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October 31, 2022 Asked and Answered

Stressed about holiday parties? Think about skipping them, says lawyer in recovery

By Stephanie Francis Ward

As we head into the holiday season, consider what you want your celebrations to look like, rather than meeting everyone else’s expectations, says Laurie Besden, a lawyer who has been sober for almost two decades.

Instead of driving two hours to celebrate Thanksgiving with family, she spends the day volunteering with an animal rescue group, visiting a dementia care facility with her dog and attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings at a prison.

The schedule may sound exhausting, but the tradition that she created 10 years ago “nourishes my soul,” says Besden, the executive director of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers in Pennsylvania.

She graduated from law school in 1999 and had judicial clerkships while also having an active addiction to prescription medicines and eventually cocaine. Besden was arrested five times for drug-related offenses not related to the practice of law when she was unemployed, and by 2004, she was serving a prison sentence and getting sober. She was suspended from law practice in 2005 and reinstated in 2009. Additionally, in 2020, she received a gubernatorial pardon.

According to Besden, her office gets many calls from lawyers in recovery who are stressed about navigating holiday work events in which alcohol is served. For those planning the parties, she suggests serving alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages in the same types of glasses, so nondrinkers don’t feel awkward, including having mocktails on the menu and respecting boundaries when employees don’t attend the gatherings.

Information about state lawyers assistance programs, which offer confidential services and support for attorneys, judges and law students facing substance use disorders or mental health issues, can be viewed here.

Send ideas for future episodes to ABA Journal Senior Writer Stephanie Francis Ward.

In This Podcast

Laurie Besden

Laurie Besden is the executive director of Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers in Pennsylvania. She previously was the program’s deputy executive director, in which she oversaw helpline operations, expanded law school outreach and was the primary contact for intervention requests.

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