Monday, May 10, 2010
The Bad Lawyer on "Paper"--Getting Sober
Within the last month the Bad Lawyer signed a contract with the OurState Lawyers Assistance Program for mental health support and advocacy as it relates to my law license which any regular reader of this blawg knows I have acknowledged losing to a suspension for being, inter alia, a Bad Lawyer. If this sounds smug, you can read this blawg at length and reach your own conclusions
This is not an easy process because it entails doing something I said I was willing to do when I started this Blawg, i.e. look in the mirror. Oh, yeah, I talk a good game. But to the best of my ability, I tell the truth at Bad Lawyer, no matter how painful. And I have written at length about my legal and malpractice perils all of which remain--and, I have tried on "ownership," as one says in recovery. But seriously, what is it like to really see "your shit." That's where I've been the last couple of weeks, and where I intend to be for some time.
When I started this Blawg I was no longer able to sleep. By history, I have slept alone for many years. The Blond Super Lawyer is a light sleeper and when I was a fat ass, my allied ailments of sleep apnea, snoring and diabetes, getting up to pee, kept her awake. Imagine that?
I sleep on the third floor of her old house in the neighborhood to the immediate near west of OurTown. Apparently when I was a fatty, my sleep apnea could rattle the entire house even from the third floor. Part of my excellent wardrobe was assembled in order to accommodate my girth if not my success--but, I did look like a "million bucks," even if I was ignoring the financial tar pit of my creation comprising old and growing debt; especially insane tax obligations. The upside? There is an upside because, there's nothing like professional disaster to ruin your appetite and while I am hardly--wasting away, friends who see me, only rarely, are shocked at my appearance. I have lost more than 80 pounds, almost all stress-induced. And while not a cure for my diabetes the diabetes symptoms are almost gone, and my sleep apnea disappeared.
When I realized that I had an IRS agent looking at me and the OurState disciplinary counsel--I trusted that all my "good works;" and, my lack of "intentional" wrongdoing would save me. I also thought I could scramble to bring myself into civil compliance with the tax filing requirements. Um, no. As you know, . . . and, as I've said. Part of the reason for this is that is my wonderful view of myself is not shared by others; and my late efforts at compliance, were too late. You can be too late. Don't, . . . please don't do what I did. Get help now, do not wait.
All of this has driven me, happily to put myself "on paper."
When I first stopped drinking sometime before May 6, 1986 I started going to AA meetings in and around OurTown a place once described in the immortal words of the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, as a "big city to the west." As a result of getting "sober" in an old-line AA rustbucket town, you find that sobriety is a readily-supported project; there are many AA meetings, many continuously in existence since the near-founding of AA as an organization. When I first got sober I took to AA like a fish takes to water. This was surprising because of the "God Stuff," which is how so many alcoholics talk about the "higher power" question. At the time I stopped drinking, if you would have asked me, I would have claimed to have been "an agnostic." Sure as shit, in the book Alcoholics Anonymous, there's a chapter "To the Agnostic." Personally, I owned the high-toned Oxford English Bible which I read as part of my study of classic literature and legal precepts underlying Judeo-Christian jurisprudence.
Let me be absolutely clear about one thing, in AA meetings you meet all sorts. Smug, over educated pompous know-it-alls, like myself, and smug undereducated pompous know-it-alls like many of my pals. You meet saints, crooks, holy rollers, atheists (in all honestly, these folks are rare), racists, poor, sick, gay, straight, confused, troubled, but the one unifying personality defect we all have--egos that need crushing. You see, I, like most, came to AA believing one of two things (usually I held both certainties simultaneously): I am either the world's greatest (albeit misunderstood) guy, or alternatively I am the world's most loathsome character. Both convictions are manifestations of seeking for the self alone, in my case egomaniacal alcoholism.
Regardless, of my misplaced intellectual superiority or worthlessness I fully embraced the existence of God and a firm belief that God could restore me to some balance/sanity. In the years after I became sober initially, I was confirmed in the religion of my baptism, Roman Catholicism. It's been a rocky road since, if you have read on Bad Laywer about my work involving clergy sex abuse, it ain't always been easy, but I never stopped believing and I never stopped praying My dear friend Sharon asked me about this a few weeks ago, she wanted to know if the clergy sex abuse scandal effected my faith, specifically my faith in the Catholic Church. In fact I actually believe that the prayers we said and those we say as catholics, at mass: for the clergy, Bishops, Cardinals and Pope--played a powerful role in bringing the truth to light. In the same way my prayers and the prayers of my friends: (a. helped me to get sober; (b. helped me to deal with these terrible professional and personal secrets that were and are making me sick. If you have been praying for me, keep prayi; if you haven't been prayig for me, but you pray and you can fit me in--please pray for me.
You see when my personal and professional disasters happened it would have been so easy to kill myself. I told myself that life was random, there was no God, and everyone would be better off without me. Suffering from depression for large chunks of my adult life suicidal ideation is not a new feeling, but the last couple of years produced in me a feeling of "existentialism," that made me feel very alone and very tenuous. So I attribute being here to several things: having a tool chest from years of "sobriety," children that I love, and who love and in ways I'm not even sure why, need me; friends who love me, and who prayed for me; and myown prayers.
Of course, without meetings I was not "sober."
I have relapsed several times since I first "got sober" 24 years ago. I was actively involved in AA for 15 years before I relapsed; I've relapsed a couple of times since, the last time two years ago for a couple of months. AA is prescient when the wisdom says, having been "sober" screws up any future drinking--so true. Try to drink having been sober, 'thought you were sick before, trying get shit-faced when you know better. I was sitting in a bar having a beer 9 years ago when two judges who knew I had been past-chair of the Assistance to Lawyers Committee strolled by--I felt terrible. The AA experience ruined my drinking.
Now I'm on "Paper," part of my deal with OLAP (OurState Lawyers Assistance Program) is to carry a sheet to be signed by the "Secretary" of the AA or other 12-step meetings I'm required to attend. It may sound funny, but this is "ego crush," and I kind of dig it. I walk to the front table of AA meetings and reach in my pocket and pull out a letter-sized piece of paper which I unfold and hand to the secretary, to be signed and handed back to me at the end of the meeting verifying my attendance. I have agreed to do this three times a week. DUIs, and folks on probation from the local municipal courts do this whether sober or not, as a condition of remaining free. As someone continuously sober and active as an AA for more than a decade before I fell away, I signed many of these sheets for other alcoholics over the years.
Ego crush is something I am experiencing in full free fall from where I was. Before I embraced it I was hiding in my office afraid to be seen by former peers. 'Afraid to be judged. How crazy is that? Seriously, I'VE BEEN JUDGED, which means my former peers have no power, to judge me now. You have contempt for me? No more than I have for myself. You judge me? No more than I judge myself. Really, what I feel is that I have the power to elicit dread, in others only if they see themselves in what I did, and if they fear the consequences. Let me say something about the consequences, I have not seen all of the consequences of my action, in fact I'm pretty convinced that good, ill or indifferent I can own the consequences of my actions from now on--the question is can I transform these experiences into a positive message for you and for my kids.
I have not run away. I did not kill myself. I did not go out and drink. I did get a job even though my presence at my current workplace caused problems and a near mutiny. I did not run away. I did not drink. I did not kill myself. I show up for work everyday and I apply myself in an effort to create value for the lawyers kind enough to employ me. I write. I tell you about these experiences. I am trying to recover.
Someone at an AA meeting was saying that she saw a t-shirt that said "Alcoholics Recover, I'm a Drunk." I love that, being an alcoholic is a "promotion" from mere drunk. There really is a larger point embedded in the t-shirt message. Alcoholism is about a mental illness; a symptom of alcoholism is drinking too much. You see I wasn't "sober" all those years when I no longer drank. I was in the words of AA, a "dry drunk." I was childish, oversensitive, judgmental and grandiose. By the grace of God, I still have a shot to recover.
I don't know what the future holds for me, and maybe it's a sign of sobriety that for fleeting moments, I'm okay with whatever the outcome is. I am alive. I did not drink. I did not kill myself. I admit that I am powerless over alcohol and that my life is unmanageable. And I happily hand in my "paper" for signature by the secretary along with the other drunks. After the meeting, I gratefully stand in line to pick up my "paper." One day at a time.