Perspectives: Life in Early Recovery

I recently had the privilege to interview several Oregon lawyers in the first few years of their recovery from alcohol and/or substance use. Below are some of their answers to my questions about their unfolding recovery journey.

  1. What were one or two of the primary factors that encouraged you to get into recovery?
  • I was scared of what my life had become and that I could no longer control my drinking or myself when I was drunk.
  • I finally had to admit to myself I was drinking way more than my colleagues.
  • I felt increasingly dishonest with my family and myself about my drinking.
  • A supportive friend shared with me positive stories about his friends in recovery. Although not in recovery himself, his ability to talk about recovery without judgment was very helpful.
  • I was fearful that my drinking would have professional consequences if I did not address it.
  • I hoped that stopping drinking would improve aspects of my life that were progressively being impacted: my mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual life; stress, anxiety, and deteriorating relationships were also factors.
  • I felt that my consumption of alcohol and substances I was using to quell my anxiety was beginning to totally rule my days.
  • I hurt someone dear to me, my life was a mess, my health was a mess, and drinking was consuming my life.
  1. What have been some challenges you have experienced in maintaining your recovery?
  • I found that I was reluctant to disclose that I had stopped drinking.
  • It was challenging learning to navigate the many, many professional events that are centered around drinking – how to participate but not drink.
  • Lawyer networking events are still difficult – so much focus seems to be on alcohol. I get anxious when I’m talking to people because I don’t have something in my hands.
  • Uncertainty about the future; imagining a life of abstinence seemed unfathomable; there was some loneliness due to my having to put some healthy distance between myself and the people I frequently drank and used with.
  • Finding new friends and new activities to keep busy. Doing the work to stay sober long-term is challenging but rewarding.
  • I had to learn how to enjoy leisure activities without drinking.
  • I am learning to be more accepting of my emotions and being patient that everything isn’t drastically better overnight.
  • I could no longer pour booze over a bad day at work. And I could no longer reward myself after a long day at the office.
  1. What kinds of things, activities, and/or practices do you do to maintain your recovery?
  • I go to three or four recovery meetings a week, and I regularly meet with my sponsor every month.
  • I make sure I have a “buddy” with me at social and networking events – someone who knows why I am not drinking. I don’t need them not to drink, but it’s helpful to have the accountability.
  • The most important thing I do is to stay connected with a recovery community that supports my decision to be sober.
  • Developing and being mindful of healthy habits.
  • I regularly see a therapist, I’ve reconnected with my brother (who has 30+ years of sobriety), I attend 12-step meetings and Refuge Recovery meetings, and I meditate.
  • I work out, stay busy, meditate, pray, work with others, be of service, go to meetings, and stay connected.
  1. Has your life in recovery affected your relationships with others (e.g., family, friends, peers, colleagues, etc.)? If so, can you give me a couple of examples?
  • I am so much more present in my friendships, with my spouse, and in all relationships. I remember conversations I’ve had with people.
  • Before recovery, it was foolish for anyone to trust me. Recovery has allowed me to start to rebuild that trust with others who are important in my life.
  • I used to be a source of disappointment and pain for the people I cared about. My relationships today are much healthier and mutually rewarding.
  • My relationships with my family (spouse, kids, parents, siblings) have never been better. My shame and guilt have gradually melted away as time passes.
  • I am more honest.
  • Being present more often at work has strengthened those relationships, and today I am also more present and involved in my kids’ lives.
  • My marriage is stronger because I am not covering up my drinking and lying about how much I’m drinking.
  1. Has your recovery affected your professional life and/or law practice?  If so, how?
  • I used to avoid professional events with clients present because I did not want to risk saying something inappropriate because of my drinking. Now I don’t have that concern.
  • I am not hung over constantly. I am now able to get to the office earlier and be much more productive. (It also helps that I am no longer taking off early to go drink.)
  • The first few months/year of not drinking was very hard for me at work because I had previously used alcohol to deaden the bad feelings I had about my job.
  • My recovery has allowed me to make necessary changes in my work life that I had been unable to face as a drinker.
  • Recovery allows me to deal in a healthy way with the stress and anxiety that often accompany law practice.
  • I am better now at doing work at work and doing the rest of life when I am not at work.
  1. What have you noticed most about how life is different for you in early recovery?
  • I have so many amazing people in my life who are rooting for me to stay sober. It was amazing the network of people who came out to rally around me once I admitted I had a problem.
  • I no longer have to pour alcohol over something to enjoy it.
  • It’s amazing how much more energy you have for the rest of your life.
  • The cloud of shame I constantly had while I was drinking and using has lifted.
  • I am not as anxious or depressed. I am generally more optimistic about things.
  • After about a year, not drinking felt “normal.” I was no longer triggered by attending events, dinner parties, etc.
  • Health – mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual – has done a 180, and it feels great!
  1. Are there any tips you would give to a lawyer considering getting into recovery?
  • Meet and talk to some lawyers who are in recovery and hear what we have to say about how much better life is now.
  • Talk to trusted friends and the attorney counselors at the OAAP. They can connect you to a great recovery community. They are good people ready to help and are closer than you think!
  • Getting into a recovery program will give you tools to use to help both with your drinking and your life.
  • Reach out and talk to like-minded folks. Most people would be (happily) shocked to know the many resources available to those seeking to get into recovery.
  • If you think you might need recovery, then you probably do.
  • Call the OAAP!

Our very special thanks to the lawyers who have shared a personal part of their lives in the hope that their perspectives will be of help and encouragement to others.

Douglas S. Querin, JD, LPC, CADC I

OAAP Attorney Counselor