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New York-based author and attorney Lisa Smith has been clean and sober for a decade. She detailed her drug and alcohol addiction in "Girl Walks Out of a Bar," and in an exclusive essay for Megyn Kelly TODAY, she shares the moment she knew she needed help — and the surprising reaction to her addiction from loved ones.
When I was an active alcoholic and drug addict, secrets were my stock in trade. They were the bricks in the precarious wall I built around myself. If one brick were ever to fall out, the whole wall would crash down and I would be exposed.
The glass of vodka I carefully set on my bedside table each night because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get up without it. The small glass vial of cocaine that I would need partway through my workday slipped into my lipstick case. The bottle of wine I downed alone after a convivial dinner with friends.
These were among the secrets I kept until the day I thought they were going to kill me and I decided I wanted to live.
It was pretty dark stuff for someone who looked put together, happy and successful to the rest of the world. I was a 38-year-old lawyer living in a bright apartment in New York City with a high-powered job at a large, prestigious firm. I had a great family and close friends who loved me. I was also at the tail end of a painful 10-year spiral that had taken me from party girl to full-blown alcoholic and cocaine addict. And I was terrified of being discovered.
In the throes of addiction, the devil I knew, the relentless need to drink and use drugs, felt far safer than the devil I didn’t know: admitting that I had a problem and asking for help. What would people think if they knew that before even taking my coat off after work I would gulp down half an over-sized glass of cheap Chardonnay? Or if they knew I bought cocaine with the casualness of picking up a quart of milk? I was ashamed of the way I lived. Alcoholics were the disheveled people sprawled out in subway stations. Drug addicts were scrawny tweakers wandering around Times Square. I was a smart, strong, and successful professional, at least as far as the world around me could tell. I intended to keep it that way.
Yet on the morning of April 5, 2004, when I thought I was having a heart attack, I somehow chose to tear down my wall of secrets. In a panic, I checked myself into a detox facility at a city psychiatric hospital. I later heard that your bottom is where you stop digging. On that day the shovel was just too heavy for me to lift anymore. The moment I had so feared, revealing my secrets, had arrived. I called my parents, brother and close friends as soon as I made the arrangements to go to treatment.
Their surprise came through the phone loud and clear as I spilled out the truth of a life they had no idea I was living. One of the purposes of my secrets was protection from what I was sure those around me would say. But my assumptions couldn’t have been more wrong.
My family and friends reacted to the news of my addiction with concern, support, and sadness to learn how miserable and sick I was. I didn’t hear anger or accusations. I heard compassion and love. And despite learning that I had kept these secrets from them for so long, they have all shown up for me and held my hand as I’ve worked to get healthy.
I kept my addiction, and my recovery, a secret in my workplace even longer. Law firms can be tough places to work. Strength, dedication, and stamina are critical. After all my hard work to get there, I didn’t want the stigma that unfortunately surrounds addiction to destroy my career.
But again the reaction I received surprised me.
Suddenly, I realized the true reach of these issues. Almost everyone is affected in one way or another, directly or indirectly. Once I was able to tear down my wall of secrets, I could see reality more clearly. Addicts and alcoholics aren’t the stereotypes I thought they were. This disease does not discriminate. I also learned that I didn’t have to do it alone. Asking for help, connecting with and supporting others saved my life. I know how fortunate I have been in my recovery with access to treatment and ongoing care for my addiction. I am grateful for every day I wake up sober.
Now I want to speak up and be there to help the next person who is suffering to tear down his or her wall of secrets before it’s too late.