Bar Report - Lisa Smith 'Girl Walks Out of a Bar'

This article first appeared on The New Jersey Law Journal

Author/attorney Lisa Smith to detail story of addiction and recovery at Dec. 2 solo and small-firm event

In the fall of 2014, Lisa Smith walked into the offices of the New York City law firm where she worked and informed her superiors that she once had a serious alcohol and substance abuse problem, and she was about to talk about it publicly everywhere she could.

Smith had just secured a book deal for her memoir, a harrowing account of her struggles with drinking and addiction while she was working at another law firm. She knew that going public with her story might result in some pushback at work, but she was looking to fight back against the secrecy and stigma that surrounded the legal industry and addiction.

“Some people said to use a pen name,” she recalled. “But I knew if I want to do some good with this and I want to help the next person, I have to own it.”

As it turned out, her law firm gave her their full support. Smith’s book, Girl Walks Out of a Bar, was published last year, and she spends much of her time now talking to lawyers and other audiences about the secret she kept for so long. She’s also the deputy executive director at her firm.

Smith, a New Jersey native and a Rutgers School of Law graduate, will be the lunchtime keynote speaker on Dec. 2 at Proven Practice Management Strategies for Solo and Small-Firm Attorneys, a daylong program to be held at the New Jersey Law Center by the New Jersey Institute for Continuing Legal Education (NJICLE). The day’s agenda is packed with practical tips on subjects like technology tools, social media use, insurance, data security, billing practices, and more. Education credits are available.

Solo and small-firm attorneys comprise the vast majority of New Jersey’s lawyers, and the New Jersey State Bar Association has made programming for that population a priority this year.

As Smith put it, solo and small-firm attorneys “have the whole weight of running the business on their shoulders, in addition to the practice of law, which is stressful enough,” she said. “They also have to be a small business owner.”

A 2016 national study of lawyers surveyed nearly 13,000 practicing attorneys and found that 21 percent of them qualified as problem drinkers. That’s twice the rate of incidence as the general population, according to Smith.

“The profession attracts overachievers, really driven people,” Smith said. “And that can frequently make for people who can get very focused and intense. That kind of intensity can get applied to someone’s drinking, which really ends in trouble.”

Also, the round-the-clock nature of the job can be stressful, “especially if you are a sole practitioner and there’s no one else to back you up. Client demands are 24-7, you’re never disconnected from your device…it is a huge impact.”

And finally, there’s the shame and the stigma. So much so that even when Smith decided to get help, she decided against inpatient rehabilitation because she didn’t want her firm to find out.

She notes that as far as she knows, no one at her old job was aware of her issues. “I was managing to keep up with my work and get everything in and nobody looked at me twice,” she said. There’s a lot of aspects of lawyer life—crazy hours, messy offices—that allow you to hide addiction, she said.

But now she talks about it whenever she can. And she often gets messages from people, via email or social media, asking for advice, asking if they might have a problem. “I respond to everybody,” she said. “It’s really kind of important to me. I do feel like it has helped people.”

How One Woman Secretly Battled Addiction — and the Moment She Knew She Needed Help


New York-based author and attorney Lisa Smith has been clean and sober for a decade. She detailed her drug and alcohol addiction in "Girl Walks Out of a Bar," and in an exclusive essay for Megyn Kelly TODAY, she shares the moment she knew she needed help — and the surprising reaction to her addiction from loved ones.

When I was an active alcoholic and drug addict, secrets were my stock in trade. They were the bricks in the precarious wall I built around myself. If one brick were ever to fall out, the whole wall would crash down and I would be exposed.

The glass of vodka I carefully set on my bedside table each night because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get up without it. The small glass vial of cocaine that I would need partway through my workday slipped into my lipstick case. The bottle of wine I downed alone after a convivial dinner with friends.

These were among the secrets I kept until the day I thought they were going to kill me and I decided I wanted to live.

It was pretty dark stuff for someone who looked put together, happy and successful to the rest of the world. I was a 38-year-old lawyer living in a bright apartment in New York City with a high-powered job at a large, prestigious firm. I had a great family and close friends who loved me. I was also at the tail end of a painful 10-year spiral that had taken me from party girl to full-blown alcoholic and cocaine addict. And I was terrified of being discovered.

In the throes of addiction, the devil I knew, the relentless need to drink and use drugs, felt far safer than the devil I didn’t know: admitting that I had a problem and asking for help. What would people think if they knew that before even taking my coat off after work I would gulp down half an over-sized glass of cheap Chardonnay? Or if they knew I bought cocaine with the casualness of picking up a quart of milk? I was ashamed of the way I lived. Alcoholics were the disheveled people sprawled out in subway stations. Drug addicts were scrawny tweakers wandering around Times Square. I was a smart, strong, and successful professional, at least as far as the world around me could tell. I intended to keep it that way.

Yet on the morning of April 5, 2004, when I thought I was having a heart attack, I somehow chose to tear down my wall of secrets. In a panic, I checked myself into a detox facility at a city psychiatric hospital. I later heard that your bottom is where you stop digging. On that day the shovel was just too heavy for me to lift anymore. The moment I had so feared, revealing my secrets, had arrived. I called my parents, brother and close friends as soon as I made the arrangements to go to treatment.

Their surprise came through the phone loud and clear as I spilled out the truth of a life they had no idea I was living. One of the purposes of my secrets was protection from what I was sure those around me would say. But my assumptions couldn’t have been more wrong.

My family and friends reacted to the news of my addiction with concern, support, and sadness to learn how miserable and sick I was. I didn’t hear anger or accusations. I heard compassion and love. And despite learning that I had kept these secrets from them for so long, they have all shown up for me and held my hand as I’ve worked to get healthy.

I kept my addiction, and my recovery, a secret in my workplace even longer. Law firms can be tough places to work. Strength, dedication, and stamina are critical. After all my hard work to get there, I didn’t want the stigma that unfortunately surrounds addiction to destroy my career.

But again the reaction I received surprised me.

Suddenly, I realized the true reach of these issues. Almost everyone is affected in one way or another, directly or indirectly. Once I was able to tear down my wall of secrets, I could see reality more clearly. Addicts and alcoholics aren’t the stereotypes I thought they were. This disease does not discriminate. I also learned that I didn’t have to do it alone. Asking for help, connecting with and supporting others saved my life. I know how fortunate I have been in my recovery with access to treatment and ongoing care for my addiction. I am grateful for every day I wake up sober.

Now I want to speak up and be there to help the next person who is suffering to tear down his or her wall of secrets before it’s too late.

For She Is You


Allow me to introduce you to an incredibly inspiring person and to preface one of the most influential interviews you will ever read. Lisa is a lawyer, an author, a daughter, a wife, a friend and a recovering alcoholic. She has been clean and sober for more than 10 years and so passionately strives to break the stigma related to drug and alcohol addiction, particularly for corporate professional women – where the typical attitude is work-hard-play-hard. She has recently published her incredible memoir: A Girl Walks Out Of A Bar in which she bravely shares her experience, her journey and her recovery from alcohol and drug addiction in the most raw-honest-and-lay-all-cards-on-the-table-kinda way. She shares the highest of highs and the devastating lows, the struggles and the victories. Her candid memoir is truly as heartbreaking as it is inspiring and whether you’ve been there or not, you will be able to relate, empathise and connect with Lisa. You will be inspired by her courage, as she so frankly shares her story. It will touch you and impact you. I mean, there’s a reason why this book has garnered so much attention, has been featured in The New York Times and is on the Amazon Best Seller list. And this incredible woman deserves all of the accolades and every single ounce of success she receives, because she is such a good human. It’s as plain and simple as that.
Full disclaimer: prior to purchasing maybe cancel all plans because you won’t want to put it down once you start.

Lisa is leading by example and one of those women we all need to learn from. Seriously. The word role model comes to mind. She is kind, she is brave, she is honest, she genuinely loves (and is so passionate about) helping others and she’s simply just doing the best she can, every day she shows up as her best self. And as she takes her recovery one day at a time, she is a magnificent advocate for mental health and for looking after your mind and body. She is all about just being honest: honest with yourself, honest with those around you and honest with life. She knows what it is like to feel isolated, alone and like you must struggle on your own which is why she is the ultimate embodiment of community, she is so generous with her time and she encourages others to do the same. Just by being her, she inspires people to be better humans. And on top of that, she is captain of the cheer squad when it comes to supporting, helping and being kind to the women around you. She is passionate about rooting for each other and rising together. I can tell you this first hand.

I am in awe of this incredible woman, I am inspired by her and I am so thankful for her kindness and support which has effected me in ways she doesn’t even know. Lisa is one of the sweetest, most genuinely kind people on this planet. You know those people that are so innately kind, so inherently sweet and so pure of heart that they can’t be anything but…well this is Lisa. I am sure she belongs in a special club with that title because I truly feel like she is one of those people that would give you the shirt off her back if you needed it – even in an NYC winter, she is THAT kind. And, as I mentioned, Lisa is so beautifully encouraging of anything to do with women supporting women and knows that together, #wegotthis.

No matter what you’re going through, where you’re at and whether you’re currently on an expected or (the oh-so-common-comes-out-of-nowhere-but-trust-it’s-exactly-where-you’re-meant-to-be) unexpected path… there is most definitely something in this interview for you. There are SO many takeaways from Lisa’s wisdom, experience and outlook on life that I quite seriously don’t even know where to start. This is honestly one of my favorite parts of this website because I get so inspired by the incredible women featured, and Lisa is without a shadow of a doubt, no exception. I honestly can’t even tell you what an impact this interview will have on you and once you’ve read this, it will leave you jumping on and ordering a copy of her book, because it will leave you wanting more: to know more, to feel more and to be even more inspired. Lisa’s interview is harrowingly honest, incredibly wise and filled with so much inspiration that you will quite possibly need to re-read it multiple times to allow it all to soak in – I can’t even count how many times I have read it and I still find so many takeaways. A reminder to be gentle with ourselves and talk to ourselves with love and positivity. A reminder that life is there to be lived, wholly and vibrantly and that isn’t exclusive to certain people, we are ALL deserving of a full life. A lesson that fear is an emotion (which we so often forget and allow to control us). A reminder to be proud, of who we are and all that we achieve – and to celebrate those achievements. Above all else, it is a beautiful reminder of kindness and community: to look out for one another, to check in with those around us and ask how they’re doing, to ask how we can help, to be kind because you never know what battle someone is facing and to always lead with love. Ultimately, to remember that you are not alone.
And, I haven’t even scratched the surface of all of the pearls of wisdom you are about to discover via Lisa.

Thank you Lisa. Thank you for being brave enough to share a part of you that in turn is helping so many others, thank you for erasing some of the stigma associated with mental health and continuing the conversation, thank you for being passionate about helping others, thank you for shining your light, thank you for being kind and supportive and sweet. This world is most definitely a better place with you in it and thank you, for inspiring me (and all the readers who cast their eyes over your interview). You are an inspiration. Period.


How would you describe yourself in one word?
Reaching out… #sheisreachingout

What would you tell your 28-year old self? 
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help!” At 28, if I had asked for help and gotten sober, I could have spared myself ten years of a dark spiral into addiction that I wasn’t guaranteed to survive. I would say to my 28-year old self, “You have no idea how incredible life can be if you are present to live it. There are huge possibilities if you work to get healthy.” A big hope I have for the book is that some readers might identify signs of a worsening problem, and hopefully get help at an earlier stage of addiction than I did.

What is your philosophy on life?
This is not a dress rehearsal. It’s my life and I need to do all I can, within my power, to make it what I want it to be. The tricky part is accepting what is “within my power” and what is not.

‘Imagine what the world could look like if each woman making a difference in the world held out her hand to bring the next group of women along with her. The possibilities are endless. But if we tear each other down, no one rises. That’s a nonstarter to me.’

The single best piece of advice you have ever received and how has it shaped you?
“Get up. Get dressed. Get with the program.” This was posted at the detox unit where I got sober. My life was such a mess and I was so sick at that point, I couldn’t imagine doing those three things. But it made sense just to try for them each day in order to reclaim my life. For me, it comes down to just taking the next right action on any given day, showing up for my life and for other people, and keeping things simple. If I do my part as best I can, the rest will take of itself.

In your opinion, what is true strength of character?
Staying true to the things that are important to you and finding a way to help others.

What is the biggest lesson you have learnt from your journey with addiction and how has it impacted you? 
Humility. When I was in the throes of addiction, I thought I was the center of the universe, while hating myself the entire time. I thought I was this unique and wildly complex character, all alone in my head and my addiction. Confronting addiction has taught me that I am not unique. I am special and important in my own way (we all are), but I’m no better or worse than anyone else. I learned to love the aspiration of being “a worker among workers and a friend among friends.”

Do you believe in positive self talk and if so, why?
Absolutely. Only I can set my state of mind at any given time, so if I want positivity, I have to remind myself of all the good that can happen if I believe in myself.

Once, when I was on the brink of doing something important, but felt terrified and inadequate, one of my cousins grabbed my shoulders, looked me straight in the eye and firmly told me, “You’ve got this.” And she was right. Basically, she was saying I needed to believe in myself. So, whenever I’m about to do something that I find scary or challenging, I tell myself, “I’ve got this.” It sounds simple, but it’s worked every time.

What was your rock bottom moment?
If my rock bottom is the thing that triggered me finally to ask for help with my addiction and check into a hospital to detox, then it was the Monday morning when I was on my way to work, drunk and high, and thought I was having a heart attack or overdose. It turned out to be an anxiety attack. But if my bottom is the low point emotionally that I think back on, it was the day that I couldn’t get out of New York City to see my family when my niece was born. I had been drinking and taking drugs for two days straight and could not put myself together to be there. I was both physically sick and emotionally bankrupt, and I knew it. I couldn’t stand myself. Yet, that wasn’t the day I got sober. A saying I love is, “Your bottom is when you stop digging.”

‘Fear is a four-letter word. It’s not a real thing. It’s an emotion.’

How has your life changed since being in recovery?
It’s changed almost completely, both physically and emotionally. But I’d say the biggest change is that I am no longer filled with the self-doubt, fear and self-loathing that made me believe I didn’t deserve a happy and healthy life. Now I know that we all deserve that. It has inspired me to want to help others to recover and find health and peace in their lives.

Why is self care such a crucial part in living with mental health?
There are certain aspects to living with mental health challenges for which I have to take ultimate responsibility. The world offers so much support and love, but I have to take a decision each day to ask for and accept the help I need. For example, I have to be committed to taking my medication and showing up for a program of recovery. I’m also the only who can tell myself to go to bed at night or eat the right thing because sleep and a healthy diet are two of the things that make me feel better and keep me sober.

Your all-time-hands-down-favorite self love ritual?
Giant naps on the weekends. I’m an early morning person and during the week I spend long days in the office. So, on the weekends, I’ll climb back in bed for big chunks of the late morning and afternoon, reading and sleeping. I do it for hours. I’ve learned not to feel guilty about it, even if it’s a sunny, gorgeous day outside and there are other things to be done. Sleep is critical to my health and sobriety, so I take care of myself as best I can.

Something you don’t tell yourself enough?
That I’m proud of what I have accomplished. Like many women, when someone says something nice to me about my book or the fact that I’m speaking up publicly about it, I’ll answer, “I’ve been lucky.” Yes, I have been lucky, but I’ve also worked really hard for more than 10 years to make this book happen. I have heard that studies show when women are complimented that way, they tend to say something like, “I got lucky,” or “it was nothing,” as if we don’t deserve recognition or didn’t achieve anything important. Men, on the other hand, say, “thank you,” and take the compliment, believing they deserve it. We need to act more like them in that circumstance. We do deserve it.

‘What other people think of me is none of my business. I realized that so much of my self-doubt and fear came from comparing myself to other people. I thought everyone else was prettier, smarter, stronger, and most importantly, more deserving of a good life than me. But really, why? ‘

What characteristics and values do you admire in the women that you surround yourself with or are inspired by?
Passion, curiosity and a commitment to living the best and fullest lives they can. A desire to help the next person who suffers. A desire to remain teachable and continue to learn.

Your thoughts on fear and failure….
I am prone to anxiety attacks, so attempting to do anything difficult will trigger fear in me. I fear that I’ll fail and leave myself in a worse position than I would have been in if I never tried at all. It’s normal. So many people feel it. We learn in recovery that fear is a four-letter word. It’s not a real thing. It’s an emotion. So, with the help of meditation, I have learned to breathe through fear, look at it for what it is, note it and move on in my head, mostly by turning back to my breath. That doesn’t mean it always works, though! I still have periodic anxiety attacks. When I have one, I try to remember that it will pass, just like it has every other time.

When putting together your memoir, were you faced with fear or limitations and how did you overcome them?
Yes! I was terrified. I was writing about the worst version of myself. At that time in life, I was hurting others, and myself, thinking that I had a right to do that. Someone suggested that I “write as if no one is ever going to read my words.” That was an enormous help. And the truth is that I didn’t expect my book to be published. I hoped it would, but I didn’t expect it to be, so it really freed me up to lay bare the facts of my addiction and recovery to the reader. I could write as if you were sitting on the couch next to me and I was telling you my story. Then, when the book was coming out, I got past the fear of people reading about that ugliness by telling myself that the good it could do for the next person suffering made it worth exposing myself. And it has been.

‘You are not alone.’

The best piece of real advice you have for believing in yourself…
“What other people think of me is none of my business.” I realized that so much of my self-doubt and fear came from comparing myself to other people. I thought everyone else was prettier, smarter, stronger, and most importantly, more deserving of a good life than me. But really, why? We all deserve health and happiness. We all are capable of working toward our dreams and loving that journey, even if it ends up somewhere unexpected. If I stop comparing myself to others and worrying about what they will think of me or what I do, I can trust that I am just as worthy of good things as the next person. We all are.

How do you define kindness and how can we, as a collective, make the world a kinder place?
I think of kindness as a sort of selflessness or willingness to help someone who struggles. My friends and I have a saying to live by at a minimum: “Just don’t be a jerk.” If we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and consider how our words or actions might affect them, we can help, or at least not hurt, other people. If, as a collective, we took our mission past “Just don’t be a jerk,” to “How can I help?” the world could be a much kinder place.

Have you ever been shown an act of kindness you will never forget?
So many I can’t count. I always think of the day I checked into the hospital for detox. None of my friends had known how badly addicted I was when I confessed it to them that day. Three of them left work to come sit with me and talk it through that Monday morning and later five of them were with me at the hospital to help me check in. One of my friends brought me a small stuffed tiger for protection in what did in fact turn out to be a scary detox unit. I still have him. I never would have thought to do that for someone else. There were both big and small acts of kindness that day.

‘Only I can set my state of mind at any given time, so if I want positivity, I have to remind myself of all the good that can happen if I believe in myself.’

Why is it important to check in with one another?
Because there is strength and comfort in knowing that we are not doing this alone. None of us are the first, or unfortunately the last, to struggle with addiction and mental health challenges. The power of talking to someone else who shares your experience and way of thinking is something I never expected.

What advice can you share for anyone suffering in any way, but afraid to ask for help?
You can ask for help that is confidential and judgment-free. There are all kinds of resources out there, including online, where there are people who want to help. And asking for help doesn’t mean you suddenly have to quit drinking forever or become perfect. I’ve been sober for more than 13 years and I have never once said, “I will never drink again.” I just say, “Today, I am choosing not to drink.” If you think of it that way, it’s far less daunting and just as effective.

You are an incredible example of talking about feelings and issues that often have a stigma attached to them. Why is transparency crucial in reducing so many of the stigmas society attaches?
Until the stigma around addiction and mental health issues is broken, there will be many people who suffer silently and don’t get the help they need because of fear that they will be judged. The consequences of that stigma are tragic, both in terms of those who don’t make it out of addiction alive and those who end up living lives so far below their hopes and dreams.

For me, transparency feels in my gut like the right thing and something I have to do. What drives me in life is working to speak up about these issues. That doesn’t mean that’s the case for everyone. The stigma is real and many people prefer to maintain anonymity in recovery for any number of good reasons. But I feel like I need to be public and say, “I’m a recovering addict. You can be high functioning, have what looks a ‘great’ life and still be in the midst of a painful addiction.” I think the best way to break the stigma is to talk about addiction and mental health issues and raise awareness of both the problem and the help available. The people I’ve met along this journey have certainly proved to me that everyone – family, friends and the communities of those who live with these issues – are impacted in a huge way. I hope to make it easier for the next person to feel comfortable owning their story.

‘Whenever I’m about to do something that I find scary or challenging, I tell myself, “I’ve got this.” It sounds simple, but it’s worked every time.’

As a collective, why is it integral for girls and women to champion, support and build each other up rather than tearing one another down? (And in what ways can we do so?)
I think there are so many good reasons for this! On a purely selfish level, I like the way helping someone else makes me feel. I find that doing something good for someone else is the same as doing something good for myself. I also feel enormous gratitude for somehow having had the opportunity to survive dozens of situations that should have killed me in my addiction. I feel like I have to give something back to the universe that has been so kind to me today.

Girls and women in particular need to champion and support each other because we still have an enormous way to go in achieving equality to men in so many areas. Not just that, but we understand each other in a distinctly different way. There are incredible women out there forging new paths in all kinds of areas – business, politics, science, social justice and the arts, just to name a few. Imagine what the world could look like if each woman making a difference in the world held out her hand to bring the next group of women along with her. The possibilities are endless. But if we tear each other down, no one rises. That’s a nonstarter to me.

Your ultimate message to young girls and women?
You are not alone. Whatever you’re experiencing, there are people out there who have been through it as well. They want to help you. We do this together.

Your favorite quote that always inspires you? 
My favorite quote is, “The more I see, the less I know, the more I like to let it go.” It’s from the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ song, “Snow (Hey Oh).” Anthony Kiedis, their lead singer is what I like to call my “sober shaman.” He has an amazing story of addiction and recovery. Hence my motto, “If Anthony Kiedis can stay sober, I can stay sober!”


Liv's Recovery Kitchen


Liv: As this is Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, let’s kick off with a food question: what have you had for breakfast today?

Lisa: Great question! I’ve been dealing with some stomach issues, so for the most part, I’ve cut out gluten and dairy. I had scrambled egg whites, almonds and two mini-muffins from a company that makes gluten-free / dairy-free baked goods. I never miss a meal.

Rock Bottom

Liv: Moving to your story, you said that using drugs and alcohol was once a way you escaped your insecurity and negativity as a teenager—can you elaborate on that?

Lisa: Yes, and this also goes back to the food issue. By the time I was seven or eight years old, I knew that I felt uncomfortable in my skin. I had these dark feelings and anxiety. I had night terrors. I found that food could ease that and bring me comfort. I didn’t realize that downing a box of Yodels was actually giving me a dopamine hit to the brain. I just felt better. As a result, I became a heavy kid who was teased by the other kids, exacerbating the feelings of insecurity and negativity – and leading to more eating. Once I found that alcohol and drugs could shut out those feelings in an even more complete way, I was off to the races.

Addiction in the Legal Profession

Liv: Using became a means of your coping with the anxiety and stress of an impossible workload as a New York City Corporate Finance Lawyer. In fact, you mentioned in your interview with Allison Micco that 1 in 4/5 lawyers have a drug abuse problem. In your opinion, why do you think drug abuse is so prevalent in this profession and why hasn’t it been addressed? What could law firms do to better support lawyers drowning in addiction?

Lisa: This is actually a giant topic. Thankfully, it’s finally getting more widespread attention. I would refer anyone interested to check out the op-ed piece I wrote on it for The Washington Post. Click here.

Also, The New York Times did a major story on it a couple of weeks ago. I was fortunate enough to be interviewed and quoted in it–click here

Liv: You said, ‘beneath the façade of success lies the reality of addiction.’, what do you mean by that?

Lisa: I think that means you can’t assume someone doesn’t have a problem just because they’re outwardly succeeding in their career or are surrounded by friends and family. When my family and friends learned of my addiction, they all expressed incredible support, but they wondered how they couldn’t have known. I heard some form of, “but you’ve got this great job where you’re doing well and you have all of these wonderful friends,” a million times. You don’t have to lose your job or get a DUI or overdose to have a problem. Those are the “yets” that can be avoided by getting help before they happen, which they eventually would have to me, maybe as soon as the next day.

Liv: Your using became all-encompassing where you were using alcohol and cocaine around the clock. You mentioned that at this point, you had lost your ability to make choices—what do you mean by that?

Lisa: I mean that my addiction ruled my world. It owned me. From the moment I opened my eyes in the morning, my brain was dominated by thoughts of, “When can I drink? When can I next use coke?” My life was structured entirely around feeding that beast. I was somehow able to show up to the office when I needed to (I worked from home A LOT) because that was a matter of survival to get to the next drink or line of coke. I had no ability to get up in the morning and say, “I think I’ll go for a walk, maybe check out a museum and grab some lunch.” It was just, “when next, when next, what do I have to do to get there?” I had no control. I had to have that first drink and then I had to go wherever it took me. Which was to some pretty awful places.

Liv: You have said that you were predisposed to depression—how did this impact your drug and alcohol use?

Lisa: For me, depression was like this nasty blanket that covered my brain. It was the voice that constantly told me I wasn’t good enough or smart enough or pretty enough. It measured me up against other people and always judged me to be lacking. Alcohol and drugs didn’t so much make me happy as just shut that awful voice up. I could relax and not feel so self-conscious, sad or unworthy. Some people call alcohol, “liquid courage.” I called it, “liquid indifference.” It made me not care about the things that consumed my brain in a negative way before I drank.

On Getting Sober

Liv: After a decade of abuse, you hosted a self-intervention and made the decision to go to treatment. Your addiction was so advanced that you needed a five day medical detox. What prompted your decision to get help?

Lisa: It happened on a Monday morning after a weekend of drinking and doing coke around the clock. I was dressed and out the door to go to work when I suddenly thought I was having a heart attack. I thought maybe I had finally OD’ed. (Now I realize it was an anxiety attack.) I was so physically sick, puking blood and other things. For some reason that morning, I decided I wanted to live and decided to ask for help. I didn’t set out to say, “I’m quitting drinking today.” I just didn’t want to die.

Liv: Not all people who go into treatment remain sober. What can you attribute your continued sobriety to?

Lisa: So true. I have been so fortunate and I attribute it to three things. 1) When I went into the detox the psychiatrist correctly diagnosed me with major depressive disorder that I had been self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. He put me on an antidepressant that worked for me. That’s highly unusual, getting the right diagnosis and effective medication that works on the first shot; 2) I had an incredible support system of friends and family, an apartment and a job to go back to. I didn’t have to deal with court dates or financial headaches or destroyed relationships in the first days of sobriety, unlike many people; and 3) I was done when I checked in. I was out of gas, just totally spent physically and emotionally. After I initially went in, I could have left, but decided to stay because I wanted to do that. It wasn’t because someone forced me to or I was court-ordered. I wanted it for myself.

Girl Walks Out of a Bar

Liv: You said that in writing your book, you wanted to demonstrate that there is another side to the nightmare of living in addiction. What does the other side look like?

Lisa: Wow. I heard in my recovery program that if I chased it, I could have a life beyond my wildest dreams, and I do. I used to be the kind of drunk who sat on a barstool and slurred, “I’m gonna write a book.” Now I wrote a book, which is still unbelievable to me. The most important thing I’ve been able to do, though, was be at my father’s side from the day he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer to the day he died just five and a half weeks later. I showed up, a sober daughter, in a way I never could have imagined when I was drinking and using. But I think it’s important to include in this answer that I still have depression relapses periodically and expect that I always will. It’s taking life on life’s terms a day at a time, to combine two major clichés that happen to be true for me.

Holistic Recovery: How the body recovers from addiction

Liv: Moving on to holistic recovery, and the body, how has your relationship with your body evolved in recovery?

Lisa: I am so much nicer to it! I don’t beat the crap out of it anymore. And I am way more accepting of it than I ever used to be. I still have major hang-ups. For me, it’s hard not to look in the mirror and see the heavy, unhappy teenager looking back at me. I’m still self-conscious about it around other people. But I’m much kinder to myself all around now. I don’t put my self-worth on how I feel about my body on a given day. I did that when I was younger. Now, most days (not all), I can look in the mirror and say, “OK, you thought you’d be dead before 40. All in all, not bad for 51. And if someone disagrees, fuck ‘em.”

Liv: Has your relationship with food changed?

Lisa: Yes, it’s improved. When I was drinking, I would be the person who ordered a salad with dressing on the side and counted every calorie I ate, but drank two bottles of wine. I dropped out of Weight Watchers when I was told I couldn’t use all my points for the day on wine. (A lot of days using coke, I had no desire to eat.) In the first year of sobriety, I said, “If I’m not drinking, I’m going to eat anything I want.” And I did. Lots of pizza, ice cream, chocolate, whatever I wanted. All that mattered was that I didn’t drink. Then over time I realized that the healthier I ate, the better I felt physically, so my habits improved, but I never went back to that crazy restrictive thing I used to do. I’m still careful most of the time because all it takes is a hard look at a chocolate cake and I gain weight. But I can enjoy food in a way I never could before.

Top Five Recovery Tools for Addiction Recovery

Liv: Last, what are your top five recovery tools?


  • Twelve step programs (not for everyone, and to each his own, but this is what has worked for me)
  • Writing – total catharsis and helps me figure myself out.
  • Meditation – I’m not as good about it as I should be, but I find it hugely helpful.
  • Staying connected with my fellow sober travellers.
  • Gratitude – I can never forget how fortunate I have been and I have to give back to help others.


The Lawyer, the Addict


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

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

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

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

“Peter?” I called out.

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

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

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

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

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

The Map of Peter’s Descent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Rewarded for Being Hostile’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Law School Effect

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘That’s Impossible’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By 2014, friends began noticing Peter’s thinness.

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

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

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

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

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

Recalling Missed Signals

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

Looking back, I can see the signs I missed.

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

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

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

They were right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And in red marker, the word “quit.”

Produced by Antonio de Luca and Whitney Richardson.

How I Stay Accountable


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

What does accountability mean to you?

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

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

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

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

Who or what are you accountable to in your recovery?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How important do you think transparency is in your recovery?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last Call blog with Nancy Carr

Relationships in Recovery: an Interview with Lisa F. Smith


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

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

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


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

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


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

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


How are those relationships today?      

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


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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

No pets for me.


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

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

3 Key Tips for Dating in Recovery


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

100 Must-Read Books About Addiction


Katie MacBride:

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

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

A Girl Walks Out of a Bar by Lisa Smith

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

Author Talks Addiction at Event Hosted by JCC Greenwich


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.”