Volume 18, Number 5
July/August 2001

The Chair's Corner

It's a Family Affair

By Wynn A. Gunderson

This is one of the most important issues of GPSolo ever published, as it features articles primarily concerned with impaired lawyers and offers suggestions on how to deal with the significant problems resulting from their impairment. Addressing the subject of addiction is most critical because of the substantial damage it does to lawyers, their practices, and their relationships-most importantly, the relationships with their immediate families.

Fortunately, when dysfunction threatens to destroy relationships, many professional organizations are available to the afflicted person, such as certified chemical dependency counselors and therapists, Alcoholics Anonymous, Lawyers Concerned About Lawyers (LCL), the ABA Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs (CoLAP), and many others. Sometimes when a lawyer needs help but doesn't seek it, LCL will intervene to encourage the lawyer to acknowledge the illness and seek treatment. This column is dedicated to those professionals and volunteer workers who make such a profound difference in the lives of so many, helping them overcome the medically recognized and often fatal diseases of alcohol or drug addiction.

During my years of practice, I have represented many special people; however, one couple stands out as unique to me because of their extraordinary dedication to and success in helping those with addictions reconstruct their lives. From a chance meeting with Dr. Joe and Sharon (nee Wegscheider) Cruse, who purchased a building from me, a long-term friendship and attorney-client relationship evolved. The Cruses are chemical addiction professionals, and I am writing about them in this column because to me, they exemplify the kind of hope and encouragement that such professionals can provide to troubled families everywhere. "Each member of a family clearly suffers from the addiction of one," according to Sharon.

Although Joe and Sharon have been very successful in their chosen fields, their own road to success was not without "bumps." Both have had personal experiences with addiction and have successfully dealt with them. Joe recently celebrated 27 years of sobriety, and as he said, "I put it together one day at a time." Sharon had to overcome the problems of addiction in her family. Despite those adversities, both Joe and Sharon have had incredible careers in treating the addicted and have been nationally recognized for their work.

Sharon has authored numerous books and videos such as The Family Trap, which continues to be included in addiction programs throughout the United States and overseas. Her other books include such best-sellers as Another Chance-Hope and Help for the Alcoholic Family, Life After Divorce, and Learning to Love Yourself. Sharon has appeared on numerous television and radio shows, including the Phil Donahue Show, the Oprah Winfrey Show, and Good Morning America. Joe retired from an illustrious career in medicine, after which he also became involved in the treatment of alcoholism. While practicing medicine, one of his patients was Betty Ford. His work with her and his treatment philosophy of involving the family eventually led to a relationship with President Gerald Ford and the Ford family and aided in Betty's recovery. Joe's work with Betty and his association with Leonard Firestone ultimately resulted in the creation of the now-famous Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California.

I have mentioned just a few of the many career highlights of these two wonderfully caring individuals. Through them, I have learned the degree to which an addiction can affect family relationships when it becomes an uninvited guest, and how treatment of the entire family is so critical to preserving relationships between family members. They have helped me to understand that any group of people who are closely associated over time with an impaired person-as is the case in many companies and law firms-becomes the "secondary family," and has the same dynamics and needs as the primary family. Joe and Sharon have stressed to me the importance of intervention and reconstruction, and that follow-through is a lifetime proposition involving the "extended" family's understanding and support.

If you are an impaired lawyer or are concerned about someone who might be, please don't be misguided in thinking you can handle the disease by yourself. Seek the help of a professional or one of the organizations described in this issue. Don't wait until you or somebody you care about has destroyed the most cherished relationships. Remember, it's a family affair, and everyone gets hurt.

NOTE: This is my last column as chair of the General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division. It has been my pleasure to serve all of you. Thank you for the privilege of representing you as chair of this great Section.

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