Get Off the Couch

I was lying on a couch in my office with the lights out, hoping the room would stop spinning. It was 8:30 am on a Monday and I found myself in the same situation again: hung over at work and desperate. I was desperate not to have to go to court and act like everything was okay. I felt empty and fearful. I was disgusted with myself and felt no hope. My life seemed to be one big black hole. I couldn't face people and I couldn't look anyone in the eye. My professional life was coming to an end, and I thought there was no stopping that inevitability. A hearing in front of the Grievance Committee of the State Bar was fast approaching. I wasn't sure of the exact date because I hadn't roused the courage to open the certified letters the Bar had sent me, nor to read the complaints and notices of hearing that had been served upon me. I had a desk drawer full of certified letters that had yet to be opened. Little did I know at the time that my life would be totally transformed from a place of dark despair and fear-based alienation and loneliness, to one filled with joyous connection with others, motivated by a desire to be helpful, open, free, and available to the richness of life’s experiences.

I had been able to drink my way through high school, college, and law school. I was able to drink my way through dating, marriage, and becoming a father. I was able to drink my way through studying for and passing the bar exam. I drank my way through setting up and starting a law practice. Through all of these life events, celebrations, and successes, the constant was always alcohol and placing it above everything else that mattered. It became my king. All else suffered and was neglected to some extent due to my drinking and my preoccupation with drinking that grew over the years.

Something was different on that Monday morning. A sliver of willingness was all it took for me to reach out for help to find a way out of the darkness. The reaching out led me to the North Carolina State Bar's Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP). I was directed to undergo a substance abuse assessment. For the first time in my life I was honest about my drinking. That willingness and honesty set me on a path of recovery.

At first the path included a contract with the State Bar that required me to seek and participate in treatment and on-going recovery-related activities for my alcoholism in order to keep practicing law. That contract lasted three years. Since that time, rather than an obligation, participating in recovery is now a privilege. It has given me another shot at life. Before recovery, although surrounded by a loving family and friends, I felt alone. I now realize I was living my life in fear. I was imprisoned by alcoholism. A slave to it. Recovery has freed me. It has showed me how to live a full and complete life and how to fully participate in it. I am a better person, a better husband, a better father, a better friend. I am a better lawyer because of my recovery.

The Lawyer Assistance Program of the NC State Bar has a rich tradition and history of saving lawyers. It helped save my life physically, professionally, and spiritually. If anyone reading this feels like there is no hope, like they are beyond redemption, like they are undeserving of a second chance, like they are alone, please know this: There are people who understand. Those people are a phone call away. The LAP has volunteers throughout the state who are willing to lend help, no questions asked, no commitment required. All that is required is a sliver of willingness to want your life to be different. The only requirement for the assistance of the LAP is a phone call.

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