A muggy, hot summer morning. My usual drive to my favorite Starbucks in Dallas. Where I had written most of my book outlining my struggles with body dysmorphic disorder, addiction and eating disorders. I had touched on how they affected my career(or lack thereof) as an attorney and my struggles during law school but never really went into the reality of what it meant to be a lawyer and an addict. A profession often wrapped around ego, pride and the need to hide all weakness even in the face of losing all.
I drove past the same bus-stop every day. To the average person on his/her way to their next “stop” of the day, in life, nothing to set it off from any other. People waiting to go to different parts of their lives. Jobs, family, shopping. All speculation, no need to think further about what put them there at that moment. No more than speculating what put that homeless person on at the light with sign mere feet away from the bus stop. Sometimes I speculated. Sometimes I gave money. Most times I did not. Too lost in my own life.
This particular bus stop always caught my attention. It symbolized more. It was a way-station for those struggling from addiction. The apartment complex across the street where many recovering addicts live. Why? Because it was within walking distance to a local twelve step group. My home group. Why? The bus line took people close to several transitional living homes for recovering addicts. Different stories from all walks of life confirming that addiction does not discriminate.
That morning, I saw one such story I was intimately familiar with. There was Gary waiting for the bus. A lawyer. Undergraduate of Boston College Summa Cum Laude. Near the top of his class at Antioch School of Law. On to a great job with NBC . On to the NYC nightlife and the genetic pull of a family line ripe with alcohol use. Gary was alcoholic and drug addict long before that bus stop. An addict trying to keep the shreds of his life and legal career together.
I had met Gary years before when we both worked of-counsel to a local Dalla firm. I was trying to hold my life together between addiction and a eating disorder. High functioning was a blessing and a curse. I needed no help. I showed up to court sober. I only did cocaine in the bathroom of the firm when I had no appointments. The pick up I needed after all night cocaine and alcohol benders. It all made perfect sense to me. In my mind, I was not an addict.
I had actually tried my last case with Gary. A bench trial contract matter. He ran the show. He was sober and brilliant. I didn’t want that show. I hated the practice of law. I was not afraid of a courtroom but I was sickened by them. A reminder of how much I hated my life and the career I had chosen for all the wrong reasons. We had a good result. Then Gary disappeared as he had sporadically done over the years since I first met him. I knew what that meant. We all knew. Periods of sobriety and stellar representation of his clients, periods of complaints of neglect and even showing up to client meetings apparently high.
Gary does not see my drive by him at the bus stop. He is looking at the ground. Waiting. My calls to him were never heard as his voicemail was full. I knew what that meant. Most addicts and their families know what that means. I went further down the road and turned around so I could drive up along side him. He got in. He had been to a 12-step meeting and was headed down to the Dallas 24-Hour club where he was a resident. He asked if I knew he had been disbarred. I had seen it in the local legal periodical. As what often happens with lawyers and addiction, clients money never made it to the client. State Bars take a dim view of stealing from clients and addiction is not an excuse. A common story. A common explanation from Gary. It was all a mistake. He had lost everything and was still in denial. I thought back to what my shrink had said to me April 8th 2007, the day I began my sobriety journey. “Brian, you have a law degree but you’re not a lawyer, you’re an addict”.
I drove Gary down to the 24 Hour Club. I bought him lunch. A familiar request for money until “he got back on his feet” It became our routine. The bus stop. The drive. The excuses. The helplessness. Then he was gone again. The full voicemail. No longer at the transitional living home. He had tested dirty.
August 2013. My cell phone rings. A 516 area code. Long Island. Where some of Gary’s family lived. He had moved back home much as I had moved to Dallas to be with my brothers after finishing Pitt Law deep in alcohol use disorders. My family would save me. If recovery was only that simple. A quick conversation. He said he was sober and working as an attorney. He was also licensed in New York. I hid my annoyance at the fact that he had just been disbarred and yet was right back participating in another jurisdiction that may not know about his past. Was I ethically bound to say something? I struggled with the conflict between my view as a lawyer and as a recovering addict. It was not my recovery. It was his.
The day is finally here! My first book, “Shattered Image” is going to be released. Looking forward to the release party! A Facebook message from Gary. I had not heard from him in a while. The message was cheerful. A photo of a plane ticket to come to Dallas for my book signing. It would be the last time I would hear from Gary.
The message came from his ex-wife. The google explosion of his name told the story.
“Gary Abrams , 54 Fatally Struck By Truck Tractor Trailer” walking along a highway.
It is unknown whether he had been drinking but it does not matter. He is gone. He never “got it” in recovery. It’s not that he didn’t want it. He tried. I miss him and wish he had gotten it. Gary was a lawyer, a friend, a husband, a sibling, an alcoholic. an addict. In his passing, he also helped me. I know my recovery is only as good as today. Thank you Gary.
Bus stop photo available from Shutterstock