I remember the day in April 2007 I finally confided to my psychiatrist that I was struggling with drugs and alcohol. I did not mention at that time that I had also struggled with both exercise and traditional bulimia for over two decades
I felt completely stigmatized and alone in my eating disorder and did not feel that anyone, including him could understand or help. Adding to the stigma was my profession. Not only was I a male with an eating disorder, I was a male lawyer with an eating disorder. How stigmatizing was that? I have spoken openly about my eating disorder recovery for years and to this day, I am unaware of any other male in the legal profession who has publicly professed to dealing with an eating disorder. The hard statistics of how many males are afflicted with eating disorders tell us that they are of course out there. Along those same lines, I have received numerous emails from females in the legal profession who are struggling or are in recovery from both anorexia and bulimia.
Why do males struggling with eating disorders in in the legal profession seem to be so few and far between? We can look to a recent study of mental health issues in law school published by the Journal of Legal Education, which found 27% of law students (18% of male respondents and 34% of female respondents) screened positive for eating disorders. Yet only 3% of respondents had actually been diagnosed. While I do not have the breakdown, I suspect that the majority of that three percent diagnosed is female.
I believe one reason for this reluctance to seek treatment compounded on top of the strong societal stigma is the culture of the legal profession. The fear of showing weakness and vulnerability. The fear of showing “weakness” is so ingrained into our thought process as lawyers and even starting as law students that as a profession, we are often unable to distinguish between how feelings need to be channeled to do our best to excel in the profession versus what we need to do to help ourselves when we are struggling with mental health issues. We have difficulty stepping back and embracing the vulnerability of telling people when we are struggling as being a virtue.
Here is the catch. This type of vulnerability is something that is absolutely necessary in mental health recovery. Particularly eating disorder recovery. It may involve opening up the well of emotions that may date back over a lifetime that are holding you back from getting better. Not a pleasant thought, is it? Very counter-intuitive to the projection of knowledge, competency, and strength in the profession
I can tell you that while I struggled with my eating disorder, and then moved into recovery, that recovery did not begin in earnest until I allowed myself to be vulnerable in a setting that I felt safe to do so. And it took time to feel safe. I finally got honest with my psychiatrist and those close to me. I then began to move forward in a positive way. I had been lying by omission for years, simply getting my anti-depressant meds and not opening up about all the unresolved pain, layer upon layer going back to childhood. The mentally abusive relationship with my mother. The severe bullying as a teenager. (I do not blame either as causes of my eating disorder. As we know, there is a difference between cause and correlation.) The feelings of inadequacy and lack of self-worth also played a role. While there is no other history of eating disorders in my family, the role of genetics cannot be dismissed as well.
I see this issue regularly when I speak to lawyers and law students who are struggling. People who would rather pull their toenails out with their teeth than talk about such things. Talk about the pain of a little boy or girl, failed relationships, trouble at home. Possible environmental triggers that have been long buried in the subconscious.
It’s easier to simply say, “I’m over that,” and move on. To emotionally isolate from the world. To compartmentalize the pain. But they often have not moved on and those feelings are always just under the surface, waiting to trigger destructive behaviors or playing a role in not dealing with the ones already present. The stress of billing. Stress of trial. Stress of grades. Problems at home. Childhood trauma. The list of possible triggers is endless. I totally get that. Binging and purging was a huge stress release for me during both law school and as practicing lawyer. The same was true of my obsessive-compulsive exercise. Probably my biggest trigger issue present day.
I am here to tell you that allowing myself to be vulnerable and let those feelings out was a key in my long-term eating disorder recovery which now stands at just over ten years. Those feelings that dated back to childhood no longer control me. I even write letters to my teenage self. I talk to my “inner child.” Doesn’t sound very “manly” or “lawyer-like,” does it? It does not mean telling everyone your childhood secrets. It means realizing that being vulnerable and facing such feelings is both beneficial and necessary in moving forward in recovery. Find a safe setting. Give it a try.
Lawyers and law students, at least anecdotally, often seem to be driven, Type-A personalities who might in some ways be at higher risk for addictive behaviors. Perhaps the ways we fit the lawyer “type” has something to do with propensity for mental health issues and addiction. Or maybe sometimes it’s the way we don’t fit in that matters. I certainly felt more stress through the years from the ways I wasn’t a typical lawyer than the ways that I was. While I never felt particularly stressed from the desire to excel either in law school or as a lawyer, I was stressed because I was miserable for other reasons. I’d chosen an occupation for all the wrong reasons that had no relation to who I was as a person.
Read the rest on my weekly column at Above The Law
Those suffering from an SUD (substance use disorder) and the law don’t mix. Or do they? If you’re a person living with a substance use disorder you’ve had a run in with the law in one form or another. Maybe you were lucky and never got arrested as a result of your SUD. Maybe you found yourself behind bars at some point as a consequence of your SUD. In either case, the law was working for your recovery. The law affects every person who suffers from a SUD in one way or the other in three ways. They do this by enforcing moral standards of society, by deterring drug use, or by public education and rehabilitation efforts. The purpose of this article is to bring awareness to how the law has brought many to recovery in one way or the other.
The law decides what taboo is.
The law is not your friend while you are using. This is true for anyone who’s struggled with a SUD. They (the lawmakers) outright ban the substances you’re dependent upon. Some completely legal drugs are habit-forming too. In this case they control the amount you can receive or ingest. You’re trying to survive, I get it. But all you do is obsess over getting that next fix. The last thing on your mind is whether your behavior is appropriate or not.
Substances like meth, heroin, and cocaine are illegal, but also completely obtainable. You can get them about anywhere. Why then, are they illegal? Substances are illegal because the government functions as a buffer between “we the people” and the safety of its citizens. They also function as a moral guide that determines taboo behavior such as drug use. Maybe you’re a person from a family with little to no ground rules on moral behavior. This is when the law steps in and sets that boundary of moral behavior for you. At some point when the law sets that boundary, it might make you ponder your lifestyle and consider recovery. Recovery might occur when you realize that the monster you are up against is never going to change. Your lifestyle of using will always be immoral.
Consequences and Deterrents
The government determines which drugs are dangerous, and they create laws to impose on those who violate them. The War on Drugs is nothing new; it is a part of American History. Opium was at one point used, as alcohol is today. Once a substance becomes taboo or considered dangerous, they attempted to deter drug use through the creation of laws.
Whether the law deters drug use or not is a debatable topic for another article. Consider though, that the intent is to deter individuals from doing drugs by imposing consequences. When I was using I knew the consequences of dealing were far worse than the consequences of using. This deterred me from dealing. The controlled environment of a jail cell is those suffering from a SUD’s worst nightmare. For some, one run-in with the judicial system is enough to lead them to recovery. For some, it takes many run-ins with the law, but they consider recovery because they can’t beat the system.
The law tries to fix you.
Who remembers sitting through D.A.R.E assemblies in school? D.A.R.E. was a result of a spike in drug use in L.A. in the 80’s. The law intervened and started to program with the vision to decrease drug use amongst kids and it educates kids as a prevention tool. I sat through the D.A.R.E. program in school like any other kid. It taught me that drug use was bad. I still decided to use drugs. But, there are success stories from kids who quit experimenting with drugs and alcohol from educational programs such as this. Programs like these begin in elementary and follow kids through high school. If forced education and morals don’t work, how about forced treatment then?
Most, if not all, people who receive a DUI have to go to drunk driving school to get their license back. The government aims at educating you on SUD’s. Also, they may mandate substance use counseling which is often where recovery begins. Some people charged with a drug offense have an opportunity to avoid stiff sentencing if they opt for SUD treatment. The seed of recovery is then planted, sometimes forcibly.
A lot of people living with SUD would have never considered recovery if it weren’t for the law. Regardless if you’ve ever worn handcuffs or not, the law still has a presence in those struggling with SUD’s life, and attempts to bring them to recovery. Even if you think you’ve never had a “run-in” with the law, you have in one form or another. Sometimes the moral consequences are enough to lead people to recovery. The education outreach is enough to bring someone to recovery. The laws may act as a deterrent from drugs, or may force someone into recovery someday.
It is said that the arm of the law is long. It reaches even those who don’t want to be reached. It plants seeds of recovery into all its citizens. It plants those into recovery those who sometimes don’t want to be planted. The growth however, is optional. Russell Brand has said “the mentality and behavior of drug addicts and alcoholics is wholly irrational until you understand that they are completely powerless over their addiction, and unless they have structured help, they have no hope.” Choose recovery. It’s the best kind of conformity there is.
Author Bio: Hey I’m Rachel. I write what my heart tells me to in an effort to carry out the 12th step…serving others. I have a BA in Sociology and am working my MA in Human Services Counseling specializing in Addiction and Recovery. I hope to be a LCDC sometime in the next year. My biggest success though, is sobriety from drugs and alcohol, and recovery for depression and anxiety. I own 25 acres recreational land of Texas, which includes a stocked pond, a creek, trees, and trails for exploring. If I’m not working or running the kids to soccer or swim, you can find me there.
*This is a guest post and does not necessarily reflect the the views of Brian Cuban.
April 2007. I walk up to the door of the building where area Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings are held. My family is pushing hard for in-patient treatment but I refuse. My psychiatrist feels that a trip here is the first step to long-term sobriety. Lucky for me, the building is right next to his office. If it hadn’t been convenient, I might have just made excuses to not go at all. For an addict, excuses are often more plentiful than reasons for recovery. The present is more important than the future — the present of the high.
After pacing around outside the doorway for a long time, I finally peer down the long hallway into the room where people are gathering. I’m afraid of being recognized. My ego is still paramount in my worries. “I’m a lawyer. There are no lawyers in in AA or treatment. My one client left needs me!”
My mind flashes back to one of my favorite childhood movies, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. I suddenly imagine that as soon as I enter the meeting room, I’ll be carried away by a team of chanting Oompa Loompas determined to punish me for my bad habits. I have no desire to meet the Oompa Loompas on the other side of that door.
I finally walk down the hall into the meeting room, and I can smell the fumes of stale cigarette smoke and day-old coffee. My eyes lock onto the 1950s tile floor, ingrained with the dirt of countless feet. There are other people milling around in room. Are these the people with whom I was supposed to share my darkest secrets? Would I be made fun of, teased, or insulted? Who are these people? Skid row bums? That’s my perception of AA. I think of Nick Cage’s character, Ben, living in the sleazy “no-tell motel” as he drinks himself to death in Leaving Las Vegas. Dick Van Dyke’s character, Charlie, drunk, alone on the beach with no future in The Morning After.
Deep breath. Don’t look around. Eyes down at the floor. That fixed point. Watch the feet move forward. One baby step at a time to a waiting chair. It’s the way I’m able to accomplish things in life. It’s how I was able to finish eight marathons. Facing any difficult task, my best self is that part of me that can place one foot in front of the other until a goal is accomplished. Don’t look left. Don’t look right. Don’t think about the finish line. I sit down. I listen. I cry. At the end of the meeting, I take a desire chip. The most important journey in my life begins.
As you have probably figured out, I got sober in Alcoholics Anonymous. I know I am irritating some who believe we should not talk publicly about being in AA. I believe we should be empowered to share all aspects of our personal journey if we choose to. I find it perplexing that we as attorneys in recovery, who spend our lives engaged in critical thought and using data, will exclude AA from that process as if there is some magical healing power to not discussing both its benefits and flaws when there is no empirical data to support the notion that talking publicly about being in AA, then relapsing publicly, will cause someone to not enter the program.
Certain aspects of AA have worked for me to date. I completely disregard other aspects. The sober connections I found in group were, and are, important to me. The people. The stories that tell me I am not alone. I, however, have never been as keen on the spiritual aspects and certain rituals of the program. I have no interest in saying the lords prayer to close a meeting so I don’t join in. That’s just me. You may like that. You may need that. Those issues however, have never been a deterrent to me in my program like they are for some who reject AA as their mode of recovery.
In speaking to law students and other lawyers about recovery, while some embrace the program, some would rather find others ways to long-term sobriety and have. Through their church. Through non-12-step-based programs such as Smart Recovery. Through both 12-step-based and non-12-step-based residential treatment. Through collegiate recovery programs. Through informal local attorney support groups. I know a few lawyers who have gotten sober on their own, although I would never recommend that path to start. There are many paths to recovery available today that were not available in 1935 when AA was founded. AA has also not been my only mode of therapy. I have been seeing a psychiatrist for over a decade. I take anti-depressant medication daily. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) have been important in my recovery. Let’s not lose sight of the goal: To be a person in long-term recovery regardless of the path chosen. The most important decision of your life should be one of reflection and critical thought. It’s your journey. If it’s AA, that’s great. If it’s another path, get on it. Recovery awaits.
*The 11th tradition of Alcoholics Anonymous(AA) states, “Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio, and films. I acknowledge that discussing my personal AA participation may run contrary to that tradition. I however, have been completely open and honest in the public realm about all aspects of my recovery since my first year of sobriety. I have received both criticism and support during that time. To suddenly change now would be disingenuous to what I believe and have always believed about rigorous honesty and self-determination when it comes to personal anonymity and the need for public critical discussion about every mode of recovery. Your choice may be different and I have the utmost respect for that. Please don’t email me recitations of the 11th tradition. I obviously know what it says. Thank you