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Posts Tagged ‘alcoholism’

Elvis-on-Camera-BoomIf you’re like me, the letters CLE, lined up, one next to the other, might not set your pulse racing.  Contemplating an hour devoted to continuing legal education, the terms that spring to mind – “somnolent,” “soporific,” “soul-crushing” – seldom correspond to the seat-of-your-pants thrill-seeking typically associated with the practice of law.

Néamoins, as we say à Paris.  Il y a des exceptions.

Imagine if CLE could be fun, gripping, in fact – an outlet for a cry of anguish from the depths of your soul – projected before your eyes as if by sorcery!  Picture in your mind a CLE that beguiles, entices, titillates…betrays even as, and what, it portrays.

I did.  And I had a vision that lit my soul on fire.

And so, in partnership with the gangsta cinematic visionaries of Lawline (including that sultry siren of the silver screen, Sarah Mills!) I crafted what can only be termed the Citizen Kane of CLE videos.

An alchemical admixture that simmers the savage honesty of Godard alongside the fragrant whimsy of Spielberg, baked en croute with a sprinkle of Kurosawa-ian poignance, “Mental Health, Substance Abuse & Competence in the Legal Profession” is an instant classic – often harrowing, sometimes hypnotic – a kaleidoscope of sound and image imbued (merci, M. Kubrick!) with the searing cry of primordial birth pangs exploding across human existence.

Don’t believe me?  Here are some clips.

I’ll set them up (since I’ll probably be doing the talk show circuit soon as word spreads and “MHSA&CinLP” becomes an international phenomenon.)

Go ahead, make popcorn, grab a diet root beer. I’ll wait.

We begin with “Understanding Depression and Anxiety in a Law Firm” – the CLE equivalent of the shower scene in Psycho:

Still with me? Need to catch your breath?

Brace yourself for “How Anxiety Works.” Remember the bicycle with E.T. in the basket, lifting off into a starry summer sky? Well, here we go again…

What to say about “How to Handle Being Trapped by Debt & Burnout”? Everyone repeats the same mantra:  ‘The Andalusian Dog” meets “Hiroshima, Mon Amour.” But press fast forward, beyond the clichés.  Film language is not about words on a page, but light, color…and, perhaps, a smidgen of je ne sais quoi.

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I was chased down the sidewalk by a breathless woman.

“You’re the guy who made me vegetarian!” she announced between gasps.

I didn’t know what she was talking about.

It turned out she’d worked as a paralegal, years before, at Sullivan & Cromwell.  I didn’t feel guilty about not remembering her.  We only toiled together once – a grueling all-nighter preparing for an M&A closing.

We ordered take-out burgers that night, and I opted for a veggie burger.  She asked why I wasn’t eating meat.  At first I played it down – mumbled something like “don’t feel like it.”  Carnivores can grow testy if you fail to consume meat in their presence – they take it as a personal affront.  I’ve learned to tread lightly.

But she persisted, with genuine curiosity, so I told her the truth:

“You don’t have to go there – no one’s asking you too,” I said.  “But if you do go there, you’ll stop eating meat.”

That was it.

Ever since that night, she told me on the sidewalk, she’d been vegetarian.

All it took was going there – well, having someone tell you there was a “there ” to go to, then making the trip.

No, I’m not going to spell out where “there” is – you know perfectly well and I’m not here to preach.  I’m here to talk about consciousness-raising, not vegetarianism.  Specifically, consciousness-raising around alcohol.

You know, alcohol – those lambent elixirs stored in gleaming bottles; the all-American can of beer that pops open to seal friendship and inaugurate cherished memories; the cork shooting from a pricey bottle of champagne to harken in merriment and delight.

Yeah.  Ethanol.  Ethyl alcohol.  Let’s tackle the popular mythology surrounding this stuff. We can start with what I call the Maya Angelou rule.

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My client wasn’t getting enough sleep. I assumed it was insomnia, but that didn’t fit the bill. It wasn’t that she couldn’t sleep – it was that she wouldn’t sleep. She was staying up from 11 pm to 2 am, lying in bed – mostly, playing Angry Birds.

Those few hours were the only time she was left alone all day – no one from the firm called to assign her something awful to do or yell at her for something awful she’d done. To relinquish this sliver of “me time” – even for sleep – was out of the question.

Morning to night, she spent at the firm. Weekends didn’t exist, in any meaningful sense – they were workdays. Laundry went undone, as did other stuff, like getting her driver’s license renewed or her taxes filed. The only hours devoted to anything for herself were stolen from her sleep schedule, and spent slingshotting daredevil birds at sneering pigs (that’s an Angry Birds reference.)

She needed to vegetate. You need to vegetate, too. There’s only so much work anyone can do. That’s why you find yourself playing video games at 2 am instead of sleeping. You need to play and you need to sleep. You need both.

A medical resident told me law sounded worse than medicine. At least with medicine when you’re on-call, you’re on-call, and when you’re not, you’re not. With law, you’re always on call. Just because you’re asleep in bed doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be working.

Another lawyer client crawled home from the office recently after midnight, only to be awakened at 3 am by the alarm on her Blackberry. She turned it off, but noticed an email from a senior associate, still at his desk. She glanced at the email, but decided to ignore it – nothing critical – and deal with him in the morning.

She forgot his account was set up so he could see she’d opened the email.

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This month on “The Alternative” with Terry LeGrand, we talked about staying conscious of the real impact of alcohol on our lives – especially at New Year’s Eve.

You can listen to the show here.  My segment starts about ten minutes in, but as always, it’s worth sticking around for the whole show.

To find out more about Terry and “The Alternative” on LA Talk Radio, check out Terry’s website and the show’s website.  And be sure to check out Terry’s new show “Journey to Recovery” which deals specifically with substance abuse and recovery issues.

If you enjoy his shows, you can become a Terry LeGrand “fan” on Facebook here.

Thanks, Terry!  See you next month.

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Check out The People’s Therapist’s new book:  “Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

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This month on “The Alternative” with Terry LeGrand, we talked about surviving the holiday season as an LGBT person, especially if you’re feeling alone and maybe a little blue.

You can listen to the show here.  My segment starts about eleven minutes in, but as always, it’s worth sticking around for the whole show.

To find out more about Terry and “The Alternative” on LA Talk Radio, check out Terry’s website and the show’s website.

If you enjoy his show, you can become a Terry LeGrand “fan” on Facebook here.

Thanks, Terry!  See you next month.

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The phrase “addicted to oil” gets bandied about a lot with reference to the USA’s massive reliance upon – and consumption of – fossil fuels.

It’s worth taking a look at what drives an addiction, any addiction.

First, there is the physical element – the fact that, due to your genetic predisposition, you crave a substance, such as alcohol or drugs.  In the case of the USA and oil, that translates into some unique factors in our history and our geography.  Settlers from Europe “discovered” a vast, sparsely-populated continent.  They found oil there, invented the automobile, and the land grab already underway switched into high gear. Behind romanticized notions like “frontier” and “cowboy” lies a wasteful low-density settlement pattern that renders mass transit a virtual impossibility.  As a result, “the American Dream” always seems to involve owning a big house far away from everyone else, and driving hundreds of miles per day in a gas-guzzling car.

The second factor spurring addiction is aggression.  As the addict awakens to the cost of his behavior, it begins to take on a different tinge – it becomes about anger.  As one of my clients, a recovered alcoholic, told me – when you’re doing something so obviously self-destructive, there’s always a “to hell with it” attitude running things, an attitude of aggression.  You can wrap yourself up in excuses, but deep down every addict knows what he’s doing is not only self-destructive, but destructive, period.  Feeding the addiction becomes an outlet for aggression.

There are good evolutionary reasons why discharging aggression feels good.  The aggressive animal can intimidate his rivals and mate widely, producing the most off-spring.  The animal who most enjoys aggression, like the animal who most enjoys sex, is the animal who reproduces most successfully.

The problem with discharging aggression, at least in humans, is that it produces a hang-over.  You awaken to remorse.


It’s fun to chant “drill, baby, drill” with cheap demagogues like Sarah Palin and Michael Steele.  There’s a major “to hell with it” factor at play.  You don’t care about pollution – you just want to have fun, like Arnold Schwarzenegger storming LA in a Hummer or Palin blasting around a pristine forest in a snowmobile. You hate feeling deprived and controlled. You want what you want, when you want it.  Get out of my way and let me guzzle!  I’m going to get drunk tonight and Par-TAY!!!

Sounds like every alcoholic on a binge since the dawn of time.

Then comes the morning after.

It will take more than a single morning-after and one bad hang-over to wake this country up to its addiction.  At very least, it will require hitting a true bottom – like the environmental holocaust happening right now in the Gulf of Mexico.  After this calamity, there can be no more denying how far things have gone.  The USA is a sad case.  A wreck.  Let’s be realistic – we’re hard-core users.  If that oil weren’t swirling in deadly currents in the Gulf and the Atlantic right now, it would be burning in power plants and a million internal combustion engines, its deadly currents rising into our atmosphere to wreak a different kind of havoc.  We’re unleashing astonishing destruction each and every day.  We know that.

We are Americans and we are fossil fuel addicts.  We know it is bad for us.  We know it is bad for our neighbors and our family – the Earth and every species on it.  The question is whether this is it – we’ve hit bottom – or whether we’ll go right back to bingeing.  How bad does it have to get?  Can we get clean, or will we continue as we have been – following in the footsteps of so many addicts before us – killing ourselves and wrecking the lives of others.

It is a common trope in books and films about alcohol and drug addiction that to truly hit bottom you have to do something you regret for the rest of your life.  Typically, that involves causing harm or death to a helpless innocent, like a child.  The alcoholic who drives home drunk and hits a third-grader crossing the street usually sobers up, because that’s a pretty awful bottom to hit.

We’re there.  Take a look at the pictures of wildlife destroyed by this spill.

We did that, because of our addiction.

It’s time to own the situation – to get clean and sober.  Enough is enough.

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The People’s Therapist received an interesting and important letter a few weeks ago from a 3L (I’ve redacted it and altered some details to preserve anonymity):

Mr. Meyerhofer,

I have a question (or perhaps a topic suggestion for a post, as I’m sure many students are wondering about this) about the character and fitness part of the NY bar application.

I have seen a therapist several times over the years for issues relating to depression, eating disorders, and self-injury. On the NY bar application it asks whether you have any psychological issues that might effect your ability to perform as a lawyer. I have absolutely no idea whether I’m required to disclose my psychological treatment history, or if I do, how much of it. Is the determination based on what I personally think, or is it a reasonable person standard?

As I’ve had to go to the ER several times over the years, objectively I could see how someone could interpret that as something that could affect my performance. However, I personally don’t think that it does.

I don’t really know who I could ask about this, as I don’t really want my school administrators to know about my issues. Any information you might have would be much appreciated. Thank you so much for your help!

Sincerely,

“Stumped in Syracuse”

To begin with, here is a passage from a pamphlet, entitled “Are you fit to be a Lawyer,” published by the New York State Lawyer Assistance Trust:

Neither receiving treatment for alcoholism, drug addiction or mental health concerns, nor the status of being a recovering alcoholic or recovering addict are grounds for denial of admission to the bar.

In New York, the focus of the inquiry is on whether chemical abuse or addiction or a mental health condition impairs the applicant’s current ability to practice law.

The bar application asks whether the applicant has “any mental or emotional condition or substance abuse problem that could adversely affect” the “capability to practice law”, and whether the applicant is “currently using any illegal drugs.”

While honesty in disclosing past conduct (for example, arrests and convictions) is essential, disclosure of past treatment is not required. No questions are asked about past treatment. The Committees encourage law students who are experiencing drug, alcohol or other addiction or mental health issues to address those issues as soon as possible, regardless of when the student plans to seek admission to the bar.

The bottom line seems clear – there’s no legal duty for Stumped in Syracuse to disclose his past history of treatment on his bar application unless his mental illness currently impairs his ability to practice law. Under this standard, it would require a severe mental health condition to trigger this duty, and the majority of situations involving mental illness – certainly the ones described in Stumped in Syracuse’s letter – would not require disclosure.

The real issue here – as Stumped suggests – is stigma. Stumped, like any rational person, is afraid someone will find out about his condition and jump to the unfair assumption that he is unfit for his job. That would be a disaster for anyone interested in preserving his professional reputation. For Stumped, the ignorance surrounding mental illness may pose a greater threat than the illness itself.

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