The Lawyer, the Addict

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED IN THE NEW YORK TIMES  

In July 2015, something was very wrong with my ex-husband, Peter. His behavior over the preceding 18 months had been erratic and odd. He could be angry and threatening one minute, remorseful and generous the next. His voice mail messages and texts had become meandering soliloquies that didn’t make sense, veering from his work travails, to car repairs, to his pet mouse, Snowball.

I thought maybe the stress of his job as a lawyer had finally gotten to him, or that he was bipolar. He had been working more than 60 hours a week for 20 years, ever since he started law school and worked his way into a partnership in the intellectual property practice of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, a prominent law firm based in Silicon Valley.

Then, for two days, Peter couldn’t be reached. So I drove the 20 minutes or so to his house, to look in on him. Although we were divorced, we had known each other by then for nearly 30 years. We were family.

I parked in Peter’s driveway, used my key to open the front door and walked up to the living room, a loftlike space with bamboo floors bathed in sunlight.

“Peter?” I called out.

Silence. A few candy wrappers littered a counter. Peter worked so much that he rarely cooked anymore, sustaining himself largely on fast food, snacks, coffee, ibuprofen and antacids. I headed toward the bedroom, calling his name.

The door was ajar. A few crumpled and bloodied tissues were scattered on the bedsheets. And then I turned the corner and saw him, lying on the floor between the bathroom and the bedroom. His head rested on a flattened cardboard box.

In my shock, I didn’t see the half-filled syringes on the bathroom sink, or the spoon, lighter and crushed pills. I didn’t see the bag of white powder, or the tourniquet, or the other lighter next to the bed. The police report from that day noted several safes around the bedroom, all of them open and spilling out translucent orange pill bottles.

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Peter, one of the most successful people I have ever known, died a drug addict, felled by a systemic bacterial infection common to intravenous users.

Of all the heartbreaking details of his story, the one that continues to haunt me is this: The history on his cellphone shows the last call he ever made was for work. Peter, vomiting, unable to sit up, slipping in and out of consciousness, had managed, somehow, to dial into a conference call.

The Map of Peter’s Descent

None of this made sense. Not only was Peter one of the smartest people in my life, he had also been a chemist before becoming a lawyer and most likely understood how the drugs he was taking would affect his neurochemistry.

In my attempt to fathom what happened to him and how I — and everyone else in his world — missed it, I set out to create a map of Peter’s life the year before he died. (To protect the privacy of our children and Peter’s extended family, I’m not using his surname.)

I studied his texts to drug dealers, and I compared the timing of those with dates and times of A.T.M. withdrawals he made. I needed to see the signs I hadn’t known were signs. The nonsensical conversations. The crazy hours he kept. The nights he told our children he was running out to get a soda, only to disappear.

Human beings are physically and emotionally complex, so there is no simple answer as to why Peter began abusing drugs. But as a picture of his struggle took shape before my eyes, so did another one: The further I probed, the more apparent it became that drug abuse among America’s lawyers is on the rise and deeply hidden.

One of the first things I learned is that there is little research on lawyers and drug abuse. Nor is there much data on drug use among lawyers compared with the general population or white-collar workers specifically.

One of the most comprehensive studies of lawyers and substance abuse was released just seven months after Peter died. That 2016 report, from the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association, analyzed the responses of 12,825 licensed, practicing attorneys across 19 states.

Over all, the results showed that about 21 percent of lawyers qualify as problem drinkers, while 28 percent struggle with mild or more serious depression and 19 percent struggle with anxiety. Only 3,419 lawyers answered questions about drug use, and that itself is telling, said Patrick Krill, the study’s lead author and also a lawyer. “It’s left to speculation what motivated 75 percent of attorneys to skip over the section on drug use as if it wasn’t there.”

In Mr. Krill’s opinion, they were afraid to answer.

Of the lawyers that did answer those questions, 5.6 percent used cocaine, crack and stimulants; 5.6 percent used opioids; 10.2 percent used marijuana and hash; and nearly 16 percent used sedatives. Eighty-five percent of all the lawyers surveyed had used alcohol in the previous year. (For comparison sake, about 65 percent of the general population drinks alcohol.)

Nearly 21 percent of the lawyers that said they had used drugs in the previous year reported “intermediate” concern about their drug use. Three percent had “severe” concerns.

The results can be interpreted two ways, said Mr. Krill, who is also a licensed drug and alcohol counselor and whose consulting firm, Krill Strategies, works with law firms on drug abuse and mental health issues. “One is that a significantly smaller percentage of attorneys in the study are using drugs as compared to alcohol. We don’t think that’s true.”

“Alcohol is legal,” Mr. Krill said, not to mention socially acceptable. “So admitting you drink too much is not directly at odds with your role as a licensed attorney.”

Illicit drug use, however, is illegal. “I think the incidence of drug use and abuse is significantly underreported,” he said.

In the government’s most recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health report on substance abuse by industry, professional services (which include the legal profession) ranked ninth out of 19 industries in terms of illicit drug use. The entertainment industry ranked higher on the list; finance and real estate ranked lower.

The A.B.A.’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs’ most recent national report identified alcohol as the No. 1 substance-abuse problem for lawyers. The second most commonly abused substance was prescription drugs.

“We see two major trends in the legal profession,” said Warren Zysman, the clinical director of the EARS Recovery Program in Smithtown, N.Y., a medically supervised chemical dependency program, and the former chief executive of Addiction Care Interventions, a rehabilitation center in Manhattan for professionals, including lawyers. “One is the opioid addiction, and the other is use of benzodiazepines like Xanax.”

In recent years, he said, “we’re seeing a significant rate of increase specifically among attorneys using prescription medications that become a gateway to street drugs.” It used to be mostly alcohol, he said, “but now almost every attorney that comes in for treatment, even if they drink, they are using drugs, too — Xanax, Adderall, opiates, cocaine and crack.”

Opioids and stimulants often go hand in hand with alcohol. In fact, drugs are sometimes used to combat the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

Brian Cuban, a lawyer in recovery for alcohol and drug addiction and the author of the memoir “The Addicted Lawyer: Tales of the Bar, Booze, Blow and Redemption,” would regularly show up for work drunk and do a few lines of cocaine to be able to perform. “I was doing coke in the bathroom in the morning to recover from hangovers,” he said. “Cocaine got me back on focus.”

In addition to having a private practice at the time, Mr. Cuban was working for his well-known brother, the businessman Mark Cuban, who threatened to fire Brian if he didn’t get sober. “I kept thinking: ‘I’m not going to rehab. I’m a lawyer, lawyers don’t go to rehab, they aren’t in 12-step programs,’” he said. “Of course, half the people I know in my 12-step program are lawyers.”

Lisa Smith, a lawyer and recovering alcoholic and drug addict, said the only way she was able to perform in her job at the firm Pillsbury Winthrop in the early 2000s was by using cocaine to deal with alcohol withdrawal symptoms. “I was drinking during the day and at night,” said Ms. Smith, now deputy executive director of the law firm Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler in New York and author of the memoir “Girl Walks Out of a Bar.” “I did coke because it would allow me to straighten up enough to show up to work in the afternoon.”

Professional stress also plays a role, said Dr. Daniel Angres, an associate professor of psychiatry at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Law firms have a culture of keeping things underground, a conspiracy of silence,” he said. “There is a desire not to embarrass people, and as long as they are performing, it’s easier to just avoid it. And there’s a lack of understanding that addiction is a disease.”

That stress became particularly acute as the economy sank after the 2008 financial crisis. Jobs became more scarce. The pressure grew to not take time off from work.

At Peter’s memorial service in 2015 — held in a place he loved, with sweeping views of the Pacific — a young associate from his firm stood up to speak of their friendship and of the bands they sometimes went to see together, only to break down in tears. Quite a few of the lawyers attending the service were bent over their phones, reading and tapping out emails.

Their friend and colleague was dead, and yet they couldn’t stop working long enough to listen to what was being said about him.

Peter himself lived in a state of heavy stress. He obsessed about the competition, about his compensation, about the clients, their demands and his fear of losing them. He loved the intellectual challenge of his work but hated the combative nature of the profession, because it was at odds with his own nature.

Long before law school, when Peter was still in his early 20s and wearing his hair in a long ponytail, his passions were science, philosophy and music. One of his idols was the astronomer Carl Sagan. Another was Jimi Hendrix. He gave me books like “Siddhartha” and “Letters to a Young Poet” and played bass guitar in bands from college onward, even while a lawyer.

When he was a graduate student in chemistry, we spent whole weekends lying on the floor playing records for each other, talking about why we loved them and what memories a particular song snatched from the recesses of our minds.

After graduation, Peter worked for two small pharmaceutical companies but found the profession tedious and low paying. Having grown up in a low-income family, he didn’t want to worry about paying the bills again. So he decided to use his chemistry background to become a patent lawyer.

When he graduated from law school, the starting salary of his first job in law was five times what he had earned as a chemist. But our lives were not suddenly easy. Although we had enough money, Peter’s work schedule gave him little time to enjoy the fruits of his labor.

One Christmas Day early in his career, Peter’s boss phoned from a ski lift in Aspen, Colo., to make sure Peter was going to finish a brief by that evening. He did, skipping dinner.

“I can’t do this forever,” Peter often told me. “I can’t keep going like this for the next 20 years.”

‘Rewarded for Being Hostile’

According to some reports, lawyers also have the highest rate of depression of any occupational group in the country. A 1990 study of more than 100 professions indicated that lawyers are 3.6 times as likely to be depressed as people with other jobs. The Hazelden study found that 28 percent of lawyers suffer depression.

“Yes, there are other stressful professions,” said Wil Miller, who practices family law in the offices of Molly B. Kenny in Bellevue, Wash. He spent 10 years as a sex crimes prosecutor, the last six months of which he was addicted to methamphetamines. “Being a surgeon is stressful, for instance — but not in the same way. It would be like having another surgeon across the table from you trying to undo your operation. In law, you are financially rewarded for being hostile.”

Peter battled his own brand of melancholy, something I found attractive in a tragically poetic, still-waters-run-deep kind of way. He used to tell me he wasn’t someone who ever really felt happy. He had moments of being “not unhappy,” he said, but his emotional range was narrow.

When something great happened, he didn’t jump for joy. When something sad happened, he didn’t break down and cry. The only times I ever saw tears in his eyes were in the hospital, right after each of our children was born.

Yet for almost a decade as an associate at various law firms, Peter displayed no photos of his children or me in his office. When I asked him why — particularly when other lawyers seemed to have photos in theirs — Peter told me he didn’t want the partners to see him as “distracted by my family.”

Snapshots of Peter and his children. These photo moments were never displayed at work because he didn’t want to appear “distracted by family.”

In many ways, Peter’s personality and abilities read like a wish list of qualities for a lawyer. Trained as a scientist, he approached problems in a deliberative, logical way. He was intelligent, ambitious and most of all hard-working, perhaps because his decision to go to law school was such an enormous commitment — financially, logistically and emotionally — that he could justify it only by being the very best.

And he was. In law school he was editor of the law review and No. 1 in his class. He gave the speech at graduation.

He also had a single-minded focus that could border on obsessive. I remember when he became consumed with Bach’s harpsichord concertos, assembling a library of every one he could find. He read about them, listened to lectures about them and even found a mathematical representation of a particular piece on YouTube, which he had us all watch. That level of focus was well suited for deep dives into the new drug formulations, medical devices and technologies with which he had to constantly and quickly familiarize himself.

The Law School Effect

Some research shows that before they start law school, law students are actually healthier than the general population, both physically and mentally. “There’s good data showing that,” said Andy Benjamin, a psychologist and lawyer who teaches law and psychology at the University of Washington. “They drink less than other young people, use less substances, have less depression and are less hostile.”

‘I’m sorry I missed it.’ Work began keeping Peter from family events and distracting him from those he did attend.

In addition, he said, law students generally start school with their sense of self and their values intact. But, in his research, he said, he has found that the formal structure of law school starts to change that.

Rather than hew to their internal self, students begin to focus on external values, he said, like status, comparative worth and competition. “We have seven very strong studies that show this twists people’s psyches and they come out of law school significantly impaired, with depression, anxiety and hostility,” he said.

Academics often study law students because students are considered a bellwether for the profession. “They are the canaries in the coal mine,” Dr. Benjamin said.

Wil Miller, the lawyer and former methamphetamine addict, said that in his experience, law school encouraged students to take emotion out of their decisions. “When you start reinforcing that with grades and money, you aren’t just suppressing your emotions,” he said. “You’re fundamentally changing who you are.”

Research studying lawyers’ happiness supports this notion. “The psychological factors seen to erode during law school are the very factors most important for the well-being of lawyers,” Lawrence Krieger, a professor at Florida State University College of Law, and Kennon Sheldon, a professor of psychology at the University of Missouri, wrote in their 2015 paper “What Makes Lawyers Happy?” Conversely, they wrote, “the factors most emphasized in law schools — grades, honors and potential career income — have nil to modest bearing on lawyer well-being.”

After students began law school they experienced “a marked increase in depression, negative mood and physical symptoms, with corresponding decreases in positive affect and life satisfaction,” the professors wrote.

Students also shed some of their idealism. Within the first year of law school, students’ motivation for studying law and becoming lawyers shifted from “helping and community-oriented values to extrinsic, rewards-based values.”

Young lawyers in treatment at the Center for Network Therapy, an ambulatory detox facility in Middlesex, N.J., frequently tell Dr. Indra Cidambi, the medical director, that the reality of working as a lawyer does not match what they had pictured while in law school. She has found that law students often drink and use drugs until they start their first job. After that, Dr. Cidambi said, “it’s mostly alcohol, until they are established as senior associates or partners and they move back to opiates.”

“These aren’t the majority of lawyers,” she added. “But there are quite a number abusing drugs, and once they get to heroin, it’s very hard to break it.”

‘That’s Impossible’

For the last two years of his life, every time Peter and I were together — whether it was back-to-school night, our son’s cross country meets or our daughter’s high school graduation — people would ask me if he was O.K. They asked if he had cancer, an eating disorder, a metabolic disorder, AIDS. But they never asked about drugs.

Drugs didn’t cross my mind, either. Not even the day I found his body, surrounded by drug paraphernalia, and called 911.

That day in Peter’s house, the emergency medical workers told me right away that it was probably a drug overdose. I remember saying, “That’s impossible.” After all, I said, he was a partner at a law firm. He had an Ivy League education.

“How could that be?” I asked one of them. “He was so smart.”

ID around her neck and clipboard on her lap, she nodded at me with a look of understanding. “We see a lot of this now,” she said, meaning wealthy, accomplished men and women who start out with pain pills and graduate to amphetamines or heroin.

As I cleared out Peter’s house after he died, I found receipts from medical-supply companies that had delivered things like bandages and tourniquets to his office address. Yet I don’t think addiction crossed the mind of anyone he worked with, either.

Law firms are often reluctant to discuss substance abuse with their lawyers. The reason is not a malicious one, said Terry Harrell, a lawyer, substance abuse counselor and chairwoman of the A.B.A. Commission on Lawyers Assistance Programs. Law-firm leadership, she said, doesn’t really know what signs to look for when it comes to addiction. And when it’s happening, she said, they are so busy themselves, “they just don’t see it.”

‘Okay, so you are the best dad ever.’ A birthday letter from Peter’s daughter. Despite his struggles with addiction, he was close to his children.

By 2014, friends began noticing Peter’s thinness.

When asked what the American Bar Association is doing to help combat mental health and substance abuse, Linda Klein, its president, said the A.B.A.’s requirement for continuing professional development and education “recommends that lawyers be required to take one credit of programming every three years that focuses on mental health or substance abuse disorders.” She added that “by requiring lawyers to attend such programs periodically, the hope is that these concerns will be reduced.”

It’s difficult, though, to imagine that one class every three years would have prevented Peter — or anyone else — from becoming an addict. Real change, experts and recovering addicts say, needs to happen at the law-firm level, but that is complicated by an entrenched culture of privacy combined with an allegiance to billable hours.

Ms. Smith, the lawyer formerly of Pillsbury Winthrop, says she doesn’t know what her previous firm knew or didn’t know about her substance abuse. “They never said a thing to me,” she said. “And during that entire time I was an addict, I didn’t get a single negative performance review.”

Edward Flanders, managing partner in Pillsbury’s Manhattan office, said the firm was not aware of Ms. Smith’s substance abuse issues when she was there. Ms. Smith spoke about her experience to the firm’s New York City employees in March.

“Hearing about her experience was pretty eye-opening for the firm, and it’s not something we want anyone else to have to go through alone,” Mr. Flanders said.

Recalling Missed Signals

I’ve spent the past two years marinating in this mess, trying my best to navigate things like the byzantine probate process and my children’s broken hearts. I firmly believe that law-firm culture, particularly at big firms, has to become more compassionate and more aware of the signs that one of their own is struggling.

Looking back, I can see the signs I missed.

There was the time our son broke his wrist playing soccer four years ago and was prescribed Vicodin; Peter rifled through my medicine cabinet looking for the leftovers. “I use them for my back,” he said.

There was the holiday concert in which our son’s band was performing where Peter showed up late and jittery, looking so thin that I noticed his head seemed too big for his neck. After the show I walked with him to his car, and he complained that he was getting pushback from his firm about working from home so much.

“I’m more productive at home, but they have to see me, physically, in the office,” he said. “They don’t think I’m working if I’m not there.”

They were right.

And there was the time in early 2015 when my son told me Peter had received a shipment from Amazon that he had opened at the dining room table, pulling out boxes of syringes, bandages, cotton balls and wound cleanser. Peter explained it away as simply stocking up on medical supplies.

My son was puzzled by that. But by then his father’s behavior had become so strange, this almost seemed normal. “I just put my headphones on,” my son told me, “and said, ‘I have to do homework.’”

Years ago, when Peter was still a relatively new associate, he would joke that the perfect drug for him would be the combination of an antidepressant, a pain reliever and a stimulant. When I cleaned out his house, I found the ingredients for it: Vicodin, Tramadol, Adderall, cocaine, Xanax, crystal meth and a kaleidoscope of pills I couldn’t identify, but not for lack of trying.

Yet even as addiction was taking over his life, Peter continued working. In the notebooks he used to keep track of injection times and dosages, he also made cryptic notes about client calls and meetings, lists of things needed to prepare documents, filing deadlines.

Being a patent lawyer is intellectually grueling work, and Peter was good at it — really good at it — for a long time. Perhaps the arrogance that grows from a profession in which your advice is worth $600 an hour is what allowed him to believe he didn’t need to ask for help, that he could kick this on his own. Just another item on his lengthy to-do list.

In fact, while cleaning out his house I found a list of New Year’s resolutions Peter wrote in December 2014, tucked into the bottom of a dresser drawer. “Run three races, spend more time with kids,” his note to himself read.

And in red marker, the word “quit.”

Produced by Antonio de Luca and Whitney Richardson.

How I Stay Accountable

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON SOBERLINK.COM

While we all have different journeys in recovery, most will agree that accountability is a crucial component when it comes to staying clean and sober. Once we admit we want to rebuild our lives—whether it’s to a close friend, a family member or all our followers on Instagram—it becomes a lot harder to just pick up a drink or pop a pill. After all, who wants to risk having to come clean and admit we lost focus for a sec—or, er, three years? Accountability is how we stay on track and we all have people, places and things that have helped us reach our recovery goals. This is how accountability has worked for Lisa.

What does accountability mean to you?

Accountability means different things to me in different aspects of my life. In the most direct sense, it’s meeting my obligations and showing up for the things I’ve committed to. Walking through the door of my office, paying my bills, trying to be a good wife, calling my sponsor, calling my mother. These are all things I’ve made actual commitments to do. They are real-world things for which there are fairly immediate, tangible consequences if I were to blow them off.

Then there’s accountability to myself. I always tell my sponsees something I heard once: “Just don’t be a jerk.” Every night that I can go to sleep feeling like I wasn’t a jerk that day goes into the win column and helps me stay sober for one more day.

Does the fact that people know about your recovery play into you staying sober? How?

I don’t think about it often, but now that you mention it, it definitely does. I’ve basically shouted from the rooftops about my disease and recovery so I don’t put my friends, family and co-workers through another downward spiral in addiction. I’m fortunate that the support I’ve received from them has been tremendous. I consider staying sober to be the living amends I can make to them for all of the years that my behavior was awful and I couldn’t show up for things that mattered. It’s really the most important way I can demonstrate my gratitude to them, so that makes it important.

Who or what are you accountable to in your recovery?

My list of specific people includes my immediate family, particularly my husband, my sponsor and my sponsees. I don’t have children. I’ve been with the same incredible sponsor for all of my 13 years of my sobriety and she has no qualms about calling me out when I deserve it. I love that and need it. My sponsees are inspiring women and help get me out of my own head. Because they feel accountable to me, I feel accountable to them.

Mostly, though, I’m accountable to myself. Sobriety has given me a life beyond my wildest dreams. It would be entirely on me if I picked up a drink again and blew it all. Over time, as you build a new life in recovery, you start to actually have something to lose. When I was drinking and using, I felt like I had nothing to lose.

How important is having a community to your staying sober? Why?

Community is critical to me. In my active addiction, I felt so completely alone and scared. Learning that I’m not alone, that there are so many others like me who feel the same way and struggle with the same disease, has been one of the most important elements of my recovery. I remember the first time I went to my outpatient rehab after getting out of detox. I heard someone describing the compulsion to drink and how he used to just want to shut the door on the world and be alone in a dark apartment with a bunch of booze and coke. I thought, “Whoa! I’ve found my people!” We understand each other’s brains. Not feeling alone changed my life.

Have you ever relapsed? Is there anything you could have done that might have prevented that?

I have been fortunate enough not to relapse yet. I always say, “yet,” because I don’t say I will never drink again. That statement has always been too overwhelming to me. I’m seriously a “one day at a time” person. Each day so far I have gotten up and made a decision not to pick up a drink that day. For that to happen, I have to take the next right action and put my sobriety first. I was told early on that a healthy fear of relapse is a very good thing. I remain terrified of relapse.

What advice do you give someone who wants to get or stay sober?

Get connected. There are so many incredible people out there who have changed their lives and genuinely want to help the next person do the same. You can find so many resources and tools online and, if you’re inclined, in meetings. You don’t ever have to do this alone.

And be kind to yourself. It’s not like you put down the drink and become this fantastic person. All you have to do, one day at a time, is not pick up a drink, however you are able to make that happen. A woman in a meeting once said that any day I didn’t drink was a perfect day. It’s true.

How important do you think transparency is in your recovery?

Transparency is a huge part of my recovery. By speaking up and being transparent, I hope to help the next person who is struggling. Feeling alone in addiction is a nightmare, absolute misery. I think that whenever someone else holds up their hand and says, “Me too. You’re not alone,” it makes it a little easier for someone to ask for help.

How does it feel to earn people’s trust back now that you’re sober?

It’s great, but it’s also an ongoing process. If I’m in a bad mood or having a down day (I still have depression relapses periodically), the close people around me express concern. That’s fair enough. They have reason and the right to question me and be concerned. I have only myself to hold accountable for why they feel that way.

But it’s also great that now, 13 years later, I can say to any of them, “I’m going on this trip and I’ll be gone for a few days on my own,” and no one thinks, “Oh, she might drink and we need to be worried about it.” It’s a gift that I have to continue working hard at to keep. I know how easily it can all disappear if I make the wrong choices. But the possibilities are endless if I make the right ones.

Follow Lisa on her website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Lisa is also the author of Girl Walks Out of a Bar, a memoir about high-functioning addiction and recovery in the world of corporate law.

For the ultimate in accountability Soberlink’s Share Program provides recovering individuals a technology to build accountability and structure. The program is designed for those who want to share their sobriety with their support network.

Last Call blog with Nancy Carr

Relationships in Recovery: an Interview with Lisa F. Smith

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON LASTCALLBLOG

Lisa F. Smith is someone that I had read about a few months ago as her new Memoir, “Girl Walks Out of a Bar” was about to be released and the early reviews were garnering some great attention. As being a sober author and writer, Lisa and I had also connected via email and have shared some of our experiences.  I’m currently half-way through her book and its uncanny how many similarities we have in our stories and throughout our lives.  I highly encourage anyone who is looking for another great recovery Memoir, to grab Lisa’s quickly.  Lisa and I have made coffee plans to meet FTF at the She Recovers event in NYC in a few weeks, and I’m looking forward to meeting another writer in recovery that has been able to share her story in such a raw and honest manner.  Its all about touching others through our voices, and she’s one of those voices to me.  

What was your relationship with Alcohol/Drugs/Food before you got clean and sober?

Obsessive. Completely and totally obsessive. As a young kid, I started self-medicating with food what I now know was an undiagnosed depression and anxiety disorder. I found sweets soothing and would scarf down as much as I could whenever I could, usually in secret. Not much later, by the time I was 12, I had discovered that alcohol could quiet my brain even more effectively, so I lived for the opportunities to drink. Then the drugs, mostly cocaine, came along later. Progressively over the years, alcohol and drugs came to own my brain. I woke up thinking, “when can I drink today?” By the end, the only answer was, “right now.”

 

What is your relationship with Alcohol/Drugs/Food today?

I have been sober since April 5, 2004, so I’m on the outs with alcohol and drugs, hoping to keep it that way, one day at a time. Food will always be tricky for me. I’m very strict about what I eat because once I have that first brownie, it’s hard for me not to have five. Sound familiar?

 

How were your relationships with your family before you got clean & sober?

Great, if I forget the part about me completely deceiving them into thinking I was a happy and healthy person for the 10 years that I drank daily. We were close, but I was living in New York City and my parents and brother, along with his family, were in New Jersey. That made it easier for me to keep them in the dark about my alcoholism and cocaine addiction. I hid behind the excuse that I was always “working” and “so busy.”

 

How are those relationships today?      

Actually real and no longer covering up a giant lie. The ability to be honest in all aspects of my life, particularly in my relationships with close family and friends, is one of my favorite things about being sober. I feel like I can actually be known for me now, instead of creating the fake persona I was trying to live up to. For the first time, I feel like being me is enough. And I’m hugely grateful that after learning of my years of lies, my family has stood by me and been a huge source of strength and support in my recovery.

 

Regarding your prior romantic relationships – how did your addiction affect those?

Disastrously. For the most part, I made terrible choices in romantic partners. And when I did make good choices, things never worked out because I was a terrible choice for a normal person to make.

 

What is your current relationship status today and how has this changed since being sober?

I’ve been married for 8 ½ years to someone who has never seen me drink. He’s an occasional social drinker who would be totally bombed if he ever drank what I used to consider breakfast. He’s one of those people I will never fully understand – someone who can literally take it or leave it. When I told him about my addiction and sobriety (after about five dates) he said, “Well, you’ll be a cheap date.” Seriously.

 

How did you feel your relationships with friends and co-workers are now that you clean and sober?

Like every other relationship, they’re just more honest. My friends have been incredibly supportive and thoughtful. But now we have lunch instead of dinners and I don’t go to parties where much drinking is happening, unless I have a really compelling reason to show up. I have different co-workers now because I changed jobs almost a year into sobriety. They’ve always known me as someone reliable and steady, so that’s a big change from before, when I used to call out sick and work from home whenever possible.

 

Do you have a relationship with a HP, God or Universe that guides you?

If so, how does that help you in your recovery?

Yes, I have a HP, which I think of as God, although not a specific religion’s God. Really just a force greater than myself. It helps me tremendously in recovery because it gives me relief from the notion that I can (and should) control things, from situations to people. I feel like if I show up, take the next right action and let go of the results, HP will take care of the rest. I may not like how it gets taken care of, but it’s not up to me, so I need to live in acceptance and never lose sight of gratitude.

 

Do you have relationships with pets and if so, how has that helped with your recovery?

No pets for me.

 

How is your relationship today with Society at Large? And what have you been able to contribute?

My relationship with Society at Large is pretty good these days, I think. My main contribution is the speaking and writing I’ve been fortunate enough to do in connection with my memoir, Girl Walks Out of a Bar. I was so lucky to survive my addiction, and then so fortunate in my recovery. Because I felt so alone and isolated in my addiction, even though I knew that it couldn’t be just be me, I really wanted to help the next person feel less alone. And that will only happen when we break the stigma around addiction and discuss it openly. I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to do my part in trying to chip away at that stigma.

3 Key Tips for Dating in Recovery

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON SHATTERPROOF.ORG

When I got sober I followed my 12-step sponsor’s advice and didn’t date for the first year. I understood the suggestion that if you enter recovery in a relationship, stay in it unless it’s threatening your sobriety, and if you enter recovery single, stay that way. It made sense to me. There was no need to jump on the emotional roller coaster of trying to meet new potential romantic partners and starting to date in the first year.

Then came my sober anniversary and I was officially let loose into the wilds of dating. I was terrified. At the end of my using, I couldn’t even take my dry cleaning across the street without a drink. How was I supposed to go on a date?

I worked with my sponsor and approached dating with three key 12-step principles:

  1. Rigorous honesty. No, this did not mean that I had to announce to every guy I went out with that I was in recovery. Getting sober is an extremely personal decision and I didn’t think I had to share it with everyone I met for coffee. A simple “I’m not drinking tonight” is completely honest. If someone reacted poorly, it was a good indication that they might not be right for me.
  2. First things first. Like many alcoholics and addicts, I can use pretty much anything (food, exercise, shopping) as a drug. I had to be very careful not to use every new guy I met that way. I could not put anything or anyone before my sobriety or I would risk losing it. Sure, rearranging my 12-step meeting schedule to work around seeing someone was OK, but just skipping meetings to pursue a new guy was not.
  3. One day (or one date) at a time. Before I got sober, I was often planning the wedding before I even knew if there’d be a second date. In sobriety, I learned to apply to dating the “just for today” mantra I applied to not drinking. It was shockingly effective. If I could stay in the moment, I could avoid the often-unrealistic expectations I had put on new relationships before I got sober.

This is not to say that dating in sobriety is easy. But I did find that for the first time in my life, I had some actual tools and approaches that would help me keep an appropriate perspective on new situations.

Also, one of the very best things that sobriety did for me was teach me to value and respect myself. I no longer hated the person I saw in the mirror. I considered myself worthy of a relationship with a healthy person who would treat me with the care and kindness I had come to believe I deserved.

Sobriety gives us choices. No one can make me feel any particular way without my permission. It was liberating to feel that it was OK if someone wasn’t interested in me. Not everything was about me. As long as I didn’t pick up a drink, the next day, and the next date, had the potential to be the best ever.

100 Must-Read Books About Addiction

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON BOOKRIOT.COM

Katie MacBride:

I’ve been sober for nine years, and in that time I’ve read a lot of books about addiction. In fact, I started reading about addiction before I got sober–-perhaps because something in the very back of my mind was telling me that someday these books would be quite relevant to my life.
Not all of these books are All About Addiction. In many of them, especially the fiction titles, addiction plays a role but is not necessarily the focus of the book. Addiction is powerful, complicated, and appears in our lives in a variety of different ways. The beauty of literature is its ability to convey all the exciting, ugly, complicated nuances of issues like addiction, so we might reflect on the myriad ways it impacts our world.

Selected as one of Book Riot's "100 Must-Read Books About Addiction"

A Girl Walks Out of a Bar by Lisa Smith

“Lisa Smith was a bright young lawyer at a prestigious law firm in NYC when alcoholism and drug addiction took over her life. What was once a way she escaped her insecurity and negativity as a teenager became a means of coping with the anxiety and stress of an impossible workload.”

Author Talks Addiction at Event Hosted by JCC Greenwich

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON GREENWICHTIME.COM

GREENWICH — Lisa Smith was a lawyer at a megafirm in New York City with an apartment in Manhattan, family and friends and a secret that was killing her from the inside out.

She was a high-functioning alcoholic who balanced out her alcohol abuse with cocaine, calibrating her dual drug intake each morning to be normal before heading to the office.

“I would check my teeth for lipstick and my nose for any stray cocaine,” she told a score of people at Greenwich YWCA Tuesday during a discussion of her book, “Girl Walks Out of a Bar.”

“This stuff is typical and real,” said Maggie Young, director of youth and family services at Liberation Programs, which sponsored the talk along with Jewish Family Services, JCC Greenwich, UJA Greenwich and the Jewish Book Council.

“We are in the (Greenwich) middle schools and the high school,” Young said. “This litany of things, it was so enlightening to hear (Smith’s) experience, because — who’da thunk it?”

And that is precisely why Smith said she speaks. Her hope is that “this can help, in some way, whether it’s at a law firm or an investment bank, that this can help break the stigma,” she said.

“People talk about, ‘Oh, you have to hit your bottom,’” Smith said. “I say, ‘Your bottom is when you stop digging.’ For me, I just ran out of gas. It wasn’t someone telling me I had to go to rehab. It wasn’t my mom or a car crash.

“The thing was, I wasn’t getting out with a lot of damage,” she said. “I got my biggest raise and bonus one week before I checked into detox.”

Smith’s family lived in suburban New Jersey. She lived alone in a Manhattan apartment. She could excel at the firm then shut the blinds and lock the door for a weekend bender with her wine delivery, cigarette supply and fresh cocaine stash.

Her family didn’t know of her addiction until after she went to detox, she said. They assumed when she couldn’t attend functions that she was working.

“I had the built-in excuse,” said Smith.

“Weren’t you ever afraid you were going to die?” asked Cheryl Gulner, a Greenwich mother, after the lecture.

“I was kind of hoping for that,” Smith said. “There were times when I passed out and didn’t care if I woke up in the morning.”

Smith’s book describes her journey from rock bottom to sobriety.

She said she admitted to herself she was an alcoholic around 1994, but didn’t start on recovery until April 2004.

“I woke up (one) morning throwing up blood,” Smith said. “I looked like an overripe banana. Anything that touched me would bruise me. I knew I was physically sick enough that I would need a medicated detox — I’d wake up in crazy sweats and I’d have to drink to get out of bed.”

Smith spent five days in detox and returned to work the next week. She joined AA, changing her route to the subway to avoid her usual bars and started taking medication for depression and anxiety.

“I replaced (the addiction) with writing,” Smith said. “Some people replace it with AA meetings, and it’s better than drinking. Some people become workaholics. It’s about finding some sort of expression, something that burns that mental energy.”

JCC is continuing its focus on addiction with “You Don’t Have to be an Addict to be in Recovery,” featuring rabbi Mark Borovitz and Harriet Rossetto of Beit T’shuvah, at 7:30 p.m. June 15 at 1 Holly Hill Lane. Tickets are $10 per person.

“You know when they say, ‘If you see something, say something?’ ” said JCC Greenwich’s Assistant Director Leah Schechter. “That’s something we are trained when we are very young. We need to learn the signs.”

GOP health plan risky for mental health, addiction progress

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON BREAKINGNEWS-WIKI.COM

In this March 16, 2017, photo, Jose Luis Guzman, from the Department of Public Health, looks for discarded hypodermic needles on the steps of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.(Photo: Paul Chinn, AP)

House Republicans’ Affordable Care Act replacement plan would dramatically change who is eligible for free or low-cost health coverage, which critics fear could drastically slash mental health and addiction coverage, which many people got for the first time under the law.

USA TODAY hosted a Facebook Live with Linda Rosenberg, CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health and Samuel Hedgepeth, who was able to get treatment for his mental health and substance abuse disorders through the expansion of Medicaid in Maryland. Hedgepeth, who served 10 years in prison for drug-fueled firearm charges, has been sober for seven months thanks to medication and treatment. Rosenberg says the cuts to Medicaid that would result from enactment of the American Health Care Act would lead to more overdose deaths and higher costs due to incarceration and emergency room visits. 

Linda Rosenberg is CEO of the National Council for Behavioral Health. She will be the featured expert on a USA TODAY Facebook Live on March 22, 2017, at 1 pm. (Photo: Mike Busada)

Mental health and addiction treatment is among the 10 essential benefits plans purchased on the ACA exchanges must cover and the requirement also includes the plans for Medicaid recipients who gained coverage under the  ACA’s expansion of Medicaid.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated recently the earlier version of the American Health Care Act being considered this week in Congress would reduce the number of people with Medicaid by 14 million in 10 years. Under changes released Monday night, states could require able-bodied Medicaid recipients without dependents to work beginning in October. States also could receive Medicaid funding as a lump sum instead of a per capita allotment. The revised bill also would repeal taxes on the wealthy, the insurance industry and others in 2017 instead of 2018.

Medicaid is the single largest payer of mental health and addiction treatment services in the country, paying 25% of all mental health and 20% of all addiction care.

“Many will instead end up homeless, in jail or dead,” says Rosenberg.

Lisa Smith, whose recently published memoir, Girl Walks Out of a Bar, chronicles her former substance abuse, says the proposed cuts to Medicaid coverage and ACA subsidies ” will make life worse or impossible for many people who suffer.”

To those who say, “no one is ever denied care,”  she says her addictions masked depressive disorder, which required far more treatment than an emergency room could provide.

Lisa Smith is the author of the memoir “Girl Walks Out of a Bar,” which chronicles her struggles with alcoholism, drug addiction and depression. (Photo: Rod Goodman)

By the time she entered treatment about 13 years ago, she was bleeding internally and needed alcohol to go to sleep and alcohol and cocaine to get up in the morning.

“I would not have survived if I did not have access to treatment at the time,” says the Manhattan lawyer who now works in legal marketing.

Smith, who has also written about the effectiveness of medication for her depressive disorder, says she tried to go off her antidepressant about 18 months after getting sober, but called her therapist and said she was just days away from drinking again.

“I firmly believe that if i wasn’t getting continuing care and the medication to stay sober, I would relapse into alcoholism and would be dead,” says Smith.

While limiting Medicaid services for childless adults may adversely affect people who have mental health and/or substance abuse issues, former Republican Senate Finance Committee aide Christopher Condeluci  notes that no matter what the House decides, Medicaid coverage would still be available if a person’s condition is considered a disability.  He also believes that it would require an act of Congress — not Health and Human Services action — to get rid of the mental health and addiction coverage on its own.

“Also, exceptions could be put into the law which could allow childless adults with these conditions to qualify for Medicaid services if, for example, they enroll in certain programs, like a substance abuse rehabilitation program or some sort of counseling for mental health-related conditions,” says Condeluci. “There are ways to provide assistance to this population.”

On Tuesday, the Urban Institute released a new report that found the limited allotment of federal Medicaid contributions per enrollee as proposed in the AHCA could cut $734 billion in federal and state Medicaid spending between 2019 and 2028.

In Ohio, which has been particularly hard hit by the opioid crisis, Gov. John Kasich’s administration projected the state would have to raise its spending by $7.8 billion over eight years to keep its expansion of Medicaid under the ACA. And if the state repealed its expansion, 750,000 people would lose Medicaid, most of whom would end up uninsured. Ohio also projects that its overall Medicaid program would exceed its per capita cap allotments by 2025, forcing the state to cover all costs above the cap or curtail services to children, seniors, and people with disabilities, according to a state roundup out this week by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Women Lawyers are Being Driven to Drink

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON TONIC.VICE.COM

The highly competitive field is a breeding ground for addiction problems.

The morning before Lisa F. Smith, the author of Girl Walks Out of A Bar: A Memoir, checked herself into rehab, she says her breakfast consisted of a bottle of red wine and several lines of cocaine. It was her morning routine, and she needed the alcohol and drugs in her system in order to make it to her job at a law firm every day. When she finally decided she needed help, the last thing she wanted to do was let the firm know that she was struggling with addiction.

"When I checked myself into detox, I told [the law firm] I had a stomach issue and that I would be out for a week. I told them I'd be back the next week,"

Smith, 51, tells me over the phone from her office in New York City.

"They [the detox] wanted me to go to a 20-day longer rehab. And I was like absolutely not, I can't tell my law firm I'm going to rehab. It's not happening."

So Smith went right back to work. She says she went into an intensive night rehab because she couldn't go during the days, and she started going to 12-step meetings. "It's a miracle I stayed sober because I wouldn't recommend the approach anyone," she says. "I went back [to work] and everyone was like, 'How's your stomach?'"

When we think about what kind of women struggle with alcoholism, high-powered lawyers like Smith are not the first that come to mind. But research from the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation shows that up to 20 percent of lawyers have a substance abuse problem, and more than 1 in 3 practicing attorneys are problem drinkers.

The highly competitive field is a breeding ground for addiction problems. Legal professionals have been aware of these issues for a long time, but they're just starting to get the attention they deserve from the field itself, says Patrick Krill, lead author of a recent study in Journal of Addiction Medicine and former director of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation's Legal Professionals Program. 

When Krill's data is broken down by gender, women lawyers show rates of problematic drinking (which included abuse/dependence) that are significantly higher than male lawyers (39.5 percent vs. 33.7 percent). Overall, rates of abuse and dependence among lawyers are 10 percentage points higher than for female surgeons (36.4 percent for lawyers, 25.6 percent for female surgeons).

These figures also far exceed the 5.1 percent of women in the general population who struggle with alcoholism. And while lawyers show significantly higher rates of depression, which contributes to alcoholism in the field, the ABA and Betty Ford data shows that female attorneys are actually less depressed than males—a complete reversal of what you'd find in the general population. So what's causing women in the legal profession to drink so much?

One place we can begin to look is the demographic research. While alcoholism is traditionally associated with low-income, working class people, blue collar jobs seem to actually protect women from alcoholism. Higher income, education, and socioeconomic status, on the other hand, all correlate with higher rates of alcohol consumption.

In many ways, it's what Ann Dowsett Johnston, author of Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol, calls "the working women's steroid": It allows women to seemingly do it all in a world where the labor is still not evenly split, and it's the quickest way to decompress at the end of a demanding workday, not to mention potentially parenting kids. (It's also much easier to find time for a glass of wine than it is to make it to a yoga class).

But it's important to recognize that the majority—91 percent—of the people who participated in the study about rates of alcoholism in the legal profession were white, which could affect the research. Data shows over and over again that white women drink at much higher rates than women of any other racial group. This stat doesn't surprise Rashida Richardson, a 30-year-old lawyer in New York City. "If you're a privileged white woman and you're now being forced to deal with certain stressors [like sexism] that you've never had to deal with… then you don't necessarily have the skill set or ability to cope in healthy ways," Richardson says.

The systemic sexism that Richardson mentions is indeed one of the main culprits that's likely causing women in the legal profession to imbibe in more and greater numbers. While this may be obvious, the way it plays out in the law profession seems to be different from in other professions. Many people I spoke to cited the "old boys club" atmosphere of law offices and the profession itself, forcing women trying to enter to feel like they need to drink like the men in order to hang or keep up. "The field is pretty male-dominated," Smith says. (In 2016, 64 percent of lawyers were men). "When you look at numbers of women who have attained partnership in a law firm, it's still pretty low. There's been a lot more parity at the lower level, but women are having a hard time getting to the top in law firms."

Richardson says that the profession has all the same biases as society, like racism and sexism, but sometimes even more intense. "And when you have a job that's already hard and stressful, and it's compounded by the fact that you're not valued or you have to fight harder to just get the same amount of credit, pay, or whatever it is, that can bear on individuals—and specifically women—who have to carry a higher load in society," she says.

The alcohol-soaked culture—which begins in law school when people go out for after-class drinks, and continues into practice where colleagues may decompress after a long day or woo clients by taking them out for drinks—doesn't help. It creates an environment where women are consuming large amounts of alcohol just to feel like they can keep up with the men (who are often their bosses) in their field. This becomes challenging because women's bodies don't break down alcohol the same way as men's do, so they physically can't drink the same way men can.

But the law profession is highly competitive in the courtroom as well as the barroom. The competition is different than in other high-pressure fields because (to use the surgeons as an example), while there may be some element of arrogance and ego involved. In the operating room, everyone is working as a team to perform a successful surgery, and no one is in direct competition with each other. For lawyers, they're either in direct competition with other lawyers in the courtroom (and winning matters), or they're in competition with their colleagues for promotions, Krill explains. 

And while the pressure of, say, tax law, isn't comparable to that of performing surgery, being a public defender could be. "That's a stressful job because, even though it's not literally life or death, it kind of is because of the possibility of a life sentence or of a very long sentence and the collateral consequences of that," Richardson says. That pressure can lead to people trying to find a quick means of escapism.

When it comes to helping lawyers seek the treatment they need, "the legal profession is pretty far behind the curve in terms of dealing with these issues," Krill says. And since many of the challenges that face people in the profession are quite unique, lawyers may require treatment specially tailored to the environment they work in. Programs like Hazelden Betty Ford's are specifically designed for, and run by, people who have experience in the law profession. There are also lawyers-only AA meetings offered all over the country.

"You're going to need to take some things off your schedule and replace them with recovery activities. Sometimes that's a hard pill to swallow, especially for someone still trying to make their way up the ladder,"

Krill says, and doubly so for women who may feel they're already at a disadvantage in their male-dominated field.

Smith says that, in early recovery, she would go to her hotel room during alcohol-related functions.

"Instead of joining people for dinner and whatever came after, I showed up to the cocktail party late and left early, running for my room where I'd smoke cigarettes and eat three Hershey bars."

It was a sacrifice she says she was willing to make, but acknowledges that she lost some of the camaraderie and bonding that came with sharing drinks with clients and colleagues after she got sober.

But Krill stresses that for women—who attend the program in about equal numbers as men — finding support among colleagues is imperative for their long-term sobriety. Making sure they're connected with other women in recovery, and hopefully women attorneys in recovery, is a big part of of their after-care plans, Krill says. There's a  level of peer support that can be helpful and encouraging, not only for recovery, but as a business networking tool. 

And while the numbers show that women struggling with alcoholism are far from alone in the legal profession, many still suffer in silence. "I know women lawyers in this firm [in recovery] and they won't be public," Smith says. "But if push ever came to shove and I had to pick [writing] the book [about] this issue or my job, I would totally pick the book. That allowed me to be as honest as I wanted to be. It's okay, you can fire me if you want to."

Addiction Recovery Literature

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON singleandsober.com

The genre of addiction recovery literature is ever growing with new offerings available almost daily. There are specific areas of interest in this genre including “How to”, “Early Sobriety”, and “Memoirs”. I am going to share a few of my “favorites” in the How to and memoir areas. This is by no means a comprehensive list nor can I cover all the different genres in addiction literature in one article. But let’s get started!

First, “How to” (get sober):

  1. No list will ever be complete without the basic text (often referred to as The Big Book or The Blue Book) of Alcoholics Anonymous (http://www.aa.org/). Written in 1939, this tome authored by Bill Wilson and physician and surgeon Bob Smith, MD has sold over 30 million copies and ranks amongst some of the best selling books of all time. The book has spawned the biggest and best known (though not necessarily the most effective) approach toward the treatment of addiction. AA considers addiction a three-fold disease – body, mind, and spirit, and the text describes a program of recovery addressing those three areas.
  2. When AA Doesn’t Work For You: Rational Steps to Quitting Alcohol by Albert Ellis. I will disclose right now that my post-graduate training was with the late Albert Ellis in Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy. The book approaches maladaptive thoughts and beliefs and ways to address them so as to uncover and resolve self-defeating behaviors (such as substance or process addictions). REBT was the precursor to CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) which informed DBT (Dialectal Behavioral Therapy) significantly.
  3. Facing Our Fears by Darryl Duke (http://darrylduke.org/) is a new entry in the “How to” genre. Duke shares his struggles with alcohol and his participation in Alcoholics Anonymous as his first step into sobriety. But that wasn’t enough and Duke went on to create both a sober and more spiritually satisfying life. I spoke with Duke about his book and program and I asked him how his program differed from AA. Duke replied,
“Although my earlier beliefs about recovery were spawned from the AA literature, some of my views changed as I became more knowledgeable about addiction through the fields of science and medicine.  My approach differs in a few ways, number one being we don’t have to be anonymous to find meaning and greater happiness in life. We also don’t need to refer to ourselves as alcoholics and addicts. These can be strong words to people who think they have a problem with a substance, but are too ashamed to seek help. I wrote the Five Simple Concepts of Creating Our Path to help people who no longer find fulfillment in AA.”

Memoirs:

Now memoirs can be a dicey business and I have read a great deal of addiction recovery memoirs. Some can be truly life changing reads. A well written addiction and recovery memoir can take the reader (someone familiar with addiction or not) to a place they have never been before and can offer a type of saccharine free redemption that comes from the reality of the story. Other memoirs….well, often the craft of writing is lost in the gory details.  So it is a thin line between telling an honest, heartfelt, and real story and just going for the shock value. But when the writing is good and the story well told, some addiction memoirs can be quite the brilliant read.

  1. Love Junkie (http://www.rachelresnick.com/) by Rachel Resnick is one of them. Resnick’s addiction is a process addiction as opposed to a substance addiction. She is addicted to finding the love and intimacy the reader learns she was withheld as a child. This yearning leads her to painful and dangerous places and reopens the wounds of her childhood. I had the opportunity to ask Resnick a few questions. I asked her what “works” in dealing with her love addiction. She responded,
“I’m rigorous about doing a morning waking ritual. This includes reading, prayer, meditation and journal writing. I’m a different person when I don’t ground myself this way. Root myself in recovery, in health. You know that Native American myth about all of us having two wolves inside us, the Good Wolf and the Bad Wolf? The one we feed is the one who wins. Sometimes I feed the Addict. When I’m mindful, I starve the addict and feed the Healthy me. The higher self. I’ve got to groom myself for awareness, and the electric flash of insights. For me, it’s a deeply spiritual journey.”

 I also wondered if she saw her addiction as something she had resolved or a remaining part of her she deals with on a continuous basis? Resnick replied,

“Every day is a new commitment. To health, intimacy, grace. One definition I use for addiction is that we use to avoid feeling our feelings. So if I ignore my feelings, I’m at risk. Another definition I use is that we use to avoid creative responsibility. So if I’m distracted and unproductive, I’m at risk. I believe we are all given gifts. Our mission while alive is to share those gifts on as large a scale as possible. That doesn’t happen when we are living in fantasy, when we fuel an unhealed self. So like faith, like creativity, like relationships — staying in recovery and health requires practice. It requires focus. It requires us to choose.”
  1. Dangerous When Wet: A Memoir of Booze, Sex, and My Mother by Jamie Brickhouse (http://www.jamiebrickhouse.com/) is at times outrageously funny and deeply poignant. Brickhouse tells the story not only of his addiction to alcohol, drugs, and sex and his near death as a result of them but also his relationship with the most important person in his life, his Mama Jean. Brickhouse takes us from Texas to the publishing industry in NYC and from his childhood to his life as a man grappling with his sexuality. The most complicated relationship in his life is with Mama Jean yet it is Mama Jean who saves him from the life that was killing him. I asked Brickhouse if he considered addiction a metaphor for some deeper need. He responded,
The answer to the existential question to life’s disappointments in the title of the song “Is That All There Is?” is to break out the booze and have a ball, so for the addict, alcohol and drugs are way to fill the void and efface fear. I don’t think addiction is a metaphor but a solution to unfulfilled needs that eventually becomes a grander problem than any of the problems it sought to erase.”  As relationships weighed heavily in his memoir, I asked him how has addiction and recovery impacted his relationships. “Recovery has taught me the meaning of acceptance and learning to accept people for who they are and not try to change them. I take what I like from them, and leave the rest, and if what I don’t like overwhelms, then I detach. Also, just as I now show up—metaphorically and literally—for myself, I’m present for those near myself, I’m present for those near and dear in my life.”
  1. Lighting Up, How I Stopped Smoking, Drinking, and Everything Else I Loved in Life Except Sex by Susan Shapiro (http://www.susanshapiro.net/) is a witty, biting memoir of of Shapiro’s process of giving up her numerous addictive behaviors. Therapy is a large part of her journey and Shapiro almost becomes addicted to that! Shapiro told me,
“I think addiction can be a metaphor for insatiable hunger and missing love. I quote my shrink in Lighting Up who says “Underlying every substance problem I’ve ever seen is a deep depression that feels unbearable.” Another quote Shapiro shared from her psychiatrist was “addicts depend on substances, not people.” What makes this memoir particularly engaging is Shapiro’s sharp, clean writing style. Shapiro told me a comment from her psychiatrist has now become her mantra, “Lead the least secretive life you can”
  1. The Big Fix by Tracey Helton Mitchell (http://traceyh415.blogspot.com/) is unique from most memoirs. Helton does not take us on the long journey of her addiction. Yes, there are memories and reflections on the addict  days but Helton’s book is mostly about her resurrection.
“I think that the vast majority of people that read my work are familiar with how to get high. What they are looking for is tools to get or stay off drugs.” Helton told me. “I wanted to provide that for them in a safe and helpful manner.”

I asked Helton what sobriety looks like now after multiple years clean and sober.

“My recovery is flexible so it changes a lot from year to year. I have focusing on getting outside and walking an hour a day 3-5 days a week. That has helped. I attend meetings sparsely. I write. I’m also of service to others.”
  1. What The Stone Remembers (the Canadian release of this book was titled There is A Season) by Canadian poet Patrick Lane (http://www.patricklane.ca/) is one of the most heartbreakingly brutal and tender memoirs I have ever read. This memoir is focused on Lane’s first year of sobriety at age 62. Lane brings the reader through the seasons as they occur in his garden (he is a long time avid gardener). Juxtaposed with his memories of a brutal past, both in his upbringing and in his almost 5 decades as an alcoholic, Lane goes into exquisite detail regarding the transitions in his garden. The theme of leaving and searching invades much of Lane’s early life. He writes, “My quest has always been to find what I could not leave.” And though Lane does not physically leave his home and garden during his first year of sobriety, his memories takes us to distant places, both geographically and historically. This is a poet writing his life at the point of transition and transformation. Sobriety is a place Lane chooses not to leave after a lifetime of leaving. Perhaps Lane’s exclamation; “We break our path when fear tells us to live” simply explains his motivation to turn his life around at age 62.
  2. Girl Walks Out of A Bar by Lisa Smith (http://www.lisasmithauthor.com/) may initially seem like a memoir of a “high functioning alcoholic/addict”. Smith is a corporate lawyer in a prestigious NYC firm and uses a Town Car to make her scores but there is no glorifying addiction here. Smith spirals and experiences the inevitable consequences of addiction including divorce. I asked Smith what it was like to write a memoir of such a deeply personal and painful time in her life.
“I started writing as soon as I left detox in 2004 as a way to explain to my friends and family what had happened. I had hidden my addiction from them and they had a million questions for me (along with some confusion and even anger). I wrote at 5am each morning before getting ready for work. It quickly became my favorite hour of the day because the process was so cathartic for me. The more honest I was and the deeper I dug, the better I felt, so I just kept going.” I asked her what kind of feedback she had received from the book and she responded, “The feedback has been incredibly gratifying. When I was in the throes of my addiction, I felt completely isolated and saw no way out. Once I decided to turn my writing into a memoir, my goal became to help the next person struggling with addiction to feel less alone. I feel so fortunate to say that the book seems to be giving some people a story with which they can identify and, hopefully, find some comfort in the fact that we don’t go through this alone. That’s also why I felt so strongly about going public under my real name. I wanted to raise my hand and say, “Yes, I’m an alcoholic/addict and it’s OK to say so.”

Regina Walker is a writer, photographer and psychotherapist in NYC. Follow her on Twitter @ReginaAWalker.

The Huffington Post – 35 Over 35 Honors Authors Who Found Success Later In Life

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON the huffington post

The celebration of youth is everywhere, not just in beauty magazines. Literary organizations also champion the hip and emerging, by recognizing the progress of rising stars under 40, under 35. This is a great way to keep talent on readers’ radars, but it is, necessarily, limited.

See 2016’s 35 Over 35 list here →

There are plenty of reasons why a writer might break out after 35. Writing a book is difficult and time-consuming. For most, it requires a good deal of attention, something not everyone can afford. Some writers waited until after they had raised children to commit to their craft; others emerged from different, more traditionally practical career paths.

Three years ago, writer Kera Yonker noticed the trend toward lauding youthful debuts. While scrolling through year-end book lists, she stumbled on National Book Foundation’s 5 under 35 honorees, and realized that if she ever published a book ― a feat she’s been working toward ― she’d already disqualify for such an accolade.

“If I am ever able to publish my book, I shouldn’t let the fact that I didn’t do it sooner diminish that accomplishment,” Yonker told HuffPost in an email. “And, I am always so encouraged when I hear of a first-time author publishing later in their life.”

So, she decided to begin compiling an annual list of honorees of her own selection ― all of whom had published their first books after the age of 35. “I spent a couple days digging around the internet to see if such a list already existed, and couldn’t find one,” Yonker said. She began informally collecting submissions from friends and publishers, and opened the distinction to authors, who are free to nominate themselves. She is open to all genres, both fiction and non-. Most of all, she seeks out compelling stories, and strong writing.

This year, that meant honoring work by Nicole Dennis-Benn, the author of Here Comes the Sun, a debut novel that made it onto the New York Times Notable Books list; Jade Sharma, the author of the short, bold novel Problems; Emily Witt, the essayist who served as a sort of sex sherpa for the sake of her book Future Sex, a look at the ways technology has changed how we go about getting it on.

The selections are intentionally broad, demonstrating the range of new, inventive writing being done by authors of all ages.

Yonker said, “books like Debbie Clarke Moderow’s Fast Into the Night, about her experience as a musher on the Iditarod, and Nick Lovegrove’s The Mosaic Principle, about the benefits of building a broad career, are great examples of what we’re celebrating with the list. None of these books could have been written by the authors at 25 ― the writing is informed by their experience. As readers, we’re lucky these authors persevered in telling their stories.”

So, why celebrate young writers when there are benefits to debuting as an author past 35 ― life experience perhaps the clearest among them? Yonker suspects that the reasons are varied, and not entirely pernicious.

“I think a lot of industries celebrate their wunderkinds, and publishing is no exception,” she said. “A young author offers the promise of more to come. Once they’re someone to watch, there’s hopefully a built-in book-buying audience for their future titles.”

Now, the collective list of writers to watch has expanded ― for the better.

 

Maddie Crum Culture Writer, The Huffington Post