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Law.com: Lisa Smith – Lawyers Who Struggle With Mental Illness Shouldn't Be Afraid to Seek Help

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON LAW.COM

Alcohol and cocaine fueled the start of Smith’s career, but getting clean—and sharing her story—propelled her forward.

By Dylan Jackson

Lisa Smith started her day April 5, 2004, the same as any other: unbearably hungover and propped up on a mix of booze and cocaine.

That particular routine had been standard for eight months. The heavy drinking started a decade earlier. The life of a young attorney in New York City was hard for everyone, she reasoned. A long day was washed down by a glass of wine or two. Colleagues flooded the bar after closing a deal or winning a big hearing.

Her work was outstanding. She excelled in law school and landed a coveted associate position at New York law firm Shearman & Sterling.

Her addiction came as a series of compromises: “I’m not an alcoholic; I don’t drink during the day,” she would tell herself until she began coupling her lunches with a few beers. “Ok, well I don’t drink during the morning,” kept up the illusion for awhile. Eventually, her hangovers were so rough that she started drinking in the morning. She found it smoothed her out. When even the alcohol wasn’t enough to straighten her out for work, she added cocaine to the routine.

She had long known she was an alcoholic. But she didn’t care. She ceased contributing to her retirement at 32 because she thought she wouldn’t live past 40. She worked from home to hide her addiction.

But that Monday morning, her body decided it had enough. Walking out of her door, she was hit with the sudden feeling of being overwhelmed. Her world was spinning. She thought she was dying.

She wasn’t dying. It wasn’t an overdose or a heart attack. She had a panic attack.

Faced with what she thought was certain death, Smith had a change of heart.

“For all the times leading up to that where I would wake up in the morning and wish I hadn’t woken up,” she said. “In that moment when I actually thought, ‘this is it, I am dying,’ something snapped in me, and I said, ‘no, I want to live.’”

Doctors diagnosed her with clinical depression and put her on medication. Outpatient rehab treatment and a 12-step program followed. Looking back, Smith saw her depression intertwined with her descent into addiction.

“By nature, I was always a gloomy, anxious kid,” she said. “Kids would be lining up for a roller coaster and be all excited, and all I could picture was the cart crashing to the ground.”

At an early age, Smith found reprieve in food, sneaking away to gorge on sweets. Alcohol came into her life by way of high school, and she took to it immediately. She developed a reputation for partying hard and blacking out, although she always thrived academically.

The trend followed her to an undergraduate degree at Northwestern University, then to law school, where she made editor-in-chief of the Rutgers Law Review.

She began drinking nightly her first year as an associate. Practicing law is stressful. The hours are long, and there’s always an adversary, she said. The legal industry is drowning in alcohol. Drinking lubricates conversations at stuffy galas; clients are won over wine.

Two things set Smith apart: Her then-undiagnosed depression and a genetic predisposition. Her maternal grandfather died of alcoholism. Alcohol, not networking, brought Smith to legal events. She would organize her day around drinking, planning out the hours she had to be in meetings so she knew when she could get away. She was regularly vomiting blood. Her blase attitude toward her addiction was fueled by suicidal tendencies.

Smith kept working while in recovery but kept a low profile. In her last three years at Shearman she began working in practice development. By the time she bottomed out in 2004, she had taken a client development position at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman. A year after hitting her lowest point, she moved to Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler as marketing director. She didn’t bring up her sobriety when she interviewed at the firm. It wasn’t their business, she felt, and she shared her story with a select few.

Smith said that she was lucky that sobriety stuck. It helped that her doctor correctly diagnosed her the first time, which is rare.

“I felt relieved,” she said.

She takes her medication “religiously,” although she still experiences depressive episodes. She was also fortunate that she was able to come home each day to a nice apartment and hold on to a lucrative job. For many, recovery comes with court dates and fees, an imploding social life. She wasn’t forced to quit drugs and alcohol; she wanted to.

She wrote privately about her experience. She found it cathartic. Deep into a bender, she would always tell herself she would write a book. And after arriving at Patterson in 2005, Smith compiled her writing and landed a book deal for her memoir, “A Girl Walks Out of the Bar.”

While she was elated, she knew the truth would have to come out. She made her way from partner to partner to share her story. During those conversations, her fear melted away.

“I was nervous. I didn’t know how I would be perceived,” Smith said. “What I found in that process was that inevitably people would say before I finished my story, ‘oh, my cousin. My roommate. My neighbor.’ Everybody knew somebody. And a lot of people I told had questions. They have this issue in their lives in some form. And they want to help.”

Smith is not advocating to abolish booze from the profession. Instead, she wants attorneys who are too afraid to ask for help to come out into the open. She wants law firms to look at addiction from a risk-management perspective. At the very least, she wants an open conversation. A person is only high-functioning for as long as they can keep up the illusion and avoid catastrophic mistakes, she said.

“They’re high-functioning, but also high-risk,” she said. “You’re high-function until you miss a big hearing, or mess up a contract.”

Smith has also found that, while successful, alcohol held her back from reaching her full potential. All of the days she worked from home could have been spent in the office brainstorming with colleagues.

Smith is now a deputy executive of client relations at Patterson, a job she was elevated to five years ago. She has been sober for 15 years. And sobriety has become part of her identity. She co-hosts a podcast, Recovery Rocks, and tours the country giving speeches at law firms, bar associations and law schools.

“It’s important for us to raise our hands and put a name and a face to it,” she said. “It shouldn’t be incumbent on the people who struggle with these issues to find the solution.”

This story is part of a special report on mental health and the legal profession from Law.com: Minds over Matters.

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

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON ABOVETHELAW.COM

We wanted to help delve into why depression and substance abuse are so pervasive in the legal industry.

by Kristin Johnson

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.”

12 Women-Led Recovery Podcasts to Listen to on Your Commute

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON THE TEMPER.COM

These podcasts will leave you feeling inspired, informed, and less alone

by Irina Gonzalez

One of the most important parts of my recovery has always been to keep learning. I continue to expand what I know about sobriety and how to handle my new life sans alcohol. Although everyone comes on the sobriety journey for different reasons, there’s one thing that I bet all of us can agree on: the importance of learning about sobriety and recovery.

That’s where listening to a great recovery podcast (or 12!) can come in.

We sober folks are major beneficiaries of the podcast boom because there are so many great shows that focus on life after alcohol and drugs. This growing medium is a powerful way to hear other’s recovery stories and learn from their journey.

The best part, though? You can do it all from the convenience of your own home or during your commute to work… or any other time that you need a little time to escape. Below are some of our favorite recovery podcasts that you simply have to check out and subscribe to.

1. Seltzer Squad

Jes Valentine and Kate Zander are two friends who gave up drinking and started a podcast. This fairly new venture was started because they were sick of going to a bar and watching their friends get drunk. So, instead, they’re on a mission to create a community about getting sober, talking shit and, yes, drinking seltzer.

We love this podcast so much that we’ve featured Valentine and Zander on Saturday Scaries!

Recommended episode: “13- Princess Fomo And The Babysitters Club”

2. This Naked Mind

Annie Grace, the author of The Naked Mind: Control Alcohol, Find Freedom, Discover Happiness & Change Your Life, hosts a podcast of the same name. In the 150-plus episodes of the show (so far), Grace gives listeners insightful information on how to stay sober, answers reader questions and features stories by This Naked Mind coaches, and members of her community.

Some of the episodes discuss alcohol withdrawals, the link between drinking and binge eating, how to deal with loneliness and so much more.

Recommended episode: “EP 130: Reader Question – How to deal with loneliness?”

3. Recovery Rocks

Tawny Lara, founder of SobrieTea Party, and her friend/mentor, Lisa Smith, got together to create this podcast to talk about recovery and rock ‘n roll. That’s right, rock ‘n roll!

The really exciting thing about this podcast is that the two friends come from different generations—one is a Gen X lawyer in 12-Step recovery, and the other is a millennial who found recovery through blogging—which gives them plenty to talk about as they discuss the issues for those of us who struggle and recover. They have different perspectives, of course, but also find much in common—and you’ll find much in common with them as you listen.

Recommended episode: “Episode 14: Sober Sex”

4. Editing Our Drinking and Our Lives

Another great buddy podcast on our list is the EDIT podcast hosted by Aidan Donnelley Rowley and Jolene Park. In this podcast, the two friends aim to talk about why they made an “Early Exit” from the drinking life as well as what it means when you live inside of the gray area of drinking.

They also discuss the ongoing edits- or changes- that they are making in their own lives, such as talking about social media, grief, relationships and the moderation question.

Recommended episode: “#Dry Life + Social Media”

5. The Bubble Hour

Jean M. is a sober woman who started The Bubble Hour podcast because she wanted to break down the walls of stigma and denial around alcohol use disorder. In her podcast, which has more than 200 episodes, she invites guests on to discuss the various areas of sobriety and recovery that affect all of us today. This can mean talking about anything from early recovery to how to plan for a new year to celebrating your soberversary.

Recommended episode: “Kate’s Story: Alcohol-free by choice”

6. Recovery Elevator

Another popular recovery podcast that has upward of 200 episodes is Recovery Elevator. In this one, each episode focuses on a particular aspect in recovery. Recovery Elevator emphasizes how to overcome difficult parts of sobriety while also making room for the good parts.

For instance, a recent episode talks about the “joy of missing out” and how that can be one of the most powerful forces in recovery. Other highlights include the mindset of sobriety, the calories of alcohol and how normal drinkers view addiction.

Recommended episode: “RE 204: Should I Avoid Social Events Where Alcohol Will Be Present?”

7. The Unruffled Podcast

Sondra Primeaux and Tammi Salas host this weekly show. Their aim is to explore all of the topics that are related to creativity in sobriety. Cool, right?

Here’s their thinking: “When an addiction is removed, there is a void that is left.” This show’s aim is to find ways to fill that void through creative pursuits. In each episode, they interview someone in recovery about their sober journey and creative pursuits.  

Recommended episode: “Episode 88 – Before The Relapse”

8. Mother Recovering

This podcast is all about #mommyingsober: It’s perfect for women who are committed to both their sobriety and their kids. Although the show isn’t currently releasing new episodes, the archives are incredibly rich if you’re a mother in recovery.

In fact, you might be surprised to find that parenting is a lot like recovery. “It’s a beautiful, challenging, exhausting and rewarding process that provides the sweetest moments of joy,” podcast host Annika wrote on the official podcast website.

Recommended episode: “Episode 17: Help a Mother Out”

9. A Sober Girls Guide

Want to listen to a super-relatable podcast on sobriety and recovery? Then tune in each week to A Sober Girls Guide.

Jessica Jeboult hosts these insightful conversations about mental health, self-development, wellness, and spirituality and their influence the recovery journey. She’s hosted fantastic guests including Taryn Strong of She Recovers and Martha Duke of Recovering Out Loud.

Recommended episode: “A Sober Girls Mom”

10. Recovery Happy Hour

It’s common to have the fear of missing out when first entering recovery. It may seem as if everyone you know is out to happy hour and you’re, well, not.

But every Tuesday, Recovery Happy Hour reminds us what sobriety is really about: bettering ourselves. It encourages its listeners to embrace the joy of missing out instead. Each episode features inspiring stories of life beyond the bottle, such as dating in sobriety, the #newyearnewme lie and more.

Recommended episode: “Episode 36 – Dating in Sobriety”

11. Take a Break From Drinking

Rachel Hart is a life coach who hosts the Take a Break From Drinking podcast. She aims to help women take a break from drinking so that “they can learn how to relax, have fun and feel confident without a glass in hand.”
Episodes, which are released every Tuesday, focus on things such as mastering the urge to drink, drinking and the emotional tunnel vision, how drinking prevents you from creating a future (one I can personally relate to), and more.

Recommended episode: “Catastrophizing”

12. Home Podcast

We can’t end this list without mentioning the Home Podcast, co-founded by Hip Sobriety founder Holly Whitaker, and Laura McKowen, who now hosts the Spiritualish podcast.

From 2015 until 2018, these two awesome women teamed up to ask the big questions of life, answered through the lens of addiction recovery. With more than 100 episodes, The Home Podcast’s archives have so much on exploring our hearts, relationships, life, love and the universe at large.

Recommended episode: “Episode 107: How to Begin”

Disclosure: Hip Sobriety is the parent company of The Temper.

There’s so much in each of these shows, and every one is fantastic for its own unique reason. Plus, because many of these launch on a weekly basis, you may find that there is a never-ending supply of great information on handling your sobriety, embracing the joy of missing out and recovering from whatever addictions of your past.

Whether you took an early exit from drinking, someone who has hit rock bottom, or a person that came to sobriety for other reasons, there’s definitely a podcast here to love (and listen to on repeat) for you.

CDC: Alcohol Kills More People than Opioids

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON FOX5NY.COM

Alcohol-related causes kill 88,000 people—more than from opioids—each year in the United States, according to data from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But when it comes to alcohol and health risks, it can seem like no one is talking about it.

"It's such a painful spiral of shame and self-loathing and hiding," Lisa Smith, a lawyer and author, said. "You're living this awful double life."

Smith knows a lot about alcoholism because she was in the throes of it for more than a decade. By 2004, she had also started using cocaine and then hit rock bottom.

"Finally there was one morning I woke up thought I was having a heart attack, I thought I had actually killed myself or had overdosed," she said. "And in that moment, I decided I wanted to live."

Smith has been sober for almost 16 years and wrote a book pulling back the curtain on her struggle with drinking.

From 2007 to 2017, the number of deaths attributable to alcohol increased by 35 percent, according to an analysis by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. The increase was steeper for women.

"The rise among alcohol problems for women, and subsequent illness and death has risen to really, really worrisome proportions," said Eliana Leve, the director of New York services for the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation.

More women are seeking treatment for alcoholism than men at Hazelden in New York, Leve said. She believes there's more stigma for female alcoholics, which can be a barrier to seeking help.

"It is a disease, you're not a bad person," she said of combatting the stigma. "It is an illness, a chronic illness."

Smith said she hopes the latest statistics will serve as a wakeup call.

"We have to stop treating what's actually a drug as if it's not," Smith said.

The bottom line about alcohol-related deaths is that they're preventable. The authors of the University of Washington study said their analysis shatters the myth that one to two drinks a day is good for your health.

USA Today: Alcohol is Killing More People, and Younger. The Biggest Increases are Among Women

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON USATODAY.COM

OAKTON, Va. – The last time lawyer Erika Byrd talked her way out of an alcohol rehab center, her father took her to lunch.

"Dad, I know what alcohol has done to me," she told him that day in January 2011. "I know what it has made me do to you and mom. But that wasn’t me." 

By the time she died three months later, Byrd had blocked her parents' calls because they kept having her involuntarily committed. They once had a magistrate judge hold a hearing at her hospital bed. He ordered herto undergo a month of in-patient treatment. 

Byrd, who died in April 2011 at the age of 42, is among the rising number of people in the United States who have been killed by alcohol in the last decade.

It's an increase that has been obscured by the opioid epidemic. But alcohol kills more people each year than overdoses – through cancer, liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis and suicide, among other ways.

From 2007 to 2017, the number of deaths attributable to alcohol increased 35 percent, according to a new analysis by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. The death rate rose 24 percent.

One alarming statistic: Deaths among women rose 85 percent. Women once drank far less than men, and their more moderate drinking helped prevent heart disease, offsetting some of the harm.

Deaths among men rose 29 percent.

While teen deaths from drinking were down about 16 percent during the same period, deaths among people aged 45 to 64 rose by about a quarter.

People's risk of dying, of course, increases as they age. What's new is that alcohol is increasingly the cause.

"The story is that no one has noticed this," says Max Griswold, who helped develop the alcohol estimates for the institute. "It hasn't really been researched before."

The District of Columbia, less than 10 miles away from the Venable law office where Byrd was a partner, had the highest rate of death from alcohol in the country, according to the institute's analysis. Georgia and Alabama came in second and third. 

Alabama, in fact, ranked third among states with the strongest alcohol control policies, as rated by medical researchers in a 2014 report published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

States can influence drinking – especially dangerous binge drinking – with policies such as taxes on alcohol and restrictions on where and when it can be sold.

Psychologist Benjamin Miller, chief strategy officer at the nonprofit Well Being Trust, says the larger health challenges in the South are to blame for high alcohol death rates. Southern states typically rank near the bottom in national rankings in cancer, cardiovascular disease and overall health.

Oklahoma, Utah, Kansas and Tennessee rounded out the five states with the strongest alcohol control policies, the researchers reported. States with more stringent alcohol control policies had lower rates of binge drinking, they found.

Nevada, South Dakota, Iowa, Wyoming and Wisconsin had the weakest alcohol control policies.

David Jernigan, a professor at Boston University's school of public health who has specialized in alcohol research for 30 years, notes that the beer industry holds considerable sway in Wisconsin.

Amy Durham, 46, suffered triple organ failure after she stopped drinking six years ago. She was in a coma for 10 days. (Photo: Caron Treatment Centers)

Binge drinking is sending far more people to the emergency room, a separate team of researchers reported in the February 2018 issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

The researchers, who looked at ER visits from 2006 to 2014, found the largest increases were among the middle aged – especially women. The number of teenage binge drinkers landing in the ER during that time actually declined.

Older, often lifelong drinkers don't need only to have their stomachs pumped. They frequently have multiple complications from their drinking.

Their often bulbous bellies need to be drained of fluid, which builds up from liver cirrhosis, and their lungs cleared of aspirated vomit, says Dr. Anthony Marchetti, an emergency room doctor at Upson Regional Medical Center in Thomaston, Georgia.

They might also have brain hemorrhages or internal bleeding, because booze prevents their blood from clotting properly.

By middle age, Marchetti says, long-term drinking can also lead to heart failure, infections due to immune suppression, a type of dementia from alcohol-induced brain damage, stomach ulcers and a much higher risk of cancer.

As opioid overdoses, which kill about 72,000 people a year, grabbed America's attention, the slower moving epidemic of alcohol accelerated, especially in Southern states and the nation's capital. About 88,000 people die each year from alcohol

Making matters worse, alcoholism is trickier to treat – and criticize – than opioid addiction. 

"Culturally, we’ve made it acceptable to drink but not to go out and shoot up heroin," Miller says. "A lot of people will read this and say 'What's the problem?' "

Benjamin Miller is a psychologist and the chief strategy officer at the non profit Well Being Trust. (Photo: Well Being Trust)

It might be a more socially acceptable addiction, but alcoholism is at least three times costlier to treat than opioid addiction, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And it's a far more complicated midlife crisis to address.

The proven approaches – taxes on alcohol and limits on where and when alcohol is sold – are often rejected because the liquor industry has considerable clout with policymakers.

Ron Byrd says his daughter Erika was "beautiful inside and out."

To him, there's no question about what caused her death. 

That's despite the fact there was no alcohol in her system when she was found dead at home. She was so sick, Byrd saysshe hadn't been able to eat or drink for days.

"The death certificate never says alcoholism," he says. "It said heart arrhythmia and heart valve disease. But nobody in our family had heart problems."

Attorney Lisa Smith has been in recovery from alcohol and cocaine addiction for a decade. The New York City woman wrote the memoir "Girl Walks Out of a Bar" and co-hosts the podcast Recovery Rocks.

Attorney Lisa Smith is the author of Girl Walks Out of a Bar, her award-winning memoir of high-functioning addiction and recovery in the world of New York City corporate law.

Smith speaks at legal conferences and law firms such as Byrd's about the hazards of lawyers' high-stress days and booze-fueled dinners with clients. But she's fighting forces far larger than her profession. 

"It is poison, and we’re treating it like it's something other than that because there‘s big corporate money behind it," she says. "A lot of people are getting really rich on something that is toxic to us."

Deaths of despair

In its Pain in the Nation report this year, the Well Being Trust called losses from drugs, alcohol and suicide "despair deaths."

The three are closely related. Suicide is the third leading cause of death from alcohol, after cancers anddigestive diseases. One in five individuals who die from opioid overdoses have alcohol in their system at the time of their death.

Drinking can lead to cancers all along the digestive tract, from the mouth to the colon. About 15 percent of U.S. breast cancer cases are considered to be caused by alcohol. A third of those cases affected women who drank 1.5 drinks or less a week, according to a 2013 report in the American Journal of Public Health.

The "direct toxicity" of alcohol damages the nervous system from the brain down to the spinal cord and to peripheral nerves, says Marchetti, the Georgia emergency physician. It's common for people in the late stages of alcoholism to have numbness in their feet and legs, which makes walking difficult even when they aren't impaired. 

Emergency rooms are the most expensive place to treat problems. Between 2008 and 2014, the rate of ER visits involving acute alcohol consumption rose nearly 40 percent, according to the study in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. For chronic alcohol use, the rate rose nearly 60 percent.

The increases for acute and chronic alcohol use were larger for women.

People who drink throughout their lifetime develop a tolerance for alcohol. But as they age, they lose muscle and gain fat and become less tolerant.

That leads to increased injuries and illnesses, says Rick Grucza, an associate professor of psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis and lead author of the Alcoholism study.

But why are so many people drowning so many sorrows?

Ashley Marie Hartshorn began drinking heavily after the birth of her third child and a murder committed by her stepfather. (Photo: Family photo)

Brenda Padgett believes it was postpartum depression that led her daughter to take up the heavy drinking that ultimately killed her last year.

Ashley Hartshorn, who lived in Hendersonville, North Carolina, had already suffered the trauma of hearing her stepfather kill his girlfriend while she was on the phone.

Then Hartshorn testified against him in court, which helped send him to prison for life.

The depression came after the birth of her third child in February 2012. 

"She wanted so badly to quit drinking, but the shame and the fear kept her from being able to allow herself to reach out for help," Padgett says. "Like many, we were ignorant to the effects that alcohol has on the body.  I thought she had time, time to hit rock bottom and time to seek help.

"I never knew that only five years of alcohol abuse could take the life of someone so young."

Neither did Nancy Juracka. Her son Lance died in 2006 after just three years of heavy drinking. He was 36.

Lance Juracka, who grew up in Hermosa Beach, California, was intimately familiar with the scourge of alcoholism: He knew an uncle and aunt had drunk themselves to death before he was born. He even produced a short documentary about alcohol abuse while at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. 

He started drinking when he got a job in Las Vegas reviewing shows – and was continually offered free drinks. 

"Once he got a taste for alcohol, it really did him in fast," his mother says. "I don’t understand how Lance’s liver went so quick."

He headed back to California and ultimately moved back in with his mother.

He started a painting business. But his workers told Juracka he would just drink vodka or sleep.  

"I thought I was going to lose my mind, I was so frantic," she says. "I would sit up all night with him so he wouldn’t choke on this vomit.”

Joseph Garbely, an internal and addiction medicine physician at Caron Treatment Centers in Wernersville, Pennsylvania, says research shows that 10 percent of parents think having two or more alcoholic drinks a day is reasonable to reduce their stress.

But why? It's not as if liquor is becoming more accepted.

Consider, however, the lack of public service announcements about the effect excessive alcohol has on health or families.

Ali Mokdad is a professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. He notes that alcohol-related education focuses on drunk driving. 

Miller and others point to the high level of workplace stress that began accelerating during the recession, loneliness linked to social media and increasing pressures on working mothers. 

In fact, social isolation can be both a cause and the result of excessive drinking. Parents whose children drank themselves to death in their 20s and 30s often describe the drinking in isolation seen in elderly alcoholics.

Few who drink excessively while young will become alcoholics, much less drink themselves to death. Those who are in recovery for alcoholism say people who turn high school or college binge drinking into a nightly coping ritual are at the most risk.

Amy Durham came close to dying from alcohol six years ago, when she was 40. And she barely drank until she was in her 30s.

The child of an alcoholic father, Durham never thought she could or would lose control. 

"I didn't even know what was happening to me," she says.

She attributes her plunge into alcoholism to unresolved trauma from growing up in an alcoholic home, the stress of her work as a school principal, a "toxic" romantic relationship and grief over an inability to get pregnant.

"I just needed to be numb," she says.

Ron and June Byrd lost their daughter, Erika, to complications from chronic alcohol abuse in 2011. (Photo: Jasper Colt, USA TODAY)

Ron Byrd says Erika, too, dreamed of having children. After two divorces and stage 3b breast cancer, however, the chance was slipping away. 

"She wanted so desperately to have a baby," Byrd says.

Durham is now corporate director of alumni relations at Pennsylvania-based Caron Treatment Centers, where she was treated. 

"I wasn’t able to see that my drinking was a problem until it was almost too late," she says. "I put limits on myself and would say that i'd only drink two glasses of wine in a social setting and then go home and drink a lot in isolation." 

When her father died in July 2012 of esophageal cancer, Durham says, she began a "very bad downward spiral."

She remembers his funeral.

"i was trying to be nothing like my father, but I couldn’t wait to get out of that church and drink," she says. "The shame of what was happening to me was more than I could bear."

Like Hartshorn and Byrd, Durham started with white wine. But she ended up drinking copious amounts of vodka.

Amy Durham, now director of alumni relations at Caron Treatment Centers, is shown with Caron's Dr. Joseph Garbely, who helped save her after alcohol nearly killed her. (Photo: Caron Treatment Centers)

By the time her family got her to a hospital, Durham was in triple organ failure and wound up in a coma for 10 days.

That was followed by six weeks of dialysis.

When she arrived at in-patient rehab after the dialysis, Durham says, her body and eyes were still yellow and she was carrying 100 extra pounds of fluid – half of it in her legs.

She says fellow rehab residents – no strangers to the telltale signs of addiction – quickly looked away as she passed.

Men vs. women drinkers

When men crash and burn from alcohol, Mokdad says, the spectacle is often public. They get into bar fights, get cited by police for drunk driving or lose heir jobs.

A more typical trajectory for women starts with evening wine as a way to de-stress from the work day – either in a professional setting, or home with young children.

Author and podcast co-host Stefanie Wilder-Taylor, writer of "Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay," believes this stems from stubborn gender roles and norms surrounding stress. 

"Moms just aren't going to call home and say they're stopping for a couple drinks after work with friends or going to the gym to unwind," the Los Angeles woman says

Otherwise, they might feel like parenting failures as they compare themselves to other moms. So they drink wine while they make dinner, which can lead to a nightly pattern of excessive drinking.

Author Stefanie Wilder-Taylor co-hosts the podcast For Crying Out Loud and is in recovery from alcohol addiction. (Photo: Courtesy of Stefanie Wilder-Taylor)

That describes nurse practitioner Eileen O'Grady, who quit drinking 12 years ago.

O'Grady, who lives in McLean, Virginia, says her two sons, now in college, never really saw her drunk. But she couldn't bear the thought of continuing her destructive double life. She would drink continually from dinner until she went to sleep, she says, and then start again the next evening. 

For O'Grady, the last straw came after a night of especially hard drinking with another mom in her neighborhood.

The other woman, a schoolteacher, vomited in O'Grady's car. She returned the next day to clean it up. 

O'Grady hasn't taken another drink.

"I could see my life if I kept going," O'Grady says. She is now active in her local recovery community and working as a wellness coach. 

Her schoolteacher friend taught classes until last fall. Within days of leaving the classroom, she was in a hospital with end-stage liver disease.

She died in hospice on Jan. 3.

At least 15 people at the woman's memorial service asked O'Grady how her friend had died. They were stunned to learn alcohol was the cause.

The woman was poisoning herself with a half-gallon of vodka a day, O'Grady says, yet no one knew beyond her immediate family, O'Grady and a mutual friend in the neighborhood. 

"We're closeted," O'Grady says. "We're not in bars getting in fights."

Eileen O'Grady is a nurse practitioner and wellness coach who has been in recovery from alcohol for 12 years. (Photo: Courtesy of Eileen O'Grady)

As for Durham, she was on a liver transplant list for about five months in 2011 and 2012. Then she learned she no longer needed a new liver.

"Livers have a great capacity for recovery," says Dr. Michael Lucey, a professor and head of the division of gastroenterology and hepatology at the University of Wisconsin medical school. 

Durham was once in a sorority at University of Mississippi, where beauty was competitive and a popular saying was "pretty is as pretty does."

"But there was nothing pretty about my drinking," she says.

If she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, Durham says, she wouldn't think twice about getting treatment and talking about it.

Durham stopped drinking six years ago Thursday. She says she surprises people with how openly she shares the gritty details of her near-death experience.

"I want to show the world what recovery looks like, especially for women where stigma is still the way it is," Durham says. "I want people to know there is hope."

Erika Byrd, who died in 2011 due to alcohol, is shown with her mother June Byrd in Waikiki Beach at sunset in Hawaii in 2003. (Photo: Family photo)

Erika Byrd called her father in hysterics on April 9, 2011. She had been fired after failing to turn in paperwork to continue getting disability coverage through her law firm.

"I don’t want to want it, but I want it," Byrd recalls her saying, sobbing.  

"I said, 'If you can stop drinking you can do anything,' " Byrd says. "I told her, 'We love you, Erika,' and she hung up."

Byrd and his wife were getting ready to go to church the next day when there was a knock on the door. A pastor stood with a police officer. Erika was dead.

A doctor from the National Institute for Mental Health called to ask if the Byrds would consider donating Erika's brain for research.

They said yes.

"She had done everything she knew how to to beat this terrible disease," Ron Byrd says. "I would think she would want it."  

If you are interested in connecting with people online who have overcome or are currently struggling with health problems mentioned in this story, join USA TODAY’s "I Survived It" Facebook support group.

Pop Sugar: 17 Heart-Wrenching Memoirs About Addiction

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON POPSUGAR.COM

It was the day after an emotional This Is Us episode: Justin Hartley's character had painfully descended into a Vicodin addiction and viewers feared the worst. He stole a prescription pad and wrote himself a fatal dose of fentanyl, the addictive and sometimes deadly opiate drug. As a fan of the show, I was heartbroken, but as a young woman with an affinity for stories like Hartley's character's, I knew there was a bigger message here and that he absolutely was not alone.

Over the last few years, I've developed a keen interest in addiction memoirs. Sure, my Facebook feed has since filled with ads about "getting help," but there's something about these stories that captivate me unlike any other genre. Memoirs are raw regardless of the topic, but when an author is writing about their addiction, they're forced to face the demons that they've masked behind a bottle of booze, or whatever the vice, and it is absolutely felt by the reader. POPSUGAR Executive Editor Nancy Einhart and I realized we're both avid readers of these stories after said This Is Us episode. We both enjoy swapping book recommendations with our moms and have compiled a list of emotional addiction memoirs that have stuck with us.

Ahead, check out 17 gut-wrenching memoirs about each author's unique experience with addiction; books we've read, books our moms have read, and books that have been recommended to us. Each with different stories to tell but all with a story that will shake you to your core. Whether you're struggling with addiction and are looking for stories to inspire sobriety, or you simply value reading about the topic, these memoirs will make you laugh, cry, and evoke emotions that only works of nonfiction can bring about.

1) Girl Walks Out of a Bar by Lisa F. Smith

Lisa Smith was the quintessential functioning alcoholic . . . until she was not. Girl Walks Out of a Bar is Smith's honest and raw perspective about her hauntingly contrasting life: by day, she's a successful corporate lawyer, and by night, dependent on copious amounts of alcohol and cocaine. Although she was able to hide her addiction at work, the round-the-clock binges couldn't hide the self-hatred and downward spiral Smith was on. It's not your typical addiction memoir, but her story is a cunning take on alcoholism in the world of corporate law. When you get to the part about her recovery, you'll find yourself cheering her on as if she were your best friend. A true success story you won't be able to put down. — Perri Konecky

2) The Night of the Gun by David Carr

Longtime New York Times writer David Carr, who died in 2015, takes a journalistic approach to his own addiction story in The Night of the Gun, piecing together what really happened during his hazily remembered years of crack addiction. His memoir doesn't shy away from upsetting details: handing the mother of his children a crack pipe as her water broke and relapsing years later when he convinced himself he could handle having one drink. This incredibly well-written and well-reported memoir is like nothing I've ever read. — Nancy Einhart

3) How to Murder Your Life by Cat Marnell

How to Murder Your Life is essentially a Wiki guide on exactly what the title suggests. Former beauty editor Cat Marnell recounts vivid memories like elevator rides with Anna Wintour and detailed hallucinations of rats in the Condé Nast fashion closet. She had a magazine career many could only dream of, but her side hustle of doctor-shopping around Manhattan's finest psychiatrists came with a price. Marnell's dark turn from prescription medication dependency to abusing exuberant amounts of heroin, cocaine, and all the pills she could find took a toll on her life that not even the chicest under-eye concealer could hide. It's dark, it's self-destructive, and it's compelling in a way that only someone who has come to terms with their journey could write. — PK

Visit POPSUGAR.COM to see the full list!

Hi, Sobriety: Our Changing Relationship with Alcohol

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON THESYNDNEYMORNINGHERALD.COM

“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.

 

 

 

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

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON ROCKETMATTER.COM

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

THIS INTERVIEW FIRST APPEARED ON SOBRIETYSTARTSHERE.COM

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

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED ON SOBERSENORITA.COM

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.