I Am A Lawyer In Recovery And I Refuse To Be Anonymous

I regularly feature inspirational stories from lawyers and law students in recovery.  Chad Anderson is a lawyer practicing in Tempe, Arizona. He has been in long-term recovery from alcohol since 1999.

Chad says:

“I started drinking at age 15 and drank steadily more from there. I lived a fairly functional drunken college life, but eventually couldn’t keep it under control. Like many alcoholics, I thought a geographic change would be just what was needed to drink like a normal person so I decided to attend law school about as far away from civilization as possible.  The problem, however, was me, and I didn’t leave me behind”

During law school I drank more and more, and it really started to become a problem.  Legal studies did not come as easily as undergrad, and my grades declined. In January of my second year, I had a crappy offer to take over the practice of one of my home town lawyers which I took because my crappy grades would not have gotten me anything else.

 

I returned to my hometown and put my name on the ballot for the County Attorney’s Office against an unpopular incumbent.  More voters decided they would rather elect an inexperienced drunk than the incumbent, so I eked out a 36-vote upset.

When I took office in January 1999, I was drinking so much I was blacking out three-to-five nights every week. I knew I hated living like that, but had no idea how to change it. Life was a mess and I was barely holding it together.

 

On Saturday night, February 20, 1999, I went out drinking with a friend in a neighboring town, and on the way home got stopped by a state trooper just outside my jurisdiction.  I had 12 beers and 18 scotches in me, so I failed the breath test miserably.  A 3 a.m. call to a judge got me released from jail but not out of trouble, and by Sunday afternoon the story of my arrest had gone public. An elected prosecutor getting arrested for drunk driving is big news on a slow day in 1999, when local radio, TV, and newspapers were still the main sources for news. My story was the lead on TV news at 5, 6, AND 10. I felt humiliated, but finally realized I had to get help. As a prosecutor, I sent people to treatment as part of my job, so I knew where to call.

 

Monday morning I had to be in court — not as a defendant, but as the county prosecutor.  The judge wanted to see me in chambers, and he had the newspaper spread out on his desk with the story of my arrest on the front page.  He bluntly asked what I intended to do, and I told him I had contacted a treatment center that could admit me the next day. His simple response was, “That is the ONLY answer (emphasis his) you could give me.” He then sent me home and canceled my court appearances that week.

 

Before my arrest, I did not know anybody who attended AA meetings, or at least never heard anyone talk about AA meetings. Without anything to correct my perception, I had imagined them to be gloomy, boring ordeals, with shabby men sitting along the walls hoping nobody would recognize them. I had no idea what AA was really like, but was sure I didn’t want any part of it.  I wish somebody had broken their public silence to set me straight about what sobriety was and why I needed it.

 

During treatment, I went out to my first 12-step meeting where I heard stories from other alcoholics who had struggled but no longer drank.  Some were even people I knew, but all were people I respected. They gave me hope, and I knew I wanted to be like them — happy, not drinking, and living productive lives.

 

I went to more meetings after that, and the more meetings I attended, the more I learned, the better I felt about myself, and the more I wanted to share my experience, strength, and hope. Life started looking a lot better, too. My recovery was just as public as my arrest, and the local papers interviewed me about how I was staying sober instead of how I was still facing serious jail time for my drunk-driving offense. Getting a couple of high-profile convictions and working on a popular county ordinance boosted my public image as elected county attorney before having to face the consequences of my actions, and more and more people were telling me I was doing the right thing.

 

As a result of the arrest, I pleaded guilty as charged and was convicted of drunk driving. I resigned my office as county attorney but ran for my own empty seat and won the special election with almost 70% of the vote, getting put right back in office.  The people of my county knew I was a recovering alcoholic, but they believed in me and supported me in greater numbers than I ever imagined.  I owe a great debt to all those who have helped me through these 18-plus years, and that election was one of my humblest moments. Honest, open, and hardworking was the way to go.

 

I will proudly tell my story to anyone who will listen. I will hold myself out as a recovering alcoholic to everyone I know. I will be honest when asked about having a drink, explaining I do not drink because I’m a recovering alcoholic. I will identify myself in public so that the still-suffering alcoholic may come across me and want to hear more about the promises of sobriety. I will engage anyone who is curious with honesty and openness about my experience with alcohol and how I’ve come to not take a drink since that night in February 1999.  If there is anyone in my life who is remotely curious about how to stop drinking and enjoy a better life, I believe I am going to attract that person to a program sooner because of how I do not remain an anonymous alcoholic.


Brian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. Brian is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, The Addicted Lawyer: Tales Of The Bar, Booze, Blow & Redemption (affiliate link). A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he somehow made it through as an alcoholic then added cocaine to his résumé as a practicing attorney. He went into recovery April 8, 2007. He left the practice of law and now writes and speaks on recovery topics, not only for the legal profession, but on recovery in general. He can be reached at brian@addictedlawyer.com.


Assistant District Attorney Fired After Uber Confrontation

On November 11th,  a Dallas County Assistant District Attorney was fired after an alcohol fueled confrontation with an Uber Driver.  The driver recorded part of the confrontation.  It’s  not the first time that such a confrontation has made national news. Who can forget the Miami doctor who found herself front page news and was fired  in similar circumstances.

As I have watched the facts and controversy unfold , I have done some reflecting on my past. Particularly all the negative events in which being intoxicated played a direct role, but which there could have been positive lessons that were not realized at that time. Those times when drinking changed me from a generally nice and laid-back person (at least I think so) to one of the biggest assholes in Dallas. It was a regular occurrence.

When we are in the middle of problem drinking, self-awareness can be elusive. It is often more about avoiding the consequences and feelings that would allow us to do a sober self-examination. Avoiding accountability. A scenario played out countless times around the world. In reading her story, I see myself before I went into recovery.

I remember a particular weekend during the summer of 1997. I had gone to Pacific Beach, California, with some friends.  One night while there, I was so intoxicated that I was unable to give the cab driver (well before the era of Uber and Google Maps) coherent directions to the place I was staying. He asked me to get out. I refused. I began arguing with him. Berating him for being an idiot in not understanding my drunken gibberish.

I had become the “angry drunk.” He stopped the cab and demanded I get out or he would call the police. I did get out. I puked on the side of the road and staggered away. To this day, I have no idea how I made it home.

The next morning, there was no self-reflection.  As I told my friends the story between trips to the bathroom to vomit as a result of the hangover and attendant spinning room, it was all about how the cab driver had been an idiot. Not my fault. I had no clue that I had a drinking problem. That awareness would not come for another 10 years of negative events related to my drinking and drug use.  Loss of my career as a lawyer, failed marriages, etc. I had also previously been to jail for a DWI, but no lesson had been learned.  As I listened to the audio of this district attorney berating this Uber driver, I was listening to my voice all those years ago berating a cab driver.  I wish I could find and apologize to him as part of my 12-step amends.

As to this assistant district attorney, regardless of whether termination was an appropriate sanction to fit the incident (there are diverging opinions on that), or the “he said/she said” aspects, this is not the first time alcohol has played a part in someone losing a job and won’t be the last.

When someone gets past trying to save his/her job, deflection, and denial (which is pretty normal in these things), one can only hope there is some serious reflection on the real primary trigger. The drinking. While this may be the exception, in my extensive anecdotal experience and observations these things are generally not a one-off. The consequences change but the song often remains the same.  Of course, anecdotes are not data, and this may indeed be the one and only time this person will ever be in this horrible situation. I don’t know her. I don’t know her drinking habits beyond what’s reported in this incident.

Even if it is a one-off however, when being intoxicated on any level changes who a person is to a “angry drunk,” it bears reflection on the decision to drink at all. Some of the nicest people I have known sober have turned into the worst possible versions of themselves intoxicated. I know people who would not be considered frequency-based problem drinkers (or binge drinkers) but have chosen not to drink at all because becoming intoxicated changes them for the much worse, and once that line is crossed, it’s like a freight train headed for the nearest consequence.

From my perspective as both a lawyer and a recovery advocate, the Uber driver’s release of her personal information, disparate employment treatment, and Dallas County politics are all distractions from the primary issue. Jobs come and go. Problem drinking (if at play here) is generally progressive. More incidents, more lost jobs, and worse. Get that figured out above all.  In a profession with a problem drinking rate of over 35 percent for lawyers in her age group, we owe it to ourselves to get it figured out.


Brian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. Brian is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, The Addicted Lawyer: Tales Of The Bar, Booze, Blow & Redemption (affiliate link). A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he somehow made it through as an alcoholic then added cocaine to his résumé as a practicing attorney. He went into recovery April 8, 2007. He left the practice of law and now writes and speaks on recovery topics, not only for the legal profession, but on recovery in general. He can be reached at brian@addictedlawyer.com.


Is Addiction A Choice?

I was recently asked what has disappointed me the most as an addiction and recovery awareness advocate. Without out a doubt, it is the number of people in and out of the legal profession who view addiction as a choice and moral failing.  A illustration of why it is not is the first time I used cocaine and instantly became addicted to it.

It was summer 1987. My first year out of law school. I was in the downstairs bathroom of one of the nicest hotels in Dallas, befitting my outward status and appearance as a young attorney. Shiny marble, mouthwash, breath mints, and the ultimate bonus, a toilet door that closed completely so no one could see in. With the bathroom attendant standing just outside my door handing out towels and mints, I carefully laid out three lines of cocaine given to me by the drug dealer I was introduced to  twenty minutes earlier. I had  seen cocaine once before as a teenager but did not try it. I had been told that cocaine was used at Pitt Law within certain cliques but as someone who kept primary to himself, was never exposed to to it.

I rolled up a twenty-dollar bill and bent over the white Kohler commode. The three white lines looked harmless, and my only hesitation was the grime, germs, and undoubtedly the past drug residue from previous guys like me.

Then I went for it. As the cocaine began its journey up the rolled bill to change the course of my life, I had a thought. I thought about a man I’d never met. I thought about Lenny Bias. Lenny was a first round draft pick of the NBA Boston Celtics in 1986. Lenny was a “can’t miss” future NBA prospect. He died of a cocaine overdose two days after being the second overall pick in the draft — it caused a deadly arrhythmia. No warning. No second chance. Just dead. It occurred to me in that moment that I had no idea what I was putting in my nose any more than Lenny did. That could never happen to me.

I opened the stall door, walked over to the faucet, washed the residue off my hands, swigged a mini-cup of generic mouthwash, flipped the attendant a 5-spot, took a mint, and pushed open the restroom doors to exit into my new kingdom, at least for as long as the high lasted.

I was on the apex of a feeling I had never experienced before. A feeling I loved and knew immediately I had to have again, and again, and again. This is what I’ve been looking for all my life, I thought. I finally felt like I was in control, and I walked confidently through the dim light of the already addicted, the non-addicted, the weekend coke kings, big-haired beauties, doctors, lawyers, students, and fellow 30k millionaires. I was now up for the battle. The King of Dallas. Nothing could stop me as long as I felt that way.  In that moment, in that bathroom, I was instantly addicted. Not necessarily in the sense of physical dependence, but in immediate psychological dependence — I instantly felt I couldn’t survive if I didn’t try to maintain such a wonderful feeling.

Cocaine had the power to make all my anxieties seem trivial, and made the formerly impossible, possible. It was like the drug made my problems go away, if only for the brief period of the high. It made me a “super lawyer.” But of course, my self-medication was only papering over deeper issues, not resolving them. Coke didn’t help me focus in my career. Doing cocaine in the bathroom or in my closed office of the law firm I worked at did not make me a better lawyer. It just helped me “recover” from the hangover from the night before and not lose self-confidence despite poor performance. Coke didn’t cure my depression; it only masked it for a short time. It did not help me take control of my life; it just offered the illusion of control, work focus, and self-acceptance as things slowly but surely spiraled downward.

Looking back at that night that changed the course of my life, two things are clear. First, the initial decision to snort that first line, while influenced by pre-existing mental health issues, was of course, a choice. That is not clinical addiction. That is a singular action. If I had done that line, and decided it was not for me, I would not have been an addict. That’s not what happened. A psychological process instantly began. Later, as my usage increased, a biological process. That is addiction. I had to have that feeling again and again.  Did I know right from wrong? Of course. Did I care? No. Did I eventually realize I was destroying my life? Yes. Did I care? Yes. Could I stop? No. Addiction overpowered my rational thought process to that extent. Clinical research and limitless anecdotal evidence tells us that my experience is not unique in that regard. Yes, choices are made that lead to addiction but the disease, in itself, is not a choice.  It is defined as a disease by most medical associations, including the American Medical Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

You can’t change where you have been. Only where you are going. Evaluate your options moving forward. Addiction is not a choice. Recovery is.


Brian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. Brian is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, The Addicted Lawyer: Tales Of The Bar, Booze, Blow & Redemption (affiliate link). A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he somehow made it through as an alcoholic then added cocaine to his résumé as a practicing attorney. He went into recovery April 8, 2007. He left the practice of law and now writes and speaks on recovery topics, not only for the legal profession, but on recovery in general. He can be reached at brian@addictedlawyer.com.


Striking A Sober Balance In Your Holiday Party

I know what you’re thinking. It’s early November. We just started daylight savings time. Thanksgiving is still weeks away. Why in the world is Brian talking about holiday parties?

The answer is simple.  As a law firm HR Professional,  Law Firm Partner, Bar Association Executive Director, or simply the designated party planner, now is the time to start thinking about throwing a holiday event that strikes a balance between providing a tasty rum and eggnog or glass of wine for those who do not have issues limiting intake and providing more than a half -liter of flat or regular or diet coke and warm bottled water for those who may live a sober lifestyle for whatever reason.  To encourage an environment at your event that does not resemble an inquisition with regards to those who choose not to partake. It’s not a difficult balance.  It’s no longer just about talking about changing the culture. This is the perfect opportunity to put it into practice.

Finding balance is not about going to extremes. I am not advocating that. While statistics tells us, that as a profession, we are in crisis with regards to problem drinking as compared to societal drinking norms (which are also problematic), they also tell us that the majority of lawyers do not having a drinking problem. The bottom line is, however, that at any such event there will probably be those attending who are either in recovery, or dealing with a drinking problem and have not yet found recovery.

While a person may or may not be open about his/her sobriety, no one is going to be wearing a sign  that advertising that fact. They also won’t be advertising the discomfort and pressure they may feel to attend a party they may know from prior experience or have heard will be a drunken booze-fest with few sober imbibing options. Maybe they are worried about getting grilled on why they have that lukewarm glass of water or soft drink in their hand.  I have personally attended law firm holiday events and receptions at which diet and regular coke were the only options available. Not even bottled water . The alcoholic options behind the bar however could stock multiple holiday events.

As you plan your 2017 Holiday event, please keep in mind that for  someone in recovery or struggling to find sobriety, the pressures of attending  alcoholically focused gathering can be intense. Not everyone is comfortable with the simple statement, “I don’t drink” and not caring what people think about it.

This can especially be an issue for younger lawyers who tend to be more social in general.  We know from the recent ABA/Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation study that young lawyers are most at risk for problem drinking  issues within the legal profession with an incredibly disturbing problem drinking rate of over 36 percent.  Think about that as you count the number of young associates attending your event.

Michelle is a lawyer practicing at a small firm in Seattle. Here is what she has to say.

As someone in recovery, the holiday party scene is always a source of anxiety both personally and professionally. Everyone has a party and attendance is critical to maintaining your goodwill at your own firm, but also the ever-important networking that is part of private practice. For many young lawyers and even law students, the kind of networking that takes place during the holiday party scene is already stressful and nerve-wracking.

 

The stress and anxiety I felt due to the pressure to attend and network while newly in recovery and protecting my privacy surrounding my recovery was immense. When attending parties, I would explain that I was recovering from a cold or on other medication that meant I couldn’t try the spiked eggnog or holiday cocktails. This led to me feeling shame, further compounded my stress, and nearly led to relapse on more than one occasion.

 

I have yet to attend a holiday party that didn’t serve an abundance of booze. Let’s face it. Boozing is ingrained in firm culture. It is no surprise that many lawyers keep a stocked decanter on their office shelf or a bottle of scotch stashed in one of their empty desk drawers.

 

Upon reflection, the holiday parties I attended were not scheduled for the benefit of the staff. Instead, the holiday parties were simply events to celebrate the shareholders’ success and not the collective effort of the firm team. At no point were we given the impression that our sobriety and mental health was a priority of the firm, as evidenced by the fact that a substantial majority of the attorneys drank heavily without any safeguards set in place by the firm to protect their well-being.

 

I came to realize that I needed to fully own my recovery and that making excuses about why I was not drinking was unhealthy for me. When I stopped making excuses and simply began to say that I do not drink, I noticed that people were not even really paying attention to what I was or was not doing. I also noticed that while we were the minority, there were actually others who I had never noticed also did not drink. My fears of being bombarded with questions about why or about my recovery never came to fruition and I started to become more comfortable and fee more empowered in my recovery and also keeping up my social obligations.

 

I recommend that anyone in recovery be familiar with their drinking triggers and level of comfortability in being able to say “no thanks” to alcohol (or here in Washington, to marijuana edibles, etc.). If needed and newly in recovery, do your best to choose events where you know you will either have the support of friends or colleagues who know about your recovery and will not offer you drinks or question why you abstain. If you’re in a 12-step program, talk with your sponsor before going. Have a plan in place specific to your situation to deal with the stress and temptation you may feel.

 

I would also recommend that partners or staff in charge of planning holiday parties focus on making sure there is equal access to anything alcoholic and anything non-alcoholic. If there is a holiday punch or eggnog, there should be the same non-alcoholic option.

The bottom line?  From a planning standpoint, now is the time to start thinking about an event that will be a great time for everyone while striking that balance of moderation and sobriety.  It really is not a difficult balance to achieve.

If you’re someone in recovery or struggling worried about that balance? Have a plan going in! Whatever route you choose, you don’t have to do it alone. Didn’t make it through the holiday circuit sober? That’s okay! Today’s the day to start again. Talk to your local/state Lawyers Assistance Program. Does your area have a “Lawyers Helping Lawyers” group?  Most help law students as well. It really is confidential.

Have a safe and happy holiday season!


Brian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. Brian is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, The Addicted Lawyer: Tales Of The Bar, Booze, Blow & Redemption (affiliate link). A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he somehow made it through as an alcoholic then added cocaine to his résumé as a practicing attorney. He went into recovery April 8, 2007. He left the practice of law and now writes and speaks on recovery topics, not only for the legal profession, but on recovery in general. He can be reached at brian@addictedlawyer.com.