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Support Group

Taking a crack at law school is a mighty endeavor. It is taxing on the mind, body, and most importantly your nerves. Alcohol and drugs have long been a simple solution for soothing the stress of law school that students endure. Being an alcoholic or drug addict, or both, still breeds social stigma.

In this day and age, drones may now be used for delivery of goods, astronaut Scott Kelly just got back from spending almost an entire year in space, and Google has almost perfected a self-driving car. Still, we still live in a society where alcohol abuse and drug addiction is a bane of civilization.

Support is there though. If we as addicts and alcoholics want a solution, we must become a part of it.

I’m a 28-year-old law student at Valparaiso University Law School in Valparaiso, Ind. I’m currently finishing my first year, and law school has given me nervousness and anxiety levels I did not think were possible. However, throughout the grueling and mind-numbing world that is 1L year, I have been able to stay sober and only slightly less sane.

If you want help, all you have to do is reach out your hand.

In September of last year, I celebrated three years of sobriety. I never dreamed of going to law school, and I certainly never dreamed of a day where I could do the former sober.

Saying those two different things is in itself unnerving. I have been part of a 12-step fellowship for the past four years. Through said fellowship, I have made changes that have helped bring me to where I am today. I’m a law student, who like all other law students, deals with the stress, the struggles, and the sleepless nights. A student who has been adamantly aggravated at the other students enamoring question process, more commonly known as “hypo-hell.”

Legitimately, one day I counted another student asking sixteen “what if” questions in a 50-minute class. I’ve also struggled finding a common denominator when dealing with the faculty, although I have to say that I have received, for the large part, better treatment than some other situations have afforded me.

Valparaiso University Law School has broken up the first year into quarters, referred to as “minimesters.” Thus, instead of having two rounds of finals, we have four.  To some it is received as a welcomed change, but it also doubles the amount of stress sifted and shared by all students. Walking through the halls, the stress and fear of the unknown is almost palpable. Students pour everything they have into the goal of in a couple years becoming a lawyer.

I have struggled with school, and struggled socially for as long as I can remember. I’ve always wanted to be the best athlete, the smartest student, have the prettiest girlfriend, and be the king of the school. This has never happened.

Any success that has come my way, whether in school, sports, or extracurricular studies, I have completely and utterly sabotaged. However, that sabotage led to a whole lot of moving parts, missed chances. Although, if I hadn’t gone through the amount of times I struggled, I would not be as grateful for the opportunity to be able to get a chance to be a 1L.

That leads to this: to those who think they are completely alone, that no one they know of in law school has an issue with drugs or alcohol, look again. We’re everywhere.

When I stopped blaming people life got easier. It took a long time to realize how big my ego was, how big it still is. I’m not an evangelist, I’m also not a live-life-down-the-straight-and-narrow type of guy.

That’s why I’m writing this. If you think no one’s walked in your shoes, by struggling with addiction, you’re categorically incorrect. To prove that point, take this fact into consideration: according to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, a leading addiction treatment group, “21 percent of licensed attorneys are problem drinkers, 28 percent of lawyers struggle with depression, [and] 47 percent of all disciplinary proceedings and malpractice actions involve substance abuse.”

Whatever you do, know this, we’re only as sick as the secrets we keep. Being an addict doesn’t make you a bad person, it doesn’t make you a freak. You have a chemical deficiency, which is recognized by the American Medical Association as a disease. If you want help, all you have to do is reach out your hand.

Someone will be more than willing to offer support. Look to programs such as JLAP (Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program) for help and advice from people who have walked in your shoes before.

Society can stigmatize any category of people or disease or both. Alcoholism and drug addiction are two of the most underfunded and under discussed diseases in modern society. For generations, we’ve been systematically hidden like the bad step child of modern problems.

I, however, neither chose this life; nor am I running from it anymore.

I call out for a helpful hand when I need it, and I always have one extended to anybody seeking a friend who understands. As always, the more you reveal yourself, the more you grow.  I’ve lost too many friends to this disease because of a feeling of humility, and the inability to ask for help.

You don’t have to be silent.

Silence can be deafening.

Be a voice in your community. Remember we can’t change the direction of the wind – we can only adjust our sails to meet our destinations.

Zachary Gooding Zachary Gooding was tired of dreaming of change and not changing the scenes so he quit a construction job, to pursue his passion. He is 28, has a B.S. in Corporate Communications from the University of Baltimore, and is now a 1L at Valparaiso University Law School and hasn’t regretted a day since. Well, except maybe during finals!