As I have in previous years, I resolved to abstain from alcohol for the month of January. I thought I was being good. I thought I was being sensible, maybe even inspirational. I may have been doing this for myself, testing my willpower perhaps.
Alcohol abuse among lawyers is twice the national average and, in 2010, 80 per cent of calls from lawyers to LawCare relating to alcohol abuse blamed their drinking on work related stress. From the Bar, 33 per cent of calls related to alcohol abuse.
And LawCare expect the numbers to be much higher than the calls they receive. They think that the reason they don’t have more addiction calls is because “it is particularly hard for lawyers, who pride themselves on their ability to cope and to solve other people’s problems, to ask for help for themselves.”
I don’t think I have a drink problem, but as it is for most people, December was a typically alcohol-heavy month. Parties, festive events, meeting friends old and new, suffering relatives, Communion and of course, the annual anti-climax of New Year’s Eve, each bring with them a tangible obligation to join in the merriment and partake of the occasional sweet sherry as it is thrust into your hand as you cross each threshold.
So it was, after an enjoyable if slightly harassed New Year’s Eve on the South Bank of the Thames spent, seemingly, with every other Londoner and tourist of every nationality ‘ooh’ing and ‘ahhh’ing at each toll of Big Ben and colourful explosion of fireworks and re-watching the action on pre-recorded TV for a better view on return to the flat, I avowed not to touch another drop of alcohol until February. I may have been slightly under the influence at the time, but I still remembered the next day, so can’t have been that bad.
Now, a little forward planning might have been considered given that only a few days later I found myself at a live comedy show, on a grey and damp Sunday afternoon, being recorded for the future amusement of many others on TV. Initially, this was a little challenge, but as the delay to the performance extended to 90 minutes and the bar became increasingly full and jovial, I became increasingly self-conscious. Sitting me on the second row with a camera pointing at my face to catch my uncontrollable laughter was probably a mistake the director will live to regret. It was a funny show, but I had the impression that everyone else was enjoying it just a little more than me – at least that’s the impression their high volume guffawing was giving. But I survived and even managed to get home and iron my shirts for the working week. I don’t think that would have been such a desirable pastime a few pints later.
You would think that being at work, the temptation of alcohol would be less, but it seems it is as much a part of the job we do as time recording and blaming a trainee. Day one back in the office, still a little quiet, not everyone has returned from their holidays yet, so let’s go to the pub.
And then the question comes: “What can I get you?” Followed by the intentional deafness: “Sorry, did you say ORANGE JUICE?” And then comes the confused expression and bemused: “Why?”
This is where I see the problem is. There is an expectation on us to drink alcohol. Of course, you’re never forced into it and it’s easy to say no, but it’s quicker and easier to say yes. No explanation required. Maybe it’s just me. I’m pretty healthy, have a good resting heartbeat (according to the app on my iPhone), not overweight, not yet close to retirement. But I still feel the need to explain my resistance to booze, passing it off almost apologetically, “It’s only for the month.”
The rest of the month was the same. Lunch with a client, no wine. Training seminar in the City, I’ll take the fresh juice. A theatre trip with the bar-side jug of water to myself. Another comedy night, where this time I’ve caught the eye of the star, Paul Foot, who takes to incorporating me in his intimate, surreal and physical performance. Can he see in my eyes that I am a victim of sobriety and easy target? It would have been easier to laugh along after a few glasses of wine and not a mug of mint tea and a St. Clements. Maybe it was just the bowtie?
LawCare’s budget was reduced by £30,000 in 2011 and as a consequence and a reduction in advertising spend, the number of calls has dropped considerably. The service provided is perhaps needed now more than ever as the threat of a ‘triple-dip’ recession looms ever large, without anywhere else to turn, those lawyers who are worst affected are missing an avenue for guidance and help, a way out from what might seem like a professional cul-de-sac.
I’m back to drinking in February and, although I am sleeping better, feeling healthier and running a little faster, I’ll be enjoying the occasional wine with dinner and maybe an additional glass should I visit another Paul Foot show, but there’s nothing wrong with a little Dutch courage or a little socialising.
Just because there is a free bar or an open bottle of wine, I won’t be hanging around until the very last drop.
This article first appeared in the Solicitors Journal on 8 February 2013 and is reproduced with kind permission.