SHEEHAN & SHEEHAN
For a long time, I’ve been involved with helping
lawyers in New Mexico, and around the country, who
suffer from addiction. It can be alcohol, drugs, gam-
bling, sex, overeating—you name it.
My deal is alcohol.
I grew up outside of Chicago, in the ’50s and
’60s. Both of my parents were alcoholics. I got into
law school, passed the bar, started doing what all
of us did. I was sworn in, back in ’73 in Santa Fe,
and it was one of the proudest moments of my life.
I remember being at the top of La Bajada on my
way back to Albuquerque, and as I got to the bottom of the hill, I thought, “Holy shit. I don’t know
anything about being a lawyer.” And I think I’ve
been scared ever since.
What I ended up doing was covering up those
fears with alcohol. Back in the mid-1980s, about
10 years into my practice, I would get up every
morning, get in my car and drive to the stoplight.
Left was work, and right was Walgreens. With every
ounce of strength in my body, I could not go left.
I would go right to Walgreens, and I would stand
in line with all the homeless folks. They’d open at
8:00, and I’d step up to the counter and buy eight or
nine Jim Beam miniatures.
I’d put a few in one coat pocket and a couple on
the floor mat of my car, and suck one on my way to
work. I’d excuse myself during the mornings to go to
the bathroom and sit in the stall and drink. At lunchtime, I’d go out and have something to drink and,
after lunch, I’d finish off the miniatures.
At 3:00 or so, I’d leave the office, telling them I
was going to the law school library. Instead, I’d go to
another Walgreens. I’d get two half pints and put one
in one breast pocket and the other in the other. One
half pint would get me to pass out. I’d wake up at
3:00 in the morning and have my other half pint, take
a shower, come to the office and try and put together
my practice as best I could. At 7: 30, I’d leave before
anybody came in and go to another Walgreens.
When you’re a binge drinker, the binges get
longer. You’re not sleeping, you’re not eating; and,
at some point, you finally crash. Then you have to
detox, and I’ll tell you: Self-detox is about the worst
thing in the world.
Then you’re cleaned up, getting sleep and eating;
life’s good. I remember saying to myself, “Why do I
put myself through this hell?” It could be two weeks,
a month, six weeks, and then I’d think, “I want a
drink.” And I’d do it again.
Briggs Cheney on how he got sober AS TOLD TO ANDREW BRANDT
Back in the ’80s, because I was on the Board of Bar
Commissioners, a couple lawyers came to me and
said, “We’ve got a problem in this profession with
folks who suffer from alcoholism and drug addiction.”
I was on the ground floor of starting what we now
call the New Mexico Judges and Lawyers Assistance
Program, and, ultimately, the assistance committee
saved my life. Almost 20 years ago, they had what I
I had tried everything to stop on my own. If you
suffer from addiction, you can’t do it alone. That
night, I negotiated the best deal I thought I could do,
and I promised that I would go to 90 meetings in 90
days. I kept my promise; I’m not good for much, but
my word is pretty good.
If I were king of the world, I would make every
lawyer—particularly trial lawyers—go to at least one
or two 12-step meetings every week, because that is
the best training any trial lawyer will ever get: You
learn about people, how to pick jurors, listening and
keeping your damn mouth shut. You learn some tools
about dealing with life.
What I’ve found is that standing up and telling
people in public who you are and what you’ve been
through is maybe the most effective thing we can
do to help other lawyers who are struggling with the
disease of addiction. When I can stand up in front of
300 people and tell them my story about having to
go to Walgreens every morning and every night, that
gives them permission to say, “Gosh, maybe I can
reach out to that person and ask for help.”
I work damn hard at my sobriety, and I’m a much
better person and lawyer than I ever was. I’m proud
of myself, though I’m not proud of the things that
I’ve put family and other people through. But every
day I’m sober—and every day I go to meetings—I’m
paying back. I help a lot of people, like a lot of people
Call the confidential helplines
staffed by the New Mexico Judges
and Lawyers Assistance Program.
FOR LAWYERS (505) 228-1948 | FOR JUDGES (888) 502-1289