Consumer Bankruptcy Journal Winter 2016 - Page 33

GARY WAS A GREAT LAWYER After he gets in the car, Gary asks if I know he’s been disbarred. I’d seen it in the local legal periodical. As often happens with lawyers and addiction, some money due to his clients never made it to them. State Bars take a dim view of stealing from clients, and addiction is no excuse. It’s a surprisingly common story, and there’s an unsurprisingly common explanation from Gary. It’s all a big mistake, he claims. He’s lost everything, but he’s still in denial, still trying to cling to a reputation that was far in the past long before news of his disbarment broke in the legal periodicals. I don’t say anything in response to Gary’s excuses. I understand. I was once full of them. He also tells me he’s sober and working as an attorney — he’s licensed in New York. I bite my tongue. Am I ethically bound to say something about his disbarment in Texas to the State Bar of New York? I struggle with the conflict between my view as a lawyer and as a person in recovery. It’s not my recovery. It’s his. I congratulate Gary on the progress he’s made. On the way to the transitional home, we stop at a diner, and I buy Gary lunch. We talk about nothing in particular. We’ve previously spoken many times of relapses, failed stints in rehab, going to AA meetings together, and “one day at a time.” What more can I say to him? The feeling of helplessness so many trying to help know so well. I get a Facebook message from Gary. The message is cheerful and includes a photo of a plane ticket to Dallas for the watch party. Then, as I drop him off, he makes a request. Just a few bucks, he says, “until I get back on my feet.” For a few months, it becomes our routine. The bus stop. The drive. The excuses. The money. I just listen to what Gary has to say. Then one day, he’s gone again. I give him a call, and his voicemail is full again. I worry. I check with the sober house, and he’s no longer there. He’s tested positive for drugs and has been kicked out. He’s gone. Onto the streets. July 2013: My cell phone rings. A 516 area code — Long Island, where some of Gary’s family lives. It’s Gary. He’s moved back home. Maybe he’s thinking that returning to family and roots will save him. I’d had the same experience, if only instinctively, when I moved from Pittsburgh to Dallas to live with my brothers. If recovery were only that simple. November 2013: I recently appeared on the Katie Show, a now off-the-air talk show featuring Katie Couric, to talk about my battle with body dysmorphic disorder, and of course that includes my recovery from addiction. I’m now preparing for a “watch party” at a local restaurant. time for many like Gary, whether its addiction, depression, or another mental health challenge. One piece of encouragement. One kind word. One life empowering moment can light that path up. Your friend, family member, legal colleague, or fellow law student. Find the words. They are waiting. http://www.americanbar.org/groups/ lawyer_assistance.html http://collegiaterecovery.org/programs/ http://www.aa.org/ http://www.smartrecovery.org/ http://www.celebraterecovery.com/ It’s the last time I hear from him. The message comes from his ex-wife, and the Google explosion of his name tells the story. At age 54, Gary has been fatally struck by a tractor trailer. He was walking along the middle of the highway when it happened. It’s unknown whether he’d been drinking, but it doesn’t matter. He’s gone. He never “got it” in recovery. It’s not that he didn’t want it. He tried. He tried every day. Gary’s struggles with drugs and alcohol did not define who he was. He was a lawyer, a friend, a husband, a sibling. In his passing, he also helped me. I know my recovery is only as good as today. I also know that I can never stay silent when I see someone struggling. Even if the words are ultimately not heeded, I need to find them. I need to educate myself so that I can at least help light up the dark path so many experience. As we enter the holiday season and we are giving thanks for all the wonderful things in our lives, let’s also be mindful that it is a dark, triggering National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys Winter 2016 CONSUMER BANKRUPTCY JOURNAL 33