|By AnonymousThe following article was written by a lawyer who sought Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program’s guidance after getting her second OVI. She wrote this article in partial fulfillment of her community service hours.
I had a 20-year love affair that started when I was 16. Initially, it started out as an on again, off again kind of love. As I moved on to college, it became an intense, allconsuming affair. It kept me up all night, made me sick to my stomach, consumed my thoughts and impacted almost every decision I made.
That affair was with alcohol.
After I entered the program of Alcoholics Anonymous, I learned that alcohol is cunning and baffling. At the time I started drinking, I had no idea how manipulative a substance could be. After all, I graduated summa cum laude from college. I won a half-dozen awards that I was presented with the week of my college graduation. I got accepted to an Ivy League law school. In my own eyes, I was doing great. Actually, I was doing better than great. I thought I owned the world. Never mind the fact that my first semester of college I was put on probation for drinking, and my junior year of college I got kicked out of the house that I lived in because I was dating my roommate’s boyfriend behind her back.
Law school didn’t dampen my affair with alcohol. In fact, I’m pretty sure it intensified it. My friends and I would spend evenings debating the theories of crime and punishment, or whether Ross and Rachel would ever end up together. And all the while, we had bottles of beer, wine, whiskey and vodka flowing freely around us. I got married while in law school. That lasted for about a year. My ex-husband didn’t appreciate the fact that I would spend all night out with my friends at the bar and not tell him where I was. Apparently stumbling home at 4 a.m. reeking of booze and throwing up in the bathroom until it was time to leave for class again isn’t acceptable when you’re married. We parted amicably and have since become friends again, thanks to making amends through the AA program.
Again, I graduated at the top of my class, receiving awards for excellence. And I had an offer to work for one of the most prestigious law firms in Ohio. They were going to pay me to study for the bar exam.
I studied for the bar exam with those same friends, and our drinking didn’t waver. We all passed the bar on the first try. I passed with plenty of room to spare, and in my mind I thought, “I must have studied too hard. I didn’t need to pass by this much.”
I spent my first 12 years of being a lawyer as a fairly successful litigator. I won more cases than I lost. I had made a name for myself within my law firm and within the court system. I argued in front of the Supreme Court of Ohio. Television stations, magazines and newspapers interviewed me about my cases. And all the while, I continued my affair with the bottle. Clearly, with all of my successes, I didn’t have a drinking problem. I was a great drinker.
I got married again a few years before I was set to make partner at the law firm. My new husband was OK with my drinking. In fact, he joined me enthusiastically in it. We would go out for dinner, and it wouldn’t be uncommon for us to walk out of a restaurant having paid a $300 bill, with $220 of it coming from our alcohol consumption. That was our routine two, maybe three times a week.
Our routine changed a bit when we had our children. Three wonderfully healthy kids who are to this day, the lights of my life. I didn’t drink when I was pregnant, so clearly I didn’t have a drinking problem. I didn’t drink often after I had the children. Every once in a while I would have a glass of wine, but only when I knew that someone was watching the baby.
After the kids were older, I returned to my old ways. I started out just having a glass or two of wine a night, or two or three beers, depending on where we were. Within a couple of months, I was drinking a bottle of wine with dinner, and then I would have a nightcap, which usually consisted of one or two very large glasses of whiskey or port.
The stress of being married, of having a demanding job—I’d been promoted by that time—and of raising my children while their father increasingly disappeared during the evenings, began to get to me. I became snappish with my children. I began peppering my husband with questions as to his whereabouts. I began doing the bare minimum to keep my job. And while all of these duties slid down the list, I always made sure that I had wine chilled in the fridge, beer in the other fridge and a fully stocked bar.
About three years ago, my life began to change. People began noticing a difference in me. I was no longer happy or smiling. My children would ask me what was wrong, and I would tell them to go play with their friends. My husband no longer came home at night until after we were all in bed. I began to suspect that something was going on with him. We argued and fought on a daily basis. And so I drank until I was drunk on a daily basis.
Instead of confronting the marital issues, I went out by myself and got drunk. That led to my first OVI. I was lucky in that the judge only made me go to a three-day program at a plush hotel in Cleveland. It was not too bad. And I thought to myself, “Well, I just need to be more careful when I drink.”
In the meantime, I found out that my husband had been having an ongoing af fair with a woman I knew. The affair had started before I had given birth to our youngest child. I began drowning my sorrows in alcohol. I kicked my husband out of our home that we had purchased with the intent of growing old there and raising our three kids. Without him there and with the kids gone at school or with their friends, the house felt like an empty bowling alley.
About three months after the first OVI, while the kids were visiting their dad, I went out with friends and on my way home from dinner, I got pulled over for my second OVI. Luckily, it was in a different county and the court didn’t have any idea of the first case in Cleveland. Somehow, fate was on my side (so I thought) and I got another “free pass.” I did another program and walked away.
Three days after I completed my second program, I got pulled over for the third time. I didn’t think I was drunk. It had been a good three hours since I had a drink. I did the field sobriety tests. I thought I aced them. The officer apparently disagreed. So for the third time in six months, I was placed in a cruiser with hands cuffed behind my back and taken to the police station to be processed. Since I was so sure that I was sober, I agreed to take the breathalyzer test. That was a bad idea. I blew a 0.189—over twice the legal limit. And even worse, I was going back in front of the judge that heard my original OVI case less than six months before.
To say I was scared was an understatement. But that night, something else happened. When my dad came to pick me up and take me home, I felt defeated. And while I had previously toyed with the idea in the back of my head that I might have a drinking problem, that night it became abundantly clear to me that not only did I have a problem, but I was an alcoholic.
The next day, without having even been before the court, I called a treatment center and made an appointment for a screening. I entered into an intensive outpatient treatment program the following Monday. I called OLAP and made an appointment to meet with the director of the program the following week. I began attending AA meetings that night. The first time I had to say my name and follow it with the words “ … and I’m an alcoholic,” I was embarrassed. What kind of successful person with all that I have can be an alcoholic? I was surrounded by people who drank just as much as I did. They just didn’t get caught driving while drinking.
But as I sat through that first meeting and listened to people tell their stories about how they had “hit bottom” and how they had slowly clawed their way back to sanity, it began to dawn on me.
Alcoholism is a disease. My family is plagued by it. I can name at least two people in each generation of my family that I know are alcoholics. And I am one of those people.
At first, I didn’t want anyone to know that I attended AA meetings. It quickly became clear that I wasn’t going to have a choice. The first time I appeared in front of the judge on OVI number three, he ordered me to have the “party plates” placed on my car. For a year, I sported those beautiful yellow and red license plates. I also got to blow into a breathalyzer that was installed at my house three times a day. It would begin going off at 5 a.m. and would beep every minute until I blew in it. It also took my photograph. Those were definitely some beautiful pictures. I’m sure the guys at Smart Start appreciate them. I had to spend 10 days in an inpatient treatment center, which was really a jail that they termed a treatment center. I also was ordered to complete 100 hours of community service, and I was put on probation for three years and had my driver’s license suspended for two of those years.
While all of those penalties seemed harsh, they were nothing compared to what I went through personally. I lost my children temporarily. My ex-husband heard about the third OVI and refused to give the kids back to me after his weekend visitation. Prior to that time, he had been an every other weekend dad and had given up custody of the kids. After that, he refused to let me see them at all for over a month and then demanded that I give him more than $7,500 a month in child support and spousal support. That would have been tight on my salary, since I had been fired from the law firm as soon as they heard about the OVIs—in spite of my efforts to show them the steps I had taken to confront my problem. As such, I had no money to give anyone.
I lost some of my “friends.” And I use quotation marks around the word friends because I have come to realize something. The people that I lost as my “friends” weren’t really friends to begin with. They were drinking acquaintances, or they were colleagues that I socialized with and occasionally we went to each other’s houses under the auspices of friendship. But once I was branded with the scarlet letters of my license plate, they faded into the woodwork. I’ve heard through the grapevine what they say about me now, and I just smile because if those people knew the person I truly am—the person without the alcohol—I’m sure they’d like me a lot better. But I don’t think I’d like them at all. The absence of an alcohol buffer tends to alter your perspective about things like friendship, loyalty and trust.
Some members of my family began to side with my ex-husband. One of them even called the court and told the court that I had been drinking every night (I had been sober for more than four months at that time and was still blowing in a breathalyzer three times a day). They told the court that I was not fit to be a mother.
After three months of only being allowed to see my children with a supervisor present, I was allowed to have them overnight by myself. The four of us sat on our couch and cried. They asked why they weren’t allowed to live me with me, and I thought about making something up. But then I decided that would only harm them more. So I told them. I told them that their mom had a problem with drinking, that it made me sick and that I’m better because I don’t drink anymore. My oldest asked me if I would get sick again if I started drinking, and I told her that yes, I would.
As I sat there with the three most important people in my life, I made a vow to myself that not only for myself, but also for them, I would, one day at a time, work to never make them feel as though they had lost their mother again. The pain and anguish that I saw on their faces that night coupled with the joy that I see now because they have their mom back gives me every incentive I need to never pick up a drink again.
Drinking used to help me relax. It used to assuage my stresses at the end of the day. It was fun to drink and socialize. It was a great mechanism to avoid the strife and conflict in my home and at my job.
For the first six months of my sobriety, I tiptoed around it. I was embarrassed to let people know that I am an alcoholic. That stigma, to me, was associated with lower class people. People who don’t have homes. People who are not as privileged as I have been.
But then one day, a funny thing happened. I realized I am one of those people. We alcoholics, we are all alike, regardless of our socioeconomic background, regardless of our addresses, and regardless of how we look or what our criminal records look like. In all honestly, I have learned the most from some of the scariest looking (but nicest and kindest) people I’ve ever come across.
Now, instead of drinking, I turn to other things. I exercise. I read a book. I sit on my deck and enjoy a glass of iced tea while I watch the kids play with their friends in our neighborhood. I spend time with my friends. And I do mean friends. The people who have stood by me, unwavering in their faith in me and my ability to overcome these obstacles. I go to meetings. I have met some of my nearest and dearest friends in AA. We meet for coffee, we go to concerts, we have Dance Central dancea- thon contests at my house. We talk about life being sober and how we never want to return to the dark place that destroyed so many of our hopes and dreams.
And since coming to terms with my alcoholism, I’ve found such a sense of freedom. I don’t have to live like that anymore. I don’t have to wake up wondering what I did the night before, wondering if I said something to offend someone or perhaps to jeopardize my job. I wake up with a sense of peace, knowing that I have my three angels sleeping down the hall from me (if they’re not all piled into bed with me). I’ve found a relationship with a wonderful man based on respect, love and trust. He’s not an alcoholic, but he knows that I am and he supports me and he loves me and he helps me day by day as I face my challenges head on. And I have a successful law practice that I always wanted to start but was too afraid to take the leap of faith and try it on my own. My family and my friends support me in this and they have faith that it will succeed. Most days, I do too.
Once I admitted that I was powerless over alcohol—because that’s the first thing you have to do if you truly believe you have a problem and if you want help—the rest fell into line. I won’t say that it was easy. It has not all been easy. But it has been rewarding and it has been soul cleansing.
Some people who aren’t familiar with AA or with sobriety will spout off that it is some kind of brain washing cult that makes you buy into a certain set of principles. I’m here to tell you that it isn’t. My spirituality is my own. I heard a man at a meeting tell us that his higher power is a Harley riding bad-ass with more tattoos than he has. Your sobriety is personal, just like your drinking was personal. The only thing that has to be public (and by public, I don’t mean shout it from a rooftop. I mean tell another person for starters) is your acceptance of your powerlessness over alcohol.
There’s a paragraph in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous that I have come to call my favorite and it deals with the issue of acceptance. For a control freak lawyer like myself, I have to recite this paragraph to myself at least four or five times a day when I feel like I should be in control of everything. It’s a beautiful paragraph in a personal account written by a doctor who was an alcoholic. It reads:
And acceptance is the answer to all of my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation, some fact of my life, unacceptable to me—and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly as it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not remain sober. Unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and my attitudes.
I’ve accepted my alcoholism. In fact, I have embraced it. I have a new life, a better life. I have peace. I have serenity. I have the freedom to be a productive member of society, to be a good mom, a good friend, and to fulfill the promises that I have made to myself and to others.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t bumps in the road. There are. And when I come across those bumps, I remember that nothing happens without a reason and if I just sit back and wait long enough, that reason will manifest. So for now, and for the rest of my life, I’m going to take it one day at a time. Because I like this life. And I love my sobriety.
Contact OLAP at www.ohiolap.org or (800) 348-4343.