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‘I felt hopeless and isolated’: Barrister opens up about battle with alcoholism

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A candid account of one lawyer’s journey to sobriety

A barrister has opened up about their fight against alcohol addiction and the subsequent road to recovery.

The unnamed barrister’s blog entry, ‘Addictions at the Bar — when a dry January is not enough’, was shared earlier this week by Wellbeing at the Bar, the Bar Council’s mental health website which offers a range of support tools for barristers and chambers.

They open with an honest confession, “I am a barrister. I am also a recovering alcoholic”. Yet, according to the barrister, coming to terms with this addiction wasn’t easy. “[I]f you told me then I had a drink problem, I would not have listened to you. Yes, I would admit I was a heavy drinker, but I would never have considered myself an alcoholic. But over the years, I lost control over how much I drank and when I drank,” they write.

It wasn’t long before the alcoholism impacted the barrister’s practice, particularly as heavy drinking left them unable to call into chambers. They recall often skipping work on a Monday to recover from “weekend excesses” as the weekend began to merge with the working week. “Eventually it was impossible for me to know what days, if any, I would appear and the state I would be in if I did turn up,” the barrister explains.

His or her “professional descent” was mirrored by trouble in their personal life. Unfit for work, the barrister recalls struggle with rising debts, which eventually led to their flat being sold to cover costs. Feeling “hopeless and isolated”, the barrister relied on alcohol to cope with these negative events and to “drink the feelings away” — despite it being the drink which caused them in the first place. They continue:

“I reached the stage where my life was a miserable existence of drinking alone, drinking to oblivion, coming to and starting the cycle again.”

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Although subsequent trips to rehab and periods of abstinence appeared promising, relapses ending with “binge” drinking would quickly “dash those hopes”.

It was at this “new depth of desperation” that the barrister began their journey to recovery, seeking help wherever it was offered. The blogger recalls visiting Alcoholics Anonymous, an addiction support group: “I had been attending AA meetings for several years, but for the first time I attended 90 meetings in 90 days.”

With the help of LawCare, a charity that promotes and supports good mental health and wellbeing in the legal community, the blogger was introduced to a network of barristers in recovery from alcohol addiction. Another source of help was from the Barristers Benevolent Association who offered financial advice and assistance, allowing the barrister to “focus on getting sober”.

The barrister also stepped away from the profession for a time and began a new job, finding comfort in its routine of regular pay and regular hours. “While at the time this felt like failure, it was, with hindsight, the best thing that could have happened to me,” the writer reveals.

Taking “one day at a time” the anonymous barrister eventually achieved sobriety and other positives gradually ensued — from the clearing of debts to starting a family. Several years on, the barrister reveals they have since returned to chambers. “The early days back had their moments of worry; after all, it had been a long time but after a few months it felt like being back home,” they write.

You can contact LawCare by calling 0800 279 6888 in the UK or 1800 991 801 in Ireland.

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43 Comments

Anonymous

Mark my words, alcoholism is absolutely epidemic amongst barristers within all practice areas.

I left law to teach. Had the young son of one (actual) top QC comment to me that “Daddy’s friend from chambers likes to come over and drink all our wine. He’s scared he’ll lose the dog in the divorce.”

All my sympathies to the spouses and kids involved here. Al-Anon is a very useful resource. You will not be the first person affected by a barrister’s behaviour to have sought help.

(32)(1)

Anonymous

Agreed, although alcoholism should be treated more as an illness than a behavioural issue.

(9)(3)

Anonymous

Great point and really drives to the horcrux of the situation. The word you looking for, though, is endemic.

(4)(3)

Anonymous

Horcrux?

Isn’t that a Harry Potter term?

Is that you, Alan?

(2)(0)

Anonymous

I found the bar to be absolutely soaked in booze and alcoholics. It’s like many barristers have very poor social skills and can only connect through booze. I remember finding it odd being pontificated to by a head of a London commercial chancery chambers and deputy high court judge about drinking when he had once driven a car with me in it pissed up a one way street in the wrong direction.

(0)(0)

Sneauxfleke

How dare u misgender me.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Nice advert for LawCare, I guess?

(1)(25)

Anonymous

What a cock

(14)(2)

Dig Bick

That’s what the ladies say

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Jack asks his father “Dad, what’s an alcoholic?” The dad says “You see those 4 trees over there, if you see eight it means your an alcoholic.” the son replies with “But dad I only see two”

(38)(1)

Anonymous

Wait, I only wanted to be a barrister because it is acceptable to drink at lunchtime? Insurance it is for me then I guess…

(13)(4)

Anonymous

It’s either insurance or the criminal bar for you, bro.

(3)(1)

Anonymous

Or the judiciary sis.

(0)(0)

Gary

I prefer cocaine, but alcohol is nice.

(11)(5)

Anonymous

Me too actually, but what I really like is the two together.

(4)(4)

Anonymous

I’ve battled with similar issues.

The bar is an unforgiving environment in that it provides you with a lot of chances to drink, and some hard ways to avoid it. For example, and its so easy to have a drink after Court, one at the train station, a few on the train, and this then leads to a night out.

Further, when the stress really used to build, I would find myself at 2 pm saying, oh ill go and get a drink as that would be the end of the day, but often would then lead to chaos.

I am getting help, and I’m lucky that loved ones have given me some really hard truths, but I think I am dealing with it. In the past, a lot of people I know or knew professionally had not been supportive but that’s more of a fact that they probably just didn’t know how to.

I said to a senior member of the bar, and a good friend the other day when he asked me why I don’t drink now that, “some people can drink and have a great time, some have a terrible time. The vast majority of people sit in the middle. I always thought I was one of the first, but I now know I am in the second. The problem is when I drink, everyone around me is assured of a bad time. Therefore, ill have another Cranberry Juice please”.

I didn’t get laughed at, I was not seen as an idiot or anything if anything I think they (other people were there too) were more relieved and happy for me.

I have been lucky that and somehow I’ve kept it all together whilst having more than a few close shaves. The signs were there for ages, I was just on a course of self-destruction it seems now when I think about it, determined to be included but pushing everyone away, and alienating people, and myself. Whilst i am trying to sort it out now, albeit later than I should feel good. I’d like to know how to get in touch with the barrister network.

(57)(0)

Anonymous

My first mini-pupillage was with a leading criminal set. 3 of the 4 defendants were represented by barristers from the set in question, the other defendant was represented by a solicitor advocate.

After day 3 solicitor advocate asks in a cheerful, chirpy manner “Anyone for a pint before we go home?”

Every single barrister made excuses. Says something that the barrister I was with even preferred my company on the train home. Solicitor advocate innit.

(15)(2)

Anonymous

What’s the point of this story? I’ve onviously missed it.

(9)(3)

Anonymous

To get a rise out of people like you.

LOL

(2)(1)

Anonymous

Cool story bro. Someone asked to go for a pint and no one went. The end.

(9)(0)

Anonymous

‘Battle’ with alcoholism. ‘Fight’ against booze.

Back in my day a real fight was man with a rifle against men with machine guns.

The race of man is officially an embarrassment. Weak plastic men pretending to be in battles and fights.

(8)(35)

Anonymous

If you took the time to read the quotes from the article itself the writer never once used language like “fight” or “battle”. In fact, if you follow the link, the whole article is devoid of such words. Still, keyboard warriors like you just read headlines and skip to comments for kicks.

(15)(0)

Warrior Counsel

Comment was made against the article and how words are used incorrectly as analogies. You’re one of those skinny armed, weak individuals who are the problem with society nowadays, and get your satisfaction from using words meant real warriors to portray your own sad common actions!

(0)(7)

Anonymous

Twat

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Alcohol addiction is horrible. I am approaching 20 years of struggles with booze and some days are terribly difficult.

(14)(4)

Anonymous

Give it up. Its easy.

(5)(13)

Anonymous

I never really found booze all that addictive. It is more the lifestyle around it – going to the pub after work with colleagues and/or friends. The whole culture around it. But the booze itself, perhaps I am lucky not to have got hooked. On the other hand, looking at the pure substance of it, I find cocaine really addictive and more-ish. Cigarettes too, but to a lesser extent. Alcohol is perhaps addictive like chocolate – I’ll grab it off the shelf and it can be hard to resist when put in front of you.

(8)(0)

SPANGEL OF COU CJL

WAYHAYAHAYAY THE BOOZER!!!!!!!

COME ON LADS!!!!!

IM A REAL BAZZER ME!!!!!

WHAT ARE YOU LOOKIN AT???????

OH…ITS ME IN THE TOILET MIRROR…

I SSSEEM TO HAVE SHAT ME TROUSERSSS AS I COULDNT GWT O TO THS TOILET I. N TIME..

CALL ME ALCOHOLIC AND ILL PUBSH YOUR LIGHTS OYT MATE!!!!

(4)(7)

Anonymous

For someone struggling with alcoholism, and who may have found themselves in this very situation (aggression, picking fights with reflections, soiling themselves) this is not very funny.

(1)(3)

Anonymous

Alcoholics can laugh at their own expense too. Stop treating them like the devil. You naughty man/woman.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

D’JOO WAMNA FIGHT OR WOT???????

*swings punch, misses, collapses in heap*

(0)(0)

Anonymous

How dare you assume that I am one or the other gender????

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Farking filthy poo right in yar farking knickers innit

(3)(0)

Whooski Fuckypoo

Stop being so infantile!

(0)(1)

George 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿

That’s only the ones who got caught…

(1)(0)

Wee Jock McTavish LLB (Edinburgh) 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

Don’t I get a look in?

Is the true love between man and haggis always wrong?

(0)(0)

The Revd Ian Paisley (Dec’) 🇯🇪

Yuzzle all go to H E L L fur formiceeshun!!!!

(1)(0)

Anonymous

I think this lost all plausibility at the words “I called Law Care”.

(2)(1)

Anonymous

The cocksuckers have done it here as well.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

Some of us like getting pissed once a week and don’t disgrace ourselves in doing so.

(3)(0)

Bob

Coming to the Bar has lead me to drink far less. I drank far more in my six years of university than I have. In my 14 years at the Bar in Sydney.

(0)(1)

Comments are closed.

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