The Sad Truth.

April 25, 2011

This appears in two parts, due to length (and your short attention spans).

If Matlock isn't the gold standard, then I don't know who is.

I have lost a lot over the last 18 months. I hardly talk about my profession, because the toll my addiction and depression have taken on my family is preeminent. Also, I cling to a little bit of denial, I think, about the fact that I have created a world for myself with far less opportunity. In a lot of ways, this is the part that is hardest to own up to. A lot of people have families. Not a lot of people have the means, the talent, or the opportunity to become lawyers.

I am a trial lawyer. I was anyway.

I debated about whether or not to reveal what I do for a living for two weeks. I came to the conclusion that it’s almost impossible to tell my story without revealing that fact. Being a trial lawyer under the best of circumstances is stressful, demanding, and, at times, downright terrifying. There is a reason lawyers lead the way in divorce rates, mental health issues, suicide and substance abuse. It is a profession that chews people up and spits them out. And I loved it for seven years.

And I need to discuss it, because a lot of things in my story won’t make sense without this backdrop. I worked hard for years to get the degree of juris doctor and learn a profession that I expected to be in for the rest of my life. And I was really good at it. I am really good at it. But I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to return to being a lawyer. At the very least, it won’t ever look the same. I have burned a lot of bridges and lost a lot of credibility within my field.

I was making a six-figure income, I had memberships to private clubs; I entertained clients, other attorneys, judges. As you might suspect, I excelled at that part of my job. Which was part of the problem. In the south we have an expression for what I became: too big for my britches. I had a bit of a sense of entitlement, because, in my estimation, I brought in a lot of money in to my firm. I overestimated my worth. And when we got an across-the-board pay-cut in September of 2010, I took it as a personal insult. Suffice to say I would gladly take that salary today.

This period of my life includes one of the saddest chapters in this story on a personal and professional level, because it carries with it one of the worst human emotions, that of regret. I worked for a good man, and good men are not necessarily in abundance in my line of work. I worked for him for seven years. I clerked for him while I was in law school and he offered me a permanent job in August, 2002.

This was a man who cared deeply about me personally. He was a true mentor. He cared about the kind of lawyer I was, the kind of husband I was, and, eventually, the kind of father I was. He insisted on giving me the time to be a family man. He had a great deal of trust in me. And he set a great example. He was like my professional dad. I took a wrecking ball to this relationship. I’m pretty sure I hurt him in the process; he had invested a lot in me. He had even supported me through one stint in rehab.

We didn’t see eye-to-eye on everything, but I miss working for this man every day. Regret is a terrible thing; life is not a dress-rehearsal. I had an enviable position in this world – largely owed to this man – and I blew it.

I also worked with one of my best friends in the world. We worked for this same man. Our offices were next door to each other for seven years. Looking back, I had it pretty good.  I put my friend in a terrible position, because I was acting out in an extremely selfish way at this time. I know it was a miserable period for both of them because my friend wanted to try to continue to be a friend to me – he recognized a man circling the drain when he saw it – but he also felt loyal to our mentor.

When it was finally over in April of 2010, my boss wasn’t even the person I talked to on the phone when I was let go. I’m still devastated. I haven’t talked to him since. I had no idea how much this would effect me. Leaving that job was the real beginning of the end for me. There were some other fits and starts for me in an employment context (I held down one job for all of five days), but the short of it is I haven’t been able to hold down steady employment since the events described above.

And in a sense, thank God. Having a job and money masked a lot of things that were wrong. In fact, my status and my money prevented me from seeking help, even though I knew I needed it, and had for a long time. Somewhere around this time, I broke my hand and required surgery to repair it. Which meant a nearly bottom-less supply of oxycodone. Gas, meet flame.

So began the rocket-booster phase of my demise. It went downhill real fast after this. I managed to flunk out of a few other jobs – jobs that I felt were way beneath my education and experience level, as if that mattered. I had no sense of self-preservation at this point. And I was mired in the worst, most self-destructive cycle of active addiction I have ever experienced. My consumption levels of opiates, cocaine and alcohol were all at all-time highs.

What fight I had in me was all but gone. I didn’t care whether I lived or died. Even if withdrawal weren’t a constant menace at this point, I had a  crippling bout with depression that saw me lay in bed for days at a time. I would just lay in bed and think terrible things about myself. I would repeat lines over and over in my head for some reason. Like, “I hate everything,” “I am a complete failure.” I occasionally fantasized about dying.  I would sometimes just ask God to take me.

I had blown everything I had worked for my entire life. I had hurt the man who was my mentor. I was an utter disappointment to my parents, my kids and wife, my brother and sister. Embarrassed doesn’t do it justice. I was humiliated in a very public, very painful way. Mostly, I was just really really sad.

The worst part is I felt like I was a failure as a dad. It meant a lot to me to be a dad. My Dad had a plaque on his desk when we were kids that said: “Anyone can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a Daddy.” I truly believed my kids were better off without me. If you’ve never been there, with the combination of drug abuse, withdrawal and clinical depression, in addition to a (now-separated) spouse who reacted to my depression with anger, then you can’t understand. I love my kids more than anything, and I had lucid moments when I thought I was more of a danger to them alive than dead.

(I will continue this narrative in The Sad Truth II.)

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One Response to “The Sad Truth.”

  1. […] promised. Part I is here, in case you haven’t read it. Holy metaphor, […]

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