Realizing Your Dreams In Recovery

If you would have asked me as an 18-year-old what my dreams and aspirations were as I walked out the doors of Mt. Lebanon High School in 1979, they would have been rooted in pain and loneliness. To one day hold the hand of a girl who liked me. To have my first kiss. To be someone who was not painfully shy and withdrawn. To go someplace where I would be accepted and not bullied.

If you would have asked me my dreams and aspirations as a 22-year-old graduating from Penn State and heading to the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, much of it would be the same. Kiss a girl. Go on a date. Lose my virginity. Run a marathon or two. I had little vision of my future beyond what was at the tip of my any nose at any particular moment. None of my dreams involved being a successful law student and lawyer. I was already an alcoholic, also dealing with both exercise and traditional bulimia. Life was about day-to-day survival. It was not the future.

At age 27, after moving to Dallas and doing my first line of cocaine, visions of my present and future became influenced by drug addiction. Cocaine gave the feelings of being handsome and successful with a bright future.  Of course, my real life was much more painful and different. It was therefore logical to me to do as much cocaine as I could and get drunk often to maintain the illusion — or delusion — of my present and future as it goes.

In July of 2005, I had no vision of my future. There was only a black hole. I decided to end my life.  Fortunately, family and friends knew something was wrong and intervened.

On April 8, 2007, as I took my first steps into sobriety, my perspective on my present and future possibilities slowly began to change. At first, the future was simply getting through the day without drinking or doing a line. Going to my weekly therapy to deal with the co-occurring mental-health issues and a childhood I was running away from.

As I began to string together day after day of sobriety and therapy, the pinhole of sunlight in the tunnel to my future grew larger and larger. I began to see the meaning of loving myself, dealing with life on life’s terms, and allowing myself to be loved. I began to slowly embrace a future of possibilities. I began to write. A journal. My blog. Expressive writing filled with the release of anger. Even then, however, I never envisioned the possibility of being a published author. As I began to realize the power of expressive writing in both my recovery and letting others know that they are not alone in their pain, the first thoughts of one day writing a book entered my mind.

Today, I sit here, having achieved that dream. A dream that would have never occurred without long-term recovery.  For the second time in my life, I am an author.  Last week, my book, “The Addicted Lawyer: Tales Of The Bar, Booze, Blow, & Redemption” (affiliate link) was released.

I was able to convince both a literary agent and a traditional publisher that my book was a worthy risk.  It was not an easy sell. Addiction and mental health awareness in the legal profession is for the most part a taboo, niche topic despite the fact that a recent study found that we suffer from problem drinking at a rate three to five times the rate of the general public, with similarly high rates of depression and anxiety. Law students did not fare much better in another study.

The Addicted Lawyer is a culmination of much reflection on my life as a law student and lawyer dealing with those issues. I, however, wanted it to be more than just my story. I reached out to other law students and lawyers who have struggled and found their way to long-term recovery. I reflected on those I know who did not make it.  I talked to those in the legal profession whose job it is to both help lawyers and law students recover and deal with the consequences that often come with substance use.

More than anything, the Addicted Lawyer is about redemption.  My redemption. The ability for all to find recovery and redemption, even if the consequences require a re-defining of our hopes and dreams.  Not long ago, I saw an advertisement in the Texas Bar Journal for a keynote I am giving about my journey at the State Bar Conference this week. There was a time I wondered if I would appear in the list of suspended and disbarred in the journal. Full circle. Redemption.  I am no longer the Addicted Lawyer. I am a lawyer, a person, in long-term recovery.  In recovery, all is possible.

My Third Trip To A Psychiatric Facility

psychiatristTrip #1.  July 22, 2005. A dark room. Table, desk, chairs. With me is a staff psychiatrist and psychiatric nurse at Green Oaks Hospital.  Nearby are my brothers, Mark and Jeff.  As I sit and listen to the doctor’s questions, I have a vague recollection of my younger brother rousing me from my bed, an angry confrontation, my .45 automatic lying on my nightstand. There was no point in continuing into a black hole. Then shock and confusion on the drive to the treatment center.

The residuals of cocaine, Xanax, and Jack Daniels are still coursing through my veins, but the fog is lifting slightly. Raging anger is settling in its place. Battle lines are being drawn in my mind. They want to take me prisoner. It’s war. I’ll lead the inmate rebellion.

Questions from the psychiatrist pierce my anger like tracer rounds. What drugs have you taken? How are you feeling? Do you want to harm yourself?  He scribbles my fate on the intake sheet. The anger is powerful.  My belief is that if I died, it would teach everyone a lesson and do them a favor.

Trip #2.  April 7, 2007. I am in a daze. An hour before, I had been awakened by my girlfriend (now wife).  She had been out of town visiting family for Easter weekend. I had no idea what day or time it was. Not realizing the weekend was over. Two days had passed.  I had blacked out.  There was cocaine and empty alcohol bottles in the bedroom. My black-market Ambien bottle half empty. No idea how many I had taken.

The familiar ride to the Green.  The familiar haze.  In the parking lot of the hospital, I realized that if I did not get honest starting at that moment, there would be no hope for our future or my future. Right there in that parking lot, through all the drugs, the tears, and anger on her part.  It was time for the self-styled emperor to put away his fancy new duds.  There was no control. There was no life. There was no future. I was naked in the mirror. I finally saw Brian. What I saw made me sick to my stomach. I had failed at life. I had now, in my mind, failed every single person who had ever loved me.  If I did not get honest starting at that moment, there would be no hope for a future with the people I love and who loved me. Families love.  Families care. Families can also distance themselves when no effort is made to at least take one small step towards recovery.

Trip #3. October 15, 2015.  Back in the Green Oaks parking lot.  This time, I am alone.  A rush of feelings and memories as I pull into the parking lot.  My brothers are in fear. My girlfriend in tears.  The intake desk.  The familiar room where I sat with the attending psychiatrist.