Oklahoma Bar Journal

From the Executive Director | Well-Being is More Than a Gym Membership

By John Morris Williams

This month’s edition of the Oklahoma Bar Journal is dedicated to wellness. We all understand that eating right, getting enough sleep, exercising, not using illicit drugs, avoiding overconsumption of alcohol and quitting tobacco are all good health habits. Finding the right balance is often not easy and, at times, can create its own stressors. There are additional stressors inflicted upon us, some we control and some we cannot. Well-being is more than a gym membership.

Recently I had the opportunity to spend some time with someone in recovery from methamphetamines. I was amazed at the honesty, humility and humanity shown by this person. I was alarmed at the amount of trauma this person had experienced. Countless articles and presentations I have been exposed to over the years have taught me that overcoming a meth habit is extremely difficult and sadly may not be achievable for everyone.

Somehow along the line, I missed the data that reveals an overwhelming number of substance abuse addictions are triggered by trauma. Albeit, there is some scientific evidence that genetics do play a role in mental health and substance addiction; that only seems to be one of a number of factors that come into play. There is surprising evidence that a high percentage of persons incarcerated for drug offenses suffered sexual, physical or emotional abuse prior to their use of illicit substances and are self-medicating for often severe mental health issues. Oftentimes the abuse occurred to them as children. It is true that not everyone who suffers this type of abuse becomes a drug addict, but the correlation is too strong to ignore. Also apparent is the generational lineage of abusers and victims.

I understand this is not a pleasant topic of conversation. However, I believe it is one that needs to be had. Often, we talk in terms of treatment and help for those afflicted with mental health and substance abuse issues. I think it’s high time we shed greater light on causation and address some of these issues at the root. In short, I believe we must also strongly address the issue of how we treat each other.

In the course of my ongoing investigation, I discovered that there are some relatively new therapies for addiction being utilized that are showing success. In the past, these therapies have been successful for persons suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Once again, the evidence finds a high correlation between trauma and addiction. There is also a high likelihood that many victims and abusers will eventually find themselves in the legal system. It is no secret our jails are often used as mental health facilities, and the lack of resources and social stigma prevent many from early intervention and treatment. Those are policy decisions for others, but the evidence is overwhelming that how we treat each other matters and bears a high cost. Kindness matters. There is some pretty good science that demonstrates that people who show kindness and gratitude have better health outcomes.

We are participants in an adversarial system, which by its nature has winners and losers. But we need not lose our sense of common courtesy and decency in the process. Being professional and not creating additional trauma matters. We all know the term “Rambo Litigators.” In the 1990s, while I was active in the ABA Young Lawyers Division, I was involved in studying the origin of highly aggressive litigation tactics. The findings strongly suggested that overly aggressive litigation tactics are passed on from more senior lawyers to their subordinates. This type of behavior too has a negative effect on the well-being of those involved. In fact, I suggest that is often the intended result. Jealous advocacy has its place. Crossing the line for the purpose of inflicting needless trauma to opposing counsel, litigants and witnesses beyond its obvious impact also leads to a loss of confidence in the legal system.

Being kind and professional contributes to the well-being of everyone. Past President Susan Shields often used the phrase, “A good lawyer is a healthy lawyer.” As usual, she was spot on. I would add that a good lawyer also contributes to the well-being of those around them and the legal system as a whole. As a profession and individually we have an ethical obligation to maintain our own well-being and aid those with whom we come in contact when we can.

Let us all do our part for our own well-being and for those with whom we come in contact. A gym membership is a good start, but just as importantly, how we treat each other can matter a great deal.

To contact Executive Director Williams, email him at johnw@okbar.org.

Oklahoma Bar Journal – OBJ 93 Vol 4 (April 2022)