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.”