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A Recovery Story: Nothing to Lose, Life to Gain

I am forty-six years old and have been a lawyer since 1976. I practice in a Piedmont city. I concentrate in civil litigation. Martindale Hubbell has give me an “av” rating, which I consider to be almost meaningless but which I mention because it may help you identify with my type, whatever that is. I am married and am a father.

I am an alcoholic. I began my recovery seven months ago.

In this article, I will tell you what I was like, what happened and what I am like now. I hope that if you see part of yourself in what I was like and what happened, you will understand the hope that I have in what I am like now.

I started drinking in late high school and drank beer throughout college and law school. It was the cool thing to do and it made me feel accepted and relaxed. There came a time ten years or more ago when I knew that I was drinking too much. But I would not let myself think that I was an alcoholic. I thought that if I ever became an alcoholic, I would go to AA and get fixed – learn to control my drinking better or maybe even quit altogether.

In the meantime, I kept drinking. No lost weekends. No missed work days. No DWI’s. But I began to drink more and more after work (usually at home) and on weekends. I began to note some of the damaging effect drinking was having on me. I began to realize that I had a real drinking problem – a bad one. But I thought that I needed the alcohol. Far from thinking that I would function better and be happier without alcohol, I thought that without it I could not function or be happy at all. I began to despair.

In December of 1996, after Christmas, my wife sat me down when I was sober and said that she thought that I had a severe alcohol problem, that it was my problem, that I should get help, and that she loved me but didn’t thing that our marriage would survive the problem. She stated facts without judgment or demand or hysteria. That moment, I resolved to cut way back on my alcohol consumption and, if necessary, to go to AA to learn how to get control of my drinking if I couldn’t do it on my own. To make a long story short, I couldn’t cut down so I resolved to stop drinking altogether and, of course, I couldn’t do that either. A period of deception, shame and downward emotional spiral – another long story – followed. I knew that I couldn’t will myself to stop drinking, yet continued to drink. It was hell. Utter hell.

I became desperate. I called Don Carroll at PALS (1-800-720-PALS). He assigned a PALS Volunteer to me. The following Saturday, I had lunch with my assigned Volunteer, who brought along another Volunteer. Both were lawyers that I knew and liked. The three of us had a lot in common – we are alcoholics. They had something else in common with each other but not then with me. They were recovering alcoholics and, while they still experienced their share of life’s problems, they seemed content with their lives. On the way home from our lunch, I thought to myself that while it had been a gut wrenching experience for me it had relieved me greatly and, most surprisingly, we had actually laughed a lot.

Not long after that lunch, I entered an intensive outpatient chemical dependency treatment center where I learned a tremendous amount about all aspects of alcoholism – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual – and its effects on me and my family. I learned that alcoholism is a disease, like diabetes, for which there is no cure. There is, however, the possibility of remission which alcoholics call recovery.

As a part of my treatment, I was required to go to meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous at least three times a week. In AA meetings, people share with each other their experience, strength and hope. In my first meeting, they talked to me specifically and in general to newcomers. These people, most of whom were and are superficially unlike me, told their stories briefly. Many were like mine; some were not. But there was a common thread – their lives had been controlled by alcohol in one way or another. Most had tried and failed to cut down or stop drinking through exercise of their own will.

Many things were said at this meeting and the meetings that I went to in the first few weeks that I didn’t understand, could not comprehend. But the central component of my AA experience for those weeks was my awareness that these people, many of whom had suffered far worse devastation from alcohol than I had, had stopped drinking, were smiling and, while they still had problems, seemed happy. They were welcoming and inclusive. Not knowing me or caring about who I was or had been, they saw that I needed and wanted help. They know how I felt as I sat there, because most of them had felt the same. They had experienced a lot of what I had. They know how to get sober and live sober. I did not. They knew how to live happily without alcohol. I did not. There was no doubt in my mind that they could help me and, what’s more, wanted to. I resolved to let them. And help me they did.

I’ve now been to two hundred or so AA meetings. When I started, it was hard to go to three a week. I now got to six or seven meetings a week. At meetings many things are discussed but the underlying message is hope. Hope for a different life, a better life, free of the destructive power of alcohol.

I am not cured of alcoholism. There is no cure. I could easily pick up a drink tomorrow. I don’t think I will today, but I could. I am not cured. But I am recovering day by day. One day at a time, AA has made all the difference.

Today, seven months later, my whole attitude and outlook on life have changed. I know a new freedom and a new happiness. I have a daily reprieve from alcohol and don’t have, today, an alcohol problem. I still have, in spades, a living problem. But I know that having problems and unsettled difficulties in my life does not make me special or unique. My life, with all of its problems, is so much better than it was this time last year and, indeed, than it has been for a very long time that at times the change is hard for me to believe.

If my story rings a bell with you or if an intensely honest evaluation of yourself convinces you that alcohol usage is causing you a problem, even only one problem, I’ll risk being slightly preachy by suggesting that you owe it to yourself to have an assessment at an addiction treatment center in your area. By doing so, you will know whether or not you suffer (or are at risk of suffering) from the disease of alcoholism. If you decide that you have a problem with alcohol, you can then decide whether you want to recover or whether you are content to be among the far larger group of people with alcohol problems that don’t seek help.

My message is one of hope. If you need help, call  PALS at 1-800-720-PALS like I did and ask for it. Then accept it and work for recovery by doing all that is suggested to you. You will recover. Countless others have. You are not unique.

There is absolutely nothing of value to lose and life itself to gain.

From, Campbell Law Observer, Vol. 19, No. 2, February 1998

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