When shit got real for attorney Brian Cuban, he preferred not to wrap it up neatly with a common and often overused phrase.
“I don’t like the term rock bottom,” he says, “because people associate it with death or accidentally killing someone in an auto accident or going to jail. I don’t think you need to hit rock bottom in order to recover. Rock bottom is whatever gets you sober. I prefer the term recovery tipping point.”
Still, what led to Brian’s own tipping point was dramatic enough; in fact, no TV movie-of-the-week could hold it all: failed marriages, psychiatric hospital stays, and a short drive to the brink of suicide. That, along with image issues like body dysmorphic disorder, kept him in a slow-moving dance marathon with demons.
Today, he’s sober, recovering, newly married, and a much-in-demand inspirational speaker. He now shares his long-term recovery story with grateful audiences, many of whom can instantly relate.
“I remember when I was in law school at Pitt,” he says. “I would go to bars by myself, but I would get drunk just to be able to go to the bars. While there, I would sit down and get even drunker. And then I would get all upset because I was not feeling any better. I was just sitting there alone. And that would make it even worse. I think that was one of the things that pushed me into cocaine. Cocaine gave me a different feeling.”
In trying to get rid of his escalating problems, he only brought on more. He carried them for years, until his back and his mind almost broke.
His personal story of alcohol and drug addiction is shared by a shockingly large number of people in his chosen profession. He should know -- he once partied with a lot of them.
Brian’s new book, The Addicted Lawyer: Tales of the Bar, Booze, Blow, and Redemption, shows that the abuse within the legal trade -- and its enablers -- is widespread and treated like the dirty little secret it is. Often, with good reason.
“You’re afraid of losing your law license, you’re afraid of losing clients, you’re afraid of losing prestige,” he says, counting the reasons for the mass cover-up of mass addiction. “There is a lot of resistance, because we are taught that vulnerability is weakness. You have to put up a wall around yourself to keep anyone from seeing any vulnerability -- it’s something that could be used against you.”
Of course, the vulnerability irony is not lost on Brian: “Vulnerability is one of the primary things you need to make your recovery. To have a good recovery, you have to allow yourself to be vulnerable. It’s counter-intuitive.”
Brian’s tells his tale as a microcosm of a larger, universal story -- how substance abuse gets busy with lawyers from very early on. The book reads like a novel; swiftly and heartfelt, often even funny, with a yellow brick road of dysfunction detours along the way.
His long-awaited recovery is not one big happy ending -- he still works on himself on a daily basis and also takes meds for clinical depression.
“Sobriety doesn’t cure clinical depression,” he says “it just makes you deal with it on its own terms.”
You’ll believe Brian’s every word, but his message is also supported by stats. The American Bar Association, working with the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, recently found that about one-third of licensed attorneys have drinking issues, and are considered problem drinkers (read more about it here).
“From that standpoint, it’s a crisis,” he says. “Addicted law students become addicted lawyers. We have a profession that is afraid of seeking help for numerous reasons. It is a profession in crisis.”
Brian’s introduction to the dark side happened long before he submitted his law school application. Although he’s been sober for ten years, he’s still dealing with the how’s and the why’s.
“My recovery could be broken into two basic parts,” he says, “dealing with where I was, which was obviously getting sober; and the other part was figuring out how I got there. Getting sober is day-to-day, but figuring out how I got there is ‘historical,’ peeling back all the layers of my life, starting out as a little boy and figuring out where all the pain came from. And I still do that every day.”
Most of us know that Brian is the brother of Mark Cuban, but back in the day, even the Cuban family, based in suburban Pittsburgh, wouldn’t have predicted Brian’s future of big trouble.
“Drinking was not a big thing in my household,” Brian recalls. “My parents had this little piece of furniture that had a lamp on it, and underneath was a liquor cabinet. What I would do is get a mason jar and go into that cabinet and pour a little bit out of each bottle, and from the mason jar I would create my mixture. But alcohol was not a major thing in my family.”
Throughout his later ordeal, Brian remained close with his parents and brothers, but it wasn’t exactly an unconditional love.
“There were conditions,” Brian says. “My brother Jeff said that if I took cocaine again, we’re done. There was a point where my family had enough, and knowing that was one of the things that moved me into recovery.”
Brian also knows the score when it comes to a big advantage in his corner.
“I don’t deny that I’ve lived a privileged existence in having the support of my family,” he says, “and having a wealthy brother who was not going to let me live under a bridge. A lot of people don’t have that.”
Ten years sober, and now Brian is giving back by sharing his experience.
“I learned more about myself in the last ten years than I did in the first 40,” he says. “The last ten years were all about recovery and exploration and moving forward; the decades of addiction were about surviving day to day. When you’re doing that, it doesn’t leave much room for love, or allowing yourself to be loved, or for self-exploration. Living in that bubble of addiction and pain doesn’t leave any room to figure out who you really are. So the last ten years of sobriety have been figuring out who I really was. That started with just getting sober. You have to really be sober to get into self-exploration. After that, it turned into exploring where all the pain came from.”
Going from living a lie to living (and accepting) genuine truth doesn’t tickle, but it’s part of the recovery process.
“I’m not a very spiritual person,” he says, “but I do believe life should have purpose and meaning. It’s better when you’re passionate about that purpose and meaning. Finding that has certainly been a benefit for me.”
Included in Brian’s search for purpose and meaning is his willingness to face his fears. This includes a debilitating fear of heights. On May 13, he’ll celebrate his ten years of sobriety by being a part of the 2017 Shatterproof Challenge Rappel Dallas. Shatterproof is a non-profit organization dedicated to reducing the devastation of addiction. It provides valuable resources and support for families, has passed life-saving legislation in 11 states and is advocating in Texas this year to change the course of this public health crisis.
Brian’s challenge: to rappel down the 50 stories of Reunion Tower in Dallas (and yeah, that’s on the outside, not the inside). Sponsor him -- 100% of funds raised will help the organization do its thing. Click here.
Even though this is his second year participating, he says, “I still have that fear. [Rappelling last year] didn’t cure my fear. But I’ll face that fear again, because when you’re passionate about something, that goes a long way in overcoming fears.”
Brian is no stranger to facing what scares him and sharing his vulnerability. It’s made him a stronger and more resilient person, and more accepting of who he is. Not everybody is this fortunate.
“It’s OK to be shy,” he says. “It’s OK to be reserved. I don’t have to create someone new to be loved or to love other people. I’m figuring out that I am enough. Whether you are shy, thin, heavy, bald, you are enough. And you can live your life as you are. It took me a lot of years to get there.”
Don’t forget to support Brian’s rappel for Shatterproof!