A Long, Downward Spiral and Back Again

I’d like to say that I had a normal, happy childhood. I was happy for the most part, but I lived in an alcoholic household, which was anything but normal. I was good at school and sports and in spite of moving many times I had lots to do and lots of kids to play with. I felt uncomfortable and like an outsider unless we were doing something like playing sports or creating general mayhem. I was particularly uncomfortable with girls because I never knew what to say. I discovered alcohol when I was thirteen and suddenly I felt okay, I felt comfortable with people, able to talk, relax and even be funny. Fortunately, I hung around with mostly clean-cut student athletes and didn’t indulge myself in this great pleasure much during high school.

When I arrived at university, I felt lost and truly like an outsider. The only time I fit in and had any social life was when I was drinking – so of course, I drank frequently. I was still focused on school and sports and I wasn’t completely out of control. I certainly didn’t think I had a problem. It seemed that alcohol was my friend, letting me blossom into the outgoing guy I knew I was. I thought real men drank, and to excess. The motto “work hard, play hard” was my call to arms. The problems I had seemed like normal adventures of a daring young man on the rise; getting kicked out of the student residence and getting put in the drunk tank overnight has somehow come to seem like badges of honour.

I graduated into the world of law and found a friendly home. I did trial work and found great encouragement for alcoholic excesses. I loved hanging around with lawyers and particularly liked hanging around bars consuming large amounts of alcohol as we regaled each other with tales of courtroom wizardry. I could justify my drinking; after all, the heroes and legends of the bar were heavy drinkers (at least I told myself that). I did learn a lot of law in those bars, I made some good friends, and I had some good times. That was the lure of the alcohol. I did have positive experiences. Over time, the alcohol and the partying became more important than the law and I began to distance myself from my peers. The lower I sunk the lower I felt and I began an irreversible downward spiral. The more I drank the more I needed to drink. One-day parties became two-day drunks. Weekend drunks stretched first to include Thursday then Monday then Wednesday until two-week benders were common. I did manage to control my drinking for periods of time when my trial load was heavy. When things got particularly bad, I stopped drinking, buckled and got them in order. But as soon as I had any type of success, I’d start partying again.

Over time, my practice became in disarray. Actually, it was practically non-existent. I was distancing myself from my friends, hanging out only with others who drank like me and trying to prop up my pathetic ego by hanging out with others who looked up to me or at least flattered me.

I had several brushes with the law, which were not as funny in my ‘30’s as in my teens. I also tried to stop drinking but really what I wanted was to be able to drink wildly minus the bad results. I was afraid to stop drinking. I thought I’d be bored or boring. I was afraid I’d “lose my edge” and be less dynamic.

From the time I first tried to stop drinking in 1982 until I had my last drink in 1987 my life went from bad to worse to terrible. From January 1986 until May 1986 I don’t think I was sober form more than 10 days. I ended up in a detox for a week and then a treatment center for one month. At that point I gave up fighting and felt a sense of peace for the first time in my life, so far as I could remember.

I’d like to say that was my last drink, but over the next several months I did have a couple of slips, culminating (predictably) in a three day bender which ended April 18, 1987, the last day I had a drink. I have been clean and sober since. From that day forward, I have made recovery a priority. I joined A.A. I began taking whatever steps were necessary to get to know myself and feel connected to life – and I surrounded myself with people who lived healthy lives.

I needed to grow up and learn to deal with people and situations sober. I have rebuilt relationships with friends, I rebuilt my law practice, I rebuilt my health and fitness and I rebuilt my financial responsibility to the point where I now have a good credit rating.

I have a healthy sense of myself: I no longer walk around with the feeling that I don’t fit in, that I am a misfit and somehow defective. I don’t miss the things I thought I’d miss. I don’t miss drinking (I never wanted a drink or to drink, I wanted to get drunk). I don’t miss the bar scene or the casual acquaintances (I feel much more fulfilled being with my friends and with people I care about). I don’t miss the excitement of living on the edge (I now have the excitement of creating my own life, of taking risks, of learning new things, of being with people, of caring about and helping people, and of being a useful person). I now have the blessing of feeling comfortable in my own skin. This is all truly more than I could have ever hoped for.

In 1986 there was no LAP to turn to for help, but I did receive a tremendous amount of help and support from my peers. When I went into the treatment centre, several lawyers took over the files I did not want, including some dog files which were maturing, another lawyer baby-sat the few active files I had to come back to and yet another took care of my overhead. Without these very generous and caring people, I would have been in even more of a mess than I already was. To these people I am forever grateful. I am pleased now to be in a position to give back to the community and be useful and productive.

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