There are a lot of movies about drug lords, drug dealers and drug addicts. That’s Hollywood for you. But two hours later, you’re back in your own world. Comfy, cozy.
What is more difficult for Hollywood to depict is what it’s like living with a drug addict, the effect they have on the people around them, plus how long people actually battle drug addiction. It’s not as sexy as snorting cocaine through rolled-up $1,000 bills in a fancy New York nightclub. Or as seedy as shooting up in a filthy public washroom.
I am a lawyer and a recovered drug addict. I became a drug addict because I got caught in a vicious cycle of depression, anxiety and addiction to OxyContin, which was originally prescribed for pain management to treat my migraines. As the addiction took off, I would substitute Ativan if I had no Oxy. I destroyed my marriage. Almost lost my career. Got in trouble with Law Society of Ontario. Almost lost my children.
While I was chasing the high, and thought no one knew, I was alienating everyone around me.
This was my life for four years.
Living with a drug addict is hell. In the incidents below, perhaps you will see someone you love who is a drug addict. Perhaps you are the drug addict who needs help. Recovery is a long road. And addicts cannot recover on their own; they need professional help. Here is what my addiction looked like.
One Saturday morning, I had so much medication in me that my children could not wake me up.
I had giant blackouts of memory
I went with a client to court one day. The client brought his business partner along. The three of us spent the entire day in court, including coffee breaks, lunch and dinner after court. Two weeks later, my client came to my office for a meeting, again with his business partner. I go and introduce myself and my client looks at me quizzically and says, “Darryl, you met him three weeks ago. We spent the entire day together.” It was like I had just met him for the first time.
A friend had loaned me $1,000 when I showed up suddenly at his office, claiming I needed it. Years later, I had no memory of asking for that loan.
One Saturday morning, I had so much medication in me that my children could not wake me up. I slept for 19 hours. My eldest son, who was seven at the time, probably had to change the diapers of my boy-girl twins when I simply could not function. It is embarrassing now, but at the time I was not the least bit bothered at having a seven-year-old change diapers.
Mundane tasks like paying bills online and picking up the mail were too much for me to handle. One day, I returned home to a dark apartment. The hydro company turned off my lights. Another day, Canada Post ceased mail delivery because I had not emptied my mailbox for weeks and weeks.
I became a chronic liar
Friends came to me and said, “We know you have a problem and we want to help.” I shot back: “Who are you to judge me?” My reaction was to deny my addiction.
When people confronted me about my problem, I lied, lied, lied. And I became indignant, too. But first and foremost, I lied to myself.
I found myself in a co-dependent relationship with a woman that I never would have been with, but for my addiction.
We went for a week’s vacation to the Jersey Shore. I remember checking my voicemail and there was one from a family law client. More ridiculous behaviour, fighting over things that didn’t matter. And I said to her: “If I have to deal with one more family law client, I’m just going to lose it!”
Sitting on the beach, I had the epiphany that something was very wrong and I needed to fix it. “I have to get clean from this addiction. And need to stop practicing family law because I hate it so much.”
When I got back after a week’s vacation, I sought help from a social worker through the Ontario Lawyers Assistance Program. I knew enough that I could not fix it on my own. I closed my law practice for a year. I received a 30-day suspension from the Law Society of Ontario for badly neglecting all my clients. The law society actually did me a huge favour, and I owe them a huge debt of gratitude. Thankfully, it didn’t ruin my career. When I re-opened my law practice, I decided to practice civil litigation, including representing accident victims against big insurance companies.
I got help just before Fentanyl became widely available. Fentanyl was looking for me. Or the increasing dosages of Ativan and OxyContin would have killed me. There is no doubt that if I had not gotten help in 2008, I would be dead now. A law school classmate of mine was addicted to alcohol and never got help. He died last year.
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I know full well how lucky I was. There is help available. Addicts need to take the first step and admit to themselves that they have a problem.
When you’ve dug yourself into a hole and had the good fortune to crawl out of it, you want to keep your friends, colleagues and acquaintances from falling into it, too. And so, now I am paying it forward. I am helping other lawyers recover from their depression, anxiety and addiction.
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