At the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program, we assist lawyers, judges and law students cope with life’s stresses. A common theme we see is that many people wait until they hit rock bottom to contact us. Why do so many shy away from getting help? The biggest reason we hear is they fear that others will find out that they are struggling. They are afraid of the stigma that sometimes goes hand in hand with mental health and substance abuse issues.
I can assure you that OLAP is confidential. When you contact OLAP about yourself or a colleague, anything you discuss with OLAP will be protected by strong rules of confidentiality:
Prof. Cond. Rule 8.3 provides an exemption from the duty to report knowledge of ethical violations when that knowledge was obtained in the course of OLAP's work.
Code of Judicial Conduct Rule 2.14 provides that information obtained by a member or agent of a bar of judicial association shall be privileged.
R.C. § 2305.28 provides qualified immunity from civil liability for OLAP staff (B and C) and for anyone who provides information to OLAP (D).
On the other hand, telling your story can help others. When others see that recovery is possible and that seeking help is appropriate and necessary, it helps relieve the stigma, it gives comfort to those who are afraid to surrender to their addictions. When you share your story and speak openly about your struggles, it helps others tell their stories and seek help.
The stories that follow are from three courageous women lawyers who share their stories so that others can understand that seeking help is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength and courage. The weakness is believing the lie that you can do it on your own.
T.W., a homesick party girl
T.W. started drinking heavily in undergraduate school. Originally from Texas, she moved to Ohio to attend law school and to get away from the “town drunk” stigma. She soon learned that law school was cut-throat and not as easy as undergrad. She did not do well her first semester in law school. She missed her family in Texas and didn’t have many friends in Ohio, so she resorted to going out and drinking, even though the whole reason she moved to Ohio was to get away from the stigma of being a drunk.
When T.W. went out with classmates, she didn’t drink the way she wanted to. She was concerned about her reputation and didn’t want other people to see the “drunk” that she was. She was able to control her drinking so that she didn’t get too drunk, but once she got home, she drank alone until she passed out. She would then go to class the next morning reeking of booze and finding it difficult to grasp what was going on in class.
Her grades soon began to suffer and she was put on academic probation. On top of that, she missed her family and became depressed. She drank to cope with her depression.
She started skipping class and didn’t study, because was she was very depressed and getting obliterated frequently. She got to the point of considering suicide as a final solution to a temporary problem, and she was hospitalized.
Shortly after being hospitalized, T.W. called a professor and told him about her situation. The professor recommended the Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program. She called OLAP, went in, and had an assessment that made her realize her pattern of drinking had progressed. OLAP recommended an intense outpatient program, and T.W. started her recovery.
T.W. got sober in the second semester of her second year of law school. She made the dean’s list and graduated cum laude.
P.B., a non-traditional law student in denial
P.B. was a non-traditional student with two small children, who began drinking at 15. After she got divorced, she went to college and then to law school. Although she didn’t struggle in law school, her drinking progressed. She could control when she started drinking, but then had no control over how much she drank, which always led to drinking more than she intended. She didn’t think she had a problem because she was accomplishing so much.
After law school, P.B. got a federal clerkship and worked for a judge, but her drinking continued. She knew her drinking was abnormal, but was in denial because she was still able to go to work and carry on with her responsibilities. She would tell herself that she would drink like a normal person once she achieved certain goals, but that never happened. She was drinking to get drunk.
P.B. soon met a great guy, got married, and bought a farm. On the outside, everything in P.B.’s life was great, but she was depressed. She continued to drink to get drunk and her drinking was progressing. She didn’t understand that her alcoholism is a disease. She started to drink every day, even though when she got out of bed in the morning, she would tell herself she wasn’t going to drink today. She tried to control it, but failed.
P.B soon got sick and tired of being sick and tired. She was often sick, was depressed and started lying to her doctors and therapists. She never revealed to them how much she drank. She didn’t believe that drinking was the problem.
One morning, she had a horrible hangover, and couldn’t imagine living this way any longer. She called OLAP and told them the truth about her drinking. She went in for an assessment, and has been in recovery ever since.
D.H., from alcohol to crack
D.H. was a party girl all through high school and college. She never suffered any consequences from it, so she never thought she had a problem. To her, partying was the only source of fun and entertainment. She went to law school as a non-traditional, did well, but her drinking progressed.
As she continued to party, someone introduced her to cocaine, and she started using it habitually. She started to miss work. She knew she needed help, but was worried about her job. She explained her problem to her law firm, who asked OLAP for help. She went to rehab, believing that she was a drug addict, not an alcoholic.
D.H. stopped drinking and using for a couple years, but nothing changed inside of her. She never surrendered to her addictions. After a couple years, she became bored and irritable. She was at a function and decided to have a drink. She told herself she didn’t have a problem with alcohol, just drugs, and that she obviously didn’t have a problem since she had been sober for two years.
Soon, her drinking progressed to drinking to black out. She had no control over how much she drank. She picked up where she left off. She then rediscovered cocaine. Instead of seeking help, she progressed to using crack cocaine. She could not stop, and she didn’t care. She used crack to cope.
She got divorced, and the only thing that mattered to her was getting high. She lied to people and thought to herself that she would get it together tomorrow, that way no one would know. She was afraid to seek help. Being a crackhead was embarrassing. She thought she would be judged and would never be able to recover. She couldn’t admit that she was powerless and out of control.
D.H. would stay up for five or six days getting high. One day she looked in the mirror after smoking crack and knew that she needed help to save her life. She contacted OLAP, which recommended a treatment center in Florida. Before getting on the plane to rehab, she smoked crack, but the high wore off as she was on the plane. She started to panic and thought about reality. Will she ever be able to practice law again? How could treatment work this time, if it didn’t work the first time? How can she cope with no numbing agents?
When she got to treatment, she slept. When she woke up, things were different. She started to feel safe and that she could control this disease. After 30 days of in-patient treatment, D.H. started her sober life.
There are several common themes in each story.
Many people with substance use disorder live in denial that they can control their addiction, but the disease progresses until you seek help or hit rock bottom.
Willpower doesn’t help with mental health issues or addiction. You cannot will yourself to feel better.
Many suffer from dual-diagnosis, which begins as a mental health issue and leads to drinking or drug use to cope.
Addiction is a disease that you cannot control.
I am so proud of these women for sharing their stories. They are helping our profession understand mental health and substance use disorders. They are giving others the courage to seek help. Let’s help each other. If you see colleagues who are struggling, reach out to them. If you feel you need help, ask for it. It’s not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of courage. Don’t be afraid to share your story.
If you find yourself stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed, seek help. The Ohio Lawyers Assistance Program helps lawyers, judges and law students manage life's stresses. OLAP has saved lives, careers, marriages and families. All inquiries are confidential. (800) 348-4343 / ohiolap.org