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A Recovery Story: Before and After

I didn’t consider alcohol as a remedy for my unhappiness and depression in high school.  I was introverted, although active in school activities, but I never felt like I belonged in social situations.  While my classmates were having fun outside the classroom, I was at home reading a book.

I discovered alcohol when I was eighteen and a sophomore at UNC Chapel Hill.  Looking back, I thought it had saved my life and I can recall regretting that I had not discovered it sooner.  I could not imagine any ill effects from this elixir.  Even then I drank alone a great deal, and when I was at parties, I would become quiet and withdrawn the more I drank.  After graduation, I was inducted into the Army and my alcoholism began to blossom.  Liquor was cheap and everybody drank.  I knew then that I was controlled by alcohol before I actually knew the technical definition for alcoholism, but I did not want to do anything about it because I didn’t think I could live without it and could not imagine life without alcohol.

During the three years of law school, I declared a moratorium on my drinking because I was afraid that I could not drink and complete the academic program.  I can remember that on the rare occasions when I did drink, I got very drunk and was very hung over.

The day I received the good news on the Bar results is when the daily drinking began.  At first it was about four to six beers, and then I switched to bourbon, about a half-pint per day.  This consumption did not affect my work or tennis or bridge.  The first time I thought the pattern was changing was when I drove to Myrtle Beach and drank six beers on the way instead of three as I had in the past, arriving intoxicated instead of mellow.  About this time, I started icing down beer to take with me to the tennis court and I sought a group of bridge players who drank while they were playing.  The daily hangovers began and became a part of my regimen.  I made excuses for a while telling myself that they were caused by cigarettes.  Notwithstanding the drinking and the hangovers, my law practice continued to grow and no one knew how sick and unhappy I was becoming.  My home life was miserable.  My then wife and I rarely spoke civilly to each other, but we showed the world happy faces.  No one ever mentioned to me that I had a drinking problem and of course, I overlooked my true feelings.  She finally insisted that I enter treatment, and I can remember telling my psychiatrist, who was also treating me for a bi-polar disorder (manic depression), that my practice would be ruined if I went away for twenty-eight days and he told me that most people would not notice that I was gone and that those who did, would not care.  Well, this came as quite a shock to someone who truly thought he was the center of the universe.

I went through the twenty-eight days never relating to anything and not accepting my alcoholism as a disease, which needed to be treated.  I got drunk on the plane coming home and continued to drink alcoholically for another ten years, during which time I was divorced and remarried.  Finally, I hit that cross roads in my life where I had to make a decision.  Denial was no longer an option.  This time I was in a second marriage which was also disintegrating, and my two teenage sons were using drugs, drinking, and generally running wild in the streets.  They had inherited my disease.  For me, it was either stop drinking or die, and on hopefully my last day of using alcohol, I had been on a ten-day drinking marathon.  Monday morning I had to make a court appearance.  I had not shaved or taken a shower in over a week.  To stop the shaking, I fortified myself with two big hits of vodka (Smirnoff, of course), did my business and came home, drinking straight vodka all the way.

At the time, I was living on a lake.  It was early March, snowing and sleeting, the wind was blowing and it was cold.  I decided to jump in the lake with a suit and overcoat on and swim until I drowned.  This was the first time I really seriously considered getting sober.  I had always thought that if I did quit drinking I would revert to my high school days when I was severely depressed.  I looked at alcohol as my savior, but realizing how cold the lake water would be, I rationalized that sobriety couldn’t be as dreadful as I thought it would be and I had never really given it a chance.  I called two friends who had been sober for a few years and they came over and fed me coffee and soup and talked with me (not to me) about recovery.  I went to an AA meeting that night and not only have I not had a drink since that time, I haven’t wanted a drink and that was thirteen and a half years ago.

The AA program for me, although simple, has not been easy, but I don’t think it should be because if it were, maybe it wouldn’t have the inestimable value, which it has.  Recovery is my way of life and my goal after a few years of recovery became to try and give to others what has been so unselfishly given to me.  I belong in AA.  The people whom I have been fortunate enough to befriend are special and blessed people and they know it.  I know I am a walking miracle.  I could have died a thousand times and taken many people with me, but because I didn’t, I have a duty and an obligation to reach out to others who are struggling with this insidious illness.

We are very much alike but we also are different.  My bottom did not include jail (except a few hours in a holding cell in Mexico) or a DWI, or a suspension of my law license or bankruptcy, but I sank as low as I could go without death or insanity.  I do not take my sobriety for granted.  It is a daily blessing and I must work on it every day without exception.

Two years ago, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer which was discovered as a result of a routine physical.  I had not had a physical examination in over ten years and although I had no health problems, from somewhere a clear message was being sent to me to have a physical.  I had the radical surgery.  At no time during the process have I had any fear, including when the cancer was discovered, during the surgery and the after care.  Today I am cancer free.  I must attribute my lack of fear to my faith in a Higher Power, which I discovered through Alcoholics Anonymous.  If I had been drinking when the cancer was discovered, I would have been terrified.  The program works if one will let it work.

The preceding personal story of a North Carolina lawyer is presented anonymously in the spirit of Alcoholics Anonymous, which seeks to avoid pride in recovery.  

The North Carolina Lawyer Assistance Program is a confidential program of assistance for all North Carolina lawyers.  The Lawyer Assistance Program has two outreaches: PALS and FRIENDS.  PALS addresses alcoholism and other addictions:  FRIENDS depression and other mental health problems.  For more information go to http://www.nclap.org/ or call toll free:   1-800-720-7257 

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