I was told that they meet the first and third Thursdays of each month. Their program is centered on the tenets of Alcoholics Anonymous. It is a judgment free zone. I learned at the outset that one does not get advice or instruction here. Each lawyer in recovery can only relate his or her own experience. I had known half the people in the room for years, a few I knew a little and a few I was meeting for the first time. Three had lost their law license. More than three had lost their families. A few had gained at least some family members back. Most had hit rock bottom before they sought recovery in a serious way. Some had started attending as a requirement of the ALAP. One by one, they described their own experience in vignettes and lessons learned.
Their honesty was both stunning and humbling. I told them so and admitted that I could not bare my soul in such a way. “We have to, because if we don’t, our disease will kill us,” was the reply by one. In varying forms, they related how it took them too long to get help because of the fear of losing their families, their jobs, their law licenses, their control of everything … Before getting sober, they could not see that each drink they took was doing all of that.
“I went to my first AA meeting in 1992 and went for years without being serious, until …”. “A few friends tried to give me polite hints, but that just made me double down until I Thelma and Louise’d it o the cliff … but it was such a relief when I did because my alcoholism was exhausting me.” “I was sober for a long time without losing everything. I thought I had it licked and started drinking again. I guess I just had to lose everything before I really got the message.” “My practice went down the tubes and I didn’t even care.” “I had to learn that I wasn’t in control and that my problem is bigger than me.” My estimation and admiration for each multiplied as I listened to their words.
My question to the group was simple – what can I say that might inch even one lawyer in need of help toward seeking recovery? The group concisely sums this up with their axiom – “recovery will work for those who want it, not those who need it.”
Here’s where things get tougher because denial is a major component of the condition. There are no neat and clean answers. All agreed that the lawyer in need has to buy in, has to want to get better, and has to overcome the fear of what seeking recovery will mean. One did say, however, that he went into rehab because his wife told him she was leaving if he did not. Thanks to a caring wife, he bought in.
They did offer several reasons for seeking help:
– If you are an alcoholic, it will eventually kill you before your time; from the physical effects or, many times, suicide.
– If you are an alcoholic, you may kill others before their time.
– You cannot “cure” this disease by yourself any more than you can cure cancer.
– You cannot cure this disease by “drinking sociably” – alcoholics aren’t social drinkers.
– If you seek help through AA or Lawyers in Recovery (or both), no one will judge you, you will only be offered a helping hand.
– The ALAP refers lawyers to them, but Lawyers in Recovery does not refer lawyers to ALAP.
– Confidentiality and anonymity are key.
I left the meeting feeling small and somewhat insignificant. But I also felt strangely empowered. I had just witnessed eight people describe being in the lion’s grasp, staring that critter down, and living to tell the tale. That lion may show up again. They might not run fast enough and end up in his claws anew. But now they know there is help. If nothing else, each has seven other friends who will answer the phone 24/7 at 3 a.m., two states away and find a way to help. The cost of this help is absolutely zero and the admission ticket is no more than a honest desire to address the condition and have a better life in all of its aspects – family, professional, social – you name it.
I was reminded of a story a good friend, a lawyer now in recovery, told me twenty plus years ago. His father, a lawyer himself, went through rehab at age 70 or so. Less than a year later, he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. My friend, trying to lighten the mood, told his dad “so much for clean living.” “No,” he replied, “I want to die sober.” That’s a pretty strong testament.
LAWYERS IN RECOVERY meet at 5:30 on the 1st and 3rd Thursdays of each month in an office located at 205 Church St. If you need further information, you can contact (anonymously) Bar Headquarters and you will be referred to a member of the LIR who will speak to you on a confidential basis. Help is also available through the Southwest Alabama Central Office of AA located at 600 Bel Air Blvd., Suite 224, (479-9994). Go to www.mobileaa.org for a listing of times and locations for 12 step meetings in Mobile and surrounding areas, along with links to other resources.