‘The Most Empowering Thing I’ve Ever Done’
Scott Tillett’s battle with substance abuse
Published in 2017 Southern California Rising Stars magazine
on June 5, 2017
Updated on October 20, 2017
In high school, I got a DUI a couple of hours before the Northridge earthquake hit. My dad and stepfather came to pick me up at the Calabasas substation. I think I got home around 2 a.m., put my head down on the pillow, and by 4 a.m. the world was shaking.
The epicenter was probably 15 minutes from where I lived. It was a weird experience because it was the strongest earthquake that’s hit in my lifetime, and it kind of refocused my family. The timing felt uncanny. I was ready for severe consequences. Then the next day, because this earthquake hit, they had other things to focus on.
I had to go to teenage alcohol prevention meetings, but I hadn’t hit bottom. I went there, drank coffee, smoked cigarettes, ate donuts or cookies, got my card signed. Then I went to Indiana University and continued to experiment with drugs and alcohol. I did not show up to classes hardly at all—I got a 0.89 GPA for three semesters—and I almost got a second DUI. I crashed my car into a light post in front of a Denny’s. I had been drinking, and knew I couldn’t get another DUI, so I ended up leaving the scene of the accident. I did two days in Monroe County Jail, failed out of Indiana University and came back home.
There, I got further and deeper into drugs and alcohol—burnt most of my bridges, broke up with the girlfriend, lost my apartment, lost my job and ended up back in my mom’s house. That led to my intervention and going to rehab. It’s the place where I was introduced to Alcoholics Anonymous.
Nobody likes to admit they need help. It’s not a comfortable thing—especially in our society, where self-sufficiency and independence are so valued—but just admitting that I didn’t know how to do this and that I needed help, that’s a big component. It feels like a shortcoming, a failing, like you’re weak. In reality it was the most empowering thing I’ve ever done.
I went through the steps. I made amends to my family and people I hurt. I had a problem that was bigger than alcoholism; I had a problem with myself. I just wasn’t a good person. I had to change the way I thought, the people I interacted with, the way I interacted with people. It’s not one thing—it’s everything.
When I was 26, I was accepted to Chapman and got a degree in psychobiology. Then I applied to most of the top 20 law schools and was serially rejected by almost all of them. It was kind of a blow to my ego in terms of 3.8 pre-med GPA and a 98th percentile on the LSAT. The reason, I think, is that I told the truth on my law school admissions essay—how I had struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction. There’s a high recidivism rate for alcoholics. I think a lot of these schools didn’t want to take a chance.
My family is back in my life now and I have regained trust from people who swore never to trust me again. People know they can call and depend on me.
So for those who feel unemployable, whose family has written them off, who don’t have any hopes, that can change. It is possible. The most important thing is starting the dialogue and removing the stigma. It’s a disease, and not something to be ashamed of. I still have trouble talking about this and I’m 16 years sober, so I can imagine how uncomfortable it is for someone still struggling.
I know successful people who struggle with drugs and alcohol and look like they’re fine. They drink, and manage to stop shaking long enough to stand in front of a jury to deliver their opening argument. Then at lunch, they need to have another drink so they can get through the next part of the trial. It seems like the easier, softer path is to continue doing what you’re doing. It seems like it’s an insurmountable task to quit. But it’s not.
Where to Turn
The Other Bar is a recovery network with more than 30 meeting locations throughout the state “specifically for attorneys and people in the legal profession,” Tillett says. “You’re with others who know what it takes to survive and thrive in law while also maintaining sobriety.”
otherbar.org 800) 222-0767