Like so many legal professionals, I have been driven since an early age. I graduated from high school at 16, graduated from college summa cum laude, went to a top 10 law school, and was appointed as a prosecutor in my early 20s. I married, started a family and, as if that wasn’t enough, started teaching in the evenings. I worked hard and to “unwind” I drank after work and every weekend.
I never thought that was unusual.
Working 80-hour weeks, raising kids, and opening my own firm took a toll. I had a blood disorder that was worsened by alcohol; my health went into a steep decline. My marriage was the next casualty, ending in 2011 with my ex going to serve in Afghanistan. I was sick, alone, and raising two teens. I went from being a hard worker with a drinking problem to a hard drinker with problems working.
Eventually, my amazing daughter reached out to her godparents, both lawyers, and they called WisLAP for help. The kind folks at WisLAP were at my house the next day. Discreetly, a support network from the legal community came forward to help get me on a path to recovery. Colleagues pitched in to cover so that my clients were represented while I got the care I needed.
Life was still hard, and my recovery hasn’t been perfect. My first years in sobriety, I was still a single parent running a solo firm. I lost both my parents and then started losing friends in the recovery community; not everyone survives this disease. I came to see alcoholism as the illness it truly is, not the moral failing I used to believe it was. In recovery, I have been graced with acceptance and gratitude, which has given me peace. It has taken time for me to feel comfortable being open about my struggles with alcohol, but I believe my recovery is a gift that may help others.
I would likely not be alive today but for the intervention of my dear friends in the legal community.
This professional fraternity I am privileged to be a part of supported me in the greatest struggle I’ve faced and continues to provide me with the opportunities every day to help others suffering from addiction and mental illness entangled in the criminal justice system. I have the honor of passing on the kindness that was so freely given to me by volunteering with WisLAP. If another legal professional needs a hand, I want to be there to offer it. I want them to know they are not alone, and they can recover. I would likely not be alive today but for the intervention of my dear friends in the legal community. Because of them, I am enjoying my 27th year in this remarkable profession.
If you or a colleague you know is struggling, drinking too much, depressed or isolated, know that you are part of a professional family that can help. Reach out to WisLAP and get support. Being an alcoholic is not necessarily a career ender, but it very well could be a life ender if it’s not treated.
WisLAP Can Help
The Wisconsin Lawyers Legal Assistance Program (WisLAP) offers confidential assistance to lawyers, judges, law students, and their families who are suffering from alcoholism, substance abuse, anxiety, and other issues that affect their well-being and law practice.
WisLAP 24-hour helpline: (800) 543-2625
Meet Our Contributors
What kind of legal matter do you find most rewarding/personally satisfying?
Sometimes the most satisfying part of a case is the first time I meet a client and help them understand what they are facing. It's not always good news, but even so, having a framework to understand where they are now and what options lie ahead usually gives clients some immediate relief. I've often had clients or their family members cry just from hearing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Allison Ritter, Ritter Law Office LLP, Milwaukee.
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