Denial is not a river flowing through Africa!
Our conscious refusal to admit to an uncomfortable or painful truth about ourselves or a loved one—THAT’S denial! Denial is a psychological defense we use to maintain our self-image, esteem, and feelings of security, well-being and control.
Denial allows us to avoid acknowledging facts that are utterly indisputable to those around us. For the legal practitioner, denial allows us to persuasively disavow, distort and rationalize all of the indicators of substance abuse or addiction in our lives despite the evidence confronting us.
No lawyer or other professional worth their salt is going to go into a situation without proper planning, preparation and a thorough strategy for success.
Honestly evaluating a matter, or set of circumstances, and developing a proper plan, often involves bringing in consultants, experts, witnesses and others whose job it is to share their experience in an effort to move your agenda forward.
Working with others allows us to expand our understanding of the challenges we face in moving forward.
At each stage of the process, there is a list of items to be completed in the short term, all of which are designed to achieve a definable long-term goal: success!
If you’re good at what you do, you’ll have layered plans and multiple backup strategies in the event any particular course fails to yield its intended outcome. In short, you’ll plan meticulously for success, anticipate and address the strengths and weaknesses of each element of all sides of your particular challenge, leaving nothing to chance that can be addressed with proper planning.
General Denials & Affirmative Defenses
When it comes to confronting the dragon of substance abuse, what is your plan?
Sadly, for many attorneys and other professionals, the plan is to deny that there is a problem. Just Google “attorneys and substance abuse” and review the results. Some “sobering” statistics emerge.
- As a profession, attorneys have an almost 50% higher rate of substance abuse than the general population.
- 75% of attorneys seeking assistance with substance abuse in 2008 were also involved in disciplinary proceedings.
When we add factors such as depression, burnout, disengagement or other mood, personality or anxiety disorders into the mix, practicing law can be a recipe for self-medicating against the quiet desperation we find among a significant subset of our colleagues.
Equally sobering are studies showing substance-abuse and denial go hand in hand. Not only are substance abuse and addiction considered occupational hazards in the legal and medical professions; the accompanying stigma– the perception such behavior is somehow evidence of moral failing– encourages those affected to hold fast to the denial defense.
As a result, the majority of those with substance-abuse problems do NOT seek help through mutual aid or professional treatment. When they do:
- Less than 50% actually complete treatment;
- more than 50% resume their old patterns within 30-90 days;
- in severe cases, recovery doesn’t stabilize until 4-5 years of continued abstinence.
Let me ask you a couple questions:
when 50% of substance users resume former use patterns within 30-90 days of formal treatment, who’s out there “stabilized” 4-5 years later?
What are THEY doing differently?
Where will YOU land along this continuum?
The Profession IS the Problem
One problem shared by attorneys and doctors alike is the sense of omnipotence, power and influence bred by our professions and material success. However, the research doesn’t lie. We are not immune because of our professional and social standing, our material success or the sheer force of our personalities and professional aptitudes.
The disease of addiction is an equal opportunity destroyer.
Additionally, attorneys are at higher risk of developing substance-abuse problems because of the characteristics unique to our practice. You know them. They include: workplace cultures,
conflict and adversalialism,
incivility from practitioners and clients alike,
pressures to market,
pressures to bill,
pressures to make rain and, ultimately, to win.
Only, for most of us, we don’t, can’t or won’t admit we’ve been lying to ourselves and to those around us, until a truly life or career altering event forces us into the uncompromising truth of our condition:
one or more D.U.I.’s,
even thoughts and attempts of suicide.
At some point, denial is no longer a defense, but a quiet co-conspirator of the deadliest kind.
YOUR Call to Action: Call Me
If you don’t know what to do but believe you need to do something, call me.
I am entering my 14th year of practice here in my Northern California community. In that time I’ve witnessed many of my colleagues succeed in recovery. I’ve also witnessed just as many continue to deny their own substance abuse problems and lose their practices.
I’ve smiled patiently as they’ve rejected the repeated concerns of those of us willing to extend the confidential support, encouragement, experience and personal examples that might have saved them from professional suspension, disbarment, jail time, prison and suicide. But they resisted and rejected these efforts purely out of pride and arrogance.
It’s my personal opinion, but one informed by personal experience and by personal observation, that the deadliest mistake YOU can make as an attorney dealing with YOUR personal substance abuse issues is to convince yourself that your professional standing and intellectual aptitudes are a sufficient defense to the progressive nature of addiction. Too many have been taken down by this belief.
As a Recovery Coach who practices law and is also recovering from the disease of substance dependence, I am available anytime for consultation and support to attorneys and others at any stage of the recovery process.
If you are in recovery or would like to discuss recovery issues and how a Recovery Coach can benefit YOUR recovery efforts, contact me TODAY at (530) 515-5198. Lets talk about what Recovery Coaching is and what it can help you achieve.
You can also email me at CoachPaul@Youridealcoach.com. All contacts are safe, secure and strictly confidential.
SOBERING FACTS ABOUT ATTORNEYS & ADDICTION
Compared to other occupations and professions, attorneys show higher rates of substance abuse & dependence, depression and suicide. Factors unique to our profession are believed to contribute to these higher than average rates.
Attorneys present greater treatment and recovery challenges due to a range of cognitive and environmental factors such as impaired judgment, stigma and the belief we are or may be beyond help.
A. THE COMPANY WE KEEP
1. 1 of every 4 lawyers suffers from “toxic” stress levels & a strong correlation exists between work-related toxic stress and higher rates of alcohol consumption.
2. Lawyers have a higher rate of alcoholism than the general population. 30% of lawyers reportedly abuse alcohol.
3. Studies from numerous jurisdictions peg the rate of alcoholism in the legal profession at between 15% and 24%. Roughly 1 in 5 lawyers is addicted to alcohol compared to the national average of about 9%.
4. The National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA: www.niaaa.nih.gov) cites an ABA study in which 13% of lawyers surveyed admitted to drinking 6 or more alcoholic drinks in 1 day, compared to 7% of the population who are alcoholics.
5. The International Journal of Law and Psychiatry reports problem drinking developed in 18% of lawyers practicing between 2 and 20 years and in 25% of lawyers practicing 20 years or more.
6. Alcoholism among lawyers contributes to approximately 60% of disciplinary prosecutions. 75% of disciplinary proceedings in California in 2008 involved alcohol abuse. Similarly, over 60% of all malpractice claims involve alcohol abuse.
7. The ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs has concluded as many as 90% of all serious trust fund disciplinary matters involve substance abuse, primarily alcoholism.
8. The medical community reports 20% of all active attorneys are addicted to drugs or alcohol.
9. 26% of lawyers reported using cocaine at least once. This is more than TWICE the figure for the general population.
10. 33% of practicing lawyers suffer some form of mental illness and approximately 19% in one study suffer from depression. As a profession, attorneys rank first in depression— a principle co-occurring disorder aggravating substance use.
11. Lawyers have the highest suicide rates among the professions.
B. BARRIERS TO ATTORNEYS SEEKING TREAMENT
1. Denial: is a defense mechanism used when faced with a fact that is too uncomfortable to accept and so is rejected despite overwhelming evidence. Denial is both conscious and unconscious behavior with positive and negative roles in healthy relationships.
In the Addiction-Recovery setting, denial is often a thoroughly developed, organized and sophisticated alibi system an affected individual rehearses, refines and repeats to her or himself and to others. This alibi system includes
Denial is ignorance when we ignore the meaning of addiction as a disease – something over which we lack control and cannot correct with willpower or intellect alone. Denial is ignorance when we fail to appreciate the consequences of our addiction on others.
Without their intercession, we may be unaware of the chaos we bring into their experience. When we are aware, our shame may limit our willingness to accept our true condition and investigate our recovery options.
Denial is a defense mechanism used to deflect unbearable pain, anxiety and helplessness. Psychiatrists and Psychologists understand denial as an unconscious defense when the existence of unpleasant internal or external realities is denied and kept out of conscious awareness. By keeping the stressors out of consciousness, they are prevented from causing us anxiety.
Denial is deception when it is a calculated tactic to manage our self-image, manipulate others and avoid or shift responsibility and accountability for the havoc our addictive behavior creates. Deceptive denial includes lying about or minimizing our using behavior and its consequences, or trying to shift responsibility away from ourselves and to those most affected. As conscious deception, denial implicates our professional fitness.
Denial is delusional thinking reflecting our brain’s altered neural circuitry and its effects on our judgment, decision-making and related cognitive abilities. We may firmly– but mistakenly– believe we don’t have a problem, that we are in control of, can manage, or even quit our using activity anytime we want. Misjudging the impact of our addiction on ourselves and others, we lack the impetus to change.
2. Traits of the Person & Profession: may predispose attorneys to substance abuse or addiction as well as contribute to the difficulty attorneys have admitting to the problem and seeking treatment. These traits may include:
a. Traits of Personality:
1. A heightened orientation toward achievement, dominance, control & materialism;
2. A innate competitive adversarialism;
3. Interpersonal insensitivity manifest as objective neutrality;
4. Aggressive responses to stressors;
5. A “thinking” rather than “feeling” preference when decision making.
b. Traits of the Profession:
1. An emphasis on debate, argumentation, conflict & subterfuge– even against clear evidence;
2. A de-emphasis on self-revelation, self-insight and self-awareness in the guise of objective neutrality;
3. An strong & often inflated sense orientation toward self reliance — one at odds with mutually inclusive, and therefore favoring mutually exclusive– goal achievement;
4. The ability to remain high functioning while feeding our abusive & addictive behaviors
c. Enabling Alliances:
Enabling describes those actions of others that insulate the affected practitioner from the consequences of her or his substance related behavior. We can be enabled by family, firm partners & staff, colleagues, judges, even our clients!
Whether their conduct is intended to be supportive, assistive, defensive, or deflective, it is enabling when it prevents us from experiencing the consequences of our addiction and thereby delays our coming to terms with problem and taking voluntary steps to address it.
Fear of being shunned, disapproved of or held in a negative light by colleagues, clients or judges often prevents us from admitting to substance dependence; or, once admitted, from actively seeking comprehensive help to restore ourselves to wellness.
Stigma and denial may work in tandem telling us our professional reputations and careers are at stake should we “come clean.” Rarely do we weigh the alternative consequences of allowing our disease to progress to the point of criminal conduct, professional discipline, or post-treatment relapse due to poor or non-existent aftercare.