Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on Above the Law on September 16, 2016. Reprinted with permission.
September is Suicide Awareness Month. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction or suicidal thoughts, please get help. The Colorado Lawyer Assistance Program provides confidential assistance — call (303) 986-3345 or visit coloradolap.org.
July 2005. A dark room. Table, desk, chairs. I’m with a staff psychiatrist of the Green Oaks Psychiatric Facility in Dallas, Texas. My brothers, Mark and Jeff, are sitting at the table across from me. I have a vague recollection of my younger brother rousing me from my bed. My .45 automatic lying on my nightstand.
The residuals of cocaine, Xanax, and Jack Daniels are still coursing through my veins. Questions from the attending psychiatrist pierce my fog and anger like tracer rounds. “What drugs have you taken? How are you feeling? Do you want to hurt yourself?”
In the back of my mind, what’s left of the lawyer takes over. I know that my family can’t commit me, but he can. Proceed with caution. I don’t mention that I had been “practicing” sticking the barrel of the gun in my mouth and dry-firing the gun.
Ripped back to reality. Voices in the room. The doctor is talking to me again. When was the last time I used cocaine? I’m pretty sure it has been recently, since it was all over the room when my brothers showed up. I had become the consummate liar in hiding the obvious cocaine habit and drinking problem from my family.
More questions. Do I think I need help? Will I go to rehab? Sure, whatever will get me out of here? I lash out again. They have no right to do this. I yell across the table. “You have no right to control my life! I am an adult! Mind your own business!” They quietly let me rant.
Blaming them for the darkness is so much easier than seeing the light. The doctor is asking calm, focused questions, to ascertain whether I am a danger to myself. At times I am calm in my answers. At times I am crying, angry at him, then at my brothers. Quit asking the same questions! I know your game! Quit treating me like an idiot!
An hour has passed. The room is getting brighter. The love and calm of my brothers soothes me. Quiets me, softens my edges. It’s always been there, but I wasn’t present enough to sense it. I was thinking only of myself: My next high. My next drink. Without the drugs, what am I going to see in the mirror each morning? The thought terrifies me. My brothers calm me, and I begin to focus on my love for my family. Arms are around me. Holding me. I begin to feel the love penetrating my shell. They are not the enemy. Should I go to rehab? What about twelve-step? I’m still on the defensive, but at least for the moment I can listen. Have to grab those moments. They don’t come often.
Sitting in that room during my first of two trips to a psychiatric facility seems so long ago. Today I am closing in on ten years of long-term recovery from addiction. I still deal with clinical depression and take medication daily. I see a psychiatrist weekly. I am also a lawyer. I am part of profession with an alarmingly high suicide rate. An alarmingly high rate of substance use, particularly alcohol. I’ve been there. I get it. I also talk to many in the profession weekly who are currently struggling. Some have contemplated suicide. I ask them what they are afraid of. What’s holding them back from taking that first step forward towards the light. It’s almost always about loss. Loss of license. Loss of job. Loss of family. Interestingly however, the fear of loss is generally attached to disclosure of the problem and not the possible consequences of the problem itself. That is what we know as the “stigma of addiction.” A problem that cuts across demographics but is particularly powerful in the legal profession. We are strong. We are hard chargers. We are “thinkers” who can problem solve our way out of any situation without disclosure. We are not vulnerable.
I am here to tell you that that emotional vulnerability is a good thing in taking that first step to get help. Reaching out is not weakness, it’s courage. Asking questions as a friend or family member is not intrusive, it’s compassionate.
September is Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. Be vulnerable. Be compassionate. Ask questions. Provide resources. Learn what your state Lawyers Assistance Program (LAP) has to offer. Learn what your local bar association has to offer. Above all, talk! Talking is healing. Silence can be deadly.