Finding a New Normal After Addiction

There were leftover beers scattered outside the house as the picnic came to a close. Linda* remembers rounding up the cups and bottles and polishing them off—a little bit of everything that everyone else was having at the party. She was in elementary school.

Another mom stood there appalled, scolding her. For Linda, the mother’s reaction is a distinct childhood memory. For the first time, she thought, “Oh, maybe this was not normal. But I didn’t have a gauge for normal. I grew up in an alcoholic home. It was like the Wild West. There was no law and order in that home. Everybody fended for themselves.”

Linda’s mom was often sick and periodically hospitalized with different ailments, while her father frequently traveled for work. At a moment’s notice, she and her older brother would be shuffled off to other people’s homes. “It was always a lot of chaos. You never knew one day to the next what was going to happen,” she said. “It was just total disorder and unmanageability.”

But all the turmoil was stuffed behind closed doors, and Linda’s family was an expert in image control. “We were the perfect people,” she recalled. Her family lived in their fancy home, driving their luxury cars down the streets of their affluent neighborhood. They wore designer clothes, went to the best schools in the area, and traveled the world.

By her senior year of high school, Linda consistently brought home straight A’s, won awards, and excelled in sports. “On the inside, everything was so disorganized. I went to great lengths to present a different picture,” she said. Her effort paid off when she was accepted to an Ivy League university.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Take Over

Accustomed to very few rules already, college ushered in an era of completely unchecked impulses for Linda. There was always an excuse to drink, whether she was rewarding herself for finishing a tough assignment or acing a test, or if she were at a football game. She’d have one because it was the beginning of the weekend—meaning a Thursday night for her. Hard day? Crack open a can. Why drink a regular-sized beer when you can drink a 40-ounce bottle? “I pretty much became a daily drinker there,” she said. “I didn’t realize that I drank alcoholically in college until I got sober.”

During her sophomore year, Linda was randomly assigned to the same dorm suite as the school’s baseball team. As the only woman, she said she took on the role of nurturing sister, ordering extra food for them or picking up their groceries while she was as the store. “I had absolutely endeared myself to them,” she said.

These close relationships allowed Linda to live a Dr. Jekyll-and-Mr. Hyde life. She was put together on the outside, but things could turn quickly, especially when drinking. “I could go to fraternity parties or basically wherever I wanted, act with impunity, and get away with it. If anyone came after me they would have player 1, 2, 3, and 4 and all their cousins and brothers after them. So, I did that,” she said. “I really acted in a way that was irresponsible and selfish.”

In her junior year, Linda joined a fraternity after a friend joked that because she was always hanging out with them that she might as well pledge. “I was like, game on. I was always that way. I’ll see you and raise your bet,” Linda said. “I know now that they don’t ask light drinkers to pledge a fraternity, especially if you’re a girl.”

Despite her drinking habits, Linda continued to wear the mask she’d kept on since she was a little girl. “I was your type A overachiever. I looked like a Brooks Brothers catalog. I had the best grades. I was in all the right activities,” she said. “I was always harder, faster, stronger than everyone else. I did that so people would overlook things. They wouldn’t question me.” As she graduated college, she had an acceptance letter from an elite law school in one hand and a drink in the other.

A ‘Full-Blown Alcoholic’

Law school brought sanctioned daily drinking as Linda made her way from one recruiting event to another. “We would get these law firms and businesses throwing these ridiculous, over-the-top parties any night of the week at the place of [our] choice. It was open bar,” she said. “We were wined, dined, and recruited.”

Everything revolved around alcohol—study groups, nights off, parties. She once arranged a slew of kegs for an academic activity with the law journal, “not the kind of activity [for which] you would normally need a keg party.” Someone quipped that that seemed strange, but Linda saw nothing wrong with it.

As the pressures of law school intensified, Linda started drinking alone frequently. The more demanding her course load, the more she drank. “I became a full-blown alcoholic.” But once again, there were no consequences. She maintained her grades and received an offer from a prestigious firm upon graduation.

Linda went full throttle at work, putting in long hours on hard cases. “I was very high functioning,” she said, even as she drank all day at CLEs, client meetings, lunches, networking groups, “rubber chicken” dinners, black-tie events, and evening cocktails in the office’s conference room. “That was just the culture. It was very accepted,” Linda said. Not everyone would participate, but “I found the crew in the office. We always find each other.”

Linda says it wasn’t uncommon to go to somebody’s office to drop off a letter about a case and find them passed out, face down at their desk. She wasn’t an unusual case, Linda said. Her secretary once casually told her she might want some gum after a few cocktails at lunch. “We worked hard and partied hard. We figured it was our reward,” she said. Read more