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This lawyer tried psychiatrists, biofeedback, relax-ation exercises, and a host of other techniques to con-trol her drinking. She finally found a solution,uniquely tailored, in the Twelve Steps.
W hen i wasa newly minted lawyer starting out
in the practice of criminal law, there were five
of us in our law office. My favorite lawyer was the ec-centric, disheveled, wild-eyed Irish law professor whowas brilliant or crazy, depending on your point of view,constantly cleaning out his pipe bowl with a black fin-gernail and tossing back vodka martinis whenever hegot the chance. Then there was the new but world-weary litigation lawyer who told endless tales of hisformer life of white wine and bouillabaisse under theMediterranean sun as he conducted his exportingbusiness on the Riviera. Why would he leave such anideal, wine-drenched job in sunny climes to slog awayat law school? I kept wondering. There was also agiant good-hearted bear of a man, who today is ajudge, who spent more time listening and helping oth-ers than he did practicing criminal law. Into this officelanded a pair of know-it-all, fast-acting, but not tooexperienced young lawyers: my husband and me.
Within a dozen years, three of these five promising
lawyers were dead from alcoholism, struck down atthe peak of their careers. The judge is still and always
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has been a sober judge. And I somehow unwittingly,and even while drinking, turned into a corporate coun-sel and later, thankfully, became a member ofAlcoholics Anonymous. The professor’s kidneys gaveout from one too many martinis; the exporting lawyerkept drinking until he died, despite a liver transplant;my ex-husband died in a fire on what was to be, hehad said, his last drunk before going to A.A. again, whenI was ten years sober. I have been to too many pre-mature funerals due to our good friend alcohol.
My husband and I met and married in law school in
a romantic haze of alcohol, twinkling lights, and muchpromise. We stood out as the only young married cou-ple in our class. We worked and played hard, campedand hiked and skied, threw fabulous parties for oursophisticated friends, and prided ourselves on stayingaway from drugs. In fact, it was fear that kept me awayfrom drugs—fear that I might not get called to thebar (that’s the other bar, the legal one) if I wereconvicted of possession of illegal street drugs. Moreimportantly, my best friend was wonderful, powerfulalcohol, and I loved it.
Until I was four years old, I lived upstairs from a tav-
ern, where I saw a few drunks bounced around. Mymother worked for relatives who also lived over thetavern, and whoever had time looked after me. Despite my pleas, my mother married a violent man,and we moved away to a life that made my tavern lifelook really holy. I kept running away back to the tav-ern until it was demolished. I still fondly look atpictures of that place.
By the age of fourteen I had my first drunk, which
ended in a minor police visit to my home. By the age
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of eighteen I was a daily drinker, and by age twenty-one I had my first year-long binge in France, which Ieuphemistically referred to as my study year abroad. Icame home very sick and drunk. A few months later Iwent to bed with a bottle of Scotch one night and de-cided I would go to law school. If you are having trou-ble, try something that is even more difficult, to “showthem.” That was my philosophy. It was enough todrive me to drink, and it did.
At law school we used to drink a lot of beer in student
pubs, debating whether rocks had souls and what wasthe nature of the judicial process, as though it had neverbeen considered before. As new lawyers, my husbandand I eagerly beavered in the office early in the morningbefore running off to court to fearlessly defend thedowntrodden. Lunch was the training ground for theperpetual quest for the best martini—usually two orthree of them, good for taking away the knot that by thistime had permanently lodged itself in my stomach. (Ididn’t know that it represented fear and that I was not afearless defender after all.) Afternoons would be fullof creative legal arguments in court. If court finishedearly, maybe we’d make it back to the office, maybenot.
Evenings we drank with the best of them: lawyers,
writers, media types, everyone vying to tell the beststories, which of course got funnier and funnier themore we drank and the later it got. When I drank, thefear evaporated and I became articulate and appar-ently very, very funny—or so they said then. Yearslater I drank so much that I was no longer funny. Butat the time, the drinks and the stories and the cama-raderie were as wonderful as I was witty. We would
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get home to sleep by one or two in the morning, andthe next day we would be up early to start all overagain. The fortitude and resilience of youth made usinvincible.
Unfortunately, by the time we thought it was time
to have a “real life” and maybe start a family, the mar-riage disintegrated. I was then twenty-eight years old,getting divorced, drinking all the time, and seeing apsychiatrist three times a week, trying to solve myproblem, whatever it was.
I thought I had found part of the answer when I
stumbled into a private controlled-drinking program,which helped me, during the initial thirty-day manda-tory period of abstinence, to hook a very large rug,row by row, well into many late nights. “One morerow!” I kept saying, gritting my teeth against a drink. My period of abstinence also helped me get a betterjob in the corporate world, away from all those hard-drinking criminal lawyers, and a new three-story, four-bedroom house. Just what every single womanneeds! It helped me to quit the psychiatrist. Duringthis abstinence, I also got out of a sick relationship,which reproduced the violence of my childhood.
Incredibly, I did not connect the improved manage-
ability of my life in this short period of abstinence tothe absence of booze. It didn’t matter in the longrun, because unfortunately, I started to get drunkagain. I recall being fixated on that first glass of wineI was allowed to drink the day my coach informed methat I was ready to start drinking in controlled fashion. My tongue was almost hanging out.
Many drunks later, I tried everything else I could
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find: more therapy, different psychiatrists (it was al-ways to be the next one who would solve my prob-lem), biofeedback, relaxation exercises, Antabuse, lotsof self-help books from Freud to Jung, to every cur-rent fad that was published or taught. All to no avail,of course, because I’d always end up drunk.
Came the day when I realized that I couldn’t keep
dragging myself off to work in the morning and spend-ing half the energy of every day concealing the factthat I was a barely functioning drunk. I would gohome to drink until I passed out, come to in the mid-dle of the night terrified, listen to the radio, and getworldwide telephonitis, finally dozing off at dawn, justin time to be awakened by the alarm and start theprocess all over again. I gave up on relationships ofany significance, saw my friends less, and stoppedcommitting myself to most social occasions because Icould never count on being sober. More and more, Ijust worked and went home to drink—and the drink-ing was starting to outstrip the working.
One day I was so hungover at lunchtime I called a
friend and had a little cry. “I’ve tried everything andnothing works,” I said, reciting my litany of doctorsand different therapies. I did not remember thatthirteen years earlier, when I was twenty-one yearsold, I had attended a few meetings of AlcoholicsAnonymous after waking up one morning not knowingwhere I was. I had just started law school and was ter-rified most of the time, so I went on a binge to quellthe fear, which only got worse. I have no idea whatmade me go to A.A. way back then. But there wereno young people at the meetings, and people keptmarveling at how young and fresh I looked. (No one
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at A.A. said that when I came back thirteen years later.)
My friend suggested that we contact a man she
knew who was a member of Alcoholics Anonymous,and I agreed to call him. “Perhaps he could call you,”she said helpfully, which was the key, because by thatnight I was just fine and didn’t need any outside helpaside from a drink or two. But he kept phoning andbothering me about going to a meeting. When he toldme he went to A.A. meetings three or four times aweek, I thought, Poor man, he has nothing better todo. What a boring life it must be for him, runningaround to A.A. meetings with nothing to drink! Boringindeed: no bouncing off walls, no falling down stairs,no regular trips to hospital emergency rooms, no lostcars, and on and on.
My first meeting back at A.A. was on an unseason-
ably hot June night, but there was not a cool drink insight in that church basement. The smoke could havechoked a horse (today, it is much improved), and a fa-natical woman with smiling bright eyes eagerly ex-plained to me that they had this important book Ishould buy. Thinking that they were doing the bookpromotion because they needed the money, I saidfirmly, “I’ll give you the money, but I don’t want yourbook!” Which about sums up my attitude and explainswhy, for the next few months, I continued to getdrunk in spite of dragging my body to meetings everyfew days. I would stare at the large vodka bottle in mykitchen cupboard and say, “You won’t get me!” but itdid; I always lost the battle and ended up drunk.
My last hangover was on a Friday before a long
summer weekend. I had struggled through the dayfeeling small and hopeless, hiding the trembling of my
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hands when I had to sign documents, and desperatelyworking to wrap my tongue around words duringmeetings. Later that Friday night, after an agonizinglylong workday, I was dragging myself up the desertedstreet thinking that the whole world, except for me,had someplace to go on that long weekend, and what’smore, they all had someone to go with.
The first difference between that night and all the
others was that I did not immediately go directly to abar to get lubricated or home with my regular giantweekend supply of booze. Instead I went to my clubto swim, where strangely enough I also did not drink. I was so hungover that I had to give up trying to swimand instead wrapped myself in a bathrobe and sat in adark corner of the locker room lounge for two hours,feeling desperately sorry for myself.
I don’t know what happened during those two
hours, but close to eight o’clock, I leaped up, jumpedinto my clothes, and raced off to a meeting I’d had nointention of attending. It was a bit like getting a rap onthe head with an invisible hammer and having mybrain flip over, because the meeting seemed to be rad-ically different from the last time I had been there. The people looked animatedly alive, the weirdos whohad been attending before were absent that night, andthe books on display actually looked interesting. Ibought the book Alcoholics Anonymous, listened in-tently, and then, for the first time, I went for coffeewith those people and listened some more.
Late that night at home, there was a presence in the
room with me, even though I lived alone. The nextmorning I knew I didn’t have to drink. That night Iwent to a Step meeting where they discussed Step
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Two, “Came to believe that a Power greater than our-selves could restore us to sanity,” and I actually talkedabout God, the one who had abandoned me when Iwas very little, very frightened, and very hurt. In theweeks and months that followed, I did everythingthat was suggested to me. I went to a meeting everyday, read the books and literature, and got a sponsorwho told me to have a quiet time every morning andtry to pray and meditate or at least sit still for a fewminutes, before racing off for the day. Since I pridedmyself on adhering to the intellectual principle of nothaving contempt for anything prior to investigation,I tried to keep an open mind no matter what anyonesaid and how stupid I thought it was. That probablysaved my life.
I joined a downtown group that met near my office
right after work at 5:15. (I would not have made it to8:00 p.m.) Soon, I got into service. I was given bankbooks, notes of business meetings, and various otherinstructions and told to do whatever was necessary tokeep the meeting going. I did that job for quite sometime. I also instituted regular business meetings andfound an eager newcomer to whom I eventuallyturned over the bank book and papers.
I had a lot of problems in those early days, but no
matter what the problem, I was repeatedly told toseek more spiritual development, something that didnot interest me. I was also told that my purpose hereon earth was to be of maximum service to God andthe people around me, and that didn’t interest me toomuch either. However, I said nothing, listened, andkept going to meetings, mostly Step discussions, whereI heard people talk about how they practiced the Steps
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and about the Big Book, our selfishness, and helpingothers. Sometimes, I thought they were nuts, thosemeetings; often I thought they were boring, but I keptlistening and tried to relate.
Soon after a friend of mine was killed by a drunk
going the wrong way on the freeway, a truck drivertalked about driving long hauls drunk. I was horrifiedand repelled, until I paused to recall that I used todrive when I couldn’t walk straight. When my friendwas killed, my A.A. friends said, “Don’t drink! Don’tthink! Go to meetings!” I went to a meeting whereI sobbed and gnashed my teeth, but I didn’t drink.
I became as compulsive about A.A. as I had been
about drinking, which was necessary because I hadbeen told to spend as much time at meetings as I hadspent drinking. I went to every A.A. get-together pos-sible and was saturated with A.A. I listened to tapes ofA.A. talks. I read and reread the literature and books,laughing into the night over Dr. Bob and the GoodOldtimers. I signed up for the Loners-InternationalistMeeting in print (LIM) and shared the meetings Iattended in letters to people who could not get tomeetings. This helped me to remember what I hadheard, and my sharing helped someone else. I oncewrote to a man who received my letter the same dayhe had killed someone in a car accident, which wouldno doubt make one very, very thirsty.
Many years later, although alcohol is not part of my
life and I no longer have the compulsion to drink, itcan still occur to me what a good drink tastes like andwhat it can do for me, from my stand-at-attention al-coholic taste buds right down to my stretched out tin-gling toes. As my sponsor used to point out, such
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thoughts are like red flags, telling me that somethingis not right, that I am stretched beyond my soberlimit. It’s time to get back to basic A.A. and see whatneeds changing. That special relationship with alcoholwill always be there, waiting to seduce me again. I canstay protected by continuing to be an active memberof A.A.
The hardest thing I had to deal with in sobriety
was my own anger and the violence I lived throughin my childhood. I had forgiven those involved as bestI could, but the mind seems never to forget. I hadgratefully received years of outside help because I wastold that my drinking was only the symptom of deepertroubles. Yet despite the help of many professionals,I know I would never have recovered from violenceand alcoholism without A.A.’s Twelve Steps, whichare uniquely tailored for people like me.
Just as importantly, I believe that I recovered
through the grace of a Higher Power, despite the factthat I was very angry and wanted nothing to do withGod when I arrived at Alcoholics Anonymous. In fact,I did not need to find God. I only needed an openmind, and the spirit found me.
When I was five years sober, I met a man in A.A.
who was also five years sober. He said that the rocksin my head fit the holes in his. Today we have adaughter who has never seen her parents drink andwho sees them try to help others in AlcoholicsAnonymous. We have a nice home and sober familylife in a community with lots of A.A. friends and meet-ings. It’s a long, long way from that first A.A. meeting,and it couldn’t get much better.
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