I regularly feature inspirational stories from lawyers and law students in recovery. Chad Anderson is a lawyer practicing in Tempe, Arizona. He has been in long-term recovery from alcohol since 1999.
“I started drinking at age 15 and drank steadily more from there. I lived a fairly functional drunken college life, but eventually couldn’t keep it under control. Like many alcoholics, I thought a geographic change would be just what was needed to drink like a normal person so I decided to attend law school about as far away from civilization as possible. The problem, however, was me, and I didn’t leave me behind”
During law school I drank more and more, and it really started to become a problem. Legal studies did not come as easily as undergrad, and my grades declined. In January of my second year, I had a crappy offer to take over the practice of one of my home town lawyers which I took because my crappy grades would not have gotten me anything else.
I returned to my hometown and put my name on the ballot for the County Attorney’s Office against an unpopular incumbent. More voters decided they would rather elect an inexperienced drunk than the incumbent, so I eked out a 36-vote upset.
When I took office in January 1999, I was drinking so much I was blacking out three-to-five nights every week. I knew I hated living like that, but had no idea how to change it. Life was a mess and I was barely holding it together.
On Saturday night, February 20, 1999, I went out drinking with a friend in a neighboring town, and on the way home got stopped by a state trooper just outside my jurisdiction. I had 12 beers and 18 scotches in me, so I failed the breath test miserably. A 3 a.m. call to a judge got me released from jail but not out of trouble, and by Sunday afternoon the story of my arrest had gone public. An elected prosecutor getting arrested for drunk driving is big news on a slow day in 1999, when local radio, TV, and newspapers were still the main sources for news. My story was the lead on TV news at 5, 6, AND 10. I felt humiliated, but finally realized I had to get help. As a prosecutor, I sent people to treatment as part of my job, so I knew where to call.
Monday morning I had to be in court — not as a defendant, but as the county prosecutor. The judge wanted to see me in chambers, and he had the newspaper spread out on his desk with the story of my arrest on the front page. He bluntly asked what I intended to do, and I told him I had contacted a treatment center that could admit me the next day. His simple response was, “That is the ONLY answer (emphasis his) you could give me.” He then sent me home and canceled my court appearances that week.
Before my arrest, I did not know anybody who attended AA meetings, or at least never heard anyone talk about AA meetings. Without anything to correct my perception, I had imagined them to be gloomy, boring ordeals, with shabby men sitting along the walls hoping nobody would recognize them. I had no idea what AA was really like, but was sure I didn’t want any part of it. I wish somebody had broken their public silence to set me straight about what sobriety was and why I needed it.
During treatment, I went out to my first 12-step meeting where I heard stories from other alcoholics who had struggled but no longer drank. Some were even people I knew, but all were people I respected. They gave me hope, and I knew I wanted to be like them — happy, not drinking, and living productive lives.
I went to more meetings after that, and the more meetings I attended, the more I learned, the better I felt about myself, and the more I wanted to share my experience, strength, and hope. Life started looking a lot better, too. My recovery was just as public as my arrest, and the local papers interviewed me about how I was staying sober instead of how I was still facing serious jail time for my drunk-driving offense. Getting a couple of high-profile convictions and working on a popular county ordinance boosted my public image as elected county attorney before having to face the consequences of my actions, and more and more people were telling me I was doing the right thing.
As a result of the arrest, I pleaded guilty as charged and was convicted of drunk driving. I resigned my office as county attorney but ran for my own empty seat and won the special election with almost 70% of the vote, getting put right back in office. The people of my county knew I was a recovering alcoholic, but they believed in me and supported me in greater numbers than I ever imagined. I owe a great debt to all those who have helped me through these 18-plus years, and that election was one of my humblest moments. Honest, open, and hardworking was the way to go.
I will proudly tell my story to anyone who will listen. I will hold myself out as a recovering alcoholic to everyone I know. I will be honest when asked about having a drink, explaining I do not drink because I’m a recovering alcoholic. I will identify myself in public so that the still-suffering alcoholic may come across me and want to hear more about the promises of sobriety. I will engage anyone who is curious with honesty and openness about my experience with alcohol and how I’ve come to not take a drink since that night in February 1999. If there is anyone in my life who is remotely curious about how to stop drinking and enjoy a better life, I believe I am going to attract that person to a program sooner because of how I do not remain an anonymous alcoholic.
Brian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. Brian is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, The Addicted Lawyer: Tales Of The Bar, Booze, Blow & Redemption (affiliate link). A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he somehow made it through as an alcoholic then added cocaine to his résumé as a practicing attorney. He went into recovery April 8, 2007. He left the practice of law and now writes and speaks on recovery topics, not only for the legal profession, but on recovery in general. He can be reached at email@example.com.