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Hammurabi and Addiction

Not too long ago the headline for this column was “The Chemistry of Self-Centeredness” (Bar Journal, Winter 1997, vol. 2 # 4). In the Bill Moyers special on addiction, the hour entitled “The Hijacked Brain” demonstrated how the brain is actually changed by addiction, how the neurochemistry of selfishness occurs. Maybe that is one reason you hear so much laughter from people in recovery. Humor is an antidote to self-centeredness. My favorite humorist is Miami Herald columnist Dave Barry. So with apologies to Dave and AA, I want to report to you about an article sent in by an alert reader ( I swear I am not making this up) from the April first edition of the National Legal Picayune (For those of you like me who have always wondered what the word Picayune means I consulted the Southern equivalent of the OED, and discovered it means a small white basketball player who mostly sits on the bench).

In banner headlines the newspaper proclaimed: “Scientist Discover Law is an Addiction — Hopeful About Cure.” After a ten year study (funded in part by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that also recently decided to fund the economies of Byelorussia and Kazakhstan) scientists determined that the behavioral patterns of people whose neuro-chemical brain structures have been altered by alcoholism or other drug addictions match the ordinary behavioral patterns of most lawyers. The article cited these examples:

Alcoholic/Addict

Lawyer

1. Develops an increased ability to drink greater and greater amounts as addiction progresses. 1. More money a lawyer makes the more he/she feels the need to make.
2. Addiction causes family problems because the chemical, not other people, comes first. 2. Required billable hours come before family.
3. Often late to appointments. 3. Always late.
4. Tells you whatever will keep you happy so you will not question use. 4. Always has a plausible excuse.
5. Frequent mood swings, one is never sure how he/she will react. 5. Bar survey show lawyers often anxious, depressed.

The researchers found on the back of Hammurabi’s Code, overlooked for thousands of years, the Ten Steps into Lawyer Despair had been chiseled into the stone:

1. We tried to solve other people’s problems all the time.
2. Our emotional well-being became dependent on how we served others.
3. With our sense of well being displaced outside ourselves, our lives became emotionally unmanageable.
4. Our belief that we could fix other people’s problems created a false sense of power that gave us a distorted view of ourselves and the world.
5. This unmanageability and distortion caused us to feel cynical, despairing and unhappy about practicing law.
6. The source of all our problems became law practice.
7. Lawyer jokes and the culture’s view of lawyers reinforced this view.
8. We became increasingly depressed, turned to alcohol and other drugs to self medicate.
9. Our marital relationships became difficult and our children began to act out.
10. We reached a point at which we were in total despair.

(If you relate to any of this in modern times, a confidential call can be made to PALS at 1-800-720-PALS. This call can be made by any lawyer in the state. In addition, any lawyer in Mecklenburg County may also call the Mecklenburg County Bar Lawyer Support Committee at 704-375-8624 and those lawyers in Wake County who are members of the Wake County Bar Association may call BarCares at 1-800-640-0735.)

Fortunately, the discovery of ancient texts did not end here. As a result of the foregoing call for help, Hammurabi’s twice-removed stepson to the nth power recently related exactly what happened to his erstwhile ancestor and code-maker. It turns out Hammurabi and several other downtrodden members of his firm had made a call to the Babylonian Lawyers Assistance Program (BLAP). What they discovered as a result of the assistance by BLAP recently popped up on the Internet as the 12 ancient hieroglyphics of AA (Anxious Attorneys).

Although so far only partially decoded, the hieroglyphics of AA suggest that these Babylonian lawyers discovered that their condition would remain forever bleak until they became willing to reach out for and accept help. An interpretation of one stick figure athlete has been interpreted to mean: Go with the Winners. Find people who have wrestled successfully with your same problem, and who are leading happy lives and follow their lead. Another figure, something like a sphinx coming out of ashes, is deciphered as meaning that new joys and freedom in life only come when we give up our old patterns and needs. There is a loaf of bread just-out-of-the-oven symbol that suggests the importance of practicing gratitude each day for the opportunities we have. An eye symbol in a pyramid was also found, similar to the one on the dollar bill. It is believed to stress the importance of being mindfully aware, or as you hear in another context: you must be present to win.

Prior to consulting BLAP, Hammurabi was convinced that the problems he had were unique to him. Well, here we are 3000 years later. Everything changes, and everything stays the same.

– by Don Carroll

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