Dear Miss OTLSS:I don't know what to do!!!! I have an embarrassing problem and it's starting to consume my entire life. I have an Internet addiction. I obsess over a single web site and go there dozens of times each day to read the posts and see who might be writing about me. But here's the weird thing. They never are writing about me. And that upsets me. It's like I'm obsessed that they used to talk about me, but now everyone has forgotten that I even exist.
Sometimes, when I drink after work, I start posting dumb things in the comments section to try to get attention and turn the conversation towards me. I know it's stupid, and I know that mixing alcohol and Internet comments never turns out well, but I do it anyway. I pretend that the police are coming to arrest them, and I know all these little triggers of things to say that will get people to post comments about me. And it makes the people really mad. They don't like me changing the conversation from important things they are discussing and towards topics about me. I don't know why this annoys them and makes them so angry. Who wouldn't want to talk about me?
I know my parents and family and friends are upset that I continue to subject myself to this kind of abuse online, but I just can't stay away! I am ashamed of what I do and I know that I have lots of debt and have made some bad decisions but what advice do you have to help me stop this cycle of destructive behavior. It's like this site is my life.
What can I do?
And I read that (fake) email and thought, "Hey, I can have some fun with this. Imagine the laughter and comments I could generate with some cheap jokes and silliness."
But then I thought otherwise.
You see, while some of our targets - Brian Leiter, Tamara Piety, assorted deans and professors and administrators and hangers-on who live from the scam - are valid, I'm not sure that John, er, I mean Ron is. So rather than a lighthearted jab at this particular person, I'm going to go the serious route:
Get help. I mean that. Get help. What started as a healthy little hobby many years ago with your initial scamblogging has turned into an unhealthy obsession that is ruining your life. And sometimes, I worry that you've lost control of this, that you've let it take over your entire existence, and that you're in danger of ruining the rest of your life with this addiction. Yes, addiction.
The Internet can do that. It's addictive, and I suspect you're addicted to something else too. Much like many other addictions and addictive substances, there are those who can handle it and those who, for whatever reason, just spiral out of control through no fault of their own. Alcohol, for instance. Most people can sensibly enjoy a drink or two once in a while. Some can't - we all know them, those who drink a six pack each night of the week and too much at parties, but they still manage to kind-of function. And some, a few, just can't stop the alcohol from taking over their lives, and their failure to manage their addition kills them. They lose jobs, drive drunk, engage in extremely risky behavior, become depressed, drink more to compensate, and end up alone in hospitals and graves.
And your addictions, whatever it is that is bringing you back here time and time again, is killing you. I read your blog over the years. I read your comments on other sites over the years. I've seen your pieces on the news, listened to your radio interviews. And I saw that what started as an almost therapeutic outlet became something that overtook your life. You convinced yourself that people were out to get you, that you were in a hopeless situation, that there was no solution to your problems with debt. It's almost as if you've decided that this is going to kill you. And, fairly or unfairly, rightly or wrongly, there are those who may have used you in the process - "Look here, look at what we've found. This guy graduated from law school and has hundreds of thousands in debt that will never go away. Stay away from law school lest you end up like him!"
Sorry to play armchair therapist, but it's almost as if you want to be humiliated, punished, mistreated, abused, and treated like crap for your sin of making the mistake of going to law school. It makes you feel as bad as you think you should feel under that mess you're in right now.
Look, I buy into the scam. We all do. It's real. I know you buy into it too. And I know the feeling of being scammed by a law school, of paying close to $150K for an education, and many years later, after paying the loans diligently (when employed - forbearance when not), the balances have not gone down at all. It's depressing. It's crushing. And if you let it, it can consume your entire life.
But even though I buy into the scam, I try my hardest not to let it ruin my life. And it's rough at times. Some days, it's a struggle for thoughts of anything else get a word in between thoughts of how my own life has been ruined by the decision I made to go to law school. Some days, I really do believe that my last thought on this earth, right before I die, will be how law school ruined my life. Not thoughts of my kids, or husband, or the great times that I have had and can have again. The thought that law school ruined it.
And here's why I'm writing this. It's because I've struggled with alcohol for twenty five years now, ever since my late teens. At first, it was something I enjoyed, then a problem I thought I could control, then a mess. A "28 Days" Sandra Bullock kind of mess. And before law school, I had got my life back together again, married, kids. Then I went to law school. The lies, the debt, the lack of jobs and any kind of future, all of that had me drinking again by the third year of law school, when it was clear that it had all fallen apart. I would drink before classes. I would drink after classes. And I drank to get me through the ups and downs of post-JD life. The unemployment. Strangely, the employment was often worse. You want a trigger for alcohol abuse? Try working for a solo who listens at the door while you're peeing (yes, I can hear you tiptoeing outside as I sit and scampering off when I wipe, you pervert), then quitting that to go work in doc review. Yeah, my life worked out so well! Didn't see that career path mentioned on the law school web site. "Our graduates go on to enjoy careers in large law firms, government agencies, and for dirty old men with toilet fetishes."
And our little addictions are something that need to be taken very seriously. When life is good, we often drink less, take fewer drugs, and avoid those things we seek out in the down times that help us get through the day. But when life is bad, we look towards the bottle, the spliff, the coke, the Internet, risky sex, spending, gambling, whatever helps take our minds off the mess we're living through.
With so many law students and grads living what seems like a hopeless nightmare, addiction is a huge problem. Life for us is so bad, so often. What you're going through, John, is not unusual.
It's just that I think that you are exactly like me, in a way. We both struggle. Every day, I think about drinking. Sometimes, I still do drink. I'm no saint, and regularly my promise to keep alcohol out of the house just doesn't work. Life for me, post-JD, seems to be one recovery after another. And I bet it is for you, too. You avoid this site for a while, then something draws you back in. Alcohol? Internet addiction? Something harder? Only you know that. And it spirals out of control until you manage to grab onto something on your way down and pull yourself up, again and again. But for you, for me, for any of the silent ones out there who are struggling through these issues, there will come a time when that handhold won't be there and you - we - will fall further than we think.
I don't want this to necessarily be about you either, John. Like any advice column, it's directed at one person but read by many, all of whom could benefit from the same advice. So here it is: get some help, whether it's someone trusted you can talk to, a therapist, a group, whatever you can find. Just make sure you are not using what you're addicted to as the thing you trust to get you through. For me, a bottle of wine sounds like the best therapist in the world, but it's the worst thing I can do. For you, the a few drinks and then the Internet might seem like the best therapist, the best place to get things off your chest, but it's the very thing that is ruining your life. And for anyone else out there who is struggling with drinking, drugs, whatever it might be, just be very aware that as a law student or a post-JD, you're in a stage in your life where things may well be going very badly and you might find yourself in a situation where you wake up one morning and realize that you're out of control with whatever you're using to get you through the day.
I thought it was embarrassing to have a problem, and I was mortified that others might know and that I might need to get help. But I did. I still keep it - largely - a secret. Those close to me know. Most people don't. And they know that I'm not comfortable getting on a high horse and becoming completely sober. That's not me. They know that once in a while, it's better for me to have a drink or two and then pick myself up. And they know the warning signs, they know when to tell me to stop if it gets to that. And I have someone I can talk to, someone who I trust, just us two. Someone who I can confide in. Taking that first step and admitting to yourself that you have a problem is easy. You probably know it already. Taking that second step and admitting it to someone else, that's the hard part. But people do understand. There are people out there who can help. Believe me, John, everybody is screwed up. And people don't judge as much as you think when you ask for help. In fact, good people don't judge at all.
Have I got a solution for the debt crisis that many of us are struggling with? Nah. It's student debt, it'll be there for decades, and we have to pay it off somehow, no matter how much we push for change. I'm still not over that, and it's a depressing thought. It ruins lives, and you know that better than many. But we all have to do what we can, get whatever help we need, to make sure that in ten, twenty, thirty years, however long it takes, that we're still here, that we've managed to live a little, and that this mess doesn't consume our lives.
I hope you don't mind me writing this, John. It's not intended as any kind of personal attack. It's hopefully doing what I think you wanted to do all along, which was be a positive role model in helping others avoid falling into the JD and student debt trap. And if I'm right - and I think I might be - then you could do far more good by changing the conversation away from "look at the terrible mess I'm in, and here's how it's killing me", and towards "look at the terrible mess I'm in, and here's how I'm coping."
The Adjunct Law Professor
Sorry to be a downer, and sorry to post to not-very-amusing things two weeks in a row. I really do stand by what I wrote in my last paragraph: that I think that John could be a valuable voice of someone who can help others cope with addiction, a voice from someone who has hit rock bottom and clawed his way back up from a psychological perspective. The debt is going nowhere, but one thing we can control - and perhaps this is harder than paying off the debt - is whether we allow addiction to take over our lives.
John, you could do some real good with this. Or you could let it kill you. I'm just putting it out there. You're the only one who can decide what you want to do.