ep 47 Lisa is the author of Girl Walks Out of a Bar, the memoir of her descent into and recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction in the world of New York City corporate law. She is a recovery advocate, frequent speaker and writer on these issues, and the co-host of the podcast, Recovery Rocks.
Welcome to the self made and sober podcast. I’m your host Andrew Lassise. And with me today is Lisa Smith, the author of girl walks out of a bar. And that’s her memoir of her descent into and recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction. And Lisa, how are you doing?
I’m great. Thanks. for having me.
Yeah, I recall, I forget the the source. We were talking a little beforehand that one of our previous guests had mentioned your book and then I saw you on Instagram someone else had mentioned, I think it was part of like a book club or something. So, girl walks out of a bar, it’s, it’s getting some rumblings it got on my radar. And so tell me a little bit about your history. And you know, what kind of got you into the world of alcoholism and addiction.
Well, I, I grew up in New Jersey in suburban New York City. I had a nice family. My dad was a judge. My mom was school teacher. They were not alcoholics, but there was alcoholism and mental health challenges on both sides of their family. And I grew up I think, like a lot of people who end up end up in recovery, find themselves early in life sort of that feeling of not being comfortable in my own skin. I was like a really gloomy, sort of anxious kid and I found out pretty young that I felt better with food actually, which was the first substance I abused and sugar in particular, and then I kind of graduated along the way. I always do well in school, and I ended up going to law school. And right after law school, you know, I was a big partier. But it wasn’t a daily thing. It didn’t impact my studies. And then after I graduated, I moved into New York City and I had a job I got a job at one of the giant law firms as a corporate associate, a junior associate and it was a as a first year associate that I became a nightly drinker really to deal with you know, not Just what I know now was a genetic predisposition as well as an underlying undiagnosed untreated depression and anxiety disorder. But also, you know, I had that and then combined it with the crazy stressful, exhausting life of a junior associate in a big law firm. And it was, you know, basically about a 12 year slide down down that slope and at the end, the last 18 months you know, it was that creep that step by step that we do that, you know, we justify Yeah, I know, I’m drinking too much. But you know, you would drink if you had my life. Or, you know, for me, a lot of it was Yeah, I know, I shouldn’t be drinking at lunch, but I can get this under control anytime. And you know, all the crazy silly things we say to ourselves like, okay, yeah, I drink at lunch, but I’m doing it with other people and also, you know, people in Drink at lunch it’s not a big do
they do and
yeah then finally came the vino and I would always justified saying, well I’m not one of those people who drinks in the morning you know that’s really bad until the day that I woke up with like the worst hangover and I knew I had to be in the office and I couldn’t make the tremor stuff I can make the headache stop. And you know, that was the first morning that I drank. And I remember thinking you know, like this is really bad, but I’m going to be able to get this under control. I’ll just you know, stop but what ended up happening the last 18 months of my using were instead of stopping drinking in the morning, I added cocaine in in the mornings because that way when I had a drink to relieve my hangover and my tremors and all of that
when I wouldn’t get so sorry.
let me go back. We just
cut it right out. Okay.
So then One morning I woke up with the worst hangover, basically in my life and I knew I had to be in the office to be at a meeting and I knew that the only thing that would stop me would be a drink. And, you know, I remember thinking that and that it was going to be okay because I could get it under control. But instead, what I did was I I added cocaine into this whole mix so that when I had a drink in the morning, to get out of bed, I also would then use some cocaine to kind of counteract the effects of the alcohol. So for people who haven’t had to go through that particular misery, you know, when I would drink in the morning I get a little bit woozy and what cocaine did was, you know, wake me back up, make me stop slurring make me presentable to go into the office. So that was the last 18 months. And finally, one morning, I was on my way to work and I just became like, overcome with, you know, I thought either I’d had a heart attack or I’d finally overdose like something like that. I don’t know, it was a panic attack. And something in that moment made me decide, you know what, I need help, and I want to live and I need help. And I ended up checking myself into I had to get a medicated detox for five days. And I ended up I didn’t know where to go. I know sober references. My doctor helped me find just a hospital turned out to be like the worst psych hospital the worst, the worst detox unit in the city. And then when I came out, I went right back to work because I didn’t want to tell them and so I went to intensive outpatient at night and I rehab I wouldn’t I didn’t go away. I went twice a week intensive at night, and then I immediately began going to 12 step and I got on it. type of precedence to appropriately treat my
major depressive disorder.
So you’ve gone through the gambit of everything was fine. It’s just a little bit on the party scene in college. And then you kind of have the justification of that. Well, it’s it’s not that bad. And then, you know, we can point at different cultures. It’s like, well, it’s acceptable in France. It’s like, Yeah, but you don’t live in France. This is America. And that’s right. So you’re running through the gambit of justification. And, you know, other cultures, it is acceptable and in America, it’s not acceptable, but we kind of tell ourselves, well, my situations different and I mean, on the surface, it kind of sounds like you kind of had your stuff together. It wasn’t like Lisa, the train wreck in front of other people, maybe at home. Yeah, it’s a different story. And we we do well at dressing up and putting on a good face. And I mean, you know, working at a high profile law firm, and you’re recently out of college, it would make sense that you’ve got it figured out and it’s not actually a problem because if it were a problem, yeah, then you wouldn’t have all these other surface things. So what was that like? That moment where you were just you had described you check into into the hospital and you go to iocp start doing 12 step is it you’re sober right from their or their struggles was early sobriety look like early first attempts
and knock on wood. I stayed sober from there. I wonder if part of that is that I did get, you know, the right medication that was addressing a lot of what I had been, you know, kind of self medicating. I also think, you know, I came out and like you said, had about six years into practicing law. It really became as seniors I was getting, and I was doing Wow. But there was no way it was going to continue to be compatible with the amount I was drinking. And I jumped over onto the administrative side of the law firm and stop practicing. And so it was a little bit easier. It was certainly a lot easier than if I had been inactive practice. To continue going down that slide, I would have been, I think, discovered much sooner if I were still practicing. But um, you know, I didn’t like you said, I didn’t lose everything. That was one of the things you know, that I think also helped me stay sober was that, you know, I came back, I had a nice apartment, I had my job, I didn’t have to deal with a DUI, I didn’t have to deal with, you know, having gotten fired or something like that. So I wouldn’t recommend any of this.
But I wouldn’t recommend losing
me like a strong strong basis to really kind of chase after it. And also, you know, there had been so many I hadn’t, you know, fully tried to get sober before. But for so many years, I had said, You know, I had tried myself to cut down and to do all those things. And I just at the end, I was so exhausted, I was so sick, I was so wiped out and I was done like I wanted to be done.
Now, a lot of people, they need those consequences to hit them so that they can start taking that shift and jumping into it, but you were more along the lines of you could see where it was heading, and just stopped it before. before it actually went off track.
Well, it could have happened any day though. Like I always say, you know, people refer to people like me as having good, you know, high functioning because I held a big job and had all the outward appearances. And you know, like, I think the whole idea of being a high functioning alcoholic or addict is really a myth because you’re high functioning until the day you’re not right. So I was walking into the office with cocaine on me, if I had been discovered, one of those days are falling out of my pocket, and someone saw that, you know, I wouldn’t be so high functioning anymore in that moment, if I had, you know, car crash, not so high functioning anymore, you know, missing debt, whatever it is. So
that’s a really good point and interesting perspective. It’s what everybody sees on the outside. And I think a lot of times people, they say that they don’t give value to these to the surface level things, but a lot of times the surface level is, is actually what people are, are seeing and judging by. So
people can say, well, Lisa’s really she gets drunk a lot. But you know, I mean, she’s doing well she’s doing a lot of work and whatever. So Can’t be a problem there and what could be wrong?
Right? It’s not a problem until it’s a problem. And then it’s and I know for myself after I after I got sober people were like, yeah, you probably should have been cutting back. It’s like no one really said anything like here minus, minus like the obvious ones. It was like, Yeah, yeah, you just like to party you just drunk like, That’s right. That’s you. That’s your thing.
Right girl walks
out of a bar. What was going on? Before you decided to write it? Have you always wanted to write a book or what was kind of the thought process behind that?
Well, I had always liked writing. And I think a lot of lawyers like writing and I, I was like the kind of drunk who sat on a barstool and I would be like, I’m gonna write a book, you know. And then like, I got sober and wrote a book. And it was, it was one of those things where I didn’t I didn’t plan it. I was I woke up in the mornings, and I would be like, so amazed that I hadn’t drank the night before and so excited about that. And the story, the way it started was the story in the detox is really kind of off the rails. And for some reason, I felt like I had to memorialize that. And so I started writing it down, like right away. And then I found the process of writing really cathartic in the mornings. And also I had all these family and friends being like, Why didn’t you tell us what’s going on what happened in the detox and that way, I could not just process it for myself, which was huge, but also hand it to them and be like, here, this is what happened. This is what it felt like. So it wasn’t going to be a book by any means at the beginning. But then I as I went along, I was like, this could actually like help somebody and so I never stopped working. And I so I wrote at like five in the morning for like 10 years. And I loved the process. I love doing that. I took like, you know, I’d never had I hadn’t studied in college or anything. So I started taking night classes and NYU and I spent started like going to writing retreats and things like that. So it was really you know, one of those things a lot Some people say they find like hobbies or things or whatever in recovery like you kind of get into something. Some people run triathlons like, that was not me. I started writing.
And so did the process start to finish take 10 years before it was published, or
Oh, yeah, just I think,
well, I started yet really took like 12 years, because the book came out in 2016. And I really started my writing process, like, right out of the detox, which is why I remember a lot of the details very clearly because I wrote it down like right when I got out. I also got my medical records from them from the psych hospital, and apparently, there was bingo and I was not, I was not interested in playing. I saw the nurses notes. I was anti social in the detox.
It’s a very interesting nurses note seven ever been on that side of it, but I feel like document you know what, but there’s probably someone listening it’s like, oh, she didn’t play bingo like that’s a that’s a super
they said something like patient refuses to engage with others patient refused to play bingo it was in there like twice. I was like really? I don’t remember the bingo part.
Yeah, well apparently
generally like Bingo.
You know what maybe that’s one of the gifts of sobriety is that you can now participate in and enjoy Bingo.
That’s right. That’s right.
So what has what has the response been to your book? Because I mean, like I said it came across as a recommendation from a previous guest and I’ve seen it around. So what’s been the response just overall in general?
I think I’ve been very fortunate that, you know, I think it has helped people and it got a nice response when it came out. One of the big things about when it came out was it came out, right. It was just happened by coincidence or there are no quinces I don’t know. But what it came out like three months after the American Bar Association had published a huge study on lawyers and the prevalence of substance use and mental health disorders in the profession, and the numbers were off the charts. So, there hadn’t been a book like mine in the legal industry at the time. So I kind of got attached to that, you know, that my book came out and I got attached. So I started speaking a lot and doing a lot of things like that. And I get involved in, you know, there’s a whole as you know, online world of people connecting in recovery and through that, you know, I’ve really over the over the years, it’s now been out, like, you know, more than three years, almost three and a half years. And, you know, so it’s, it’s been way different than what I expected. I expected, like maybe some people in my 12 step group would read it and maybe some of my friends and that was Be at. So it’s so it’s really been a gift.
And so one of the little lines you had said in there that I’d like to dig a little deeper into, you said, there are no coincidences, and it was kind of like a Oh, well, you know, that’s kind of a that’s a pretty big philosophy. I know. For myself, it used to be, everything is coincidence, there is no guiding force on anything. We’re all going to die and nothing matters. And it’s changed since I’ve been in recovery. So you want to elaborate a little bit on your no coincidences?
Yeah, yeah. I mean, I do believe, you know, I had never been a religious person before, but I’d always kind of had this vague notion that there was probably something, some sort of force in the universe or whatever it was. So I didn’t come into recovery, you know, with a big with a big feeling about God or religion or anything like that, but you know, over time, I I did the 12 steps in the overtime I really did form this belief in a higher power, for me is more like the universe is kind of a force. And the idea that there are no coincidences when I think about it, you know, I think about all of the times that I was wandering around New York City in a blackout, like how did I not get killed? How did I not get arrested? How did awful things not happen? How, you know, how did I not just like step in front of the cab at 3am, one morning in a blackout, all these things that should have happened, I should have lost my job, I should have had all these things happen. Didn’t and I came I’ve been fortunate and coming through on the other side, I’ve been very fortunate in my recovery. And I think, you know, the basically what struck with me was, I’m supposed to be out here. I do feel like I have a life purpose now which is helping the next person and I feel like the book In that sense, you know the art there are no coincidences, meaning that there’s there’s a reason for stuff and you know, not like I believe we are predetermined. I don’t think it’s not like I think we have no free will. But I think that, you know, when the universe sort of has a has a plan, it can happen.
Yeah, I’m in the same boat with you. And one of the things that a lot of times you’ll see in 12 step recovery, it’ll be the low bottom drunks with who have lost everything who have tried everything and last stop. And you’ll also see people come in and out a lot and they’ll try it. Things will get better they’ll disappear, come back, back and forth, back and forth. So your experience of not losing everything and your experience of trying it. Your first go and still like you said, knock on wood. Continue doing what you’re doing, keep getting what you’re getting, but being Did you feel sort of Like, your situation was kind of special and unique, kinda like when you were drinking with? Well, if your situation were like mine, then you would drink the way I do is it? Well, if you had as much to lose as I did, then you would be as sober as I am.
Right. Right, right. Well, maybe I don’t know. I mean, I feel like it is, you know, I, what I stay really cognizant of I think is that the day I stopped thinking, you know, I can or the day I start thinking I can coast in my recovery or the day I, I don’t remember how important it is for me to do all the things I need to do to stay sober for today is the day it all goes away. And sorry, I do think in recovery, like as anybody puts together, one day after another after another day, you know, the day stack up and think, you know, good things do tend to happen. And so that’s not always enough, but I’m just going to keep doing Doing this and I’ve always been very much like just for today total one day at a time person.
And what are some of the things that you do just for today on a if you gave yourself a gold star and you hit all of the things what what would that look like,
if I hit all of the things I would get up? Well, I do. One thing I do do every day that I’ve been doing since literally the day that I got out of the detox is, you know, when I was at my bottom when I was so miserable, and so spent, I used to like, open my eyes in the morning and I would be like, Fuck, like I woke up again, like, I don’t want to do this again. I don’t want to be me again. And so my my now my thinking my thought when I wake up, and it was even before I did work on higher power stuff. I wake up and I look up and I’m like, thank you. That’s all I said. I’m just like, thank you. Like I realized right away. Oh my gosh, I didn’t drink it. Yesterday, I get a chance at another day, on a perfect day would then meditate, I would then go to a 12 step meeting. I would spend a lot of my time, you know, doing sort of trying to help the next person. The biggest thing for me that has, you know, I mean built up my recovery has been service and being counted on and showing up for other people. Like I think, you know, the hardest thing and, and also, the best thing I did in recovery was help my dad in his final days when he was dying of cancer, and you know, that will always that is the most important thing I’ve ever done, because I was able to be there and do that and take the lead. And you know, those things don’t happen otherwise. And while you were out drinking, would that not have been the case? Oh, no way. I would have been sitting in a bar crying about the fact that my dad was dying and not being there. doored him. So no, it would have been now it would have been totally different. So everything was about me, you know, now I get to make it about somebody else. And it’s huge.
And that’s exactly where I was going. I was thinking, for myself, it was very much I used to only focus on what I could get out of every situation. Oh, yeah, how I could manipulate something so that I could screw other people over so that I could get the upper hand and it never really worked out how I wanted it to and then right like, I switch it over to focusing on service. And then opportunities just knocked down my door things that I never could have scripted could have played life beyond my wildest dreams. When I started my IT company. My initial goal was to generate $30,000 in one year by having 200 customers and like At our peak, we had 25,000 customers and did close to 5 million in revenue. And it’s Oh, it’s like if I had gotten what I think I wanted, I would have cut myself real real low. Yeah, but yeah, right open to that because year one, in the same example, we only had like, maybe 5060 clients. So it was like, I didn’t hit the thing that I think that I wanted, but I kept striving for it. And then, you know, you unlock one thing and it was random. I’m at a 12 step meeting and a guy is wearing a ravens hoodie in Florida. And I’m like, Okay, well, nobody wears hoodies in Florida. So clearly, this guy is new. To talk to him. I’m like, Hey, I like your hoodie. I’m from Baltimore. He’s like, cool. I’m from Baltimore to and I’m like, cool. I’m going to sponsor you now. And he ended up being one of my best friends. Someone who helped me grow the channel. Any huge way and it’s just like these little neon things. And that that moment could have just as easily been I noticed he was wearing a hoodie and just kept living my life. And like I look at that moment and how extremely different things turned out as a result. It wasn’t that wasn’t my intention. It wasn’t what if this guy’s the guy? ways guy
can right? Right? Right? Right It was. That’s what yeah, that’s like no coincidence, right? Because you were sober in there to show up for it. You know, something happens.
So do you have any examples in your life where something just kind of a random coincidence, God since seemed like nothing that kind of just turned into something huge in your life?
yeah, I mean with my book for sure there was, you know, I happen to be in this writing workshop, and somebody My writing workshop was friendly with, you know, some agents so I and followed her on Twitter book agent. And so I just asked like, Who is that? And so I followed her on Twitter and she put on her Twitter something about a contest for a book deal with a small publisher, like a writing retreat in Vermont, was having this contest where you could win a book deal with the publisher and I and I was like, You know what, it’s the right time I’ve been writing this book for 10 years, I need to like drill down submitted manuscripts and see what happens. And that was I ended up winning that contest and that was how I got my, my deal with with my publisher. But if I just hadn’t been when I heard him say, Oh, yeah, this agent on Twitter if I hadn’t been like, okay, now I’m going to follow that agent. Now. I’m going to follow you know, this It’s a lot. It’s much easier to be in the right place at the right time when you’re sober
than it ever was before.
Yeah, and I think also, maybe even in the past, like if you were right place, right time, you don’t have the opportunities play out in your favor as often just because when we’re selfish and only focusing on what can I get out of this situation? What’s the easy way for me to take as opposed to what’s the correct way for me to take what’s the way that is most service most beneficial? What can I look into? For me? It was a lot of, you know, I lose my job and it’s like, Okay, well, I’ll just go get another one and wherever I end up, like, what’s this job for? Okay, here I am. I hate everything. Everything sucks. The world keeps happening to me. Right and then I see on completely flip side, when I basically like challenge 12 step recovery. And I’m like, I know this isn’t gonna work. But here we go, I’ll turn my will in my life over, I’m gonna end up interviewing at this place. I don’t know what they do. Oh, you happen to do it. Haha. That’s funny because that’s what I’ve been trying to do for the last 10 years and oh, and you’re hiring immediately now. Oh, okay,
great. It’s like
that, and you pay 20% more than I was willing to take Oh, okay, and just things stacking on top of each other over and over. And I kept, I kept winning. And it basically got to the point that, you know, I didn’t like the whole higher power thing, but like, I just kept winning. It kept working and I stopped questioning whether or not that there was any science behind why this is or isn’t working and it’s just like, If I keep winning when I play this game, then I’m just going to keep doing it. Because I don’t know why I keep winning, but is a lot better than trying to manipulate my way to win a game that I hate playing to begin with. It’s just right.
Right? No, you’re totally right. It’s true. And, you know, I look back and from just from the very beginning, when I would wake up in the morning and be like, you know, as soon as I had I remember, I think was like, when I hadn’t drank for like seven days. I’m like, seven days, how did that happen? And I remember thinking, How did I do that? And then as I got into 12, step, I, you know, came to believe, like the fact as it was, you know, months in I’m like, there is no way Lisa on her own, doesn’t drink for, you know, two months. It doesn’t happen that way. So I feel like I’m getting some sort of help from the universe. If I show up and do all the right things.
Yeah, I’ve found I seem to find that a lot of people and you can tell that you’re one of those people that they say like is on the beam and is active in 12 step recovery and practices, the principles and all your affairs and you know, all those cryptic cliches without saying what it is, but like everybody listening knows what it is, but you know, following the Yeah, the traditions but, you know, when you apply that in your life, I’ve I’ve just found that it just makes things easier, and things so
work, and nobody gets mad. I don’t have people getting angry at me if I make a tough decision based on integrity. Yeah, don’t get the kind of backlash that I used to when I would lie and steal and try to manipulate like that would get me backlash, and I get the results that I think I wanted. And on the other side, there have been times Where I’ve thrown away gigantic opportunities airports, you know, it’s, this would be a huge win financially, however, at the expense of integrity, right, justify it because I provide jobs with it. Yeah, things, things like that, but then turning those down. And then as a result of turning it down news getting out that I made the integrity decision to turn down this road. And because I did that, something 10 times bigger and better falls into my lap that I don’t even have to do anything for they’re just like, this is yours. I can tell by the type of person you are, that this will just work out. So tell us the terms. It’s yours. And it’s like, well, that was way easier than the thing that I think that I wanted, but it’s so difficult when you’re in it. Oh my gosh, yeah, to make decisions like that, because you don’t know on the other side. Oh, don’t worry, so and so’s going to hear about this
the other day. Yeah. And I never trusted that if I stopped drinking, it was going to be okay. Life was going to be okay, let alone better, you know, let alone good things happening. I was like, Why don’t know what people do if they don’t drink? I want to be one of those people.
It’s crazy. Because it’s like, it keeps getting better and better. And it’s just like, yeah, life never kept getting better, but my life would get maybe like, I’d have a good week. And then it’s just like, okay, when’s it gonna crash? And it was like, after a couple months, it was like, why does my life keep getting better than it used to be? Over and over, like, when does this wear off? But yeah, it’s kind of like, you know, if you’re putting deposits into a savings account, and if you just keep adding to it over and over and not taking away withdrawals, it doesn’t really matter how you feel about the situation, right? adding to it, it keeps getting higher. And as long as you don’t take those withdrawals and don’t, you know, take your will back, which easier said than done. It’s easy on a podcast to say, right? I’ve never made a decision based on self and all my god. But it always seems that whenever something doesn’t go my way, my preference, it usually has something tied to it with making a decision based on self, a decision based on a short term win versus a long term investment. And that’s really what 12 steps teaches you is that it’s it’s not about getting those short term wins and whatever you think that you want in this moment, but it’s a lot more of let it happen, how it’s supposed to happen, because Right, right, trust me. It keeps getting better, but it’s very difficult when you’ve got Decades of it not getting better right here that the only fun part of your life stopping doing that is what will actually make life better.
Yeah. Yeah you have to be I mean for me at least I was so miserable like nothing could have been worse than where I was I was that miserable I was that sick, I was exhausted. I was like anything is better than this I had what you know we refer to as the gift of desperation.
I think your your situation is cool because you had the gift of desperation without the obvious reasons for having to do you have the surface things and that’s just very rare. And that was that was my experience as well which is, which is very cool because it’s, it’s not the norm, right? Usually not you come into recovery while still having your job and Things are just better as a result, it’s usually you’ve been, you know, they talk about being beaten into a state of reasonableness. And it’s just like, your life is terrible. Stop doing life this way.
Yeah. Having that perspective and being open minded to it. That’s, that’s such a key.
Yeah. Well, to me, it’s like it was. It sounds like it was a high bottom, but it was really a low bottom because I hated myself so much. I was so like dead inside, you know, it was just, you know, in it. And like I said, it was a matter of time, I could have gone into work that day, instead of checking in and I could have been arrested. You know, I mean, it was way it was an accident waiting to happen. And it was just amazing that it did not
know it’s great that you caught it before it happened. And then you know, all the blessings that have happened in your life as a result of it. And Lisa, I want to be conscious of time, but where can people find out More about you, where can they get your book?
Oh, sure. Thank you. My website, I actually now have launched a consultancy for lawyers and law firms and legal organizations on these issues. And so my website is Lisa Smith advisory with an o.com. Or you can google we Lisa Smith author it Lisa Smith author also works. My book is on Amazon. It’s in Barnes and Noble. It’s, it’s around, it’s on Kindle. And there’s an audible book of it too. So
so it’s everywhere, and we’ll be sure to have show notes with links to all that. Lisa, it was great having you on the show and everybody listening. You enjoyed the episode, please rate and subscribe. Leave us a comment, leave us a review. Really appreciate it. It’s how we grow the show. And have a great day. Lisa, thank you so much.
You too. Thanks so much. Bye bye.