• Lisa Smith

You Can’t Out-Smart Addiction

Smart, successful people like me didn’t become addicted, I thought. Turns out I thought wrong.

Addiction and the Road to Recovery

Throughout my 12-year downward spiral into alcoholism and cocaine addiction, I was sure that I could get it under control myself. After all, I was a lawyer who had a high-level job at a prestigious firm in New York City. Smart, successful people like me didn’t become addicted, I thought. Turns out I thought wrong. I learned this the hard way.


Confident and together as I acted, this lifestyle poured kerosene on my pre-existing fire of insecurity, anxiety, and fear.

As a junior lawyer at a New York City megafirm, my enjoyment of (and tolerance for) alcohol was welcomed. Any weeknight, I was lucky enough to work a so-called “half-day,” meaning I left my desk around 7 o’clock, there would be a group of similarly fortunate lawyers looking to go out for cocktails. Because these impromptu gatherings frequently included a firm partner, the drinks were both endless and free. Who could pass that up?


Boozing away the day’s pressures and anxieties while scoring points with more senior lawyers who could influence my career became a way of life and a seemingly successful one at that.

I’d belly up to the bar at one of the firm’s regular nearby haunts and go drink for drink and shot for shot with my colleagues. Boozing away the day’s pressures and anxieties while scoring points with more senior lawyers who could influence my career became a way of life and a seemingly successful one at that.


Standing in my tailored business suit and four-inch heels, I would occasionally steal a glance at my watch. It was a devil’s bargain, after all. Come 9 o’clock the next morning, I would be expected to be at my desk and ready for another day of intense pressure and never-ending demands. In a “work hard/play hard” environment, hangovers are no excuse for being late or out sick. This was true even after the most debauched client entertainment dinners, firm celebrations, and, frequently, on weekends. We had a joke: If you don’t show up for work on Saturday, don’t bother showing up on Sunday.


Confident and together as I acted, this lifestyle poured kerosene on my pre-existing fire of insecurity, anxiety, and fear. I began drinking every night almost immediately. The bottom fell out of my sophisticated façade when I would get home from work at midnight, stand in front of my refrigerator in my underwear and slam a few beers to put me to sleep. I called this Happy Hour.


We had a joke: If you don’t show up for work on Saturday, don’t bother showing up on Sunday.

Fortunately, when I was finally in enough pain, I found recovery. I told my family and friends, but not my firm. Getting sober is a highly personal decision and one I was lucky to make on my terms. I had thought I was “high functioning,” but that’s an unsustainable myth. If I had gotten a DUI, missed a meeting because I overslept, or crossed the line at an office event, suddenly I wouldn’t be so high functioning. In fact, I could have been fired or worse.


Now, in our 24/7-connected world, a work hard/play hard ethic is even more dangerous as the two overlap. Lying on a chaise on a picturesque beach loses its restorative benefits when you have one hand on the phone waiting for it to vibrate with an email that might summon you inside for a conference call. Yet, we’re expected to do just that without suffering from the physical and mental health problems that are likely to result.


The irony for me was that I became more successful in the corporate world once I stopped drinking. I became present and engaged at the office, not hungover or obsessing over when I could drink next. Not long after getting sober, I was able to take a more significant job previously beyond my reach.


I also surrounded myself outside the office with people who understood what I was going through. Armed with their tips, tools, and support, I was able to navigate the “play hard” part of corporate life with a clear head, no hangovers, and no regrets.


I may have been wrong when I thought I was too smart for Addiction, but I know I’m right when I say that sobriety was my ticket up the corporate ladder.


If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, there is help, connection, and hope. Unlike 17 years ago when I got sober, there are now a host of ways to recover, recognizing that recovery is not a one-size-fits-all issue. Below are a few such organizations:


https://www.aa.org/

https://sherecovers.org/

https://www.jointempest.com/

https://www.smartrecovery.org/

Lisa Smith is the author of Girl Walks Out of a Bar, her memoir of Addiction and recovery in the world of New York City corporate law. She also co-hosts the podcast Recovery Rocks.