When Saying No to a Boozy Work Event Isn’t an Option


Handling an alcohol-laden work event is tricky in recovery. Lisa Smith, author of 'Girl Walks Out of a Bar,' shares her strategies for attending boozy work events in sobriety.

Before I got sober, I liked to think that I was the life of the party. At a work conference, retreat, or even just a meeting with a cocktail reception to follow, I would watch the clock and count the minutes until the bar opened. The closer it got to cocktail hour, the more impatient I was for the time to tick by.

Once I finally had a glass of vodka or wine in my hand, I felt both relieved and emboldened. I believed that when I heckled my colleagues into drinking more and faster, they liked it. They must have found my stories funny, even when I recounted them in a slurred and too-loud voice, right?

It wasn’t until I sobered up that I realized, while some people might have thought I was fun to be around, many others likely found me somewhere on the scale between annoying and completely inappropriate. It certainly wasn’t the look I had been going for.

I have a lot of gratitude around the fact that I don’t have to live like that anymore. But, of course, everyone else doesn’t stop drinking when we get sober. Navigating the brand new waters of nonalcoholic options at work parties and dinners felt like learning a new language.

Here are a few things I do to help me handle work festivities sober.

1. Arrive With Your Head In A Good Place

Over time, being around a crowd of people drinking at a party gets easier, but even once you’re used to it, it’s smart to take care of yourself before the cocktails start flowing. If you can greet the situation with as much peace as possible in your head, you’re halfway there. For me, this means making sure to get to a meeting the day of the dinner or party, talking to more sober friends, and trying to keep my prayer and meditation routine on track. The best defense can be a good offense.

Another good way to prepare is to think about HALT: if it can at all be avoided (and of course plenty of times it can’t), don’t go to the event feeling hungry, angry, lonely or tired.

This can be easier said than done. For me, hunger is the worst. If I’m hungry, I’m a beast. Maybe I go overboard on this, but if I’m going to a dinner I know is going to be long and full of people pouring booze, I eat beforehand. I’d rather not say, “no, thank you,” in the voice of Darth Vader when the wine is being poured for the third time and I haven’t had anything to eat yet. I also keep snacks in my bag at all times. Not only do I have something to munch on at the ready, but also I have comfort in the fact that if the pangs start, I’m covered. It helps me avoid becoming obsessed with when we’re going to be served. The fewer obsessions, the better.

2. Remember You’re Not Alone

Despite the fact that I would have argued vehemently to the contrary before sobering up, there’s a strong chance you will not be the only person skipping the booze at a work party. For example, someone might be on medication. In early sobriety I told the people I used to drink with – the only ones who asked – that taking medication was the reason I wasn’t drinking. It had the benefit of being true; I have been on antidepressants since I entered detox in 2004. They are not supposed to mixed with alcohol.

Someone might be training for race or on a specific diet or doing something like Dry January or maybe it’s a Tuesday night and they just don’t want to drink tonight. Much to my surprise, there are in fact people who don’t equate work events with being compelled to drink. Especially at a large function, even if you don’t see them, just remembering you’re not the only one can be comforting.

3. Have An Exit Strategy

Here’s a fun fact I learned in sobriety: some people actually show up late to cocktail parties and leave early. I had no idea. But in all seriousness, having a good idea of when and how you would like the night to end can help. My mental plan might be something like, “Cocktails start at 6:00, and so I’ll show up at 6:30. I’m going to be back in my hotel room (or on my way home) at 8:00. Then I’m going to relax, watch ‘Law & Order’ reruns and get a good night’s sleep.” For me, standing in the middle of a group of people who are drinking is less unpleasant when I can hear the theme song to “Law & Order” in my head.

When it’s time to hit the road, a simple, “I need to get going,” is all anyone needs to hear. No apologies for leaving at an appropriate, yet still early time. The words, “Good night,” are a complete sentence.

Of course, even the best-laid plans can easily be derailed. But having a blueprint for the evening can make it less stressful. And as one of my favorite sayings goes, you will never wake up in the morning regretting the fact that you did not drink the night before.

Hi, Sobriety: Our Changing Relationship with Alcohol


“Grey-area drinkers” aren’t falling-over drunks, but nor is their relationship with booze healthy. In recent times, many have been giving up or cutting back – being sober is the new black.

By Brook Turner

Kristen Allan vividly remembers the moment she decided to quit drinking for good. It was April 2017. Her brother and his family were visiting from Queensland and they had gone to dinner at a friend's house. "I was surrounded by kids and family and somehow it came up that I was freshly out of a relationship," Allan recalls.

Children. Family. Relationships. They were old conundrums for Allan, now 45, conundrums that had always seemed to crave a drink. Small and slight, she looks every inch the ballet dancer she once was as she sits in a Sydney cafe nursing a hot chocolate, albeit with a sneakers-and-no-make-up chic all her own. In her mid-teens, she attended the specialist high school at the Victorian College of the Arts. Living away from her family in Queensland, she learnt to play as hard as she trained. "Usually with ballet you'd smoke and drink coffee. We just threw alcohol in as well, because we were those hard ballet girls: no pain, no gain. I'm tiny, but I was always the girl who could keep up with my brother, who's six foot four."

After giving up ballet in her 20s, she moved to London where she worked on Savile Row and in PR. It was the 1990s, the height of Cool Britannia, its presiding spirits Kate Moss and the hard-drinking Young British Artists, led by Damien Hirst. "It was a big drinking culture," Allan says. "You'd drink at lunch time and after work your bosses would say, 'Let's go back to the pub.'" Returning to Australia, she fell into hospitality. The perfectionism that had driven her dancing career meant she excelled, managing fashionable Sydney eateries Vini and Berta in Surry Hills, but the industry also "fed that thirst", she says.

"I had always been a big drinker, and hard liquor: whiskeys, martinis, negronis. If I was going to drink, I was going to do it well. I loved scotch – that burning sensation – and I learnt a lot about wine because I was working in really good restaurants. You'd taste the wine to make sure it wasn't corked or something, but you'd also drink through service to get through service. You weren't drunk, but it was constant, and your tolerance was so high."

Something began to shift in the years leading up to that 2017 family dinner. "I started playing with giving up at end of 2015," Allan says. "I'd just finished two years of unsuccessfully trying to have a baby by myself with IVF. I spent 2015 travelling and trying to recover, and successfully pushed the grief away with booze. It got to the end of the year and it was a combination of things: I was thinking about fostering and I knew I had to be at my best emotionally to do that. I just decided I didn't want to be that single woman who was a mess and drinking a lot. I think I also began to notice that it wasn't serving me."

As her friends never tired of pointing out, Allan was not an old-style alcoholic. Nor did she ever have the classic rock-bottom, lose-everything moment. She could go for days without drinking. But she preferred to tuck away a bottle of wine at home on her own, more if she was celebrating or had company.

"Looking back with the clarity of mind I have now, I was using alcohol to keep me performing at the level required: you can go to work, you're at the top of your field, but you need alcohol to keep you small, because you don't know what's out there. You just think, 'If I stay this small person, everything will be safe.' It becomes your comfort zone."

By April last year, there had been another fork in the road. Allan had started a relationship with a man who had a son from a previous relationship.

"I really bonded with [the son]. We'd go to the footy together, and it all seemed so right that I started drinking again because I had all this anxiety about not having children and somehow I felt it was going to be okay. Then we split and everything was taken away. No one warns you about that situation when you bond with someone's child – there was huge grief."

It all came to a head at the family dinner. "Because I hadn't been drinking that much, it was like I was standing outside myself, watching as I drank and drank and drank – red wine and plenty of it. And the next day I knew exactly why I'd done it because I didn't have the family; because I felt this shame at being me.

"I knew I was through because I had a really beautiful bottle of wine some friends of mine in the Adelaide Hills had made and I decided that would be my last. But after two glasses, I just felt numb. It was the first time I'd really felt that dead feeling, and I thought, 'That's it. I'm drinking because I'm ashamed of who I am. I don't want to f…ing feel like this anymore, I don't want to feel like I'm dead.'"

Sydney cheese-maker Kristen Allan toyed with giving up drinking before an epiphany changed everything.Photo: Jennifer Soo

Allan's story is deeply personal, her honesty searing. She is emblematic of a growing wave of people – particularly those approaching or traversing middle age, not least women – who are reassessing their relationship with alcohol. While each story is individual, the themes are common: issues-management via imbibing; a growing disquiet culminating in a crystallising moment or moments, often involving children, followed by a period of what can only be called self-discovery and reinvention; often chronicled – and supported – online.

Few would fit the cliched profile of an alcoholic. Most are closer to what American nutritionist and TEDx talker Jolene Park has dubbed "grey-area drinkers", people who have come to live somewhere between "an end-stage, lose-everything drunk" and someone who, as she says, drinks "a glass of champagne at a wedding and never drinks again for weeks". A wellbeing expert and one of the first people Kristen Allan found online when she gave up, Park has said of her own pattern of drinking, where a glass of wine tended to turn into a bottle: "What people didn't know was how much I loved the 'off' switch that wine provided to my 'on' – and often-anxious – brain."

As she has also said, that sort of pattern used to be considered pretty acceptable. But we live in increasingly sober times. According to the latest large-scale study, the 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey (NDSHS), Australians continue to drink less, a change driven particularly by young people, who are drinking later and less. Overall, both the proportion of Australians drinking daily and those drinking in excess of lifetime-risk guidelines – no more than two standard drinks on any day – declined between 2013 and 2016. Half of recent drinkers moderated their drinking within this period, with concern for health being the main driver.

Significantly more teenagers abstained in 2016 than in 2013 (82 per cent compared to 72 per cent), while the average age among 14- to 24-year-olds trying alcohol for the first time increased (from 15.7 to just over 16 years of age). Of course that trend is neither uniform nor universal – young people are more likely to binge-drink, for instance. At the opposite end of the spectrum, those aged 70 or more are the most likely to drink daily.

As for what lies between: "In 2001, the peak age for long-term risky drinking (more than two drinks per day) was 18 to 24. That has now moved to 40 to 49," says Matthew James, deputy director of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, which releases the NDSHS report. "There is evidence of an increase in lifetime risky drinking among people in their 40s and 50s, and the peak age for men is their 40s and for women is their 50s."

But this isn't really a story about statistical trends. It's about individuals – a wave of individuals and, increasingly, a community of individuals – who are reassessing their relationship with alcohol. They might be in their mid-30s, 40s or 50s. Alcohol has come to play an increasingly critical role in their daily lives, identity and functioning, and they're sick of it.

"Alcohol is so imbued in our culture as the thing you do when something good happens, when something bad happens, when anything happens – and when we're bored," says Dr Emma Miller, lecturer at Flinders University College of Medicine and Public Health. In cutting back, or giving up, this growing cohort is challenging the ubiquity of alcohol and helping to forge a new, more nuanced drinking culture. Whether – and how – this wave registers statistically over time remains to be seen, but it certainly shows signs of growing.

Take Dry July, which launched a decade ago with 1000 people signing up after radio presenter Adam Spencer plugged the campaign on air. In the five years to 2017, about 19,000 people signed up to each annual campaign, which involves giving up drinking for the month, mostly raising money for charity in the process. This year, the number of people signing up almost doubled to more than 36,000. And some aren't going back from what has become an annual ritual, either in July, or February with Febfast or October with Ocsober.

John Stewart, the former headmaster of Tudor House in the NSW Southern Highlands and the Green School in Bali, signed up to Febfast this year along with his wife Sophie after a mildly indulgent Christmas. "Sophe lasted 'til day two, but I got through February and just found I didn't have the urge to drink," says the 51-year-old father of four, a keen surfer who already only drank on weekends. "It got to the end of March and it hit me that it was the first Easter I had been through without a drink in 35 years. I started imagining the swimming pool of alcohol I had swum across in that time.

"And the other element was my kids [aged 15 to 23]. Alcohol is just so prevalent on social media; people highlighting their dependence in a way that has become totally acceptable. I wanted to show them that it's not necessary to drink. It wasn't like I was taking it up as some great cause, I just suddenly began to notice how pervasive alcohol is."

Since he quit, Stewart says two of his closest friends have joined him on the wagon. "I just got a text from one," he says. "It said, 'Got to get myself out of the haze. Had enough.'"

Chris Raine saw his Hello Sunday Morning non-drinking blog spiral into an international online movement.Photo: Jennifer Soo

Chris Raine has been watching that wave break across the shores of Hello Sunday Morning (HSM), which he started as an online blog nine years ago to chronicle his experiment with giving up alcohol for a year. Now 31, Raine says things had gone awry in his mid-teens, after he quit playing state-level tennis, which had – rather like Allan's ballet career – given his life structure and purpose. When his friends began blogging alongside him on HSM back in 2010, a social network was born, which subsequently turned into an online movement, largely funded by local, state and national government grants.

In October 2016, HSM moved into clinical support, launching Daybreak, an online app that helps members change their drinking habits – whether giving up or moderating – through a combination of peer support and coaching from a clinical psychologist. Almost 30,000 people, mainly in Australia but with users in the US, UK and Canada, have signed up to Daybreak since. Seventy per cent are women and the peak age is just shy of 43, though with significant cohorts on either side.

"It's fascinating that a movement set up by and for young people, the demographic drinking less and late, has been increasingly inhabited by Gen X and Baby Boomers," Michael Thorn, CEO of the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education, says of HSM. "It's very much an individual rather than population-movement thing – to go to for help when they realise they have a bit of an issue with their drinking." So much so that the federal government recently gave Daybreak $3 million to fund a further 20,000 Australians to undertake the program over the next three years.

"When I first started, not drinking for a year was something that made me a career," Raine says. "Now it's become much more culturally acceptable." As for the typical Daybreaker, "they might be your weekend binge-drinkers who need more clinical support than the system is currently giving them, but most have complicated relationships with alcohol." There's usually a lot of pressure on them to, on the one hand, "fix" this part of their life, but on the other, to keep their drinking a secret from friends and family who've been burnt by it.

As for the strong female representation, HSM psychologist Briony Leo says the typical profile is "a mum of one or two, working part-time and with a busy life. For some members they are managing a mild to moderate mental health condition like anxiety, in combination with normal life stress such as finances, relationship and social commitments. Others might be dealing with a parent's illness, parenting issues, family dynamics or grief and loss."

Occupational therapist Karen Shaw was one of the almost 1200 people who signed up to Daybreak last December. The Melbourne mother of two daughters says she was an habitual, rather than daily, drinker. "I'd think nothing of sharing a bottle of wine with someone and a bottle would never be left unfinished," she says. "I'm a huge wine snob, I'm known for knowing my wine, it's part of my identity. More than that, it's about the way you socialise, connect people, the way you honour and commiserate."

Like Kristen Allan, Shaw's trigger to give up was at once specific and cumulative. It was December 10, 2017. Her eldest daughter had just finished her final piano exams. "It was a bit poignant, the end of an era," she says. "It was just before Christmas and I had taken a friend out for the day for her birthday. It should have been a happy occasion, but I was just so sick myself. I felt like I was going around in circles in my life, and if I'm honest, I have always had a level of depression and anxiety. I decided I was going to manage my mental health better and decided the simplest place to start was zero alcohol. I didn't know I was really going to do it and I still don't know how I did it. I just had this crystal-clear thought."

Shaw has been surprised by how fundamental the change has proved. "It has taken seven months, but finally I can feel a real sense of change. It wasn't just about alcohol. It was that alcohol was a default position and had always been in my life. More interesting than not drinking was the impact on other things like relationships. You only realise what a big drinking culture we have when you take a step back and see it with open eyes."

That women predominate HSM members is no surprise to Dr Karen Coates, a former GP specialising in health and wellness assessments for women, who also runs workshops at Gwinganna Lifestyle Retreat on the Gold Coast hinterland. She says for many 40-something women, drinking is more stress-management than social. "Often, the wheels fall off in their mid-40s with teenage children and all sorts of other pressures. I have had several women who start to drink too much, but they do it in the closet. They're the role model for the family, but with a bottle of vodka in their room."

Clinical psychologist Dr Sally Hunt, a senior lecturer at the University of Newcastle, is finalising a report on the reasons why Australian women drink. "I see women with a drinking problem as women with a coping problem," she says, pointing to the number of roles women now juggle and the trend toward having children later. "You have a cohort of women who are in the workforce, setting up patterns of how to be adult, going out for drinks and setting up a lifestyle pattern that's similar to their male colleagues prior to having children. They then resume that lifestyle after kids. And of course, women also experience the physical ills of alcohol at a lower dose than men, they suffer the health consequences sooner because they're physically smaller."

Those consequences are increasingly serious and difficult to ignore. "If you look at population trends, 10 to 15 years ago, it was young people who were the biggest drinkers," says Flinders University's Emma Miller. "Now middle-aged women aged between 45 and 65 years are the biggest drinkers among women. That's where I do most of my research, the link between alcohol consumption and breast cancer in those 'middle-aged' women. It is increasing and some of this – perhaps one in six cases – can be attributed to alcohol consumption."

“Alcohol is so imbued in our culture as the thing you do when something good happens, when something bad happens, when anything happens – and when we’re bored,” says Dr Emma Miller. Photo: Nic Walker

That the times are changing is increasingly apparent anywhere books, booze or counsel are sought or sold. In the 1990s, a whole generation identified with Bridget Jones as she nervously tallied the daily alcohol units that never quite matched her resolutions. This decade's equivalent is Eleanor Oliphant, the two-bottles-of-vodka-a-weekend Glaswegian heroine of the award-winning UK bestseller, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. The debut novel by former Glasgow civil servant Gail Honeyman, 46, recounts Oliphant's gradual emergence from her anaesthetised shell, and sparked a bidding war resulting in a six-figure advance. Actor/producer Reese Witherspoon snaffled the film rights within days of its publication last year and the book has since sold more than 1.1 million copies in 30 countries.

In fact, women-and-wine has become its own publishing category since US journalist Caroline Knapp's acclaimed 1996 memoir, Drinking: A Love Story. Twenty years after Sex and the City immortalised the cocktail as lubricant and symbol of sophisticated relationships, alcohol is the new Mr Big, the subject of a dizzying array of books about women busting up with booze, with titles including Sober is the New Black, Mind Your Drink, The Sober Diaries, The Sober Revolution, Drunk Mom, Mindful Drinking, The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober, Glass Half Full, Girl Walks Out of a bar: A Memoir, Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget.

Paralleling that boom has been the proliferation of online blogs and communities, which include Club Soda, Hip Sobriety, Sober Evolution, Sexy Sobriety, This Naked Mind, Living Sober, One Year No Beer and Smart Recovery. "They have really got into the mainstream psyche," says Lucy Rocca, the British author of four books on the subject, who founded her own online community Soberistas – which now has almost 50,000 registered members, 90 per cent female – in late 2012.

"There is a glut of books on the [UK] Sunday Times bestseller list and what connects them all is a very similar story of middle-class, normal, respectable women drinking. It's like we have all fallen foul of this myth that wine is Mummy Juice, that life is like Sex and the City, all about going out for cocktails, and then we get to 40 and we realise the negatives that come with that lifestyle. People are just so relieved it's not just them."

It's a tide that Rosamund Dean, author of Mindful Drinking, watched washing across her desk working on women's magazines in the UK before deciding to write her own memoir/self-help book charting a middle course. "There were so many books on giving up and it had become huge on social media," she says. "Half my Instagram feed was about giving up and the other half were images of women with martinis. There just didn't seem to be any middle ground between being hammered all the time and being totally sober."

American writer Kristi Coulter offered perhaps the most incisive take on the subject in her 2016 essay Enjoli, which chronicled her first season of sobriety. It has since spawned a blog, Off-Dry ("I got sober. Life got big") and a well-received book of essays, Nothing Good Can Come from This.

"That summer I realise that everyone around me is tanked. But it also dawns on me that a lot of the women are super double tanked – that to be a modern, urbane woman means to be a serious drinker," Coulter writes in Enjoli. "The things women drink are signifiers for free time and self-care and conversation – you know, luxuries we can't afford. How did you not see this before? I ask myself. You were too hammered, I answer back. That summer I see, though. I see that booze is the oil in our motors, the thing that keeps us purring when we could be making other kinds of noise."

For anyone of a certain age, the "You've Come A Long Way, Baby"' slogan Philip Morris used to launch Virginia Slims cigarettes in the late 1960s comes to mind. Just how far we've since come was underlined last month, when online wine seller Lot18 tried to launch a selection of Handmaid's Tale-themed wines timed to the final episode of the show's second series. So fast and furious was the reaction online that the pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon and Bordeaux blanc – named for Offred, Offglen and Serena Joy respectively – had to be withdrawn from sale the same day. Lucy Rocca isn't the only one who wonders if alcohol is on its way to becoming the new tobacco: Catherine Gray in her 2017 book The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober wrote: "In 50 years' time, our grandchildren could be saying, 'I can't believe people used to drink for fun?!'"

Ben Branson launched Seedlip, a boutique non-alcoholic liquor, in 2015 – and it’s a hit. Photo: Supplied

These days the latest thing in London is "conscious clubbing" and sober raves such as Morning Gloryville, and The Shine, a booze-free "volunteer-produced inspirational variety show" imported – why does it seems so inevitable? – from the US. Former wild boy Damien Hirst called last drinks on his drinking more than a decade ago, in his early 40s. As for his former Cool Britannia consort, at 44 Kate Moss's favourite tipple is reportedly Seedlip, "the world's first distilled non-alcoholic spirit". Underlining the changing times, British multinational beer-and-spirits company Diageo – home to Smirnoff, Johnnie Walker and Guinness among drinks – took a 20 per cent stake in Seedlip in 2016, reportedly the first non-alcoholic drinks investment in its 257-year history. Seedlip has since become both its fastest-growing brand (albeit with a minority stake) and the bestselling liquor brand at David Jones, after it launched in Australia a year ago. "We are all trying to be good these days," the 35-year-old founder of Seedlip, Ben Branson, says during a promotional trip to Australia earlier this year. "Good is the new cool."

A former graphic designer, Branson began experimenting with herbs and distillation five years ago, around the same time he co-founded a boutique marketing company. The son of a mother whose family had farmed for generations and a father in marketing, he was initially driven by the lack of sophisticated options for non-drinkers like himself, coupled with an autodidact's fascination with medieval herbs, remedies and techniques. Then his marketing brain kicked in. "I began to research it and to understand the cultural forces at work. That alcohol volumes were in decline globally. That young people were drinking less and better. That they were more likely to brag about how long it's been since their last drink than what bar they fell out of," Branson says. "And then we had this crazy thing called social media, which was driving some hugely interesting behaviours in terms of people suddenly having this public image that needed to be curated to make their best selves appear to the world, as if everyone lived the most wonderful lives all the time."

In 2015, Branson abandoned his marketing company, got the Seedlip crest he'd just designed tattooed on his arm, and threw himself into his new venture full-time. That year he made 1000 bottles, using a still bought online and installed in the 14th-century cottage he shares with his fiancée outside London. His initial approach to the head buyer at UK department store Selfridges was unpromising. "It was, 'I'll give you 15 minutes and I hate anything that doesn't have alcohol in it,' " Branson says. The meeting lasted an hour, and the buyer not only took an exclusive distribution deal but introduced Branson to "every bar that mattered in London".

That first thousand bottles of Seedlip sold out in three weeks, the second thousand in three days and the third in 30 minutes on the Selfridges website. Three years later, Seedlip is in 16 countries and 100 Michelin-starred restaurants. "I put 99 per cent of our success down to timing," Branson says. "It was the right product at the right time; there was this pent-up demand." As for Australia, "It's our fastest-growing market," he says. "We've just put two 40-foot containers of Seedlip on boats in the past two months."

Karen Shaw signed up to the Daybreak app last December. “I’ve been laughing a lot more lately,” she says.Photo: Darrian Traynor

Of course, nothing under the sun is completely new. Before Seedlip there was Claytons, sold as "the drink you have when you're not having a drink", back when alcohol was being targeted as a factor in Australia's road toll in the 1970s. Though having sampled both, this writer would have to say we have indeed come a long way. As Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education's Michael Thorn points out, too, people have been giving up and taking up alcohol for a very long time. And there have always been communities to support them, from temperance societies to Alcoholics Anonymous.

But this does feel different. As other communities have proliferated, the number of AA meetings held in Australia each week has remained fairly stable at about 2000 for a decade now. And it may just be an age and stage thing, but everywhere I go, Gen X and Baby Boomer drinking buddies have called it quits. Some have stories of near-death experiences or career or relationship suicide. Others have come to derive the same pleasure from sobriety that they used to find in drinking. Still others have simply moderated with age.

And that is very much the ethos of moderation's new evangelists: that one's relationship with alcohol – like sexuality or, increasingly, gender – is an entirely personal choice. One of many. Ben Branson may not drink, but he certainly smokes. Hello Sunday Morning's founder Chris Raine still drinks, though rarely and far more moderately than he did as an event promoter in his early 20s. "The challenge I have is that I would be untrue to myself if I didn't drink, because I actually think it has value in my life," he says. "I think there's a cultural value to it and a ritual of it and as long as that's not globally enforced, as can happen, then all is well."

"It's a really personal thing," agrees Kristen Allan. "Alcohol and moderating don't work for me, but I don't regret any of the drinking I did. I miss it. We had a great time together, but I've come to that part of my life where I don't want to do it anymore. The voice of sobriety has become so much stronger than the thirst to drink."

Karen Shaw says she's treating her sobriety as a scientific trial. Prejudging whether she'll continue would cruel the experiment, but modelling sobriety to her daughters has been important. She's also taken up running. "I have been laughing a lot more lately," she adds. "And I don't have a chemical laugh, it's genuine."

Interestingly, each has a new sense of purpose. Through Daybreak, Raine has fallen back in love with Hello Sunday Morning, from which he had considered walking away after completing an MBA at Oxford University a few years back. "We started building all this stuff for Daybreak and we went, 'Hang on a minute, we really f…ing love this, it's what we were born to do,' " he says. Green School's John Stewart was already deep in the planning stages of a new school in Byron Bay when he stopped drinking. And since she gave up, Kristen Allan's taken the upmarket cheese-making business she had started in a small way to a whole new level.

She has told her story "in case someone reads this who has that little voice but isn't quite sure," she says. "Because there's a stigma to not drinking. People just don't get it; it isn't just about alcohol. It's all intertwined: mental health and feminism and not playing small and finding your strength and being vulnerable and imperfect." A few months ago, she hit her first anniversary of sobriety. "I was on the floor of the cheesery, sobbing," she says. "I'd been living this very small closed-in life, and not drinking forced me to look at myself and say, 'Okay, sort this out.' "

So, exactly how much better is life without a drink? "The one thing I'm entirely sure of is that I will never have a drink again," she says. "That's how much better it is!"

To read more from Good Weekend magazine, visit our page at The Sydney Morning Herald or The Age.




Taking It on the Road: Tips for Sober Business Travelers


Traveling for business?
Tips on how to stay sober from Lisa Smith, author of Girl Walks Out of a Bar.

Only a few weeks after I got sober, I had to travel for a work conference. I would be ejected from my newly established recovery cocoon in New York City and parachuted like a first time skydiver into the great unknown of San Francisco four days. I was terrified.

Until I crashed out from alcohol and cocaine, drinking was, not surprisingly, a big part of my work trips. Drinking commenced at the airport the moment I passed through security. (I had convinced myself I was a “nervous flyer” and needed multiple drinks to relax me.) Drinking continued as soon as possible after I boarded the plane. I always bought two drinks at a time because, really, who knows when row 25 would be served again? As I handed over my credit card, I would give the flight attendant a tight smile. “Nervous flyer,” I would say, lest he think of me as some kind of drunk.

“Was I really supposed to fly across the country without drinking?

And, of course, once on the ground in another city, all bets were off. Isn’t a work trip a party at heart? It was time to put that work hard/play hard ethic into practice. I would push through my hangovers at the hotel gym in the morning, drink vats of coffee to power through the workday, and count the minutes until the cocktail party or happy hour began. Unfailingly, that set off a long evening of imbibing, which quite possibly included saying regrettable things to colleagues that would make me feel sick the next day.

Huh. Now that I put it that way, it doesn’t sound like such a great party. But it was the only way I knew. Was I really supposed to fly across the country without drinking? I had to attend the happy hours and the dinners. Was I really supposed to not drink alcohol at those kinds of events?  

I needed advice. So, I asked around and got suggestions. They helped immensely. I won’t pretend the first trip was easy, but it did end up being more manageable than I expected.

Here are a few ideas to help you stay sober on the road:

1. Plan ahead and bring your tools.

Ask yourself, “What helps me at home that I can recreate there?” One helpful thing is to call the hotel and ask in advance to have all alcohol removed from the room. At home, I don’t sleep two feet away from wine and vodka – why should I do that just because I’m in a hotel? Hotels get this request all the time for any number of reasons. They’ve heard it before, they don’t ask questions, and they’re happy to do it.

If you belong to 12-step or other support groups, research where nearby meetings are and pack any literature or meditation books you use. Figure out beforehand when you might exercise, where you can get coffee in the morning, or how else to recreate any part of your sober routine that’s important to you.


2. Leave yourself extra time.

Travel is stressful enough without feeling as if you might miss your flight or train. Pre-sobriety, I would leave for the airport early so I could start drinking. In sobriety, I learned to leave for the airport early so there was no need to panic if I hit traffic or a seemingly endless line at security.


3. Stay connected.

Your phone is your friend. Before you go, load it up with the numbers of people to whom you can reach out if the going gets tricky. Also load up on apps and online resources. It’s nice to know they’re at your fingertips. If you're a member of Workit Health, let your coach know about your trip so they can help you prepare.


4. Navigate the social events.

Almost invariably, business trips involve cocktail parties, dinners, or other events that include alcohol. It’s likely you’ll need to attend at least some of them. I have learned never to go to these events hungry, even the dinners, because if I’m hungry, I’m irritable and uncomfortable. I don’t stuff myself in advance, but I do my best to get on solid footing. If possible, I arrive late and leave early, something that, if alcohol were being served, would have been unimaginable before I got sober.

“Like so many other things in recovery, after your first sober work trip, the next ones aren’t as daunting.

Also, one of the most surprising things I’ve learned on work trips is that not all of my colleagues drink. And it’s not because they’re all in recovery. Back when I was leading the party charge, I managed to not notice the people who were sipping club soda or skipping after dinner drinks at the bar because they wanted to get up early for the gym, or because alcohol doesn’t agree with them, or because they prefer Diet Coke. Who knew such people existed? Now I take comfort in not being the only one passing on the wine. In fact, I realize that many people who push others to drink are trying to feel better themselves about their own drinking. I’m grateful not to play that role anymore.


Like so many other things in recovery, after your first sober work trip, the next ones aren’t as daunting. You may not look forward to them, but you can come home proud, with no hangovers and no regrets. And that never gets old.

Back to Work: Tips for Office Life in Early Recovery


How can you stay sober during the transition back to work?
Tips from Lisa Smith, author of Girl Walks Out of a Bar.

Sitting on my flimsy cot at the psychiatric hospital on the fifth and final day of my detox from alcohol and cocaine, I looked at the doctor in the chair at the foot of my bed and shook my head. “No,” I said. I sounded like a two-year old refusing to eat my peas, but I was actually a 38-year old lawyer refusing to take my doctor’s strong recommendation that I head straight to an inpatient rehab for at least 28 days. I would only agree to attend intensive outpatient treatment at night.

Forgoing inpatient rehab, my doctor stressed, put me at needless risk while my recovery was at its most fragile. I’ve always been a rule follower, so why did I ignore this directive? One reason: I feared the stigma of addiction in the workplace, which for me was a law firm.

As far as my colleagues knew, I had been out that week to deal with a “stomach issue.” If I were to stay out for longer than five days I would need to produce a doctor’s note and possibly consider a leave of absence. I wasn’t willing to do that.

When I left the office the previous Friday afternoon, my co-workers viewed me as a smart, hard-working, reliable member of the team. Sure, many of them had seen me drink a lot – some of them had sat on the barstool next to mine. But somehow I had kept my spiraling addiction under wraps. If I went away for a month, I was afraid the reason for my absence would spill out and I would be viewed as weak, defective, and even untrustworthy upon my return. I was determined to keep my personal reality out of my professional life.  

But how to do that? (It’s worth noting, 14 years later, I would strongly suggest to someone sitting on a hospital cot that they decide differently than I did and go to inpatient treatment.) Based on my experience, whether your colleagues know about your recovery or not, I have a few suggestions for re-entry into the workplace.


1. First Things First.

When I got sober, I was told anything I put in front of my recovery I would lose. That’s still true today. The most important thing I do on a daily basis is not pick up a drink or a drug. There are plenty of times I feel just “too busy” at work to break for a recovery meeting or other action essential to my mental health. A big project is due, so I feel the need to work late and skip my meeting. A colleague invites me to breakfast and I feel like I should accept, even though it means I won’t get to the gym, when regular exercise helps keep my depression at bay.

To counter these thoughts, I remember that just about every time I’ve heard a story of relapse, it had included the fact that the person’s recovery had taken a back seat. Of course, there may be people who can stay sober without prioritizing it above all else. I’m confident I’m not one of those people and I’m not interested in any experiments to confirm that fact.


2. Your Recovery is Your Business, No One Else’s.

Getting and staying sober is an incredibly personal decision. No one is “entitled” to know your story. I had no intention of relapsing, but what if I did? I was afraid sharing the fact of my addiction early on with my colleagues would add pressure, so I kept quiet.

Everyone’s story is different, though. For many, what brought us to recovery involved a situation in the workplace. I would still make the same suggestion. What you decide to share and with whom you decide you to share it (beyond those who unavoidably know) is entirely your decision.


3. “No,” Is a Complete Sentence.

Upon my return, I had no idea what to say to my work friends whom I liked, trusted, and often joined for drinks. So, I chalked up my new seltzer-and-cranberry-juice habit to “being on medication.” People nodded understandingly and no one questioned me further. In fact, I was taking antidepressants and instructed not to drink, so the truth did the trick.

When other people at cocktail parties or work dinners asked me, “Aren’t you drinking tonight?” I learned to answer, “No.” If they looked at me as if I had just spat in their Chardonnay, I would follow up with, “I’m just not drinking tonight.” I was pleasantly surprised at how often the conversation ended there. It turns out most people aren’t the way I was before I got sober, heckling and pressuring other people into drinking. I learned that others care a whole lot less about the beverage in my hand than I had ever imagined.

After detox, I realized I needed to chase sobriety every bit as much as I had chased drugs and alcohol. It wasn’t something I could do alone, but it also wasn’t something that had to involve people from the office.

In fact, the connections I made with my work colleagues, as a present, fully engaged team member grew stronger. So what if I missed some work lunches, skipped some cocktail parties, and ducked out earlier than usual for recovery meetings? There has never been a day those choices haven’t been worth it.

Investigative Report: Mental Health and Substance Abuse Threaten the Legal Profession


Ervin Gonzalez, was a top Miami civil lawyer, beloved partner of the prominent Coral Gables law firm Colson Hicks Eidson, and renowned for not only his charismatic and warm demeanor but as “a trusted, go-to trial attorney.” Despite his stellar reputation and an enviable record of 33 verdicts of at least $1 million or more, Gonzalez committed suicide in June 2017.

At 38, Lisa Smith was living in a bright, beautiful New York City apartment and had a high-powered job at the prestigious Manhattan firm Pillsbury Winthrop. She also drank day and night and turned to cocaine to “straighten up enough” to perform her duties at the firm.

Experts say that Gonzalez and Smith aren’t isolated cases. Not by a long shot.

A Johns Hopkins University study of more than 100 professions revealed that lawyers are 3.6 times as likely to be depressed as people with other jobs, while the landmark 2016 American Bar Association (ABA) and Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation study determined that 28% of licensed, employed lawyers suffer depression. The study also showed that 19% demonstrate symptoms of anxiety and 21% qualify as problem drinkers.

Attorney Patrick R. Krill, lead author of the ABA/Hazelden study and a recognized authority of addiction and mental health issues in the legal profession, says the data “paints the picture of an unsustainable professional culture that’s harming too many people.”

Krill points to the impact of the experience of the profession, which begins even before the J.D.’s are awarded. And Smith, now Deputy Executive Director and Director of Client Relations at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP and author of the addiction memoir, Girl Walks Out of a Bar, can attest to that, highlighting the very different dynamic of law school. “Instead of being in school with friends, we found ourselves pitted against each other all the time, particularly with the use of the Socratic method,” Smith says. “We were constantly being ranked and there was this sense of ‘my gain is your loss’ that permeated our entire experience. It was a different kind of pressure to succeed and a much more pronounced level of stress than I had previously faced.”

That stress skyrockets when graduates are launched into practice. Smith by her own admission had always done “everything right.” An exemplary high school record lead to admission into Northwestern University. After receiving her B.A., she then went off to the Rutgers School of Law, where she served on the Editorial Board of the Law Review, graduated at the top her class, and ultimately landed a job at a prestigious law firm in New York City…along with 90 other highly qualified first-year associates.

“I was a perfectionist, and I always did well. And now [at the firm] I was competing against all of these people whose credentials were equally as good as mine,” she recalls. “It was a very charged, very competitive environment.”

Not to mention demanding. Deadlines, long hours, excessive workloads, and client pressures together make the practice of law one of the most stressful careers.

This unrelenting pressure, Krill notes, puts lawyers at odds with the types of things one does to support mental health, such as rest (actual sleep or downtime for recharging), exercise, and quality social connections.

The tendency to prioritize winning and achievement rather than well-being and happiness also compromises mental health.

Yet, despite the deficit in mental health, lawyers are not feeling sufficiently supported to seek help. According to Whitney Hawkins, a licensed psychotherapist in Miami, the majority of lawyers continue to feel isolated and shameful when they are unable to measure up to unreachable standards in the legal community. “Lawyers are fearful that if they share they’re struggling with anxiety, depression, or substance abuse they will be seen as incompetent or unable to complete their duties at work,” she says.

Smith concurs. While she has since gone public about her addiction and depression, she only did five days of detox before returning to work. “I was really terrified of the stigma,” she says. “The day I checked into detox, I told work I had a medical emergency and would be out for five days. I knew that because of HIPAA, I could safely be out for five days without a doctor’s notice. Any longer would require that I admit to what was really going on.”

Although Smith had been privately struggling with addiction and depression for 10 years, she was still highly regarded as a respected, trusted, and smart member of the team. “I couldn’t risk becoming someone, who in their eyes, was weak, deficient, and unreliable,” she says.

Today, however, momentum is building around lawyer mental health and well-being, particularly in response to The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change from the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, which was prompted by the ABA/Hazelden study.

The Path to Lawyer Well-Being is a 72-page report by the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being that outlines recommendations around what needs to be done in order to address and improve lawyers’ well-being. The report’s recommendations focus on five central themes: “Identifying stakeholders and the role each can play in reducing the toxicity in the legal profession; eliminating the stigma associated with help-seeking behaviors; emphasizing that well-being is an indispensable part of a lawyer’s duty of competence; educating lawyers, judges, and law students on lawyer well-being issues; and taking small, incremental steps to change how law is practiced and how lawyers are regulated to instill greater well-being in the profession.”

Since its publication, the report has been carefully reviewed across the country and states are starting to form task forces to roll out recommendations. The Florida Bar, for example, has already launched a new Special Committee on Mental Health and Wellness.

Also, last month  the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates adopted a resolution “urging bar associations, law schools, lawyer licensing agencies, and legal employers to step up efforts to help attorneys with mental health and substance abuse issues.”

Krill is hopeful. “After decades of refusing to acknowledge our profession’s problem with depression and addiction, we finally seem to be moving in the right direction,” he says. “Truly improving lawyers’ well-being requires long-term culture change. At the end of the day, lawyers are humans. We must focus on their well-being.”

*This is part one of our five-part series on mental health, substance abuse, and wellness in the legal industry. See the rest of the series here.

Kristin Johnson is an executive and corporate communications professional, and founder of KSJ Communications, a communications and public relations firm. She consults with a diverse roster of clients spanning the technology, professional services, financial services, public sector, consumer, and healthcare industries. In addition to Rocket Matter, Johnson writes for various other publications as well.


Sobriety Starts Here – Video Interview


Watch the Video ⟶

Lisa is a writer and lawyer in New York City. She is the author of Girl Walks Out of a Bar, her memoir of high-functioning addiction and recovery in the world of New York City corporate law. Her writing has been published in The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Women’s Health, Refinery29, AfterPartyMagazine.com, and Addiction.com. She has also appeared on Megyn Kelly TODAY and BBC World News discussing alcoholism. Lisa is passionate about breaking the stigma of addiction and mental health issues.

Prior to beginning her more than 15-year legal marketing career, Lisa practiced law in the Corporate Finance group of a leading international firm. She is a graduate of Northwestern University and Rutgers School of Law, where she served on the Editorial Board of the Rutgers Law Review. Lisa serves on the Board of Directors of The Writers Room in New York City. 

Sober Señorita: Favorite Books from 2017


Do you ever feel like you’re not getting enough done? A whole day passes by and you feel like you’ve gotten nothing accomplished? For someone who works from home, this habit can be debilitating. This year I wanted to change the narrative around I’m not being productive enough and tying my worth to my productiveness. How am I doing this? By making more lists of course!

This year I’m writing “got done,” lists in addition to the regular “to-do,” lists and on those lists, I’m writing down stuff I get done every day. It’s been a powerful reminder that I am getting a lot done and I’m getting a lot more done than I thought I was. Additionally, my memory can be crappy when I try and remember what and when I’ve done stuff so I love having these lists to look back on. I also want to keep track of how many books I read this year and which ones. This led me to create a list of my favorite books from 2017. I didn’t make a list last year of everything I read, but I do remember a selection of books that were my favorites. I wanted to share these with you and I plan on a much more comprehensive list for 2018.

1. How to Murder Your Life - Cat Marnell

I couldn’t put this memoir down! Cat Marnell’s book was brash, shocking, and relatable in every way. Although she’s somewhat controversial in the recovery community, I thoroughly enjoyed her book. Spoiler alert: if you’re looking for the traditional happy ending to an addiction memoir, this one doesn’t exactly have it. Marnell is a tortured soul and weaves a spinning tale. I like most, speed-read to the end dying to know what happens and how Marnell gets sober. But as we know in real life, not everyone gets and stays sober. I loved this book because it was real and honest. I related to Marnell’s body image issues, her rocky relationships with men, and her lifelong desire to be the popular girl at the party.

2. This Naked Mind - Annie Grace

Wow, we’re so lucky to have writers like Annie Grace in the world. This book needs to be on the shelf of any person who wants to be, or is, sober. The goal of This Naked Mind is to reverse the conditioning in your unconscious mind by educating your conscious mind (a tad confusing right?). By changing your unconscious mind, you change the desire to drink. Without desire, there is no temptation. According to Annie, without temptation, there is no addiction. Warning: this book is research heavy and may include psychological concepts and scientific terms that can be difficult to grasp at first read. But I believe it contains vital information for everyone in recovery. I enjoyed learning about the science of addiction and the concept of “spontaneous sobriety” - how my own sobriety came to be.

3. May Cause Love - Kassi Underwood

Many of you who have been following me for awhile know that I’ve shared my own personal abortion story. I’ve written about it and I’ve shared it on a podcast called the Abortion Diaries. The curator of the podcast, Melissa Madera, shared about this book last year called May Cause Love, and that’s how I found Kassi Underwood and her amazing book. May Cause Love is a memoir and includes Kassi’s journey of healing after her abortion, as well as how she found sobriety. I’m so happy Kassi wrote this book because there are little to no memoirs centered around abortion, and this topic along with sobriety, are incredibly relatable for me and so many other women. I felt like I went on her healing journey with her and for that I am grateful.

4. Girl Walks Out of a Bar - Lisa Smith

Girls Walks Out is another wonderful memoir written by a friend in recovery. Lisa’s story details her life as a high-functioning lawyer deep in her addiction to drugs and alcohol. I was captivated by her words as she tell us about her psych ward visit and journey through treatment. If you’ve ever had a demanding job, lived and worked in the city rush of Manhattan, or have convinced yourself you have it all together while you’re slowly unwinding, this book is for you! I love knowing Lisa found the beauty of recovery and continues to be an advocate for recovery today.

5. A Return to Love - Marianne Williamson

Marianne Williamson is a well-known impactful teacher. She preaches about recovery, spirituality, and political engagement. This is the first of her books that I’ve read, but she has many and I plan on reading more of them. Marianne and Kassi both led me to purchase my own copy of A Course in Miracles - a spiritual text teaching that the greatest "miracle" that one may achieve in one's life is the act of simply gaining a full "awareness of love's presence" in their own life. In A Return to Love, Marianne shares her reflections on A Course in Miracles and talks about how they apply to real life. For so many of us in recovery, we feel like we missed out on the instructions to life. A Return to Love provides a way to look through the lens of life with more love.

6. Big Magic - Elizabeth Gilbert

If you are an artist of any kind - writer, painter, dancer, sculptor - whatever, you MUST read Big Magic. For those of us who have a craft (in my case writing!) we often put that subject last on our list of things to do. If it’s not earning us money we don’t see the value in making it a priority. I am so guilty of this, I do it with this very blog. Even though I love this blog and I love writing. Big Magic empowers us to be artists and provides useful tips and processes to become more mindful of your craft. I was nodding my head through the entire book!

7. The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood

This one isn’t in the same realm as my normal picks. It’s an old-school dystopian novel originally published in 1985 that came back to life last year after the 2016 election made it relatable again. It has also become a tv series on Hulu. Although this book is fiction and can be shocking and frustrating to read at times, I could not put it down. I wanted to see how it ended and when it was over I gained a renewed sense of motivation to use my voice against injustice, the patriarchy, and demagogues. This book was a selection as part of a resistance book club I was in briefly. I’m glad I read it and I encourage anyone who wants to think critically about our society to do the same.

8 Women Share What Made Them Finally Decide To Get Sober


“Like many who struggle with addiction, my wake-up call came in the form of a series of unfortunate events, each one a neon sign blinking, 'this is a problem,' rather than one single event," says Dani D., 34, who's been sober for seven years. Dani's story echoes that of many alcoholics: The drinking was fun, until it wasn’t. And deciding to get sober? That was hard as hell—but worth it, every day.

“It is so powerful to hear women’s stories of sobriety,” says licensed clinical alcohol and drug counselor Beth Kane-Davidson, director of the Addiction Treatment Center at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. “It’s dealing with a disorder, just as if you were dealing with diabetes or cardiac issues, and people are much more open these days to saying, ‘This is the disorder I had, this is what I did to recover, and this is how my life is now.’” The more women talk about alcoholism, the easier it becomes for women to get the help and support they need, she says. It's time to end the stigma.

Here, eight women reveal their struggles with alcoholism and how they got—and stayed—sober:

1) ‘It began to feel as if I were living two lives—only one of which I could remember'

"Throughout my teens and twenties, I'd been drinking recklessly and desperately, trying to viciously combat the social anxiety and despair I frequently felt. Alcohol had become my go-to escape, a ticket to a world where I could be more social, more wild, and less weighed down by anxious thoughts. Of course, the temporary highs that I experienced always left me with a patchwork of clues to put together. I'd wake in the mornings wondering what I'd said or done, baffled by how I'd returned home or where I'd woken.

"For years, after each hazy night filled with poor decisions, I'd wake and think to myself, I have to quit drinking, but I never actually imagined doing it. The errors in decision-making started out harmless enough—a public make-out session with a stranger, a sharp-tongued rebuke of a loved one—but the older I got, the more serious the errors became. Business trips turned boozy. Car keys slipped easily into the ignition. It began to feel as if I were living two lives—only one of which I could remember.

"When my alcohol misuse began to impact my work, I knew things had gone too far. When I couldn't keep it to the weekends, when I couldn't keep it to a social activity but instead took to drinking alone to calm my racing mind, I knew I had to seek change. From my doctor, I got the name of a therapist who specialized in addiction issues. It was the first time in my life that a professional had stated clearly—and without an ounce of hesitancy—that I had a problem. Something about that—the expert acknowledging what I'd known to be true for so long—changed the way I saw my alcohol-focused life. Something about the words she used and the hope she had for me made me realize that I didn't have to keep drinking.

"Every day it's a choice—and many days it's not an easy one. But, for me, it's always proven to be the right one. I never wake up with regret. I never wake up wondering where I am or who I might have been the night before. As I often say to those struggling at the beginning of sobriety: It gets easier, but it's never easy. Seven years in and there are still difficult days, but I wouldn't trade them for anything. Sobriety changed every aspect of my life for the better and, had I never given it a try, I never would have known the woman I have come to be.” —Dani D., 34, sober for seven years

2) ‘Sober is the new cool’

“After moving from Texas to Florida at age 15, I was naturally searching for new friends. Drinking seemed to be my ticket into the ‘cool kids’ crew. Mixed with just the right amount of curiosity and boredom, this quickly led to binge drinking and using harder drugs. By the time I was 21, I was addicted to alcohol and cocaine.

"As a result of my substance abuse, I developed anxiety disorder. I would drink to manage my anxiety, unknowingly feeding it at the same time. I tried moderation and rules around drinking, but happy hour somehow always turned into sunrise, and back to the bottle I’d go. Meanwhile, I still managed to work, pay my bills, and even go to the gym, which convinced me that it wasn’t a problem. This continued for many years, until one day I reached a breaking point: I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. The hangovers. The shame and guilt. The anxiety. It had become too heavy to carry.

"After another bender, I dropped to my knees in prayer. I wasn’t a religious person, but I was desperate for a change, a miracle. From that day forward, I never drank or used cocaine again. I simply became willing to do things differently.

"I made a commitment to try sobriety, developed a strong spiritual practice, and eventually found yoga. I decided not to let my relationship with alcohol affect my ability to be social or have fun. I started feeling and looking better—along with my bank account, might I add. After a year, I accepted sobriety as a lifestyle, and I’ve been on a mission ever since to show people that sober is the new cool.” Carly Benson, 36, sober for nine years

3) ‘I wouldn’t trade all the shit I endured over the years for what I have today'

“As far back as I can remember, I had two elements of mental illness: a low level of constant anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder. These chemical imbalances were the perfect breeding ground to foster a binge-drinking problem.

"To quiet my mind and shed my once pervasive ‘nerd’ identity, alcohol was the perfect antidote. I didn’t realize that not everyone partook in underage (and then, of age) drinking—and that my behavior wasn’t considered the norm. As many of my peers in recovery say, first it was fun, then fun with problems, and then just problems. All the ‘peace’ and confidence drinking provided in the moment would be completely erased the next day, as my body and mind would be wrecked by the physical and emotional ravages of the night before. Losing phones, breaking bones, ambulance rides to the hospital for safekeeping. These weren’t normal rites of passage.

"It took a second hospitalization for alcohol poisoning in the course of 1.5 years to finally shake me. I needed help; I needed to get my life on track. But how?

"When I returned to Washington, D.C., after a fateful hospitalization in New York City, I knew I had to reach out for help from a professional. Through my health insurance, I found an intensive outpatient program that I could attend for five weeks, in the evenings, and still work full-time. But I had just turned 24 and didn’t think about quitting in terms of ‘forever.’ Just for now.

"Suffice it to say, ‘just for now’ became months and then years. I learned to face breakups and family deaths and toxic workplaces and falling in love and being an auntie and living on my own without drinking. I wouldn’t trade all the shit I endured over the years for what I have today.” Laura Silverman, 34, sober for 10 years

4) 'My mom said, 'there’s nothing wrong with you, you’re an alcoholic.''

"After college, I moved to Cancun, Mexico, where I found people who drank and used drugs like cocaine, ecstasy, and GHB the same way I did. It got to the point where I would go on days-long cocaine binges, skip work, and barely be able to take care of my day-to-day responsibilities. I even injured myself, breaking my arm and my nose, during blackouts.

"In spring 2012, I met my now-husband, Fernando, and we began dating. He became irritated with my drinking and using habits and was sick of cleaning up after me and taking care of me. He often pointed out that my alcohol issues weren’t normal. In May 2013, I went on a friend’s bachelorette party trip at an all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana, and I promised Fernando I would control my drinking.

"On the second day, I did what I always ended up doing: I blacked out. I woke up to texts from Fernando saying that we were over and he was sick of my behavior. I was devastated and spent the rest of the weekend drinking and crying. In the airport on the way back to Cancun, I had a breakdown. It was my moment of clarity. I was on the phone with my mom crying and telling her that I didn’t know what was wrong with me. My mom said, 'there’s nothing wrong with you, you’re an alcoholic.’

"That statement hit me like a ton of bricks, and I knew in my heart it was true. I made a decision on that day that I would not drink until further notice. I had no idea at that time how long that would be, but I knew I had to try something I’d never tried before, which was cutting out drugs and alcohol completely from my life.

"When I got back to Cancun, I began reading about alcohol use disorder and educated myself on why I drank. I started a blog about my sobriety and began forming connections with others through the online recovery community. A year into my sobriety, I tried 12-step meetings, and I also found meditation and CrossFit to be helpful. Every good thing I have in my life is a direct result of choosing recovery every single day.” — Kelly F., 32, sober for four years

5) 'I awoke after another blackout binge-drinking night and realized that I’d written a suicide letter'

“If you’d met me eight years ago, you may not have guessed I was a high-functioning alcoholic. As a lifelong chameleon, I was adept at diverting your attention in order to hide the fact I was living another side of myself in the shadows. I had a husband and children, a nice home, a career, and an engaging manner to distract you. All the while, I was numbing myself by binge drinking and desperately chasing a joy that somehow I’d never actually found. Outwardly, I was vivacious and self-confident, but inside I felt unworthy and hollow as my behaviors blanketed my soul in a shame I fought to ignore.

"My moment of surrender came when I awoke after another blackout binge-drinking night and realized that I’d written a suicide letter, which I didn’t remember. It hit me like a ton of bricks that I couldn’t predict my drunken behavior anymore. My fear of a life without alcohol and feeling like an outcast was less than my fear of death or harming someone else. Don’t get me wrong—I’d tried many times over the years to moderate or stop drinking, but somehow on February 6, 2010, I was utterly willing to change anything and everything.

"That day, with the support of my husband and sister, I looked up 12-step meetings. Walking through the doors of my first meeting, I began a horrifically difficult journey toward learning to live again. I stepped over the threshold in a cold sweat of fear, with no idea how I’d ever make up for my mistakes or how I’d ever fit in again.

"The good news is that I’ve learned to walk with my chin held high and no secret shadows in my life. I’ve relied upon my family, friends, faith, and that program to help get me where I am today. I now have a flourishing career in a new field and a stronger marriage and friendships, and I found that joy and self-worth I’d been chasing right inside my own self.” —Julie Elsdon-Height, 45, sober for eight years

6) 'It’s about creating a life that's so good, you don't need to numb out from it'

“I don’t have a dramatic rock-bottom story. In fact, not having a rock bottom was one of the things that nearly stopped me from getting sober at all. I had a very fixed idea of what a problem drinker looked like, and I wasn’t it. I was convinced that things weren’t ‘bad enough’ for me to have to quit completely.

"Even at the height of my drinking, I worked out. I ran. I got promoted. On the outside, things certainly looked fine. I was succeeding at work and keeping everything together. I wasn’t pouring vodka on my cornflakes or drinking and driving. But every night, I had this irresistible urge to hit the self-destruct button.

"In April 2013, after a particularly brutal hangover, I looked at the calendar and realized I had exactly six months to go until I turned 30. Suddenly, the idea of taking my problem drinking with me into the next decade seemed incredibly sad and depressing.

"In my previous, half-hearted attempts at quitting, I’d always white-knuckled it by myself and spent the whole time feeling miserable, annoyed, and lost in my own head. This time, I spent a lot of time reading books, listening to podcasts, and trying to educate myself about alcohol and addiction. I started writing a blog and reached out to other sober bloggers. Those small steps made such a difference, as I began to meet people who were sober and—shockingly—really enjoying life!

"I'm nearly five years sober now and I couldn’t be happier. I passionately believe that sobriety shouldn't be about missing out or feeling deprived—it’s about creating a life that's so good, you don't need to numb out from it.” — Kate Bee, 34, sober for four years

7) ‘Who was I when I wasn’t getting wasted?’

“I’ve been on a winding journey trying to find my way in the world since I was 17. As a little girl, I felt different from everyone else. In high school, I was sexually abused and picked on. However, I believe I was born an addict. I started experimenting. Not long after, I became part-time student, full-time connoisseur of alcohol and drugs. I had found my niche, my people, and fervor for life.

"I ended up going in and out of some of the finest rehabs in the country, many of which I walked out of. After a missing person’s report was filed and pleading from my family, I decided to try the treatment route again. Give or take a few years, and I had a brief period of sobriety, but I wasn’t completely honest with myself and others around me.

"One day, I woke up in the hospital after a long and drunken stupor across the country. On the outside, I was a compilation of scars, bruises, and crappy CVS makeup. On the inside, I was broken and scared. Who was I when I wasn’t getting wasted? I couldn’t stand to look at myself in the mirror. I was terrified to live and terrified to die. That day, I had my last drink. The emotional bottom that I had hit couldn’t compare to the possessions I had lost and the close calls with death I had encountered. I went to detox and immersed myself into the recovery world that was around me.

"Through time, persistence, and taking a hard look at myself, I have come to find a life that can’t compare to anything I have ever imagined. Today, I have the best of friends and best family, and I’ve had some of the most amazing adventures because I am sober. Unfortunately and fortunately, I’ve had the chance to live two lives, one of deception and one of triumph. Because of that, I have become set free from the chains that once bound me down. I have come to know true happiness, joy, and serenity.” Tori Skene, 25, sober for one year

8) ‘How could I have a problem if things were going so well?’

“At 38, I had what looked like an enviable life. I worked at a prestigious law firm in New York City, lived in a great apartment, and had a tight set of family and friends. But I also had an awful secret—an alcohol and cocaine addiction that had worsened to the point of drinking and using around the clock. I was what’s known as a high-functioning addict, looking like a relatively normal person to the outside world.

"I had been on a downward spiral for 10 years. At first I only drank at night. Then I started drinking at lunch. I swore I would never drink in the morning—that was for 'real' alcoholics—until the morning I had to drink to steady myself for work. Ultimately, I added cocaine to keep me awake and what I considered alert.

"Finally, one Monday morning on my way to work, I thought I was having a heart attack. Feeling like I might die, I somehow decided to reach out for help and checked into a detox unit. It saved my life. That day, I admitted to my friends and family the secret I’d been carrying for so many years.

"In addition to addiction, I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder, which I had been self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. I was prescribed an antidepressant to treat my depression appropriately. After leaving detox, I threw myself into recovery. I took the antidepressant religiously. I went to outpatient rehab and immediately started going to 12-step meetings. I became willing to do whatever it took to not pick up a drink. Part of my recovery included writing a memoir, Girl Walks Out of a Bar, about my struggles and journey in sobriety.

"Still, as a lawyer, I feared telling anyone at work about my struggle or even my recovery because of the stigma surrounding addiction and mental health disorders. However, when my memoir was coming out, I had to come clean at work. I was thrilled by the understanding and compassion I received. The process of telling people made me realize that these issues touch everyone, whether it’s through their own experience or those of family or friends. Now I advocate publicly for smashing the stigma I once feared. Today, sobriety has given me a life beyond my wildest dreams, and I could not be more grateful.” Lisa Smith, 51, sober for 13 years

The Reality of High-Functioning Substance Abuse Among Lawyers


The morning before I got sober, I downed nearly a bottle of red wine and snorted a few lines of cocaine as part of my regular routine getting ready for work. As I headed to my law firm, I felt sick, afraid, and alone. Now, more than 13 years later, thanks to important recent research and reporting conducted on lawyers, substance abuse, and mental health, I know I was wrong about being alone.

More than 20 years ago, I became an associate at a big New York City firm and almost simultaneously spiraled into alcoholism and drug addiction. I attribute this to my genetic predisposition toward addiction, my then-undiagnosed depressive disorder, and the intense and exhausting demands of my job. Many people can handle the pressures of a 24/7 work-hard-play-hard environment, but I am not one of them.

Though I knew I was in serious trouble for 10 years before I got sober in 2004, the stigma of alcoholism and drug addiction in law firms played a significant role in my decision not to seek help. When I finally bottomed out, I was using drugs and alcohol around the clock. Somehow, I never lost a job or even received a negative performance review. My hours were odd, my office was a mess, and I frequently worked from home, but the same could be said for many lawyers who weren’t in the throes of addiction. I checked myself into a hospital for a medicated detoxification only because I thought I might die.

At the end of my stay in the detox unit, it was strongly suggested that I next head to a 28-day rehabilitation facility. I refused to go. I was unwilling to tell my law firm the truth of my illness. As a compromise, I attended outpatient rehab two nights a week. I returned to the office just a week and a day after checking into the hospital. My doctors were rightly concerned about my decision, considering I had just been diagnosed with a chronic brain disease. I have been extremely fortunate to remain sober since checking out of that detox, particularly in this profession.

Aspects of law firm culture beyond work pressures can prove challenging for people contending with substance-abuse issues, even when they are in recovery. Having spent more than 25 years working in law firms, I can count very few events at which alcohol was not served. We use it to entertain clients, form bonds among team members, and blow off steam at the end of the week. Does anyone want to feel left out at those important firm functions? While I am encouraged to see firms starting to examine the free-flowing nature of alcohol at all events, this practice cannot be expected to change overnight.

We need to have structured, consistent, and ongoing conversations about mental health and substance abuse in the legal profession. Attorneys and staff alike need to learn from their first day that there is confidential help available to them, both in the form of firm employee assistance programs (EAPs) and the lawyer assistance committees (LACs) of the bar associations in all 50 states. It is critical for people to know where to go when they feel overwhelmed, are experiencing a challenge in their personal life, or find they are looking to drugs or alcohol for relief and escape.

During the course of my career, I have seen plenty of people in law firms and other professions take leave for surgeries, medical treatments, and, of course, to have kids. Never have I seen anyone take a leave to go to rehab. When I was presented with the opportunity, I feared it would be seen as a weakness, not an illness, in an environment where strength, reliability, and stamina are prized. Now I want to use my voice and my story in any way I can to help break that stigma around addiction. I’d like to see the day that addiction will be treated just like any other medical condition, and the person who finds himself or herself where I was 13 years ago feels comfortable saying, “Yes, thank you; I will accept this help and go away to treatment to get healthy.”

Lisa Smith is a lawyer and a writer based in New York City. Her memoir, Girl Walks Out of a Bar, recounts her descent into and recovery from high-functioning alcoholism and cocaine addiction in major international firms. She is a graduate of Northwestern University and Rutgers School of Law.