Alcoholism

lawyers-drinking-copy-1024x676-702x463Groundbreaking Study Confirms Up to 33% of Lawyers Suffer Alcohol Abuse Disorder

I was debating the title to this post — “Study Confirms Lawyers Booze Too Much” … “Lawyers Drink Even More Than Doctors” … “Your Lawyer May Be An Alcoholic.” But seriously, this is a very important study on problem drinking in the legal profession conducted by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association. The study confirms what many of us already know — lawyers drink wayyyyy to much and many of them wind up with alcohol problems.

To quickly recap, The ABA-Hazelden study surveyed 15,000 lawyers across 19 states. The study reveals that between 21% and 36% of attorneys drink at levels consistent with an alcohol use disorder, otherwise known as alcoholism. For comparison, those numbers are roughly 3-5 times higher than alcohol use disorders in the general population. Moreover, 28% of the respondents reported experiencing symptoms of depression, 19% of anxiety, and 23% of stress. Worse, attorneys drink twice as much as doctors!

I think the more important question, however, is the why. The study did not set out to answer that question, but I can give you some of my theories, as I’ve discussed here on the blog:

  • The legal profession has a long and proud tradition of drinking to excess. Check out any local watering hole next to a courthouse around 1pm. Law schools are even worse. Every social event revolved around drinking copious amounts of booze.
  • Legal “marketing” events are filled with booze. At one of my former firms, we had beer and wine in the office every Thursday afternoon. At marketing events, we had Mexican (i.e, tequila) events, wine tastings, professional sporting events (beer), and of course the booze filled “holiday” parties.
  • Attorneys often have Type A driven, super-competitive personality types. These personality types are more prone to addictive behaviors.
  • Lawyers are over-analytical and linear in thinking. These traits, while valued in the profession, are impediments in recovery from addiction. We often think we can out-think and out-smart this disease. The problem is that addition is your evil twin, always smarter than you and one step ahead. Attorneys are also notoriously bad at asking for help. That is a sign of weakness which must be avoided at all costs. Lawyers are strong, not weak.
  • The practice of law is incredibly stressful and anxiety ridden. Have you ever prepared for and conducted a jury trial? Aside from combat, it’s probably one of the most stressful things anyone can do. Whether you win or you lose, after that trial, you might as well hook up an IV with booze to alleviate the stress.
  • Much of the actual practice of law, especially litigation, is out of the attorney’s control and attorneys are control freaks. It has taken me a long, long time to get to the point where I “do my best and forget the rest” — meaning that I have no control over what the judge or jury does on any given case. Shit, sometimes I can’t even control my client. Letting go as a control freak attorney is nearly impossible. This can lead to drinking too much.
  • Much of law is adversarial rather than collaborative which does not make for warm and fuzzy feelings. See, e.g, divorce attorneys. Lawyers are often called upon to deal with people’s most stressful life situations, and this can wear on the attorney. It’s hard not to take your client’s situation to heart. It can grind on you.
  • The big law firm hierarchy and model is like a dysfunctional fraternity (oxymoron intended). The first couple of years as a junior associate is not unlike pledging a frat. The older brothers (i.e, the partners) shit all over you. You have “hell week” not once per semester, but every other week. You are pasty white and hardly get to see the sun and outdoors. The only difference between a frat pledge and a junior associate is the associate gets paid to be miserable. I’d rather be pledging my fraternity again. At least I would be young and skinny again….
  • Lawyers are assholes, and if your boss is an asshole, it can drive you to drink. A lot. See, supra.

Ok, now that we have some hard statistics on lawyers and alcohol addiction, what can we do about the problem? Here are some of my ideas.

  • I think the most important thing we lawyers can do is try to get rid of the stigma behind seeking help for our problems. This goes for not only addiction, but stress reduction, depression and anxiety. It should be part of how we lawyers stay healthy. We brag about how we do spin class, cross-fit and boxing. Keeping the mind/brain healthy is even more important to attorneys.
  • Bring in attorneys in recovery to speak to lawyers. There are many out there who are not anonymous and are more than happy to speak to firms. Brian Cuban (the brother of Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban) is a good example.
  • Firms should have an in-house therapist/counselor. Don’t refer people to employee assistance or outside help. Make associates meet with the counselor on a bi-weekly or monthly basis, regardless of whether they have any issues. I’m not kidding. And I’m not just talking about addiction. Twenty-eight percent of the ABA/Hazelden respondents reported experiencing symptoms of depression, 19% of anxiety, and 23% of stress. People are sick with stress in the hallways of law firms. Have you watched the new show Billions on Showtime? Axe Capital has an in-house psychologist, and she counsels all the stressed out bankers. Why couldn’t that be done at law firms? It could easily.
  • Ease up on the boozy events. Instead of the wine tasting event, how about indoor rock climbing? Not every event needs to be centered on drinking.

Readers, what are your thoughts on the study and some solutions?

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Use This Popular Recovery Slogan Next Time You Think About Drinking

“Play the tape forward” is a popular recovery saying. It means that when you are romanticizing the drink or remembering the “good old days” when drinking was fun, go ahead and play the tape forward and think about what has happened the last few times you drank or used or how your life got completely messed up by your drinking. My guess is you probably didn’t have that much fun at the end.

I know how easy it is to slip into that daydream-like thought pattern where I envision a pristine Caribbean beach and sand and those two frosty Coronas sitting on a bamboo table topped with limes. Jesus, it’s making my mouth water just writing this!

People in recovery say that alcoholics have a “built-in forgetter.” Meaning that we are quick to forget the bad times, but always recall the good times. Some people say that’s your disease or addiction talking to you. It wants you to drink, to feed the monster.

For me, there’s a ton on the line if I were to pick up a drink. Literally my life, my marriage, career, relationship with my kids, everything.

Would you be willing to give up everything in your life for just one drink? Think about that question the next time you are at a crossroads.

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One of the best recovery tools that does not get its rightful due in the debate among the popular treatment options is exercise. Hundreds of studies have found a positive link between exercise and reducing depression, the most recent coming from Sweden which found that well-trained skeletal muscles may provide the brain with an edge over stress, and ultimately engender protection against stress-related depression.

There have been a few studies done on exercise and the treatment of addiction. A 2009 study in Pathophysiology Journal showed treadmill exercise reduced morphine use in male rats. And in 2011, a study in the journal Current Neuropharmacology demonstrated animals’ preference for saline over amphetamines when they exercised.

Exercise releases endorphins and boosts serotonin levels. Endorphins are the body’s natural pain medication. They interact with human opiate receptors, which reduces your perception of pain. Serotonin are hormones responsible for mood balance and are the targets for widely used anti-depressant medication like Celexa, Lexapro and Zoloft. Less pain, better mood and all natural? That should be a no-brainer for any alcoholic/addict right?

Since I entered recovery about 3 years ago, I’ve put on a bunch of weight and I’ve not been feeling very good about my physical appearance which has affected my mood and self-esteem. While I go to the gym a few times a week and have taken up cycling, I haven’t found a consistent exercise regimen to take off the extra weight and get back to my “fighting” shape.

That has changed since I joined Title Boxing Club and participated in their intense boxing training workouts 3-4 times per week. The 60 to 75 minute classes are INTENSE even for the most in-shape person, but anyone can do them and you are free to modify the workout to lessen the intensity.

It’s a group class lead by a real amateur boxer/trainer centered around the scores of heavy bags hanging from the workout ring. Your hands are protected with real boxing wraps and you are provided with big, thick heavy bag boxing gloves. (New member deals often include a free set of wraps and nicer gloves). The first 15 minutes is a “warm-up” with jumping jacks, simulated jump roping, lunges, mountain climbers and shadow boxing. I am usually in full sweat 5 minutes into the warm up. The next phase is the boxing, with 8-12 “rounds” of punching combinations on the heavy bag with one minute active rest periods. Jabs, cross, hooks, uppercuts, bodyblows, 3-4-5-6-7 punch combinations, ending with a 30 second punch out as fast and hard as you can. The workout ends with 15 minutes of real boxing abdominal and core work, with punching sit-ups, leg lifts and planks followed by stretching.

Talk about stress relief. I am literally punching aways all my stresses and resentments in one session! The group format and trainer also motivates me to workout much harder than a normal gym workout. My competitive juices start coming out! There is also a group camaraderie with the sessions (sound familiar to AA folks?). I can feel the endorphins and that workout “high” for hours after a boxing training session.

After several months boxing, I’ve lost about 15 lbs, and can definitely notice a change in my body type as well as mood, energy and sleeping. My alcohol cravings have also gone down. When I have had a particularly tough day or when I feel depressed or anxious, hitting the bag for an hour always puts me in a much better frame of mind. In fact, when I don’t box or work out, I feel crappy.

As you can see, I highly recommend boxing as part of my recovery program. Of course, you don’t have to do boxing, just get out there and exercise and it will help!

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holiday-drinking1

So here we are two days after Thanksgiving. Did you make it through in one piece?

For many people in recovery and who are actively drinking, this is the hardest time of the year to get through. Thanksgiving — Christmas — New Year’s. Hey, it drives “normal” people to throw punches at Walmart over big screen TVs, so we can only imagine how hard it can be for people in recovery! That said, here are some of my thoughts about getting through the holidays sober:

  • Load up on recovery meetings. Now is a great time to increase your recovery meeting attendance, whether it’s AA, SMART, or other program. I am currently going to one meeting every day and it definitely helps!
  • If you have not attended a recovery meeting yet, there’s no better time than now! In AA, we see quite a lot of newcomers coming in this time of year, so you are in good company and there are people who will welcome you with open arms and understanding.
  • Don’t be afraid to make tough, unpopular decisions. In my family, we typically go to two Thanksgiving events, one for lunch and a long drive to another for dinner. This year, I opted to skip the dinner event. I went to an all day Alkathon meeting instead to get some recovery medicine. It was the right choice for me. Don’t be afraid of saying “no.”
  • Take your own car to events so you can arrive late and leave early.
  • Have your sponsor and recovery friends on speed dial in case you need to make an emergency support phone call. 
  • Be very cognizant of the emotional toll of the holidays. I’m a big fan of the saying “prepare for the worst, hope for the best.” In recovery, we cannot underestimate the emotional toll the holidays take on us. You are not immune from the stress. Respect it.
  • Work on your spirituality. The holidays are a great time to focus on your spirituality. Isn’t that what they are all about anyways? Attend Midnight Mass. Go caroling. Spin dreidels with the children. Get comfort from being with another human being.
  • Watch out for the post holiday relapse effect. Just as dangerous as the holidays is the emotional hangover which often occurs after the holidays are over. I have personally relapsed after the holidays because I thought to myself, “I deserve a drink after getting through all that stress!” Don’t do this! Stay on the beam, keep going to meetings, working on your recovery, straight through January until you feel back on solid ground.
  • The best gift you can give your family for the holidays is staying sober! Remember this. Your recovery comes first!

For more reading, here is a great list of articles from Hazelden about staying sober through the holidays.

Good luck!

P.S. my apologies from going AWOL from this blog. The truth is that the last year has been a struggle but I never left recovery, never stopped going to meetings and working on my sobriety. I just had too many more important things to do both in my recovery and personal/professional life than write on this blog. But I would like to make the effort of getting back to blogging because it does help my recovery.

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Burgundy-bigdealA great many of us lawyers have strong egos and sharp analytical minds. That’s what makes us talented litigators and corporate attorneys.

But those two traits are huge liabilities in recovery. It certainly has been for me.

An over-inflated ego makes it much more difficult to achieve humility and identify with others in the recovery community. In the early days, I was certainly guilty of saying to myself, “Oh, I was never that bad” or “I’m much smarter than that guy — he made so many dumb decisions.” Or, “I graduated top of my class and was on Law Review, certainly I can out-smart this disease.” But the fact is that I am no different from “that guy.” And If I really took a hard and honest look at myself, I too kept making the insane decision to keep drinking, and if I didn’t stop I would have gotten another DUI, risking my law license, family and career in the process.

As for the analytic mind, there’s a saying that analysis leads to paralysis. Despite my natural intelligence and superior education, I have been unable to out-think the disease of addiction. At various points in my recovery, I actually thought I could! Trust me on this, it’s a pointless exercise in futility.

I have realized that for me the program of recovery is much more about action than thinking.

For me, action means getting to meetings, doing Step work, going to therapy, talking to my sponsor and others in the program, exercising, writing and reading.

The more I stay inside my own head analyzing why I became an alcoholic, why some of the Steps seem illogical, and why I’m feeling anxious and depressed, the more my recovery suffered. So I work on not analyzing everything in recovery. I’ll leave the analysis for my law practice.

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Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Yikes! Is Summer Over Yet?

August 13, 2013

Hey there! It’s been a long time since the last post. My apologies. Life gets in the way. Anyways… For me, summer is always a very difficult time for my recovery. Everyone seems to be out drinking and partying. Tiki bars, cold beers, margaritas, pina coladas, whatever, it’s out there in the open during the […]

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The Sober Lawyer’s Personal 12 Steps

January 26, 2013

My therapist told me to craft my own version of the Twelve (12) Steps since I am always pointing out the illogic in several of the Steps. I’m not trying to replace AA’s 12 Steps, but rather, formulate my own personal set of steps or guidelines for my own recovery. Each person has a unique […]

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A Lawyer’s Life Cut Short

November 27, 2012

Hey there. I haven’t posted in a long, long time. Life, work, family just got in the way. Quick update. Things are going well. Still sober and very much active in AA/recovery. Still haven’t got my head around the AA dogma, nor do I think I will ever really. Heading to my favorite speaker discussion […]

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Hijacking The Brain: The Science Behind 12 Step Programs

September 3, 2012

Hijacking The Brain, How Drug and Alcohol Addiction Hijacks our Brains – The Science Behind Twelve-Step Recovery During my time-off, I read this amazing book called Hijacking The Brain, by Louis Teresi, M.D., a Harvard neuro-scientist and also a recovering alcoholic. This book, for me, was like a gift from heaven. As you could tell […]

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Stacking Meetings Before Starting A Big Trial

July 30, 2012

Just a quick note because I’m crazy busy at work preparing for a big jury trial starting next Monday. I’ve been “stacking” up meetings — which around here means simply going to more meetings than usual for a particular reason. So I’ve been hitting around 5-6 meetings/ per week, up from my usual 3-4. My […]

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My First SMART Recovery Meeting

July 14, 2012

As many of you know, I’ve been looking into the SMART Recovery program. I wrote about it previously in this post, Is Smart Recovery A Smart Choice For for An Alcoholics Anonymous Member? I can say that for this alcoholic, it was a smart choice, and I got a lot out of it. I’m just […]

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Enjoying The Good Life…Managing Quick Success In Early Recovery

June 18, 2012

My sponsor texted me the other day: “You alive? Still sober?” I had to laugh because I just got back from the most fantastic family vacation to Disney World in Florida. I replied, “Yes, very much so!” (On a side note, DisneyWorld is an awesome venue for a sober vacation, especially if you have kids. […]

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Wreckage Of The Past: The Double-Edged Sword

May 16, 2012

Just a quick blog before I leave for our Disney family vacation (which is directly related to my sobriety!). Last night at my favorite AA meeting — a speaker discussion — the topic was our past. For me, my past, and its associated wreckage, is a double edged sword. On the one hand, I still […]

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De-bunking Powerlessness: I Have Power Over My Choice To Remain Sober

May 14, 2012

The first part of Step 1 of the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous states that “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol.” There is a lot of talk in AA meetings about the concept of powerlessness and what it is. Being the over-analytic attorney that I am, I often find myself trying to figure out […]

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Balancing A Busy Lawyer’s Work Schedule And Recovery

May 9, 2012

I just finished a crazy week of preparing for a big trial. It’s one of the busiest and stressful times for any trial lawyer. This case involved mold exposure so I had to become an expert on toxic mold and analysis. Plus I had to deal with an extremely emotional and stressed out client. So […]

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Anger Management and Emails: Pausing Before Hitting “Send”

May 2, 2012

I’m now in my 5th month of sobriety, and I still get pissed off at certain things. Maybe more pissed off now as I don’t have the alcohol to dull my pissed-off-ness. Being a lawyer and getting pissed off from time to time go hand in hand, unfortunately. There are a ton of jerks who […]

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Is Facebook Bad For Early Addiction and Alcoholism Recovery?

April 22, 2012

Pictures Of Cocktails And Drunk Karaoke On My News Feed Will Be Blocked! My usual Sunday morning internet routine consists of checking my Facebook feed from the night before — Saturday night — an often dreaded night for those in early recovery. (I always go to my Saturday Night Live AA meeting, so I’m always […]

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Is SMART Recovery A Smart Choice For An Alcoholic Anonymous Member?

April 21, 2012

Differences and Similarities Between SMART Recovery & Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) My previous post about the Huff Post hit piece on AA has made me start reading more about the different alcohol recovery programs. I have all the respect for AA and its fellowship, but it was written in 1937 without the benefit of the last […]

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Recognized As “Blog of the Month” In Sober Bloggers Directory!

April 5, 2012

Very unexpectedly, I received word that the editors of the fantastic Sober Bloggers Directory selected this Blog as a featured “blog of the month”! The Sober Bloggers Directory is, by far, the best compilation of sober blogs out there. I recommend it very much. Also check out their Sober Sites Blog which also features sober […]

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Helping Another Alcoholic And Hitting 100 Days

April 4, 2012

Recently, I’ve been helping another alcoholic get into the program. I’ll call him “Mike.” I’ve kind of become his de facto sponsor although due to my limited sobriety I’m not qualified to be his sponsor. I’ve been trying to get him a real sponsor, but I’m not sure if he’s ready. Anyways, the situation presented […]

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Huff Post Therapist Doesn’t Know Diddly About Alcoholics Anonymous

March 30, 2012

My Thoughts On Huff Post Therapist’s Criticism Of Alcoholics Anonymous Laura Tompkins is a “certified addiction specialist” who blogs at the Huffington Post. She just penned a slam piece against all that is “negative” and “wrong” about Alcoholics Anonymous, entitled, appropriately enough, Is Alcoholics Anonymous Negativity Based? Ms. Tompkins repeats some of the same tired […]

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On Being A Jewish Alcoholic: My Spiritual Journey Continues

March 11, 2012

“Religion is for folks who don’t want to go to Hell. Spirituality is for those who’ve already been there.” –Anonymous I’m Jewish. At least in my area, which has a decent Jewish population, there are only a handful of Jewish folks in A.A. I definitely feel in the minority, and I’ve felt a bit of […]

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1705 Hours Sober, But Who’s Counting?

March 6, 2012
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It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged here. Too long, actually. As my handy AA iPhone app tells me, I’ve been sober for 71 days, 2.33 months, or 1705 hours. But who’s keeping track?! So what’s been going on with my recovery? Well, not much other than staying sober. So that’s a good thing, actually. I’ve […]

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Power In Numbers: Why I Think Alcoholics Anonymous Works

February 20, 2012

Forget All The Myths Surrounding The Program: It’s All About The Fellowship (For Me) Have you ever tried to do something really hard? Perhaps lose weight, start a new fitness program or stop smoking? Did someone else help you or support you? Was it less difficult with someone’s help and support who accomplished what you […]

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For My Wife On Valentine’s Day

February 15, 2012

I wrote this note to my wife on Valentine’s Day, and just wanted to share… To My Valentine: Words cannot express how much your support and love has meant to me over these challenging months. You took care of the family admirably and courageously while I was in the throes of my addiction, and when […]

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We Are Only One Drink Or Drug Away From Being Whitney Houston

February 14, 2012

Renew Magazine had an interesting perspective on Whitney Houston’s untimely passing today in an article appropriately titled, No Lesson, Just Loss In Whitney Houston’s Death: When it comes to addiction, we are all just another drink or drug away from ending up just like Houston. And so the recovery blogs and comments online and in […]

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Sometimes In Recovery, You Just Have To Say “No Thanks”

February 9, 2012
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My family put together a nice dinner at Ruth’s Chris steakhouse (which I love) last weekend for my mom’s 65th birthday. They asked me a while ago if it would be OK for me, and I initially said yes. They said no one would order alcohol at the table. As the dinner approached, I become […]

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My Difficulty With Finding A Higher Power

February 3, 2012
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“Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” –Step 2, Alcoholics Anonymous For my Step 2 work, my sponsor told me to write a blog entry on my ongoing difficulty with the Higher Power concept. Like most new AA members, this is very hard for me. And as an […]

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Anxiety, Panic Attacks and Alcoholism: The Vicious Cycle

January 30, 2012
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I Used Alcohol To Combat Anxiety, But Alcohol Itself Causes Anxiety In 2006, I suffered my first full blown panic attack. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was reading a bedtime story to my son and felt this weird flip-flopping in my chest. My heart was doing somersaults. Having never experienced any type […]

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Reality Check: My First Al-Anon Meeting

January 27, 2012

Alcoholism is a family disease. I had dinner with my dad the other night, and he was going to take me to an AA meeting after. Over dinner, we were talking about Al-Anon and how it has really helped him. I’ve been wanting to go to an Al-Anon meeting for awhile now, so I suggested […]

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“Keeping Sober Is The Most Important Thing In My Life”

January 22, 2012

When I was at Hazelden, each morning the unit rose at 6:30AM, gathered together and read passages from the Hazelden Twenty Four Hours A Day Book. (There’s even an Iphone app for it!). Every morning, we read the passage from January 6th. I call this the “daily look in the mirror” passage, and for me […]

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Alcoholism vs. Dick: The Case of Powerlessness Over Alcohol

January 21, 2012

As a homework assignment for Step One work, my sponsor told me to read Step 1 out of the 12 and 12 Book, and to write one story about how I was powerless over alcohol. Geez, which story should I pick? There are so many…. Then this thought came into my head. Of course I […]

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Humiliation Leads To Humility In Recovery

January 18, 2012

For me, drinking alcoholically lead to a great deal of private and public humiliation. I have had a hard time dealing with the resulting shame and guilt. This, in turn, contributed to my drinking to escape those bad feelings. Spiritual growth and real recovery, however, occurs as a result of our failures, not successes. For […]

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Acceptance: The Foundation For Recovery

January 16, 2012

“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol — that our lives had become unmanageable.” Step One: Alcoholics Anonymous For me, admitting that I was powerless over alcohol — more accurately, alcoholism  — has been the single most difficult thing to accept in my recovery. However, without a complete acceptance of powerlessness over my alcoholism, there […]

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It’s Saturday Night Live!

January 15, 2012

When you are a recovering alcoholic in early sobriety, you need to make getting to AA meetings a top priority. Even on Saturday night. And even when there’s a huge NFL playoff game on like last night. One of my favorite local AA meetings starts at 7pm on Saturday night while the “normies” are just […]

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My Hazelden Experience: The Power of the Peer Group and Fellowship

January 14, 2012

“One foot in, for those left out…right foot here for us. God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. So be it!” My peers and I at the Hazelden Treatment Center said this variation of the […]

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“90 In 90”– 90 Meetings In 90 Days

January 14, 2012

If you are just entering AA, a substance abuse counselor or AA member may have recommended doing “90 in 90.” That means attending 90 AA meetings in 90 days. It may seem like a lot of meetings and overwhelming to the beginner AA member. But they say in the program that you should attend however […]

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The “High Functioning” Attorney Alcoholic

January 14, 2012

I came across this post in the Lawyerist today about how alcoholic attorneys are typically “high functioning.” The author outlines some typical characteristics of “high-functioning” alcoholics: Denial Living a double life of inward feeling compared with outward image Drinking habits including cravings and black-outs Capable of staying employed and high academic achievement Capable of sustained […]

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Commitment To A Local Detox Unit

January 14, 2012

The other day, I attended my AA home chapter’s weekly “commitment,” or service project, to a local hospital detox unit. It reminded me of my time at Hazelden where the first 24 hours are spent in a monitored detox area where the nurses would check on you every 6 hours. My sponsor said it would […]

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The Importance of an AA Sponsor

January 9, 2012

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me “Get a sponsor” when I first came into AA, I would be very rich. Did I listen? Of course not. I didn’t need a sponsor, I told myself. Sound familiar to anyone listening? When I came out of Hazelden last summer, I did pick […]

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