Michelle is a criminal defense lawyer in Tampa, Florida. Her sobriety date is July 21, 2015. She says, “I didn’t begin drinking until I was 20 years old. I first drank when I was 16. I got wasted on the beach with a bunch of friends and spent the next two days sick in bed. From 20 until 29 years old, I would drink socially. I would black out occasionally, getting drunk on the weekends which progressed to weekday nights. I never drank at home or alone until after law school.”
Michelle spent most of law school drinking, getting high on ecstasy, and dancing to bumble-gum techno in the clubs of Ybor City which is a suburb of Tampa, Florida. Despite this, she was lucky to be able to sit in class and listen and retain what she was taught. She says:
Looking back, if not for the alcohol and drugs, I could have been in the top tier of my class and obtained a great-paying job right out of school, however when I graduated, I ended up becoming a public defender and fell in love with criminal defense. I out-grew the ecstasy once I graduated.
In Michelle’s younger days as an assistant public defender, she didn’t show up to court or work drunk or high, but there were many days she was hung over from the night before. She says, “I always knew better than to drink or drug before big hearings or trials, but can recall days at the court house feeling like death because of my party ways.”
When Michelle was 29 years old, she was arrested for a DUI. The state reduced it to a reckless driving in exchange for a ton of community service hours. She says:
From that point until I quit drinking, I began drinking to excess, and drinking when I was alone. I didn’t consume alcohol every day, but I used drugs most days. I began using Xanax and cocaine in my early 30s and would often drink, take Xanax, or drink and do cocaine. Anytime I went out I had either Xanax or coke in my purse and would mix it with alcohol.
In February 2012, Michelle was involved in a traffic crash. She left the scene and after some investigation, the local police department closed the case due to the driver of her vehicle not being identified. In 2013, the case was reopened by the state attorney. The state investigated the crash and subsequently charged Michelle with a third-degree felony of leaving the scene with injuries. The state filed formal charges in May 2013. Michelle says, “By this point I had given up Xanax (I quit taking it sometime in March 2013). I was, however, still abusing alcohol and cocaine.”
At this point, the Florida Bar became involved because Michelle had a felony pending. The bar case was on hold pending the outcome of the criminal case. In January 2015, the felony was dismissed, but the state bar went forward on the disciplinary action arising out of the accident. Michelle entered into a voluntary contract with Florida Lawyers Assistance Program and was able to negotiate a 60-day suspension followed by three years of probation. The felony dismissal was ultimately overturned on appeal. Michelle pleaded no contest and received a withhold of adjudication and probation. Michelle says:
On July 21, 2015, I stopped drinking and using cocaine cold turkey because my bar license meant more to me than drugs or alcohol. My life has been so much better since them. I dealt with closing my law practice during the suspension and survived. My practice is going well. I currently attend AA meetings twice per week. I don’t share very often, and my shares are usually related to my tardiness or procrastination issues. I have been actively working on my timelines issues, but I am a work in progress.
For Michelle, recovery has also included a newfound love of running races. She says:
I’m not fast and I don’t train, but I love to sign up and run long-distance races. Recovery is also keeping my bullshit in check. Staying out of my head and hustling. Recovery is not dwelling on the bad crap but learning from those mistakes and making sure I don’t repeat them. Through it all I found a deeper passion and love for criminal defense and fighting for justice. I still enjoy going out dancing, but not like I used to. Today, most of my dancing happens at home or in my car. Sober dancing is the best. Recovery is continuing.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.