One of the hardest things with regards to addiction is when a family loved one relapses despite all of their efforts to help the person change their path to one of recovery. Here is Lori’s story. (I have changed her name to protect her anonymity.)
I’m the daughter of an addict. And while my dad was so much more than an addict — he was smart, accomplished, generous, and ambitious — ultimately, his addiction took him down.
Law was actually my dad’s second career. In his first career, he was a high-level executive, and certain injustices he saw in his workplace inspired him to go to law school. His goal and intention in getting a law degree was to provide a voice to those who couldn’t otherwise afford to speak up. It was lofty and noble, and he was a cool dad to look up to. He taught us about doing the right thing, and about speaking up for those who couldn’t speak up for themselves. He inspired me to go to law school, and to become the lawyer I am today.
Around the time my dad started law school, in his late 40s, we noticed that his drinking had started to pick up. He had gone from someone who drank socially at dinners and football games with friends to someone who seemed to be drinking consistently earlier and earlier in the day. I say “seemed” to be drinking because we never saw him drink at home. He knew my mom would monitor how much he was drinking if she saw bottles and beer cans being emptied out, so he just kept it hidden. That meant a lot of spiked soda or iced tea in the cup he always (and I mean ALWAYS) had with him. So we were spotting the warning signs … he was slurring his words, he stumbled when he walked, and his decisions weren’t rational. As we started catching on and asking him about it, he started finding more reasons to travel for work (he was still working full-time while attending law school part-time), more client matters that kept him at the office longer, or more times he needed to stay at school late to study. He always denied that he was drinking, and seemed offended that we would question him. He would remind us of how much he was doing (work, school, family) and blame his behavior on stress or lack of sleep (or just say that it was our imagination that he was acting drunk). We would do sweeps of his home office and find empty vodka bottles and beer cans hidden in every possible hiding spot in the room … on top of the furniture, behind books, inside bags, under chairs. We knew that he was going downhill, so we staged an intervention. Led by an intervention specialist we hired, about 20 of his family members and close friends showed up early one Sunday morning to a hotel conference room we had reserved for the occasion.
At the intervention, my dad agreed to go to rehab, and for the next several years, he remained largely sober. In that time, he retired from his first career, finished law school, and passed the bar exam. It took him two attempts to pass, and we suspected the failed first attempt was because he had fallen off the wagon while he was taking it. So the second time, my mom stayed with him in the hotel during the bar exam, hoping to keep an eye on him and keep him sober. He passed on his second attempt, and for the next several years, he seemed to be on a good path.
He had been required to report his alcohol treatment on his bar application, and he was concerned that any relapses would result in him losing his license. So those first few years, he was constantly attending AA meetings. He would go to a meeting at least once a day, and sometimes two or three times a day when he seemed to be really struggling. Looking back, and as a lawyer now myself, I can understand what an incredible weight that must have been on him. I think he was terrified that if he relapsed, he risked the Bar association revoking his license. If that happened, he would have been saddled with over $100K in law school loans for a degree he couldn’t use. And beyond the potential financial repercussions, he risked embarrassment and shame if he had to tell clients, friends, and family that he had failed. He was a proud man, and I think that weighed heavily on him.
While he was sober, he was great, both as a dad and an attorney. He had a niche in a particular area of employment law, and clients often sought him out because of his name and reputation in the field. He was making a good living, and loving the new challenge in his second career. His clients were happy, and their word-of-mouth referrals led to a fairly bustling practice.
I still remember the first big relapse, around Thanksgiving. I had moved to another state, and when I came home for the holidays, something seemed “off.” He was late to our family dinner. He left early. He seemed fidgety and distracted. And perhaps the biggest flag was that he said he was too busy to attend his AA meetings. He said he was really stressed with client work, and needed more help at the office. He said he would be hiring a paralegal or assistant, and that was going to alleviate the situation. I trusted him, and I could certainly understand the stress, but I was worried.
Several weeks later, my dad checked into rehab. He said he’d fallen off the wagon, and needed to get help. Despite his concerns about the bar association revoking or suspending his license, he decided that getting help was more important. Luckily, they didn’t suspend his license, but he was put on probation and required to continually check in and report on his progress.
After that, things got better, and seemingly back to a good place. But not long after his probation ended, he relapsed. This time, he went to an outpatient clinic, where he was in and out within about 72 hours. He was sober for several months, and then relapsed again. This cycle kept repeating for the next several years, and his visits to rehab kept getting closer and closer together. It got to a point that he was going every other month, and he never seemed to be sober in between visits.
Along the way, my dad had an accident while he was drunk, and he was prescribed Vicodin for the pain. My dad had never been one for taking medicine, but Vicodin quickly changed that. So in addition to watching for the signs of his drinking, we were now looking for the signs of him taking pills. Those signs came in the form of new doctors and pharmacies showing up on insurance statements (he forum-shopped for different prescriptions), and (even more) impaired speech and motions.
Once Vicodin was added to the mix, his work really started to suffer. He missed deadlines. Calls (especially those in the afternoon) were incoherent. His filings were sloppy and full of typos, or sometimes just nonsensical. A particular low was when he fell asleep while on a call with a federal judge. Clients started complaining. They would ask for their retainers back and threaten to report him to the Bar. To my knowledge, no one ever reported him … I think my dad just gave their money back and hoped they would go away silently.
His employees steadily quit, one by one. They each said they loved him, but that it was too hard to watch someone so smart continue on such a downward spiral. They also got tired of constantly having to cover for him, or answer to clients, opposing counsel, or judges about why he had missed deadlines, why he was unavailable, or why he sounded like he was completely blitzed.
The last person to jump ship was my mom. She had been married to him for almost 40 years, and took her wedding vows seriously. But they were living separate lives by then, and his life revolved solely around pills and alcohol. When they divorced, he moved out, and spiraled even lower than the rock bottom we were sure he must’ve hit by then. One night he mixed alcohol, prescription drugs, and blood pressure medicine, which proved to be a lethal combination.
Addiction doesn’t discriminate, and my dad is certainly an example of that. You can be the smartest, most accomplished person in the room. You can be the dad that inspires his kid to follow in his footsteps and become a lawyer. And this disease can still hit you. Although my dad’s life ended, I don’t want his story to end. He had so much to offer the world, and even though he’s not here to do it in the way I would’ve expected, I’m hopeful that in sharing his story, someone will be impacted, and know that they’re not alone.
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.