I know what you’re thinking. It’s early November. We just started daylight savings time. Thanksgiving is still weeks away. Why in the world is Brian talking about holiday parties?
The answer is simple. As a law firm HR Professional, Law Firm Partner, Bar Association Executive Director, or simply the designated party planner, now is the time to start thinking about throwing a holiday event that strikes a balance between providing a tasty rum and eggnog or glass of wine for those who do not have issues limiting intake and providing more than a half -liter of flat or regular or diet coke and warm bottled water for those who may live a sober lifestyle for whatever reason. To encourage an environment at your event that does not resemble an inquisition with regards to those who choose not to partake. It’s not a difficult balance. It’s no longer just about talking about changing the culture. This is the perfect opportunity to put it into practice.
Finding balance is not about going to extremes. I am not advocating that. While statistics tells us, that as a profession, we are in crisis with regards to problem drinking as compared to societal drinking norms (which are also problematic), they also tell us that the majority of lawyers do not having a drinking problem. The bottom line is, however, that at any such event there will probably be those attending who are either in recovery, or dealing with a drinking problem and have not yet found recovery.
While a person may or may not be open about his/her sobriety, no one is going to be wearing a sign that advertising that fact. They also won’t be advertising the discomfort and pressure they may feel to attend a party they may know from prior experience or have heard will be a drunken booze-fest with few sober imbibing options. Maybe they are worried about getting grilled on why they have that lukewarm glass of water or soft drink in their hand. I have personally attended law firm holiday events and receptions at which diet and regular coke were the only options available. Not even bottled water . The alcoholic options behind the bar however could stock multiple holiday events.
As you plan your 2017 Holiday event, please keep in mind that for someone in recovery or struggling to find sobriety, the pressures of attending alcoholically focused gathering can be intense. Not everyone is comfortable with the simple statement, “I don’t drink” and not caring what people think about it.
This can especially be an issue for younger lawyers who tend to be more social in general. We know from the recent ABA/Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation study that young lawyers are most at risk for problem drinking issues within the legal profession with an incredibly disturbing problem drinking rate of over 36 percent. Think about that as you count the number of young associates attending your event.
Michelle is a lawyer practicing at a small firm in Seattle. Here is what she has to say.
As someone in recovery, the holiday party scene is always a source of anxiety both personally and professionally. Everyone has a party and attendance is critical to maintaining your goodwill at your own firm, but also the ever-important networking that is part of private practice. For many young lawyers and even law students, the kind of networking that takes place during the holiday party scene is already stressful and nerve-wracking.
The stress and anxiety I felt due to the pressure to attend and network while newly in recovery and protecting my privacy surrounding my recovery was immense. When attending parties, I would explain that I was recovering from a cold or on other medication that meant I couldn’t try the spiked eggnog or holiday cocktails. This led to me feeling shame, further compounded my stress, and nearly led to relapse on more than one occasion.
I have yet to attend a holiday party that didn’t serve an abundance of booze. Let’s face it. Boozing is ingrained in firm culture. It is no surprise that many lawyers keep a stocked decanter on their office shelf or a bottle of scotch stashed in one of their empty desk drawers.
Upon reflection, the holiday parties I attended were not scheduled for the benefit of the staff. Instead, the holiday parties were simply events to celebrate the shareholders’ success and not the collective effort of the firm team. At no point were we given the impression that our sobriety and mental health was a priority of the firm, as evidenced by the fact that a substantial majority of the attorneys drank heavily without any safeguards set in place by the firm to protect their well-being.
I came to realize that I needed to fully own my recovery and that making excuses about why I was not drinking was unhealthy for me. When I stopped making excuses and simply began to say that I do not drink, I noticed that people were not even really paying attention to what I was or was not doing. I also noticed that while we were the minority, there were actually others who I had never noticed also did not drink. My fears of being bombarded with questions about why or about my recovery never came to fruition and I started to become more comfortable and fee more empowered in my recovery and also keeping up my social obligations.
I recommend that anyone in recovery be familiar with their drinking triggers and level of comfortability in being able to say “no thanks” to alcohol (or here in Washington, to marijuana edibles, etc.). If needed and newly in recovery, do your best to choose events where you know you will either have the support of friends or colleagues who know about your recovery and will not offer you drinks or question why you abstain. If you’re in a 12-step program, talk with your sponsor before going. Have a plan in place specific to your situation to deal with the stress and temptation you may feel.
I would also recommend that partners or staff in charge of planning holiday parties focus on making sure there is equal access to anything alcoholic and anything non-alcoholic. If there is a holiday punch or eggnog, there should be the same non-alcoholic option.
The bottom line? From a planning standpoint, now is the time to start thinking about an event that will be a great time for everyone while striking that balance of moderation and sobriety. It really is not a difficult balance to achieve.
If you’re someone in recovery or struggling worried about that balance? Have a plan going in! Whatever route you choose, you don’t have to do it alone. Didn’t make it through the holiday circuit sober? That’s okay! Today’s the day to start again. Talk to your local/state Lawyers Assistance Program. Does your area have a “Lawyers Helping Lawyers” group? Most help law students as well. It really is confidential.
Have a safe and happy holiday season!
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.