I’m an alcoholic and I’m a lawyer. Before Feb. 22, 2011, when I finally achieved sobriety, this was my life: I was on academic probation at my undergraduate college; I was on pretrial probation for various indiscretions; I was daily diminishing the number of friendships I had; I was unable to hold a job (if I even wanted one); and each day, before leaving my apartment, I needed to self-medicate to face the world.
My sober life looks vastly different: I graduated from that same undergraduate institution; I got a job; I became a certified yoga and meditation instructor; I applied to and graduated from Marquette University Law School; and now I am a licensed Wisconsin lawyer.
I am grateful that I was already in recovery before law school. Law students don’t just learn to think like lawyers, they learn to drink like lawyers, too. The stress and constant competition are prime breeding grounds for depression and anxiety, the quickest and easiest fix coming in the form of some sort of medication, the most popular being alcohol and drugs. What might start out as fun at firm cocktail parties or law school weekly “bar reviews” turns into habit and then, for many of us, necessity. In the practice of law, this necessity to self-medicate can manifest in the following way.
After my first sober year, three years before starting law school, I received a call from Jim #fakename, the managing partner at a firm,. Jim knew that I was sober and told me that he had an associate, Frank #fakename, who had a history of alcoholism. Jim needed help with Frank. Others in the firm were complaining that Frank smelled like alcohol and even seemed drunk at times. Jim spoke with Frank about it and gave him multiple chances but, on this particular morning, Frank was again drunk in the office.
Law students don’t just learn to think like lawyers, they learn to drink like lawyers, too.
I went in and found Frank, sure enough, drunk. He had a pint of hard liquor in his briefcase. I took him to the hospital. As a direct result of this need to drink, Frank lost that job, his wife, his kids, and his home. He would eventually sober up, pursue a different career, and, thankfully, earn those things back in recovery.
Frank’s consequences and those of other alcoholic lawyers are “not yets” for many of us in this profession who are prone to drug and alcohol abuse. I have not yet lost my job. I have not yet lost my home. I have not yet landed in prison. I have not yet lost my license. But I know countless others of us who have. I know that if I ever again decide to walk back into a liquor store to buy my favorite vodka, the price I would pay is far greater than what is printed on the bottle: it would cost me $29.99, my family, my job, and my license to practice law. That’s not a price I’m willing to pay; not now, and not ever.
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Meet Our Contributors
What was your most relaxing or favorite vacation?
I had limited chances to travel while in law school, so I planned a vacation (as many third-year law students do) to Europe immediately following the Ohio bar exam. It took me to Mallorca, Spain, an island off the eastern coast of the country, nestled in the Mediterranean Sea. While some of that vacation was spent with friends and family, I had a handful of days that were spent alone, days during which I could reflect on the journey, both physical and spiritual. On the physical journey I racked up steps on my Health app, relieved that I had survived nine weeks of bar prep and finally was able to relax for the first time in months (years?).
As I stood looking out over the Mediterranean, recalling the previous three years, noting the obsessive, narrow-minded focus on results and rankings, I realized that my perceived trials and tribulations were, actually, trivial. There are things more important than winning or losing an argument, more important than being ranked in a certain percentile, and even more important than winning a trial. Travel taught me that; the Mediterranean taught me that. I wish I could have known it sooner, but the teacher appears only when the student is ready, and many times you have to travel to faraway lands to meet her.
Michael R. Anspach, Anspach Law, Toledo, Ohio.
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