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 To be someone who was not painfully shy and withdrawn.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.
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.
What is recovery? For so many people, it doesn’t just mean getting sober. It means adopting a new lifestyle of constant self-improvement not just to remain sober, but also to lead a happier, healthier life. It’s a process of learning how to better ourselves. The question is, how many different ways are there to do that? Is there only one path to recovery? Some people seem to think so.
Paths To Recovery
Some people get sober through addiction treatment. This may be a 30-day program or longer, or an outpatient program. The bottom line is as long as they are not dying and are able to live a fulfilling life why must there be so much judgment. Just like there is not a specific life that every person is supposed to live there should not be only one way to recovery.
Others quit without the help of treatment. Still, others use 12- step program to get sober, or to stay sober after treatment. Often, treatment and twelve-step programs go hand in hand. This is partially due to many treatment centers integrating twelve step teachings and practices into their programs. It is in treatment that people are introduced to these programs. Treatment centers are now also offering information and exposure to SMART recovery which is a non-12 step support program for those not interested in the 12-step approach.
Twelve step programs are popular and have helped countless individuals over the years to get sober and live a life of recovery. People who participate in 12 step programs work steps, get sponsors, sponsor other and find a higher power. Because this program works for so many people, members tend to be fiercely loyal, often to the point of discounting other methods of recovery.
Not everyone who achieves sobriety chooses to participate in twelve step programs. Some choose to heal from addiction in other ways. They may choose to get help via therapy, they may pursue a spiritual or religious path, or they may focus on health, wellness and holistic means of staying sober.
In twelve step programs, people are taught that trying to stay sober via religion, medicine and psychiatry are basically futile, and will only result in relapse. But is this true?
Sobriety Via Therapy
Intensive therapy can help people heal from negative thinking patterns, past trauma and teach valuable tools and strategies for dealing with issues such as anger, anxiety and impulsivity. People who struggle with addiction often struggle with depression, anxiety, untreated trauma and PTSD as well as a lack of coping skills. As a result, they often turn to substances to help them cope with these issues.
For some people, stopping drug or alcohol use, removing themselves from unsafe situations and participating in regular therapy is sufficient to help them move on from addiction and live a life of sobriety.
Sobriety Via Medication
Some people struggling with addiction turn to medication. For example, those addicted to opioids may choose to slowly wean off drugs through the use of methadone or suboxone. This is often referred to as harm reduction, and ideally, the person will slowly taper off the medication and achieve sobriety. This particular path is often the topic of criticism from many sides. This is partially due to the fact that many people who choose medication don’t stop. They may choose to remain on methadone for life. While it is tempting to judge this situation, it really doesn’t help matters. Each person must determine what is best for them and their situation. While harm reduction isn’t necessarily recovery or sobriety, there are many people who are able to lead responsible, productive lives as a result of the help they receive. And if they are not dying do we really have the right to tell them that it’s wrong.
Holistic Treatments, Health, And Wellness
Some people turn to a more holistic path to sobriety. They may engage in practices such as yoga, meditation, acupressure and more. They may use supplements and nutrition to help keep them feeling well and balanced. While this may not be sufficient for some, it may very well help others. If someone manages to stay sober because they have a solid meditation and yoga practice, does it mean they are “less recovered?”
Religion And Spirituality
A faith centered Program called Celebrate Recovery uses a faith-based approach to recovery and follows a similar approach to AA with meetings for members and 12-steps. Then there are also people who choose to turn to their faith or spiritual practice to overcome addiction. This may include attending church, studying their faith of choice and involving themselves in the faith community. If someone is able to stop using as a result of their beliefs and the support that they get from their faith and the surrounding community, is it not recovery?
Tolerance For Different Paths
Anyone who is able to achieve sobriety, regardless of how they do it, is a success. Not everyone wants to or feels the need to attend meetings.
In the recovery world, there is a problem with intolerance. People often judge the way people go about getting sober. If they don’t do it “their way” then they must not be doing it right.
This intolerance is even seen between twelve step programs, with one side thinking their way is better than the other. This is the opposite of what the programs teach, tolerance being a founding principle.
Each person is different. Their needs, temperament, values and experience makes them who they are and often determines the best route to sobriety. If a person is able to stay sober by a means other than rehab or twelve step programs, then that is wonderful, who are we to judge. Life is not black and white it is filled with different shades of gray, and there is beauty in that. The expression “Live and let live comes to mind.
If you find that meetings and the twelve step fellowship are what you need to maintain your sobriety, then that is wonderful, too. Do you!! Find what helps you live a healthy and balanced life and do that. That’s really what counts.
Some people struggle with addiction and may try many different paths before they find the one that works for them. It’s important not to judge one another’s journey. Better to support them and wish them well no matter what route they take.
Rose Lockinger is passionate member of the recovery community. A rebel who found her cause, she uses blogging and social media to raise the awareness about the disease of addiction. She has visited all over North and South America. Single mom to two beautiful children she has learned parenting is without a doubt the most rewarding job in the world. Currently the Outreach Director at Stodzy Internet Marketing.
You can find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, & Instagram
My beloved Peanut. My rescue beagle. My best friend. Fifteen years. My companion through the thick and thin of depression and addiction without judgment. She was gone. I had lost my only child.
As I tried to grasp my first real experience with the loss of unconditional love, I did what I do so often to help me heal. What many do when they lose their beloved pet, sibling, parent, best friend. What had come to be my solace and a means of advancing my recovery. To let out emotions that I often found difficult vocalizing but had to be release. The recovery art of expressive writing. I wrote Peanut a letter.
“My best friend of 14 years has crossed the Rainbow Bridge. We called her Peanut. She was a rescue dog. A beagle mix.
When my ex-wife Nikki suggested we get a dog all those years ago, I resisted. I had many excuses. Excuses that hid the truth about why I did not want a pet. When it came to being loved, I was completely closed off to anything or anyone who offered her love to me, including Nikki.
I did not love myself so how could anyone or anything, even a dog, love me? I was hiding from myself in the abyss of alcohol, drugs and bulimia for nearly half my life — since I was 19. Nikki knew none of these things. I was a master at hiding. However, she knew I had built a wall, preventing her from getting close to me. She hoped the unconditional love of a dog would tear that wall down.
Nikki took me to the “Rescue Weekend” at the local Pet Smart. She had already picked out the dog. She introduced me to Flower. Flower licked my face furiously as if she was trying to heal all of my pain at once with all of the love she could give me in that instant. When we got her home, we decided that the elongated body with brown splotches on her black coat made her look more like a Peanut than a flower. Thus, Peanut became part of my life.
Peanut did not save my marriage to Nikki . I was too closed off and afraid of being loved or loving someone else. Healing and allowing myself to be loved would take more time.
Then came April 7, 2007. A new girlfriend of about a year, Amanda. An alcohol and drug-induced blackout. Then came April 8, 2007. The start of my recovery. A journey that would keep me clean and sober and eating-disorder free to this day. A journey that Amanda would show her ability to love deeply and believe in me, forever standing by me. Today we are engaged.
A journey through which Peanut would always be at my side. I worked from home so there was rarely a moment when she was not sleeping next to me, on my lap, or licking my face as she did that day at Pet Smart.
As I moved forward in recovery, I would have actual conversations with Peanut, apologizing to her for not giving her the attention she gave back to me when I was drinking, drugging and purging. I would cry. I would grieve the little dog that had so much love to give but wasn’t getting back.
The recovery journey forced me to deal with Peanut’s declining health with unmasked feelings as the passing time took its toll on her. It was hard. The anticipatory grieving. The denial. But, no matter how bad she felt, she was always there when I came home. Always barking in disappointment when I left and she saw the “suitcase monster” come out when either Amanda or I had to travel.
As her health became worse, with Cushing’s and congestive heart failure, the lawyer in me knew Peanut’s time on earth with me was coming to an end. The heart that she opened up in me to express my feelings and love others did not want it ever to end.
As Peanut took her last breath, Amanda and I held her in her favorite blanket. I whispered to her over and over that I would see her again. Strange words coming from someone who never considered himself spiritual in either recovery or religion. I considered myself more agnostic than anything. However, in that moment, as I held my beloved Peanut during her final moments, I found myself in a divine foxhole. Was I just an “agnostic in a foxhole” or something more? I truly believe it was always there. The doubt of my belief and apathy. The wondering if there was something waiting for me. A flickering flame in a gas stove waiting for something to ignite it.
I continue to grieve my best friend. I know it will get better. I will always be grateful to Nikki for knowing what I needed to open my heart. I am forever grateful to my fiancee, Amanda as she stands by me, comforts me, even as she grieves herself. Amanda saw that part of me that Peanut opened up, even in my worst moments. I am also grateful beyond measure to my father, mother and brothers who are always there for me.
And, of course, I am grateful to Peanut. Thank you, sweet Peanut, for giving me the gift of unconditional love. You gave me the gift of allowing myself to be loved. You gave me the gift of faith. I now know there is something in the here-after for both of us.”
I will see you again. No doubt, you will lick my face furiously.
After Peanuts passing, I continued to struggle with the contradiction of my humanist bent and the overwhelming feeling that I would and will see Peanut again. She will in fact lick my face furiously. Does that same higher power who will bring us back together help keep me sober? I don’t know. I do know that in death, Peanut once again opened my heart to the possibility that can happen. For now, that’s my spirituality. That’s my faith. It’s a start. I also started attending my 12-step meetings more regularly. I met with my sponsor.
Did I need a “higher power” in a religious sense? No. I needed the connections. I needed to share my overwhelming grief in as many forums possible. I had to cry. I did cry. I cried with my sponsor. I cried within the group. Seven years earlier I had told my sponsor that losing Peanut would send me out of the room to alcohol and drugs. He told me that when I had better sobriety that would not be the case. I am not going to b.s. you. That afternoon as I pounded the kitchen counter in agony, screaming at the top of my lungs how sorry I was for putting her down, the thoughts crossed my mind. I knew what to do. I’m still sober.
Childhood sexual abuse, or CSA, is a term used to describe any adult or peer behavior that coerces or forces a child into sexual activity, or frames a child in a sexual context. While some of these behaviors involve direct contact with a child, others involve voyeurism and other non-contact activities. When compared to adults with no history of CSA, adults who experience sexual abuse during childhood have significantly greater chances of developing a serious addiction to drugs or alcohol. While rates of sexual abuse are higher in females than in males, male victims of abuse have a greater chance of developing addictions during adulthood.
The long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse include depression, anxiety, suicidality, revictimization, substance addiction and other addictions, low self-esteem, and difficulties with interpersonal relationships. About half of all men and two-thirds of all women in drug treatment centers report past sexual or physical abuse.
Many victims turn to drugs and alcohol for various reasons that include:
A mechanism to cope or escape the trauma of sexual abuse
A way to reduce the feelings of isolation and loneliness
To improve self-esteem and self confidence
A form of self-destructive behavior or self-harm
Comorbidity is a major factor in developing a substance addiction problem. An addiction is classified as a mental illness in that it is dynamic mental atrophy resulting from a reliance on a substance. Like all mental illnesses, substance addiction doesn’t discriminate- it affects people from all ethnic, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. Research shows that a large rate of individuals who have a substance addiction problem also have a mental disorder such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
My personal struggles with drug and alcohol addiction
My adopted father sexually abused me for 9 years as a child. I developed posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when I made the decision to finally disclose my abuse as a child. Until the onset of PTSD, I had lived a limited lifestyle. From the age of 13 I had self-medicated with alcohol and drugs to avoid confrontation with feelings and memories of the sexual abuse, to keep depressive affect and anxiety under control, and to maintain my ability to function at work. I had visited hospitals and doctors for many physical complaints but didn’t trust mental health experts enough to seek their help.
I was overwhelmed by memories and feelings from my childhood sexual abuse and felt revictimized by them. I felt desperate, ashamed, helpless, and abandoned by everyone. I just wanted to die and was sure that my death was imminent. I tried to gain control over my pain by using extremely high amounts of drugs and alcohol. Nothing worked and at 17 I attempted suicide with over-the-counter pills and alcohol. When the suicide attempt failed I turned back to illegal drugs and alcohol and my dependence became a full-blown addiction. It was not until I came to understand, through therapy at 33 years of age, that the denial, despair, shame, and helplessness that I felt in the context of my substance addiction was the same emotions I felt during the time of my sexual abuse that I was able to start working on myself honestly.
Judith Herman offers a 3-stage recovery model…
Stage 1– setting goals of personal safety, genuine self-care, and healthy emotion-regulation capacities
Stage 2– remembrance and mourning with the main work being discussing memories, working through grief, and establishing a solid foundation of understanding, safety, stability and self-regulation skills.
Stage 3– recovery focuses on reconnecting with people, meaningful activities, and other aspects of life.
Research shows that addiction isn’t a matter of moral failing but rather a chronic condition that requires treatment. Those struggling with drug addiction and addiction issues can find the help they need. No matter how long you have taken drugs or alcohol, recovery is always possible. You can live a healthy and fulfilling life after addiction.
Recovery is a bold step, requiring commitment and determination. However, the strength to end drug and alcohol addiction and embrace health is within everyone.
Waiting to hear back on my job application with the city of Dallas. Reading the jobs section in the now defunct Dallas Times Herald. My eyes lock. A half page ad. THE CIA IS HIRING. My eyes read the qualifications. So far so good. Then I see Proficiency In Russian preferred. The wheels start turning. Russian? I can speak Russian! Well, I know some Russian. My high school was one of the few in the country that offered a four-year Russian program. I did all four years. Albeit not very well. I also took a course at Penn State. Why? Because Mark had also taken Russian at Mt. Lebanon High School. He had traveled to the Soviet Union with his Russian class. I wanted to be like Mark. Maybe that would be enough.
Why were they interested in Russian background? This was 1987. Just months earlier, Ronald Reagan had given his famous “Tear Down The Wall” speech calling on General Secretary Gorbachev to tear down the wall separating East from West Germany. A few years earlier on television and at the movies, military conflict and nuclear holocaust based on U.S and Soviet tensions were the themes with such movies as 1984’s Red Dawn depicting a joint Soviet and Cuban (the country, not my family) invasion of the United States and the 1983 widely watched wide movie about a Soviet Nuclear strikes on the United States, The Day After.
As one might suspect with the CIA, even the directions to their office were secretive. My interview would be held in a room only marked with a number at the old Federal Building in Dallas. I received a letter with instruction on how to find it. Not being a detail person, I forgot to bring the letter or write down the room number. I spent 20 minutes walking around the building asking where the “CIA Room” was. I finally got to the room.
“Thank you for coming Mr. Cuban. Did you have any trouble finding us?”
“I had a little bit of trouble”
“Please tell me that you weren’t asking around where we are. We like to keep low profile.”
“What do you know about us Mr. Cuban?”
“Only what I read in the ad and what I see on television.”
“Well, let me tell you what we envision for you. You will officially work for the State department based out of Washington, DC. You will, however, be overseas with rotations back to the states. You’ll take immersive Russian language classes, among other training.”
“This job is about meeting people and getting them to trust you. You’ll attend parties and other events as well as travel extensively. You’ll love it.
As you are probably aware we do not have a domestic charter. We have no domestic positions for what you will be doing. You’ll live overseas wherever your assignment is and be attached to the State Department.”
I stopped listening after “no domestic positions” and “meet people.” I didn’t even want to get my hair cut in the Marines, now, I have to go overseas alone? I have to actually interact in social settings? I have to get drunk first just to go out at night.
Every flicker of a career ambition I have has been quickly snuffed. I wasn’t nearly prepared enough for Big Law. I couldn’t admit the truth about my drug use to the Dallas PD. And I’d never hack it in the CIA with my unaddressed mental health issues. What was left for me after strikes A, B, and C?
July 23rd, 2015. She’s gone. Just like that. My dog. My Peanut. I have to give a presentation tonight on addiction recovery. How will I get through it. How can I focus. My fiancee and family members comfort me. I want to crawl into bed and slowly fade to darkness.
The all consuming guilt. Thoughts of using. Thoughts of my death. Banging my head against the marble kitchen counter top. My refuge in life. Writing. Allowing my feelings to be known as I have for years with regards to my recovery from addiction and eating disorders. I can not allow the grief to be an excuse to tear away all the years of recovery. There will be therapy. There will be 12-step meetings. I have to let it out now. I will write my goodbye letter to Peanut.
My best friend of 14 years. My beloved rescue, beagle-mix, Peanut. You have crossed the Rainbow Bridge.
When my ex-wife Nikki suggested we get you all those years ago, I resisted. I had many excuses. Excuses that hid the truth about why I did not want a pet. When it came to being loved, I was completely closed off to anything or anyone who offered love to me.
I did not love myself so how could anyone or anything, even a wonderful dog like you, love me? I was hiding from myself in the abyss of alcohol, drugs and bulimia for nearly half my life — since I was 19. I was a master at hiding. Nikki knew I had built a wall, preventing her from getting close to me. She hoped the unconditional love of a dog would tear that wall down.
She took me to the “Rescue Weekend” at the local Pet Smart. She had already picked you out She introduced you as “Flower”, the name the rescue agency had given you. You licked my face furiously as if you was trying to heal all of my pain at once with all of the love you could give me in that instant. When we got you home, we decided that the elongated body with brown splotches on her black coat made you look more like a Peanut than a flower and changed your name.
You did not save my marriage . It was not your job. You were brought into my life to love and be loved. That is what you offered. I was too closed off and afraid of being loved or loving someone else. Healing and allowing myself to be loved would take more time.
Then came April 7, 2007. A new girlfriend of about a year, Amanda. An alcohol and drug-induced blackout. Then came April 8, 2007. The start of my recovery. A journey that would keep me clean and sober and eating-disorder free to this day. A journey that Amanda would show her ability to love deeply and believe in me, forever standing by me. Today we are engaged.
A journey through which you would always be at my side. I worked from home so there was rarely a moment when you were not sleeping next to me, on my lap or licking my face as you did that day at Pet Smart.
As I moved forward in recovery, I would have actual conversations with you, apologizing to you for not giving the attention you gave to me when I was drinking, drugging and purging. I would cry. I would grieve the little dog that had so much love to give but wasn’t getting back.
The recovery journey forced me to deal with your declining health with unmasked feelings as the passing time took its toll on your heart. It was hard. The anticipatory grieving. The denial. But, no matter how bad you felt, you was always there when I came home. Always barking in disappointment when I left and she saw the “suitcase monster” come out when either Amanda or I had to travel.
As you health became worse, with Cushing’s and congestive heart failure, the lawyer in me knew your time on earth with me was coming to an end. The heart that you opened up in me to express my feelings and love others wanted it to go on forever.
As you took your last breath, Amanda and I held you in her favorite blanket. I whispered to you over and over that I would see you again. Strange words coming from someone who never considered himself spiritual in either recovery or religion. I considered myself more agnostic than anything. However, in that moment, as I held my beloved Peanut during her final moments, I found myself in a divine foxhole. Was I just an “agnostic in a foxhole” or something more? I truly believe it was always there. The doubt of my belief and apathy. The wondering if there was something waiting for me. A flickering flame in a gas stove waiting for something to ignite it.
I continue to grieve you, my best friend. I know it will get better. I will always be grateful to Nikki for knowing what I needed to open my heart. I am forever grateful to my fiancee, Amanda as she stands by me, comforts me, even as she grieves herself. Amanda saw that part of me that you opened up, even in my worst moments. I am also grateful beyond measure to my father, mother and brothers who are always there for me.
And, of course, I am grateful to you Peanut. Thank you, sweet Peanut, for giving me the gift of unconditional love. You gave me the gift of allowing myself to be loved. You gave me the gift of faith. I now know there is something in the here-after for both of us.
I will see you again. No doubt, you will lick my face furiously.
As some people know, I am in long-term recovery from both heavy alcohol and cocaine use. I am also in recovery from both anorexia and bulimia, all wrapped around a diagnosis of body dysmorphic disorder. My sobriety date is April 8th 2007. Being in recovery, I tend to look at movies about addiction and recovery with a different perspective than when I was not in recovery. It has gone from, “that’s fantasy and will never be me” and “I cant identify with any of this” to finding bits and pieces in every movie that strikes an emotional cord for me in either replicating what I went through or maybe even causing me to evaluate my recovery in a different way. There are a great many films both documentary and dramatic on all of these topics. This is not meant to be a definitive short list. These are just films that both entertained me and made me think about addiction and recovery issues in my own life. With one exception I am going to leave documentaries out of the mix. There are just too many that I have not seen. Here you go.
The Anonymous People. As full disclosure, I know many of the people involved and it is a documentary but I am going to include it. Why? I believe this to be the most important film about recovery to come out in the last decade. The gatekeeper to dealing with substance use disorder whether its alcohol, cocaine, prescription opiates, meth or the current heroin epidemic is stigma and shame. Fighting through that is a must to take that first step. Instead of telling us why we should ashamed, we now have a film that encourages us not to be.
Filmed in Richmond Va, talking to real people with real addiction issues standing up for themselves and those shamed into silence. It challenges the notion that we have to hide our names in shame because we are in twelve -step or rehab. The Anonymous people does a wonderful job in letting us know that addiction is not a choice and we have nothing to be ashamed of in taking that first step into recovery. I highly recommend it.
Less Than Zero I could not identify with the flippant, overindulgent, Beverly Hills culture but that does not matter because of the brilliant performance of Robert Downey Jr. It is in my opinion, one of the most realistic, chilling and heartbreaking portrayals of crack/ powdered cocaine addiction you will ever see. It irritates me when people comment that it is “life imitating art” with regards to Downey. Robert turned his life around and has incredible sobriety. His character in the movie died.
Bright Lights Big City. Michael J. Fox plays an aspiring writer caught up in the New York City nightlife and cocaine culture of the eighties. This movie resonates with me because it most accurately portrays my descent into cocaine addiction so much that I even wrote about it in my book. For me it was the Dallas, Texas nightlife and cocaine culture. Being the last person in the club, all coked up, feeling alone and empty. Wondering what I was doing there. My only connections outside of family distancing itself, were addicts and dealers. Failed relationships. Relationships wrapped around drug use. Unable to function at work. That was Jamie Conway in the movie. That was me in in addiction.
The Morning After. A oldie starring Dick Van Dyke that focuses on the ravages of alcoholism and the family dynamics that often play a part. It was the first movie I ever saw on the subject before I began to abuse alcohol. Dick’s character is a successful executive descending into alcoholism. I cried at the end with the final image of Charlie alone, drunk and hopeless on a deserted beachfront with a rendition of the Beatles hit song, “Yesterday” playing. A beaten alcoholic. It happens every day of the year around the world. Unfortunately, it is a very difficult movie to find,. Not available for US download that I’ve seen and as of the writing of this blog, only available on DVD in European format.
Clean And Sober Another one high on my list because I identify with with pieces of the cocaine addiction story-line. Michael Keaton plays a successful commercial real estate executive deep in cocaine addiction. He embezzles company money to cover a bad investment. He goes into rehab to escape the consequences of his actions. In denial, he manipulates everyone around him and is more concerned with getting his next fix and “13th stepping” in rehab than he is in recovery. He blames everyone around him and his bad luck rather than looking within himself to take his first step forward. A gritty realistic performance about a scenario that has been played out in one form or another, time and time again by addicts in real life, including myself.
Flight. A great performance of by Denzel Washington as a high functioning airline pilot He is both an alcoholic and cocaine addict who continually avoids consequences and is in denial. While the “moment of clarity” in the face of prison consequences is highly dramatized it is something we(addicts) all face in one form or another in real life with vary degrees of consequences to ourselves and others. Mine was a two-day blackout. A year before I had come very close to suicide but that was not enough to turn me around. It is a different process for everyone.
Those are the six that I personally enjoy the most. Of course, there are many others. Some other very good ones I also enjoy are below. Feel free to comment and let me know your favorite movies about addiction, recovery, or mental health issues in general.
While I have not seen any studies, I suspect that talking to your inner child is not something that is particular appealing to males, especially older males as a means of dealing with alcohol and substance use issues. Why? It means having to be vulnerable in a very “female” way. That is how society has conditioned us. Men watch football. Men play football. Men are the protectors of women and family. Men do not show weakness. We do not reach back in time and pull out the fear, shame and uncertainly of a teenage boy.
My anecdotal experience tells me that lawyers tend to be not much different as a group if not even more closed off to that child. In my recovery however, I am not sure I would be where I am today if I had not dropped the “male societal expectations” and explored the teenage Brian’s loneliness and need for acceptance. It has been one of the hardest things I have done in recovery because it’s counter-intuitive. It also has been and continues to be very cathartic as a healing tool. I have done it in therapy. I have done it a home by myself. I have done it as an expressive writing tool as you will see here. Here is my letter to my inner child. The young Brian. He answers me back in my dreams and in my day to day recovery. I love him. I hope you do or will love yours.
I can see you. It’s nineteen seventy-four. You are thirteen years old in your bedroom. You are sitting a table playing with your baseball cards and putting stamps in the stamp book given to you by your brother Mark. So alone. Wanting to be loved. Wanted to be accepted. Wanted to be included in the happy conversations in the Mt Lebanon High School lunchroom. The after school parties. Trips to “Mickey-D’s. The prom.
Your friends are going to see the group “Super Tramp” in concert. You are sitting at their table but alone in the conversation. Non-existent. Wanting to exist if only for that moment. They are talking about the new album and the concert coming to the Civic Arena. Please ask me to go! Please include me! I won’t ever ask again.
I know the answer. We don’t include shy, fat kids in our group. You will never be one of us. You will never date one of us. You will never go to our prom. You are meant to be alone forever. I feel that day. Not much different than other days in your mind. Alone in your bedroom. I remember that lunch table. I dream that dream with you.
I want you to know the lessons I have learned that you will have coming in your life. You are not alone. I will always be with you. I will always talk to you. I want to take away your pain and absolve you of your shame of body and self. The self-blame. I want you to know it’s not your fault. You are just a child. You have your whole life in front of you. I want you to know that your mom loves you. You are too young to understand this now and it would not matter if you did.
Your mom is hurting too. She went through the same things as you with her mother. She was alone. She wanted to be loved by your nanny. Your nanny who takes you to Kennywood Park. Your nanny who sits alone in the sun for hours while you ride the rides. She waits patiently every weekend for you to take the bus to see her. Some weekend you don’t. She still waits. Her relationship with her daughter is not your fault. It’s ok just to love your nanny the way she loves you, unconditionally.
You won’t understand this until you are older. You will feel unimaginable guilt for abandoning your nanny because your mom abandoned her. Try to release your pain. Let me take on that guilt for you. You are a little boy who deserves to love her. To love yourself. Know that it’s ok to be a shy little boy. You were never taught to stand up to the bullies who made fun of your body. The bullies who assaulted you. Forgive yourself for that. You are a beautiful little boy. Love yourself. Love your nanny. Accept that your mother loves you. I love you. You are enough. You will always be enough.
I am pleased to present a new excerpt from my upcoming book,”The Addicted Lawyer”. The usual disclaimers. These excerpts are solely for content preview. These excerpts are not professionally edited. That occurs when I pay someone later. They also may not appear in this form in the published book. While your waiting for this book, feel free to read my previous book, Shattered Image.
One of my favorite lines is from a dark comedy entitled, “Swimming With Sharks.” With the “sharks”reference, you might think it’s about lawyers . It’s actually about the cut-throat world of the Los Angeles movie production industry. In one particular scene, the character, “Buddy Ackerman” a top movie executive, played by Kevin Spacy, is on the phone berating a subordinate over differences in opinion concerning how a movie should be made. He closes with:
“Say this one time with me: “Would you like that in a pump or a loafer?”… Good. Now memorize it, because starting tomorrow, the only job that you’re going to be able to get is selling SHOES! “
While Swimming With Sharks had not been made yet, and not said in quite that way to me, if you changed “selling shoes” to “job after graduation”, that is exactly how I felt as I walked out of my first and last moot court competition at Pitt Law. It would have helped if I was sober. Moot court, meet Jose Cuervo.
What is Moot Court? For the non-legal types reading this book, it is competition between burgeoning litigators, appellate gurus and law students who want to hone their debate and critical thinking skills in various legal subjects. Not a required rite of law school but many voluntarily participate to have their legal arguments and sometimes self worth, verbally hacked to death by law student student judges, professors and sometimes actual judges.
For me, volunteering to participate in a process that would further degrade my sense of self worth was akin to agreeing to be water-boarded. So how did I end up sitting before a moot court panel of law student “judges” trying to argue the in’s and outs of the 4th amendment implications of Illinois vs. Gates. How did I end up drinking before I walked into that room so I muster up the courage to show up for the competition? Much the same reason I ended up in the Marines Officer Candidates School the summer before. If I was able to show up, look those who are trying to break me down in the eye and make and argument. It would fix me. I often wonder if I am the only law student ever to show up for such a competition, probably not legally intoxicated, but certainly not sober. In the history of history, probably not, but I feel safe in saying I am in an “elite” group.
A week later, as we walked I walked out of my post-argument evaluation with the same student judges who smirked and sighed at my incompetency, wondering if they smelled the alcohol on my breath but not really caring, my moot court, partner Eric, said, “I think I did ok. They told me I had the potential to be a star. How did you do?” I said, “about how I expected to do” and walked away thinking about my future selling shoes.
Trip #1. July 22, 2005. A dark room. Table, desk, chairs. With me is a staff psychiatrist and psychiatric nurse at the Green Oaks Psychiatric Facility. 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. 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 shrink pierce my anger like tracer rounds. What drugs have you taken? How are you feeling? Do you want to harm yourself? 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 7th, 2007. I am in a daze. An hour before, I had been awakened by my girlfriend. 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 Oaks treatment center. The familiar haze. In the parking lot of the treatment center, 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 15th, 2015. Back in the Green Oak’s 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(now-fiancée) in tears. The intake desk. The familiar room where I sat with the attending psychiatrist.
This time however, I am not in crisis. This time I have been in recovery from drugs, alcohol and eating disorders since April 8, 2007. My thoughts are not of suicide. My thoughts are about reaching out to others who came before me and came after me at Green Oaks. Letting them know that recovery is possible. This day, instead of needing help, I am there to help. Letting people know that in the worst possible circumstances, Green Oaks was a positive for me in getting me thinking about recovery even though it would take two trips to arrive there. Without Green Oaks, maybe a different, tragic road. There is no shame in psychiatric crisis treatment. That is often when we need it most, even if it does not seem like it at the time, and we fight with all of our strength against it. Let yourself be loved by those who care about you. Let yourself be helped by those trained to provide it. Thank you to my brothers and fiancée for loving me. Thank to you Green Oaks for helping me.