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Gray Area Drinking & the Legal Profession: Tools for Attorneys

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Gray Area Drinking & the Legal Profession: Tools for Attorneys

In this interview style CLE, Quimbee faculty member Alyssa Johnson interviews Certified Burnout & Alcohol Coach Wendy McCallum on gray area drinking and how it affects lawyers. Gray area drinking is examined within the spectrum of alcohol use and behavioral markers are shared to help lawyers identify if they are gray area drinkers. The ways that gray area drinking can affect a lawyer’s legal practice and life are discussed and practical tools are given to help address and reduce a lawyer’s reliance on alcohol.


Alyssa Johnson
Lawyer, Consultant, Teacher & Contributing Author
Alyssa Johnson LLC
Wendy McCallum
Burnout and Alcohol Coach & Wellness Expert
Wendy McCallum Coaching & Consulting


- Welcome, everyone, to Gray Area Drinking & the Legal Profession: Tools for Attorneys. My name is Alyssa Johnson, and I am your Quimbee faculty member teaching today's CLE. And I am joined by Wendy McCullum, who is a certified burn burnout and alcohol coach. Before I start speaking with Wendy, just a quick information about how today's CLE is going to play out. Wendy and I are going to do an interview style CLE, and we will spend the majority of this hour talking about gray area drinking and the legal profession. And then after she and I are done with our interview, I will do an individual teaching portion. So that way we can ensure that you get to an hour. So you get your CLE credit and I will cover any additional information or go over anything that Wendy talks about that I feel is particularly important for you as a lawyer and as a viewer. So now turning to Wendy and gray area drinking. Welcome, so welcome, Wendy. I'm so happy to have you here today.

- Hi, please.

- Hey, would you please tell us a little bit about yourself?

- Sure, so as you said, I am currently a burnout and alcohol coach. I've been coaching now for over 12 years, but before that I had a career as a lawyer. I practiced law in Calgary, Alberta for about 12 years in the last five, four years or so of that, I was a partner and it did burnout in that profession, which is one of the reasons why I coach the group of people that I coach now as a coach, I've been through that myself actually twice, once when I was practicing law and once during the illness and eventual death of my father. So yeah, and now I'm a coach and I work with busy people who are really stressed out and very often using alcohol as a way of coping.

- Great, thank you. So you mentioned that you used to practice law. What was that experience like for you and how did you end up on this path of gray area drinking and working with people who are gray area drinkers?

- Yeah, I think, I mean, the experience that I had with law was not a bad experience. It just was never the right choice for me. And I realize that now at the time, I couldn't see that as clearly, but I was just one of those people who did the next right thing and listened to what other people told me, maybe a little more than I should and ended up going to law school and then having some aspirations during law school of working in the legal aid on the criminal side of things, but then got a great job at a big corporate commercial law firm. And everybody kind of said, you should do that. And I listened and I went and the firm that I worked at was a wonderful firm and I met some amazing people there, but the work itself was never very fulfilling or resonant for me. So that was definitely a contributing factor to the burnout. But then, I also was super busy as we are, as lawyers and had this kind of unusual set of circumstances happen where I adopted a baby boy, was made partner about three months after we adopted him. And I was also pregnant with my daughter at the time. So I had her seven months after I had him. So in the course of a year, I had two newborns and made partner and then stayed with the firm for another four years or so after that as a partner. And I think those circumstances obviously were pretty intense and that led to my eventual burnout. But the real reason why I left law wasn't the burnout, I left because it had become quite clear to me that it wasn't the right profession for me. That led to me leaving the firm, but also leaving the province where I was working. We moved back to my home province on the other side of Canada on the East side of Canada. And I went back to school first to study natural nutrition. Wasn't really sure what I wanted to do with it, but I knew I needed to keep doing something. So that was my first step once my kids started primary here, and that led me to doing some coaching around food. What I realized though, was that most of the women I was supporting were professional, busy professional women, mostly moms at the time. And their real struggle was not around learning what they should and shouldn't be eating. It was around figuring out how to simplify their lives and manage their time and stress better so that they could actually take care of themselves. And that's what led to my real interest in burnout coaching. And I went back and I got a significant amount of training from the Coaches Training Institute around general life coaching. And then I ended up addressing my own drinking. And when I stopped drinking, I realized, oh, this is really the missing piece of the puzzle for me as a coach, these women that I'm working with are... A lot of them are using alcohol as they're being coping mechanism. And up until that point, I hadn't felt like I could really coach around that topic with much integrity because I was still struggling with my own relationship with alcohol. So I went and got certified through "This Naked Mind," which is the book and the methodology that I used to change my relationship with alcohol. I went and got certified through them. And then I started coaching really almost exclusively. Now I coach in the area of burnout and alcohol and again, serving that same demographic. That really was me for a long time.

- Yeah.

- So I hope that was a long answer. I hope that answered the question, Alyssa.

- That was great, thank you. So I want to talk a little bit about drinking and when did you start to notice that maybe you were becoming a little bit too reliant on alcohol and what is gray area drinking?

- Well, maybe I'll start with what gray area drinking is. So gray area drinking is really, it's a spectrum. Let me start, let me back up one step. We used to use the word alcoholic as a way to define or classified drinkers. We don't use alcoholic anymore as a diagnosis. Instead we use something called the alcohol use disorder spectrum, which is a very big spectrum. And it goes all the way from people who occasionally drink to kind of the rock bottom sort of classic Hollywood alcoholic, stereotypical drinker. But in between those two extremes is a really big spectrum. And that middle area is really what we call gray area drinking. Most gray area drinkers are not physically dependent on alcohol, so they don't require medical supervision in terms of withdrawing from it. And so there's the physical dependence isn't there, but there is a circumstantial, habitual dependence and an emotional dependence on alcohol. So it's become a coping mechanism. So a gray area drinker is really the term that we use for anyone who doesn't classify or identify with that sort of stereotypical alcoholic definition, but who also can no longer easily take it or leave it. And there are again, it's a spectrum. So there's a range of degrees of this. We have sort of mild, moderate and severe. So that's what we're talking about when we're talking about gray area drinkers. And that's definitely the category that I would've put myself in as a drinker. How I got there is the way a lot of people get there. I had a very sort of conventional relationship with alcohol throughout my college years and law school. In that I drank with my friends on the weekends, but it was very much a social thing. I never drank alone, I didn't drink during the day. It was evening drinking, usually one or two nights on the weekend with my friends. When I started practicing law, alcohol started to take on a new role, which I think is really also very common for lawyers. And just generally in professional roles for the first time ever, alcohol, I could see that it was part of... It was a business tool, which I had never contemplated it as being before this. We were using it, it was part of client lunches. It was a way to celebrate with other lawyers when we had successes on files. It was also part of the recruiting process. So right out of the gate, when I was being recruited, every event that I went to involved copious amounts of expensive alcohol. So it became really clear to me that drinking was part of the job. And I was going to  have to learn how to drink in a different way than I had been drinking before. And I did and it wasn't problematic really during the time that I was practicing law. I was however using it, like I said, in different ways. It's more likely for me to be drinking at lunchtime at a client luncheon, for example. And I think towards the end of my legal career, after that time where I had the two babies back to back and was feeling quite overwhelmed and stressed, that's probably the first time that I would've used alcohol as a way to relax at the end of a day by myself. So in the years before I had the kids, socially, we were drinking a lot at work. So we would have... There was a lawyer's lounge every Thursday and a partner would walk around the floor and kind of gather people up to come down and have a drink or two down at the open bar in the lawyer's lounge, which was part of our firm. And we were also drinking to relax on Friday nights and then going in and working Saturday and Sunday. So it definitely had was... I was definitely drinking as a way to relax, but it wasn't until the end of that sort of 12 years, I was practicing that I started drinking by myself to relax. So I would have a glass of wine at the end of a Friday night by myself, for example. And part of that was due to the fact that I had no social life because I had these two little kids, right. But also, I can see now in hindsight that that's when it started to shift a little bit, for me. Alcohol really became problematic for me after I moved. So it's interesting, it wasn't a really big problem for me when I was practicing law. But when we moved to the other side of the country and I became effectively a stay-at-home mom for a year, I really struggled with that. It was a huge transition for me. I didn't know what to do with my time. I wasn't accustomed to my brain not being busy. I had some belief, some internal beliefs around what it meant to not be working. And then the other piece that kind of tied in just coincidentally, the timing was sort of perfect for this is that it was right at the beginning. It would've been around 2008, right at the beginning of the emergence of something that we now called Mommy Wine Culture. So I don't know if there was a name for it at the time, but it was this sort of the beginning of the direct marketing to women in particular mothers around the role of alcohol in parenting. And the fact that we not only deserved it at the end of a long day of parenting, but we needed it. And it was just part of parenting. And so alcohol was everywhere and it hadn't been everywhere at the kids' activities that I've gone to before we moved back to my home province. So really there was a shift happening culturally and I noticed that there was alcohol on play dates. There was alcohol at year end soccer parties. There was alcohol at kids' birthday parties, places where it had not been before. And so alcohol as part of parenting really got normalized for me. And on top of that, I was not happy, which again, I can only see in hindsight, but at that point in time, just leaving quite successful career and transitioning directly into mostly mothering was a tough thing for me. So that's really when it started to become a problem. And then over the course of the maybe 10 years after we moved, I started to use alcohol more and more as a way to escape and cope. And I was using it at the end of the day regularly. Again, I was a gray area drinker and gray area drinking often doesn't look problematic from the outside. And I want to emphasize that there was no one telling me I needed to change my relationship with alcohol. There was no one suggesting to me that I had a problem, but I was drinking most days at the end of the day. I was wanting to have more than one glass now, whereas before one glass would've suffice, I was having two glasses, three glasses, and I would drink by myself if my husband, wasn't interested in having a drink with me. And all of those things for what led me to get to a place where I started questioning my own relationship with alcohol.

- Got it, thank you so much for all of that. As you started... Starting to have two to three drinks a night, classes of wine a night, did you notice anything in terms of the way your relationships with other people or the way that you were interfacing with your own life that maybe was becoming deteriorative or like really impacting how you were able to navigate life?

- Yeah, I mean, it was impacting me across the board. A lot of it wasn't clear to me until after I left alcohol behind, to be honest, but I can see now that it was impacting all of my relationships. I actually thought I needed it to parent. I thought I needed it to have meaningful connection with my husband. I thought I needed it to be part of my family who were all drinkers. I thought I needed it to socialize with my friends. I thought I needed it to cope, to relax, to sleep. I had all of these beliefs around what I needed it for, but now I can see that it was actually hindering me in all of those areas. And the one thing that it was doing that was just patently obvious to me was that it was affecting my sleep in the middle of the night. So I would wake up in the middle of the night with anxiety around the fact that I drank the night before. And that started happening regularly. Like almost every night that I drank, even if I just had a drink or two, I would wake up at three in the morning and start, going through the night at replaying the events of the night before. And then I would often in the last year of my drinking, I would often go downstairs pull up my laptop and Google things like, am I an alcoholic or ways to control drinking or benefits of drinking red wine. Anything that might convince me that this was okay, or give me some meaningful support in terms of how to change it. And unfortunately, and this is I think an important thing to emphasize. Unfortunately, I never met the test of being an alcoholic. So at the time you could still still do this test online. That was, do I have a problem? Am I an alcoholic? And I just, I didn't pass enough of the questions to get labeled an alcoholic, which isn't surprising because I really was on that gray area, drinking spectrum. And as a result of that, it almost gave me permission to keep drinking because, and this is one of the reasons I'm so passionate about talking about this topic is that I think people often assume that if they don't fall into that category of alcoholic, or they're not having either, objectively problematic consequences to some kinds of some kind of like a rock bottom moment, a DUI, or putting their kids at risk or something like that. Or someone has labeled them as an alcoholic or told them they need help that they're okay and there's no need to make change. And I really think that in that situation, I was asking the wrong question and I see so many people asking the same wrong question. The question I was asking is, is this bad enough for me to make a change? So was my drinking bad enough that I need to change this? And the question I should have been asking myself, which probably would've gotten me where I am now much sooner should've been, is this good enough? Is my life good enough with alcohol playing the role that it's playing right now? So I think the thing that really twigged me to make a change was the anxiety and the waking up in the middle of the night. But I still believed that alcohol did all kinds of things for me. It wasn't until after I left it behind that it became clear to me it was affecting all those areas of my life in a negative way.

- Great, I want to highlight a point that you said about sort of like this rock bottom moment and you didn't really have that and gray area drinkers don't really have that. So what was that like for you and what was that turning point where you were like, oh, I'm learning new aspects about my relationship with alcohol that's putting me now on this new path.

- Yeah, it's a great question, I mean, I think we do, we just have this kind of Hollywood idea of what rock bottom looks like, but when I go back, I mean, there was no, again, no objectively kind of rock bottom, stereotypical rock bottom moment for me. But I had a lot of what I call high bottoms. So--

- What is that?

- So a high bottom for me is like a moment I look back on and I think, wow, like that was not good. And alcohol played a big role in that thing happening, whether that was a morning, that I was really, really hungover, which didn't happen all that often for me. But when it happened, they were really, really awful. And I would make up excuses, my little kids, oh, I'm just super tired or I have the flu or whatever, but there were a lot of moments that I now can see were made possible by alcohol that were not great. But those weren't enough really to drive me, to take a look at my relationship with alcohol, really what happened for me is that my dad got very sick and we were told he only had about a year left to live. And I was really stressed at the time obviously because of that, but also trying to raise these two kids. They were 13 at the time and had a pretty busy coaching practice going. And I knew that I was going to  need to make some changes in order to not miss the last year of my dad's life. And so I started working on things that I thought would help me get more present. And alcohol is the antithesis of being present. The opposite of that, it makes it impossible to be present. And the first thing I did was I started learning how to meditate. The second thing I did was I embraced gratitude. Both of those practices felt way easier to me than quitting drinking. And then finally, I remember sitting in the chair just in December, so of 2017, right around Christmas time drinking a glass of red wine. I could still remember where I was sitting and thinking to myself while I was drinking it. I don't think I even like this anymore. And then continuing to drink that glass and then having another glass after that. And that was the beginning of what I call my like getting sick and tired of being sick and tired like that's kind of where I'd gotten to with it. I was so sick of drinking and everything that went along with drinking, but it still felt like it was going to  be impossible to give it up. I mean, that never crossed my mind, but I knew I needed to figure out how to drink less. And all of those things combined with my dad getting ill or what led me to explore, I guess the idea. There might be something different out there. I want to be clear, I haven't said this yet, Alyssa, but like I had spent years before this, in what I call the moderation game. So I had spent years trying to change the way I drink, making rules for myself. Like I'm only going to  have one drink when I drink, or I'll only drink on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, won't drink on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or I'll never drink during the day. Or I'll only drink when other people are with me or I won't drink in my house, I'll only drink when I'm out. These are the types of rules that we make for ourselves. And I would just change the rules every couple of weeks because I kept breaking them. I couldn't figure out how to make them work. I did that for years and sometimes I would take breaks from alcohol. And this is something that happens for gray area drinkers is that a lot of most gray drinkers really can take breaks from alcohol, it's hard work, but we can do it. And I could take a couple, two, three weeks off of drinking, but I was always really just counting down the days until I could have that glass wine again at the end of the break. And it was a lot of work to not drink for those three weeks. So I was doing all of those things in the years leading up to this. But I think I just got to a point where I realized I have to take a break from this. And again, it was very much a break in my mind. I have to take a break, I don't know how to do this. The things I'm trying, aren't working. Maybe it's time to try something different instead of just trying harder at the same old, same old and serendipitously at that point, I downloaded an audio book by a woman called Annie Grace. That's called "This Naked Mind" and I listened to it. In its entirety, I was driving to get an MRI to drive like four hours to the hospital to get the MRI and four hours back. And I listened to the book all the way up and all the way back and finished it in the driveway before I came in, because it was the first time I had heard anyone say that there was a possibility that life might be better without alcohol. And that this wasn't my fault and that alcohol was an incredibly addictive substance and that anybody who drank it for long enough was going to become dependent on it. And that there was a way to get free from it. And so it was just really... For me, it was just a whole new way. It was a game changer for me to hear someone talk about it that way. And that's what led to me doing a 30 day experiment being alcohol free. And then I guess the rest is history. It's been over four and a half years now, since I've had a drink, it wasn't easy. I don't want to give that impression at all. But what I did was go into it with this a whole different mindset than I ever had before. And it was really based and rooted in this kind of idea that maybe life might be better without it. Maybe my life wasn't good enough with it in it. Maybe I deserve something more than this. And so I started looking for the upside in the alcohol free experiment. What was I getting from this? What was happening with my sleep? What was happening with my anxiety levels? What was happening with my marriage? What was happening with my parenting? How was I feeling about my relationship with my dad who was dying? And all of the evidence I was gathering was positive. All of it, 100% of it was positive. It was still hard to go to things and not drink, but all of the things that were happening were good things. And so at the end of that, 30 days, I just asked myself whether I was ready to moderate to try moderating. And I like, obviously it was not my first rodeo. It was really clear to me that I knew how moderation was going to  go. And I did not feel like there was a great chance. It was going to  go any differently for me this time. And so I decided, well, no, I'm not ready for that yet. And I'll take another 30 days. And I basically not yet myself to a year. And then by the time I got to a year, I just wasn't interested in it anymore. I couldn't see why I would have it again. And that's kind of how I feel now. I mean, never say never, but I'm really not interested in drinking. I don't feel like it adds anything to my life. My life is just 10,000 times better as a result of me leaving it behind. So once again, long answer to a short question, don't even know if I answered what you asked me. So I apologize, ask me a follow up if I missed something.

- No, that was so illuminating. And I actually have a few questions that are like, that I'm holding onto that hopefully don't forget.

- Sure.

- Okay. I'm going to  ask them both and we'll see if we can remember to come back to both of that.

- Okay.

- One is, I have learned in my own research that alcohol is both a depressant and a stimulant. Is that in line with what you have learned or what your studies and teachings are. And then my second question is, as you were going through those first 30 days, and then not yet, not yet that period. And so you got to a year where you were just like, I don't want to resume drinking. Were you having discussions with your family and friends about this and did you have a support system in place as you were taking these steps in your life?

- Yeah, okay, so the first question I on the depressant and stimulant is absolutely correct. So alcohol is a depressant in that when we drink it, our blood alcohol level rises, we do get a hit of endorphins as a result of that, which is what feels good, but it does depress our brain. However, because our brain is the amazing organ that it is. It's going to notice that it's been depressed and immediately go into the active state of trying to rebalance. And in order to rebalance a depressed brain, our brain releases stimulants. So it's a counter action that occurs. So we will actually pump out adrenaline and cortisol, which are the two stressed hormones in response to alcohol, every time we drink. So for someone like me who was struggling with that middle of the night anxiety or anybody who struggles with anxiety. So anyone who has generalized anxiety is just generally feeling like they're always worrying and stressed. And there, if you're drinking, there's a pretty good chance that the drinking is making it worse because the hormones that you create during this stress response or an anxious response are adrenaline and cortisol. And again, alcohol and drinking will cause you to produce more of those. That's what was waking me up in the middle of the night, 'cause there's actually a lag between the depressant effect of a drink and the release of those stimulants. So what happens is if you keep drinking the depressant effect, just kind of, sort of takes over and it's all you feel. So you don't really notice that the release of those stimulants that's happening, but after your last drink, you go to sleep. And oftentimes it's easy for people to go to sleep when they've been drinking, right? The way that alcohol interferes with your sleep is not usually in affecting your ability to fall asleep. It's in the depth of the sleep that you get. And so what happens is that a few hours later, those stimulants are released in a big surge and that's what wakes you up. So that was waking me up at three in the morning, that stimulant effect, and it was also contributing to the anxiety that I had. And of course I stopped drinking and surprise, surprise. I've never been up since then, probably twice in the last four and a half years, if I'm up at three 30, worried about something and it's definitely not drinking. So that is absolutely true, that it's both a depressant and a stimulant. And then in relation to the not yet my way to 365 days and what support I had in place. One of the reasons why I became a coach is because there wasn't a lot of personal support available to me at the time. I like so many of the people that I work with could not imagine myself going to an alcoholics anonymous meeting. I didn't identify as an alcoholic. And I also just was not interested in that. I did not want to go to a public meeting, I know that it's anonymous, but I still didn't want to do it. And I hear this all the time from people, but four and a half years ago, there also weren't a lot of online options that were a little less scary for me. So there just wasn't a lot out there, unfortunately for support. Now there's much more out there, but at the time there wasn't. So when I was in the process of doing this alcohol free experiment, I did do the... There's a free alcohol experiment that's offered by Annie Grace through "This Naked Mind," it's still available. It's amazing if anyone's listening to this and is curious, it's a great place to start. You can just Google the Alcohol Experiment, I did that. It was a 30 day guided experiment where I got a little video every day that taught me something about alcohol and or my relationship with alcohol. And that kept me going for the first 30 days. And then after that, I stayed connected with any communities I could find online, but mostly listened to podcasts and read memoirs and books. That's what I did for my first year to stay connected. In terms of support of my family, I did have support. Many of my family members didn't understand why I wasn't drinking anymore though, because again, my drinking didn't look problematic from the outside, but I just was feeling so great that I didn't really care. People would ask me, why aren't you... Wouldn't you just consider having one drink and I'd say no, like I'm just happier without it, my life I'm just happier without it. And so I had great support, my husband was really, really supportive, very helpful. A couple of times that I did think about having a drink, he kind of checked me and said, are you sure that's really what you want? Which is very helpful because, it wasn't what I wanted really. And then really my support network came much later. It came when I went and got certified and I met a whole bunch of other people who were alcohol free. So yeah, my story's a little different, I think, than most people's stories would be now, because there are so many wonderful online options now for support and so many more coaches out there doing private coaching as well.

- Got it, so in terms you talked about this at the beginning, the way that alcohol is pervasive and the legal profession. Do you think that the structure of the practice of law is really at odds for our ability to be happy and to really thrive in our lives. And that is one of the reasons why alcohol is so heavily used by lawyers.

- Well, I mean, I think overworking can become a problem for anyone. And I think lawyers tend to overwork, and that is partly as a result of the structure of the law firm and the billable hours structure.

- Yeah.

- So yes, I think lawyers are probably set up for this in many ways. And unfortunately we use alcohol as a numbing tool and a coping tool, and it's one of the tools that's actually really celebrated. And in my experience, and this may not be the case in every law firm, but in my experience, it really was celebrated as a coping tool, coping mechanism. I mean, we had lawyers lounge and we were literally rounded up on Thursdays to come down and de-stress with a drink or two or three, which often led to us all going out for dinner afterwards and continuing to drink. So, when we're glamorizing and celebrating the role of alcohol as a coping mechanism, that can be problematic and make it more difficult as well. And as I said before, I think, the key to being happy and joyful is learning how to be more present in your life and slowing down. And that can be challenging as well in the corporate law structure for sure. So while I believe any busy person is at risk here, I can see how the structure, the legal profession structure might be conducive to a greater risk of falling into this using alcohol more often than you want as a coping mechanism.

- Yeah, okay, that makes sense, thank you. So I actually have two questions from that as well. The first is the lawyers who you have worked with and are working with now as they step away from alcohol and they do these alcohol free experiments. Do you find that it's having, they're sharing that it's having a ripple effect within their organizations, that other attorneys are seeing them not drink and it's giving permission for other lawyers to stop drinking. That's my first question and then the second one is, has COVID and the pandemic and quarantining changed anything that you've seen with respect to gray area drinking in the legal profession?

- Yes, okay. So the first question around what this kind of ripple effect that can happen when somebody changes their relationship with alcohol, if you do it in a positive way, there can be an incredible ripple effect. Absolutely, I see it time and time again with people who embrace the positive side of not drinking and are really working to normalize, not drinking instead of normalizing drinking. And what I mean by that is if you go out like I do to everything. So I do all the things, I do all the social stuff. I go, I have a fantastic time. I do not talk about drinking or not drinking. I just go and have a great time and I'm not drinking. People notice I'm not drinking very often. Sometimes people get curious and ask me about it, which I think you asked me about earlier. And I didn't really answer that question as to what I say to people when they ask me. And I will always say something like, you know what, it just got to a point where it wasn't serving me anymore and I'm much happier without it. And I keep it all about me. And I really focus in on the positives of not drinking instead of it being like, yeah, you know what? I can't drink anymore, I just couldn't... I couldn't get control of it, It was, you know, I'm this poor person who can't drink. I talk about how it's always, I always say like, I get to not drink. And I think it's such a gift that I get to not drink and that I know that I don't need to drink in order to have a really full fun life. And so I try to show up that way. And when you show up that way out there, whether it's at work or it's socially, people notice that, and it allows other people to get curious and to experiment with it and to take a night off if they want to take a night off. And then often it leads to people coming and asking me the next day, or maybe even months later, how did you do it? And I'm always happy to answer that question.

- Great, thank you, I hope that that's really helpful for attorneys who are watching the CLE and like how powerful we can be when we really stand in what's right for us.

- Well, and I think, especially if you're in a position of power, role modeling and if you're someone who's... Well, it doesn't even really, really matter, I guess if you're in a position of power, but I do think that for me anyway, when I think back to my years at the law firm, I often felt pressured to drink as a result of a part... Going out to lunch with a partner on a file and being the junior on the file. And everybody was drinking or being rounded up by a partner on Thursdays to go drink, at the lawyer's lounge, for example. And if there was a partner who wasn't drinking, that would've been really helpful to me, would've been really helpful to have that role model of someone who just didn't ever drink. And I don't recall there being anyone. So I can see now in hindsight, how I could have been a better role model and also how someone who wasn't drinking in a positive way, how that might have influenced me at the time.

- Yeah, that makes sense, thank you. And then with COVID, did that change anything?

- Yeah.

- Or people's relationships, and now that we're sort of outta COVID what's happening.

- Yeah, absolutely, so couple of things happened during COVID. People started drinking a whole lot more during COVID. We just know that across the board, there was a huge spike in women's binge drinking. I think it's like 40 some percent. It went up, which is outrageous. We also know that alcohol related liver disease in young women has skyrocketed, which is scary because normally alcohol related liver disease doesn't show up until later in life. But now it's showing up in younger and younger women.

- What is younger and younger like 20s.

- Yep 20s and 30s. So that is a trend that is worth noticing because that's an indication of the amount of drinking that's happening. So yeah, we definitely saw an uptick in drinking in a really big way during the pandemic. I would like to say though, there were an awful lot of people for whom that uptick was like the last straw. And it became really clear to them that they were now not drinking in a way that served them. So there also an awful lot of people who came into, for example, the Naked Mind alcohol experiments that I coached in, we had thousands of people joined those, who recognized, okay, hold on. This isn't sustainable. I think people in the first few months of the pandemic during the lockdowns and all of that thought, well, this is kind of fun. I can have my quarantines and hang on on Zoom with my friends and drink, but when we realized, okay, hold on, this isn't going to  resolve itself anytime soon. It became clear to a lot of people that it wasn't sustainable, but there are also is a huge group of people coming out of this pandemic who are drinking in a way that is very different from what their drinking looked like before the pandemic and that's happening across the board and definitely in stressful professions. I mean, the thing we have to remember too, is that stress doesn't just come from work. Stress comes from all of the stuff, and we've all been under an incredible amount of additional stress, especially those of us who are caregivers. So if you're a caregiver and a lawyer, so if you're taking care of children, you're maybe taking care of aging parents, you're leading a team. So you're responsible for other employees or lawyers that additional caregiving stress also contributes to burnout and overwhelm. And those are the two main reasons why we're drinking more. So it's just been a really incredibly challenging couple of years for everybody, lawyers included. And absolutely there's been an increase in drinking.

- That makes so much sense, thank you for sharing that. So when you mentioned that you had listened to the Naked Mind for on the drive. What were some of the key qualities for yourself that you needed to really tap into in order to start that deeper, self-examination journey?

- Yeah, I really had to lean into curiosity, which is not something I had previously used in all around alcohol. Instead, I just assumed I knew everything which maybe a characteristic often of a lawyer, I don't know, but I definitely felt like I already had all the answers and I knew all the things like I knew it was going to  be brutally difficult to socialize without alcohol. I knew my life wasn't going to  be as much fun without booze. I knew, that I was going to  struggle more with as crazy as this sounds sleep, because I thought that alcohol helped me sleep and that it was helping me get to sleep at night.

- Right.

- So I had all of these beliefs around it and I had to really lean into curiosity and really leave some space for the possibility that I was actually wrong and didn't know any of that. I always say it this way, like I had gathered half of the deck of cards. I had every card in one half of the deck and that half of the deck was all about life with alcohol, but I had none of the cards on the other side of the deck. I had no cards around what it was like to live alcohol free. I was filling in all of that with assumptions and the assumptions were all based on the half of the deck that I did have, which was the drinking half of the deck. Right, so what I had to do was almost notice that that's what I was doing and just let go of some of these expectations and assumptions that I had around how the alcohol free experiment was going to  go and then go into it really, really curious. So that was the first thing curiosity. And then the second thing was self-compassion, this is not my fault. Everyone who drinks enough for long enough will become dependent on it. Alcohol is an incredibly addictive substance. It's the most dangerous drug out there. It causes more harm than all of the other prescription and non-prescription drugs combined. I didn't have any of that information. So every other time I tried to quit drinking, I was like, God, I'm such a loser. Why can't I figure this thing out? And I've got everything else going on in my life. My life looks so great on paper, but I can't get this one thing sorted. There must be something wrong with me. So that self-compassion piece was really, really important because when we get into that shame and blame cycle around drinking, it just creates more stress, more anxiety, which means we are more triggered to drink again. But if we can stay in self-compassion around it and just notice what's happening. Oh, I drank again last night, why did I do that? What did I think it was going to  do for me? Well, I thought it was going to  help me have more fun, did it? Well, no, it was fun for an hour, but then at the end of the night I was sending those texts to my friend and now I can't even remember what I said to her and that's not fun. Or I had a fight with my husband and that wasn't fun and I didn't sleep that wasn't very much fun. So just really getting curious, but also staying in self-compassion around it. Those, I think were the two key things that I learned from "This Naked Mind." And those are the key sort of underlying principles that I use whenever I'm coaching anyone around this. And they worked really, really well for me.

- So I think that, thank you, that's so clear. And are those the suggestions you use for people who you work with, for the lawyers you work with, you start with self compassion and curiosity, and how do lawyers respond to that?

- Yeah, I mean, it's a hard sell, but I'm good at what I do. So I'm able to, what's just one of the I think advantages of having the past career that I have is that I'm good at. I think I'm very good at convincing people of things. I was a litigator for a long time, but there's lots of evidence out there. And this is one of the reasons why I love the approach that I use is that it's very much based in science. There is actually lots of evidence out there around all of these things. We just need to open ourselves up to the possibility that we don't know all of it yet. And so it can be a little bit of a hard sell, but I just encourage, I just say this to people usually. If what you were doing was working, you wouldn't be here. So this whole idea you have of how to do this. It's not working for you. So can you just create a little space to try something different? Because the old system, it's not the right system for you. And usually we can get people to buy into that, that I can get them to start leaning into this curiosity and self-compassion piece. And we often actually start with a period where they don't actually stop drinking. They continue drinking the way they have been drinking, but they get curious around that. So the role that alcohol's actually playing in their lives and how often they're reaching for a drink kind of mindlessly, and whether that second drinks tastes as good as the first drink, and how it's affecting their sleep and how it's affecting their stress levels and all of those things. And we gather a whole bunch of information. So that's really like the actual other half... The first half of the deck that I was talking about, like--

- Yeah.

- The truth around alcohol. We gather that information first, before we even think about starting an alcohol free experiment.

- Got it and then is the data that most learners collect pretty persuasive for them that, oh, the beliefs that I've had around alcohol really aren't necessarily in alignment with what I'm actually writing down, like what I'm experiencing, and then they're feeling more encouraged and motivated to start this different way of doing this.

- Yeah, it's never enough, I'm going to  say that because they need to like... So I will usually say to them, they'll say, okay, well, I'm learning this so I can see that there's an argument here that maybe it's not necessary to have fun, but I still think, I still believe that my life would be more fun with alcohol in it. And then I say to them, well, how will you know for sure? And the only way to know for sure is to give yourself an opportunity to experience the things without alcohol, right? So I can get them to the point usually where they're willing to try an alcohol free experiment. And that's really where the most amazing data comes from. It comes from the other side of it.

- Got it, now for lawyers who are doing this and do they feel comfortable or the most lawyers feel comfortable sharing it with their communities, their circles, are they doing it sort of alone? And what are some really great ways for them, for us to find support as we take these steps?

- Yeah, I mean, it's very individual. So most of the people that I work with come to me for private coaching, 'cause they're not comfortable yet going public with their decision to drink less or to not drink anymore. But that usually shifts over the course of time as they gain confidence in it and learn the language that feels good to them around not drinking or drinking less. So I don't know that there's necessarily one way that this goes for people. What was the second piece of that question? Is there another piece.

- The support systems and is there, yeah, I think it was something around just that. How are lawyers finding the support systems as they take these steps?

- I mean, there are various ways to do that. You can go to your, whatever the body is in your jurisdiction that provides lawyers with assistance. So we have a lawyer's assistance program here in Canada, and every province has a lawyer's assistance group that you can go to. But a lot of lawyers aren't comfortable with that. And so I would say, seeking out online support through group support, there are so many groups online now that you can access and you can go in anonymously so you can change your Zoom name and show up, keep your camera off and just listen. You can access online programs. So I run online programs as a coach, but so do all kinds of other coaches and organizations around gray area drinking and drinking less. Or of course you could always access a private coach and do private one on one coaching. So there are lots of different options for support out there now. I think in my experience, start with the people who feel safe to you to have the conversation with probably some of your family members may be close friends might be your... Somebody in your firm who feels like a safe person to talk to about this, but we need to normalize this conversation. It needs to be something that we are talking about as long as it's cloaked in shame and embarrassment. And it's seen as the person's problem, as opposed to a societal problem, we're going to  stay in this cycle that we're in around drinking. So I am pretty passionate about normalizing this conversation. The overwhelming majority of North Americans drink, over 80% of North American drink. And most of them, the majority of that group have thought about their drinking and wish they drank less. So really what that's saying is like the majority of drinkers fall on this gray area drinking spectrum, right? So it's not an individual problem, it's a substance problem. And we are normalizing drinking through media and marketing and the practices, social practices that we're engaged in. And so I think there are lots of things that we can start doing as organizations, as law firms to help promote a culture that's different than that, including leading by example, bringing in speakers to talk about gray area drinking, opening up the conversation and dialogue, hosting events and functions that are booze free or not alcohol centric. And yeah, and just making this seem like less of a taboo topic, because of course you are not alone in your firm. If you are concerned that maybe you're drinking a little bit too much, I guarantee you, you're not the only one. Even if it's a firm of five, there's someone else in there, statistically, who's also questioning a relationship with alcohol.

- That's great, so for the lawyers who see themselves and what you have shared today, what are their next steps?

- Well, I would say start exploring some support and the really the best step I think is to pay attention, get curious, get a journal. If you're still drinking that's okay. But it would be a really great opportunity for you to actually gather some of that information around the role that alcohol is playing in your life, how often you're drinking, how much, how it's making you feel, how it's affecting other parts of your life. And then get some support around doing an alcohol free experiment. It's hard to do it by yourself. So look for some support around that. Again, the alcohol experiment through "This Naked Mind" is always free, always available, but you can also do private coaching. I support people through alcohol free experiments all the time. And you can do online group support programs at the very least start reading about this, just go and get some books and start reading "This Naked Mind" is a fantastic book. "Alcohol Explained" by William Porter is another terrific book. And there are so many of them out there really that you can start with and also are some really tremendous podcasts out there that talk about this topic in a really positive light. And that will help to make you feel confident that you're not alone in all of this because you are so not alone in this, if you're thinking, I think I maybe am drinking more than serves me, right now.

- Great, thank you and thank you also for those resources. And then my last question for you is how do people get ahold of you if they want to learn more or work with you?

- You can reach me through my website, which is just wendymccollum.com, it's M-C-C-A-L-L-U-M.com. Or you can follow me on social media on Instagram, I'm at beatburnoutandbooze.

- Great, thank you so much for everything you've shared today, Wendy, this has been amazing and I hope that lawyers really learn from you and reach out to you if they're feeling called to do so.

- Thanks, Alyssa, it's been my pleasure, thank you.

- All right, let's turn to the individual teaching portion of today's CLE. And we are going to start by looking at the ethical implications of extensive alcohol use. So back in 2016, a survey was released in which lawyers were surveyed in terms of their substance use and mental health issues. And when they were releasing the results of this, the ABA did a webinar. And they said during the webinar, that research shows that some depressed, anxious, substance abusing lawyers struggle with follow through attention and integrity, trustworthiness, responding promptly and diligence. There's an interface between these struggles and ethical violations. So now let's look at some of the ethical violations and ethical adherence requirements, under the ABA's Model Rules of Professional Conduct. When we start struggling with follow through attention to detail and prompt responsiveness, it can call into question our integrity and trustworthiness as a lawyer. When we start missing deadlines, we fail to respond to clients. We ignore our work, or we do sloppy work. We're violating rules of competence, diligence, communications, and maintaining the integrity of the profession. Violation of any rule of professional conduct triggers rule 8.4, which is misconduct. So if we're in violation of one rule, we're automatically in violation of at least two roles. Additionally, depending on what's happening with our performance and behavior due to substance use, there could also be violations of the rules of confidentiality and safe keeping property. But it doesn't end there because both supervisory lawyers and subordinate lawyers can be found in violation of the rules, if colleagues are found in violation of the rules. And if we have actual knowledge that a colleague has violated a rule of professional conduct, that calls into question the colleagues' honesty, trustworthiness, and fitness as a lawyer, we have a duty to report it. If we don't, it's an ethical violation. This also extends to non-lawyer assistance who may be struggling with a substance use issue. Supervising attorneys can be found in violation of the rules if non lawyer assistance are in violation of the rules. So let's do a quick review of Wendy's story. And as we go through this, I just want you to see if you notice yourself in any of what she shared. So she started by saying that prior to practicing law, she was a social drinker. She drank on the weekends with friends. She never drank alone or during the day, however, drinking became much more normalized when she started practicing. She started having alcohol during client lunches, her firm hosted a weekly lawyer's lounge, where people were encouraged to come down and have one, two or three drinks. And she said they would often go out to eat afterwards and drink at dinner. And then she said alcohol was always present at recruiting events. And then her life had huge changes in a very short amount of time. She had two kids and was made partner with a year, her stress level increased exponentially. Now, perhaps your life is very different and doesn't have that similarity with Wendy, but we have spent two years with most of us at home for the pandemic. So perhaps you had extensive life changes due to that. And your stress level increased exponentially due to how your life had to be rearranged because you were staying at home due to COVID. She then quit practicing law to raise her two children. And she said that her self-worth was impacted because she was bumping up against belief she had about not working. And as she raised her children, she found that wine was everywhere because of what she called the Mommy Wine Culture that she was a part of. So alcohol was now at play dates, kids' birthday parties, year end soccer games, or in soccer parties, excuse me, places where alcohol had never been before. And she did make attempts. She talked about this at addressing her alcohol use. So she was concerned about how much she was thinking about alcohol and wanting wine. So she would Google alcoholism, but she never satisfied the online tests. She wasn't meeting those threshold requirements to be labeled the old terminology, being an alcoholic. So she played what she called the moderation game with herself. So she would give herself rules, like she'd only have one drink or only drink on weekends or only drink with friends. She kept failing at those games at those rules that she was setting up for herself. So she said she would change the rules every couple of weeks because she couldn't maintain the rule that she had set for herself, for example, only drinking. I think she said like Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, maybe. And then she was able to abstain from drinking for periods of time, but she couldn't wait for the abstinence period to be over so she could drink again. She said that she felt like her relationship with alcohol wasn't healthy, but she wasn't receiving any external confirmation that she was dependent on alcohol. She wanted to change her relationship to alcohol, but she kept bumping up against obstacles. So again, she would take online tests and she would not satisfy the criteria to be labeled at that time when the word alcoholic was used, she wasn't an alcoholic. So alcoholics anonymous did not resonate with her. She would talk to other people about her drinking, but they would say, you don't have a problem with drinking, right? Like though, there's nothing wrong with you because my guess is many of those people, and I absolutely would include myself in this is that their idea of an alcoholic is what we traditionally think of as like the rock bottom moment. And I'm going to  talk about in a second, when I review what Wendy said, right? She wasn't like stumbling drunk at work. She wasn't falling down, she wasn't getting DUIs. Like nothing of, none of that was present. So out the outside world was saying, you're fine. And then she, so poignantly talked about this deck of cards related to alcohol, but she only had half of a deck. She had the half that provided all of the information about life with alcohol. She knew what that deck was, but she didn't have the half that talked about life without alcohol. So she made assumptions about like, what life would look like would be like without alcohol. And these assumptions were all based on the drinking half of the deck that she had. And of course that makes sense. Her mind was filling in the blanks based on the information she had. So she made assumptions and beliefs like, oh, I wouldn't have a... I won't have as much fun because I'm not drinking, but she didn't have act any of the information around what it was actually like to not have alcohol in her life. So now let's turn to the alcohol use disorder spectrum that Wendy talked about, and this has replaced the term alcoholic or alcoholism. And she talked about how this is a spectrum. So on one end of the spectrum is the once in a while drinker, perhaps, someone who has a glass of champagne at a wedding, many people are not at this end of the spectrum. And then on the other end of the spectrum, as I just talked about previously that, Hollywood story, the rock bottom drinker, they may go to the hospital. They may have a DUI or multiple DUIs. Very few of us are at this end of the spectrum. And we may not ever actually have a rock bottom moment with alcohol. So if we are waiting for this moment to happen in our lives, as this proof that we do have a problem with alcohol, it can keep us drinking for much longer than may serve us. Most of us, the vast majority of us actually fall somewhere in the middle. This is where we are at. This is where gray area drinkers are at, is somewhere in the middle here. So let's do a review of some of the alcohol and gray area drinking statistics and information that Wendy shared with us. Alcohol is the most dangerous drug out there. It causes more harm than all of the other prescription and non-prescription drugs combined. This to me is staggering. I had no idea about this until Wendy shared it. It is the only drug we have to justify not doing. So perhaps there have been situations in which you were choosing not to drink. And someone came up to you and asked, why are you drinking? What's going on? Don't you want to drink? And you may have felt like you needed to justify or defend yourself in your choice, not to drink, not being able to drink, just excuse me, not being able to stop drinking is not a sign of weakness. Wendy talked about this. Drinking is not an individual problem, it is a substance problem. And we normalize drinking through media, marketing and social practices that we are engaged in. Alcohol is everywhere in our culture in terms of messaging and having to have fun with alcohol and be the life of the party and be engaging all of things. Alcohol is just pervasive in our culture. So not being able to stop drinking isn't because of us, it isn't because we are weak. It's a substance problem. And we're just constantly bombarded with messaging about how normal it is to drink and how we can... How we actually deserve alcohol. Gray area drinkers, she said, it can actually abstain from drinking for a period of time, but find it difficult to abstain for long periods of time. And most gray area drinkers aren't physically dependent on alcohol. So they don't require medical supervision in terms of withdrawal symptoms, but there is an emotional and habitual dependence on alcohol. So it has become a coping method. And just notice if you see yourself anywhere in here, because we are taught and this is correct that there is a physical dependency on alcohol. And when we withdraw, we may need medical supervision to help with what the body is doing in terms of detoxing. But if we aren't at that level and gray area drinkers or not, then if we're looking for that as a sign that we're drinking too much, we're never going to  get it. But we may actually have an emotional or habitual dependence on it. So it's becoming a coping method for us. And then again, other people may not think that gray area drinkers have a problem with alcohol. Wendy talked about this in being her experience. So where do we start? We always want to start with curiosity and self-compassion and Wendy used those two words specifically. So she shared that the wrong question she kept asking herself was is my drinking bad enough for me to make a change? In retrospect, the right question she said that she should have asked herself was, is my life good enough with the role that alcohol is playing in it right now? And to me, this is such a poignant shift in what we ask ourselves and the way that we think about our lives, our behaviors, the way we interface in our life that can really have dramatically different answers. For myself, if I ask myself, is my drinking bad enough for me to make a change? The answer's no, but then if I think is my life good enough with the role that alcohol is playing in it right now? The answer is no, it's actually not. For me not having any alcohol is optimal and I don't drink that much, but when I do drink, I don't feel very good. And so for me to become completely alcohol free, which is where I'm moving towards, that is going to be optimal for me. Now, as you sit with these questions, if you choose to do so, and you play with them and you sort of see what is right for you, you may find some really interesting information feedback. Which leads us to number two, start noticing your drinking and its effects on how you feel, track the feedback. We are constantly getting feedback from our thoughts, our feelings, the way our body feels about our environment, about the things that we are consuming, eating, drinking, the people we're spending time with, the work that we're doing, everything, we're constantly getting feedback. So we're going to  do that here as well with alcohol. So Wendy said you can get a journal and start jotting down what you notice about your relationship to alcohol and how it's making you feel, if you ask these questions. So things like, how do I feel about having a drink? How does my first half a glass of alcohol make me feel? When do I notice that I want a second drink? Did alcohol help me have more fun last night? Or is my sleep impacted when I have alcohol? You're just tracking the feedback and seeing if you start to notice patterns. And then third have initial conversations about wanting to explore your relationship with alcohol, with people you deeply trust and feel safe with. If you don't have anyone you feel safe talking to about your concerns, research online groups and see if any feel resonant to you. Support systems are absolutely crucial as we make big changes in life. All right, really quickly, we'll go through some resources that Wendy mentioned. The first was "This Naked Mind" by Annie Grace. And then along with that, "The Alcohol Experiment" by Annie Grace, that is the 30 day alcohol free experiment that Wendy talked about a number of times. You can find it under free resources @thisnakedmind.com or you can search for the Alcohol Experiment free app. Wendy also mentioned "Alcohol Explained" by William Porter, and she did not mention it during the interview, but she and I have talked about it previously. It's called "Girl Walks Out of a Bar, A Memoir" by Lisa Smiths. Ms. Smith is actually one of us, she is an attorney and she had what would looked on paper to be the illustrious legal career. She was working at a large law firm in Manhattan. And so on paper, it looked like she had it all, but she talks about how her life was spiraling out of control because she was an alcohol and drug user and all of the ways that impacted her. So if that's of interest to you, of course you can read or listen to that book. And then when also talked about some podcasts, she said there are a number of excellent ones out there, although she didn't name any. So I went and found a few, these are all on both Spotify and Apple. So the first is Wendy's own podcast called "Bite Size Balance." I've listened to a few episodes in they're phenomenal. Another is "Sober Powered" by Jillian Tets. And then the third I found is "Recovery Happy Hour" by Trisha Lewis. And if you would like to learn or work with Wendy, you can remember she mentioned she offers groups at one-on-one coaching. You can find more about her at her website, Wendymccallum.com. And then you can find her Instagram at beatburnoutandbooze. So this concludes gray area drinking and the legal profession tools for attorneys. Once again, my name is Alyssa Johnson. If you have any questions, please feel free to take a look at my website and you can actually schedule a free 15 minute chat with me if you'd like, or you can actually submit a form and just send a question and I will respond to the form you send. My website is alyssajohnson.love, or you can email me at [email protected] Thank you so much.

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