Profiles in Recovery

Lisa Smith

“My work wardrobe was ratty. All of my suits, like most of my clothes, were black because black hid the wine stains and cigarette ash . . .

After my obsessive ritual of brushing my teeth and gargling with Listerine at least three times before chomping Orbit gum, I began to feel more like my version of normal—steady enough to get through my workday without people seeing me violently shake or stumble and just barely confident that no one near me would smell the wine that pulsed through my veins.”

— From Smith’s memoir, “Girl Walks Out of a Bar”

New York City attorney Lisa Smith was a high-functioning addict, hiding a spiraling alcohol and cocaine habit amid the pressures of corporate law.

Attorneys struggle with addiction at rates that are twice the national average, and Smith — who is now 12 years in recovery — wants to change the stigma. “We need to raise awareness of this issue and make it a continuing conversation in order to encourage those who need it to get help instead of hiding alone in shame and fear,” she says.

Day Job:
Deputy Executive Director at a New York City law firm. Author, Girl Walks Out of a Bar, a memoir of high-functioning addiction and recovery.

Stigma I faced:
I am a lawyer and there is a stigma around alcoholism and addiction in law firms. When I went to detox for five days, I told the firm I had a medical emergency and would be back the following week. Then I wouldn’t go to longer rehab because I felt I had to show up back at work.

One of my hopes for my memoir, Girl Walks Out of a Bar, is that it will help to break the stigma at least a little bit.

What I lost to addiction:
I was fortunate enough not to lose a job or get arrested, but that was only by luck. I lost my physical health and became dead inside. I lost hope, peace, and any trace of self-esteem. I lost years of healthy relationships with family and friends. I became someone I hated.

Favorite recovery quote:
“If you’re given a reprieve, it’s good to remember how thin it is.” ~ Dan (actor Heath Ledger) in Candy.

What worked for me:
One morning, when I thought I was going to die and I was out of drugs, I checked myself into a five-day medicated detox in a seedy psychiatric hospital. It scared me out of my mind, but I learned that I am not someone who can drink safely.

After detox, I refused to go to a long-term inpatient facility because I didn’t want my law firm to know what had happened. I started going to 12-step meetings and realized that there actually was life after drinking and if I wanted my life back, I’d better get on board. I still am active in 12-step programs 12 years later. It keeps me sober.

Rules I live by:
1) “Get Up. Get Dressed. Get With The Program.” This was on the wall of the detox I was in. They were three things I hadn’t been doing, but they seemed to make sense and be simple enough for me to try.

2) “Just For Today.” I have never said I’ll never drink again. That would be too much for me. Each day, I make a decision that for that day, I am not going to drink. If I just take care of today, tomorrow will take care of itself.

3) “Just Don’t Be A Jerk.” It’s amazing how much easier life is if I just try to treat other people the way I would hope to be treated.

How I get through the holidays:
I have learned that “No” is a complete sentence. I don’t have to participate in every party or family gathering. I’ve learned to put my spiritual fitness and sobriety first. If I have to go to something that I know will make me uncomfortable (e.g., my firm’s holiday party), I will go late and leave early. I also bump up my 12-step program and talk to my sponsor regularly.

Proudest moment:
Publishing my memoir, Girl Walks Out of a Bar. When someone tells me it helped them or someone they know, I feel like I have done service for others. I had a lot of advantages coming into recovery, so if I can help the next person, I feel truly grateful and proud.

Follow Smith:; on Twitter @girlwalksout

Shed the Stigma:
If you’re a person in long-term recovery who wants to share your insights, please contact us at [email protected].