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A Recovery Story: Drinking and Reality

Johnny Carson was once asked why he quit drinking and his response was, “I don’t drink well.”  This definition certainly fits me, although for many years I was able to drink quite well and alcohol was my solution not my problem.  In my late years of drinking, I managed to brighten up the whole room every time I walked out.

I was one of those folks who no matter where I was, I wanted to be somewhere else; no matter what I was doing, I wanted to be doing something else; and whomever I was with, I wanted to be with someone else.  I was a malcontent always seeking more.  I didn’t think I was tall enough, big enough, athletic enough or mature-looking enough.  I just didn’t fit.  To quote Epicurus, “Nothing is enough for the man for whom enough is too little.”  But when I drank, I was more than enough; I was Master of the Universe.

At first, I had an unusual interest in alcohol.  I did my fair share of drinking and partying while at Chapel Hill during my undergraduate years and although I cut back to some extent in law school, I continued to drink.  It progressed to a preoccupation with drinking and then to a dependence (couldn’t have any real pleasure without alcohol), and I finally entered the early stages of addiction.  In my early drinking, I would plan to get pleasantly intoxicated.  Years later, I would intend to have only a few drinks on the way home from work, and would end up dead drunk, not getting home until late at night or early in the morning.  Initially, I was proud of how much I could drink, but toward the end, I was often sneaking drinks.

Alcoholism tends to impact three areas of the alcoholic’s life.  At home, I was an absentee husband and father; and when home, was either drinking or asleep.  My wife was baffled at how I would get so loaded after just a few drinks, but what she didn’t realize was that I’d already been drinking for hours.  Normal people typically engage in healthy recreational outlets but my main outlet was drinking.  I was either working or drinking, yet I did manage to jog every day.

My social life consisted of hanging out in the bars with people who drank the way I did.  My friends were my drinking buddies although a couple of close friends expressed concern about my drinking.  Always prepared, I kept a couple of fifths in my car trunk in case of an emergency.  I had a great fear of being stuck somewhere with nothing to drink.  As the disease progressed, I could not always control how much I was going to drink or my subsequent behavior.  I had crossed the line to addiction with no chance of return to normal or social drinking.

In my profession, drinking was having an impact as well.  I would never set an appointment after 4 p.m. because it would interfere with the cocktail hour.  On too many occasions, I went to work extremely hung over although I never drank while working.  The morning drinking was reserved for weekends and holidays.  Paradoxically, we lawyers are experts in solving the problems of our clients; yet have great difficulty dealing with our own problems.  I thought I could and should control my drinking.

So here I was a successful attorney, Martindale a.v. rating, married with two children, owned a home in a fashionable area, never had a DWI, never lost a job and hadn’t lost my family.  (But as someone pointed out, none of these things had happened yet.)  How the hell could I be an alcoholic?  I now understand that denial is a hallmark of alcoholism, and that alcoholism is quite the cunning disease.

At the age of 40, I read a newspaper article about the late Wilbur Mills, who was a recovering alcoholic.  Despite my massive ego and staunch denial of any problem, I figured that if Mills, Chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee at the time, had gone to treatment; possibly, I would look into this and attend an AA meeting.  I didn’t realize it at the time but I had made a major life decision – I attended an AA meeting and the miracle began.  Today, I am active in AA and the PALS program.  (When I got sober the PALS program had not yet been established.)  By the way, several years later, I had the opportunity to join Wilbur Mills for dinner at the PALS annual meeting in Pinehurst.

Recovery has been a process not an event.  I did not have the advantage of a formal treatment program, but possessed the sole requirement for recovery: a desire to stop drinking.  The challenge in early sobriety was the euphoric recall of my earlier drinking days.  I tended to remember the good times and forget the bad.  It was important for me to attend AA meetings to become comfortable with sobriety.  Today, I go to meetings because I want to go.  Today, life is rich without drinking, and I’m comfortable with who I am.

I now understand that alcoholism is an illness and not a moral shortcoming.  Treatment is divinely simple.  One has to give up the medicine to get well and become open to change.  The last place I wanted to look was within, but that’s what it takes.  Alcoholism is a disease of perception and I had to change my perception and live life on life’s terms without the illusion of alcohol.  There was a time when I thought I couldn’t possibly enjoy life without drinking.  Amazingly, not drinking one day at a time for me today feels better than my best times drinking.

Maybe someone reading this article needs a reality check about his or her drinking.  If so, give PALS a call.  We all are responsible when anyone anywhere reaches out for help.  We want to be there with an open ear and most importantly with total confidentiality.

The following personal story of a North Carolina lawyer is presented anonymously in the spirit of AA, which eschews pride in recovery.  If you wish to communicate with the author, you may do so by contacting the LAP Director.

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