Brian Cuban , noted author, shares his personal odyssey of recovery. Listen to the saga of a troubled youth, the delusions of escape through cocaine and alcohol, and how a family who never stopped believing helped Brian find his way back.
A raw look at a career in law destroyed by addiction giving way to a career in spreading hope built by recovery.
Every person has his own path to finding meaning and self-worth and Brian gives us a window into what it looked like for him.
In recovery? Helping others find recovery? Looking to learn about recovery? Another can’t miss episode of Rubber Bands.
1:32 – Tickets for cocaine – Flushing away the evidence
10:52 – Trauma – The start of an addiction
13:52 – Alcoholic – A label not a diagnosis
19:34 – Getting through college – While high
23:27 – Graduation, a full circle
25:01 – Dallas – The next stop
25:56 – Discovering that one thing – Cocaine
27:06 – Cocaine – A life changing discovery – TRIGGER WARNING
29:37 – Nothing left to quell the pain – Suicide
36:04 – Supporting vs Enabling – The finest line
37:19 – A diary entry
40:25 – Many, many, paths to recovery
45:05 – Writing – A new lease on life
48:02 – Family, Privilege, and Pressure
50:57 – Lawyers and Addiction
53:12 – The Ambulance Chaser
54:30 – Final thoughts
Welcome to Rubber Bands, an Avenues Recovery Podcast. Conversations about the push and pull of addiction and recovery. And now, here’s your host, Shlomo Hoffman.
[0:28] Shlomo Hoffman: Hello, everybody. Welcome to Episode 6 of Rubber Bands, conversations about the push and pull of addiction and recovery. We continue to shed light on the world of addiction treatment by talking to the people who make up its heart and soul, those who have gone through it and those that have helped them get through it, sharing their experiences and insight into how people can find their way back from the darkest places and light up the world for themselves and for those that love them.
We’re grateful today for our special guest, Brian Cuban, Texas-based noted author, blessed with an ability to shine a light on the humanity of those valiantly fighting addiction. His book The Addicted Lawyer focused on the struggles specific to those in the legal profession and the unique perspective of professionals battling addiction.
Hi, Brian, how you doing? Thanks for coming on.
[1:11] Brian Cuban: Hey, good. Thanks for having me on.
[1:14] Shlomo Hoffman: Really appreciate it. You know, we look around for all different elements of addiction and what it causes and the stories, and what you tackled here in your book The Addicted Lawyer was a unique perspective on the professional battle.
On a more general level, you open the book. The first story, I want you to share that story with us, the first story that you start the book with. It sort of illustrates the cycle, the shame, and “I can get through this,” and the story of you waiting to go to the Dallas Mavericks game and bartering your tickets. Do you want to share that story with us?
[1:55] Brian Cuban: Yeah. I was going to have to ask you to remind me what the first story is. It’s been a while since I read my own book. It was the summer of 2006, and the Mavs were going to the NBA championship for the first time, and my brother Mark owns the team. So as you might imagine, I had access to some pretty good seats.
And so I also had the opportunity to get a couple of tickets for friends, so I called him up. He said, “Sure, Brian, come on over. Get the tickets.” I got the two really nice lower bowl tickets, and you’re thinking, “Did I give them to my friends?” No, I didn’t.
You’re probably thinking I sold them on eBay for some astronomical amount, thinking like a lawyer, right? I didn’t do that either.
[2:39] Shlomo Hoffman: I don’t know how Mark would have handled that if you were turning around his tickets. No?
[2:42] Brian Cuban: If it got out, that wouldn’t have been good. I didn’t do that either because that would be certainly disrespectful to Mark and the team and all that. But what wasn’t disrespectful in my mind was trading them to my drug dealer for a thousand dollars of cocaine. Right? How the mind works in addiction.
So my dealer shows up at my house. I was high-class. He’d deliver. And I give him the tickets. He hands me this giant Ziploc baggie of blow. I go running up to my home office. I dump it all out on this long wooden desk, like I have here in front of me, this giant cocaine kingdom that I wanted to go like I’m Scarface, and rub my nose in it. And of course, I had to do some. That’s why I bought it.
I pull out a dollar bill, roll it up. Isn’t it funny about cocaine users, especially in pandemic times? We’ll wash our hands, antiseptic, lather them up with antiseptic, wash them in the bathroom, but we’ll shove a dollar bill up our nose that’s been god knows where, used by god knows who, without any problem whatsoever.
[3:51] Shlomo Hoffman: No germaphobia in cocaine.
[03:52] Brian Cuban: Yes, we are weird that way. We’re an ironic bunch. But cocaine had long stopped giving me the feeling of self-love and acceptance that I achieved and felt when I did it in a bathroom in Dallas, Texas for the very first time in the summer of 1987 and became instantly enamored with that feeling because I was someone who had grown up with a lot of trauma and literally hated myself for much of my life. Up to that point, all of my life.
[4:21] So to love myself, albeit artificially, for the first time, was an overpowering feeling, and it was a feeling that I had to have again and again. But sitting in my home office all these years later, it was just pain and shame and chasing a high that was never going to come again. Chasing the dragon. Right?
[4:40] Shlomo Hoffman: Right.
[4:41] Brian Cuban: And so there was also the paranoia. Do I hear the cops outside? Whew, whew, whew. The curtains are closed. I’d been in dealer’s houses and user’s houses where they have cardboard over the windows and things like that because we’re all paranoid. I’m peeking out there, and I take the cocaine. I put it back in the Ziploc baggie. I hide it, and I drive to a Home Depot where I buy electrical faceplate outlets, a drill, and a saw.
[4:21] I drive back to my house, and I go upstairs to the drywall in the closets in the different bedrooms with the drill and the saw and cut out these rectangular fake electrical outlets. I take the cocaine, I put it in small Ziploc baggies, and I shove it behind the drywall in all these fake electrical outlets.
[4:21] Shlomo Hoffman: So at that point, you had decided not to use that night. Is that what was going on, or you were just putting it away?
[5:33] Brian Cuban: Yeah, I had had a bad high, and I didn’t want to use anymore. And I had left some out, but… And I hide it all because I’m paranoid thinking the cops are out there. And they’re not. And so I drill the electrical faceplate outlets, the screws in, thinking I’m the smartest lawyer ever. Like the DEA, the cops, and the drug dogs have never thought of that one before.
I do a little more, line out what I left on the desk, and again, just that terrible high. And it was never about “Maybe you have a problem, Brian.” It was about “Maybe I need to change dealers. Maybe I need to switch out the Grey Goose for the Jack Daniels to find that better equilibrium that we seek.” And then came the paranoia again.
I go back to the electrical outlets with the drill, and I take the cocaine back out and put it back in the original Ziploc baggie and go to the bathroom, and go to the master bathroom and flush it down the toilet. Now it’s $900 worth of cocaine.
The next morning, I wake up…
[6:43] Shlomo Hoffman: Did you make it to the game?
[6:44] Brian Cuban: No, didn’t make it to the game. I wake up, and I think to myself, “Did I really flush the balance of that cocaine down the toilet? There’s another game tonight? Who does that? What kind of idiot flushes $900 worth of cocaine down the toilet?”
I call my drug dealer back up. I call Mark; get two more tickets to the game that night. I call the dealer. He shows up at my house. He said, “Dude, you did all that last night?”
I didn’t want to tell him I flushed it down the toilet like a moron. I said, “Yes, I did it all. Give me more.”
“Okay, here you go.”
Back up to my home office, dump it out on the desk again, rinse, wash, repeat, snort some more. Again, just paranoia and just the bad highs. The good highs were gone. And I go back to the electrical outlets, hide it again. Hide it all again, get more paranoid, take it back out maybe two hours later, go back to that same bathroom, drop to my knees like I had done so many times before, waiting, hoping, praying for someone or something to take away the pain of my addiction as I retched, and flushed it again.
They say when Dallas flushes, it runs downhill to Houston. So some people in Houston may have had a little extra hip-hop in their step.
[08:13] Shlomo Hoffman: How generous of you.
[8:15] Brian Cuban: Yeah, the “insanity” of addiction, doing something over and over the same way and expecting a different result. But we know it’s not “insane.” It’s a biological brain-based process that affects so many of us, and I was no different.
[8:33] Shlomo Hoffman: That story resonated with me because while you’re so addicted and you need that cocaine high, you also know that it’s terrible for you, and you’re flushing it down the toilet because you know this is not the way. And then you do it all again. So until you figure out a way to exit, how to really make the change…
[8:52] Brian Cuban: I can’t say that I flushed it because it was not the way. That would imply that I had some level of self-awareness at that point, which I didn’t. I flushed it because I was just paranoid, and the only way to get over this awful feeling was to watch it go down the toilet. So, yeah, I cant say—
[9:11] Shlomo Hoffman: You weren’t up to the point yet that it was “This is bad for me, and I can’t do it.”
[9:16] Brian Cuban: No. That was my 20th year as a practicing lawyer too. And, of course, I knew it was wrong. I’ve done cocaine in state and federal courthouses and all kinds of different places where the consequences were severe if I was caught. Of course, I knew it was wrong. What’s the definition of addiction? Obsessive-compulsive drug-seeking behavior in the face of known consequences.
[9:41] Shlomo Hoffman: Did you ever meet up with those consequences in a severe fashion?
[9:45] Brian Cuban: I was arrested for DWI, but I beat the consequences because I plead not guilty, as was my right, to make the state prove their case. This is a whole other story. The state trooper who arrested me retired and moved back to wherever in Texas that was not in Dallas, and he decided that he wasn’t coming back to testify against Brian Cuban.
[10:10] Shlomo Hoffman: Wow.
[10:10] Brian Cuban: He was off enjoying his retirement, so they had to drop the case.
[10:14] Shlomo Hoffman: So you had some sort of special fairy that was allowing you to dodge these consequences.
[10:20] Brian Cuban: Well, yes, but of course there were consequences. I have three failed marriages, all failing around hiding my addiction, my drug use, and specifically my cocaine use, although I had a drinking issue as well. And so, yeah, there are consequences. It was a strain on my family. It caused family rifts. There are always consequences. They just fall at different levels, and it’s how we adjust to them instead of face them.
[10:52] Shlomo Hoffman: Everybody has a different story about how their addiction developed, what happened. It seems like you had a nice nuclear family. You’re close to your brothers, your parents. What was it for you that pointed you in that direction, or was it just something that you were genetically predisposed to needing that?
[11:13] Brian Cuban: I would argue for me it was trauma-based, a strong correlation of trauma. There is no genetic predisposition in my family that I am aware of. No one in my nuclear family, no one else has ever struggled with alcohol or drug use.
There was a lot of fat-shaming in my house, and I had a very difficult relationship with my mother. And I blame. Again, there is a difference between cause and correlation. My mother did not cause any of this, and I don’t blame her for any of it. But things that happened in the household can correlate with mental health issues later in life. Correlation means it will happen to some people; it won’t happen to others.
My mom had a very verbally and mentally abusive relationship with her mother. She was fat-shamed, and there were a lot of different going things, and this was the ’70s. It ran downhill, and I was an obese kid.
[12:10] Shlomo Hoffman: You look great now.
[12:13] Brian Cuban: I struggle. I still struggle with body image issues, but I was an obese kid. I was fat-shamed by my mom as she was fat-shamed by her mom. And I was physically assaulted and had my pants torn off me by some school classmates.
[12:30] Shlomo Hoffman: Bullying episodes.
[12:32] Brian Cuban: Yeah, I was pantsed because they thought my shiny, gold bell-bottom disco pants that my brother Mark had given me were too tight on me, and tore them off, ripped them into shreds, threw them in the street. Very traumatic.
And so these were the kinds of things that formed my self-image as a child and formed a nucleus of self-hated. I began to see somebody who was just not worthy of love every time I looked in the mirror — although my mother loved me dearly — just not worthy of love, who would never get married, would never have his first date, his first kiss, all these different things. And this was the image that I [inaudible 13:13]. This was the Brian that I dragged through life as my baggage. And so I would begin trying to love that Brian through different things.
Again, this was starting at 18 years old. I began binging and purging, eating disorder, and by the time I went into my early 20s, I was a full-blown college “alcoholic.” I had an alcohol-use disorder. I put it in air quotes because alcoholic is a label, not a diagnosis.
And then by my mid-20s, I was…
[13:52] Shlomo Hoffman: Would you care to expand on what you mean when you say that alcoholic is a label, not a diagnosis?
[13:58] Brian Cuban: Sure. Alcoholic, it has its own etymology. Words, not etymology. It is a label popularized by 12 Step, which is fine. I got sober in 12 Step. Someone says, “Okay, I’m an alcoholic, so I need help.” It is a very helpful label, but it is not a medical diagnosis, a DSM-5 diagnosis, which is alcohol-use disorder, which is the diagnosis we need to get treatment.
The diagnosis when you go into residential treatment isn’t alcoholic. Alcohol-use disorder. And alcohol-use disorder can be diagnoses through several different tools, such as the AUDIT tool. It’s a very important distinction. Alcoholic is a self-label we give ourselves, but it’s an important label because it’s the label that many people come to terms with their problems with.
[15:06] Shlomo Hoffman: Interesting. Is it more of a medical thing, or it’s more of a perception thing? Like when you push back on the idea of an alcoholic being a diagnosis.
[15:17] Brian Cuban: I’m not pushing back. I’m not pushing back against it. When I walked into the rooms at 12 Step, that was the label I gave myself, but it’s not a label that I feel that has to define me. Whether I am a “alcoholic” or not to me is irrelevant. It’s how I live my life. Am I hitting the pillars of recovery — my family life, my relationships, my work life, my goals. That’s what’s important to me.
[15:52] Shlomo Hoffman: Do you think that for some people, like for you who you clearly have accepted… That helped you, even. You’re saying that it even helped you that you identified as someone that’s an alcoholic, and therefore, you’re going to try to make changes. I’m just wondering if some people it would be an adverse reaction. Like “Oh, you’re calling me an alcoholic.”
[16:12] Brian Cuban: That’s a great point. It causes a lot of tension between the two schools of recovery. There are people who believe abstinence is the only way. There are 12 Steps, boom-boom, and this is how they stay sober. And that’s great. But it gets into these things, especially in social media where I voice my viewpoints, and someone says, “Well, you’re not a real alcoholic then.”
And I think to myself, “Isn’t that the goal?” Isn’t that what I want? To not be an alcoholic anymore?
I try not to get into those kinds of tension battles, but I don’t label myself as an alcoholic. To me, it’s an irrelevant label. To someone else, it may be a very important label.
If you take a drink… Well, would you take a drink if you’re not an alcoholic? No. But it’s not because I’m an alcoholic. It’s, why would I? I’ve seen the damage—
[17:14] Shlomo Hoffman: That it does to you.
[17:16] Brian Cuban: I’ve lived the damage that it does to me. Why would I want to experiment with that again? And that doesn’t mean that I’m afraid that I will go back to that. I see no upside to taking a drink.
[17:32] Shlomo Hoffman: Got it.
[17:34] Brian Cuban: Now I look at cocaine a little differently. I absolutely am in fear… I wouldn’t say in fear because I don’t fear cocaine. I just don’t hang in those circles anymore. But I would absolutely be concerned that I would develop a dependence and go back to trying to feel a certain way.
[17:59] Shlomo Hoffman: That’s interesting. So you’re saying that for you, the feeling of cocaine was something that actually… You still identify with that feeling. Like that feeling would still be awesome, as opposed to alcohol what you’re saying that you don’t even see the upside of taking a drink anymore.
[18:13] Brian Cuban: That’s right. I would be much more concerned about doing a line of cocaine than taking a drug.
[18:20] Shlomo Hoffman: Because of how it made you feel?
[18:22] Brian Cuban: Because of how it made me feel.
[18:23] Shlomo Hoffman: Interesting. I would expand. This is interesting to me. So alcohol is something that numbed the pain or made you forget about your stuff, and cocaine gave you an actual positive, awesome feeling? Is that what it is?
[18:39] Brian Cuban: Alcohol allowed me to numb my pain, and I would mix it with — this is awful. I’m lucky to be alive. I would mix it with Xanax, and it would be part of my routine too with cocaine. But before I became dependent and then addicted to cocaine, I was an “alcoholic” — alcohol-use disorder — in college, for sure. And I carried that to law school because I deadening the pain. I didn’t want to feel.
But cocaine was different, and cocaine allowed me to feel even though it was artificial.
[19:19] Shlomo Hoffman: It allowed you to feel a different feeling instead of just forgetting about the feeling that you wanted to run away from.
[19:24] Brian Cuban: That’s right. I don’t want to not feel. I want to feel.
[19:28] Shlomo Hoffman: And that’s why cocaine is a bigger fear. That’s very interesting. So you go to college. You become a lawyer. How was that, getting through college, actually doing the work? You were skating by. Did you show up to class? Did you get grades? How did you—?
[19:45] Brian Cuban: College was a little easier to skate by. I was a criminal justice major. I wanted to be a police officer. That would have worked out well. I’d have been the first guy in the evidence rooms trading out the cocaine for the mannitol, stealing cocaine.
[20:01] Shlomo Hoffman: That career would have lasted really long.
[20:03] Brian Cuban: College, it was not a pleasant experience for me. I was getting drunk every night. I was also binging and purging. I had also developed exercise bulimia, which is an obsessive-compulsive exercise for the primary purpose of offsetting calories. So I was going on these long runs. I was binging and purging. It was drinking alone at Penn State. But exams are graded on a… Professors weren’t… This was back in the ’80s. Professors weren’t anal about attendance, and I was able to pull it together and pull all-nighters and then give back the information the next day and get pretty decent grades.
So I remember sitting in the placement office thumbing through police officer jobs, and there were a couple of guys next to me from Pittsburgh where I’m from talking about going to law school, going to Pitt Law. And I’m listening to them, and the bells start going off in my head. Not the bells of I wanted to be a lawyer. I had never thought about being a lawyer. I didn’t know any lawyers. I had no concept of what it meant to be a lawyer.
The bells of “Brian, you can stay in law school. It’s three years. You can stay in school three more years, and you can drink. You can binge and purge, and you can run, and you can engage in the same survival behaviors” because that’s what it was for me. Just the behaviors that allowed me to survive moment to moment, day to day, and not have to reveal yourself to the world, just like you did at State.
[21:36] Shlomo Hoffman: So it more an excuse to stay in school and not embrace yet the life of responsibility that was coming next.
[21:44] Brian Cuban: It was an excuse to not embrace the life of having to face my problems, so not having to survive on life’s terms instead of using these different destructive coping behaviors.
So that made perfect sense for me to go to law school. That’s why I went. No other reason.
[22:09] Shlomo Hoffman: So you never really loved being a lawyer, not one day.
[22:12] Brian Cuban: No, not one day. Not one day. I hated it every day. I never wanted to be a lawyer. There were times you go, you litigate, and you do this. Were there moments? Of course. But there was always the underlying self-hatred. And so I decided to go to Pitt Law for that reason.
Now the difference is that I could skate at Penn State, but you can’t get through law school and do well like that. You’re competing with everyone else. Exams aren’t graded on a curve. Exams are a straight percentage. You’re competing against other students. It was difficult, and I graduated near the bottom of my class. Once again, I was going to class drunk. I was not showing up for class. I was drinking alone, repeating the exact same coping mechanisms that I engaged in at State.
And it was pretty close. I still have reoccurring dreams of going to get my diploma, and the dean of the law school pulling it back like “Psyche, you didn’t graduate.” And I wake up kind of sweating, grabbing for this imaginary diploma.
The irony of that I was so ashamed of myself, so self-hating that I didn’t even bother going to graduation. I didn’t care. Just mail it to me.
And the complete circle of all that was—
[23:40] Shlomo Hoffman: There wasn’t even a place where you could tell your family, “Look, I graduated. Come to my graduation. I’m a lawyer now.” There wasn’t even that. Even that wasn’t going to give you a sense of pride.
[23:50] Brian Cuban: I don’t even remember talking to my family about law school. There was a whole thing about, hey… I don’t know how much my family knew about my law school experience. My father is deceased now, so I can’t ask him, and I certainly wasn’t having conversations with my mother about it. So I think it was more one day me just mentioning to them that I’m in law school.
[24:11] Shlomo Hoffman: And then like “Hey, I graduated.”
[24:14] Brian Cuban: Yeah, and I graduated, and the irony, the full circle of all that is that a few weeks ago, I was invited to keynote at my law school’s graduation.
[24:26] Shlomo Hoffman: There you go. Now you got to go to graduation.
[24:28] Brian Cuban: And I wore a cap and gown for the 2021 University of Pittsburgh School of Law graduation. I wore a cap and gown, and it was full circle, and it was wonderful.
[24:37] Shlomo Hoffman: That’s amazing. Your life of recovery and post-law sort of brought you back to your law school graduation, which is crazy ironic.
[24:42] Brian Cuban: It did. And I had also started and funded one of the first alumni-created student wellness funds in the country for law students.
[24:52] Shlomo Hoffman: Wow. And is that something that’s specific to Pitt Law?
[24:56] Brian Cuban: Yeah, Pitt Law.
[24:59] Shlomo Hoffman: Very cool. Wow. So you’ve become a lawyer, and you moved to Dallas. How did you end up in Dallas? Your family had already moved to Dallas? Because you said you were from Pittsburgh.
[25:08] Brian Cuban: Both of my brothers had moved to Dallas, so they both already lived here, Mark and Jeff. And for me, it was a logical move because I wanted to get out of Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania where my experiences were only bullying and miserable. My relationship with my mom at that point was still not good. We have a wonderful relationship today. And then so I decided to move there.
So with, I think, a hundred bucks to my name, I took a Greyhound Bus, and Mark met me at the bus station, and I moved in with my brother Mark, and it was like throwing gasoline on a fire because they were young. This was the mid-’80s in Dallas. They’re dating. They’re going to the bars.
[25:48] Shlomo Hoffman: Everybody was still single then.
[25:49] Brian Cuban: Everyone was single and out having a good time, and so I fit right in. And my drinking escalated, and then in the summer of ’87, that next summer, I discover the one thing in a bathroom in an upscale bar in Dallas, Texas, befitting my non-barred status, wearing my suit that I had from high school, pretending I was a lawyer.
[26:11] Shlomo Hoffman: So you had never passed the bar?
[26:13] Brian Cuban: I hadn’t taken the bar yet, but I failed the bar three times all as a result of my drug and alcohol issues. They were more important than studying. I discovered cocaine.
[26:24] Shlomo Hoffman: So cocaine came post-college.
[26:26] Brian Cuban: Yes.
[26:27] Shlomo Hoffman: During your formative years you were drinking.
[26:30] Brian Cuban: College was only alcohol. Penn State was only alcohol.
[26:32] Shlomo Hoffman: Interesting. So you discovered cocaine in an airport bathroom.
[26:36] Brian Cuban: No, in a hotel bathroom in downtown Dallas.
[26:40] Shlomo Hoffman: What happened? You walked in, and there was cocaine sitting on the sink?
[26:43] Brian Cuban: No, I was at a bar with a buddy of mine who has also found recovery and put all that behind him. And he introduced me to his dealer, and I was scared. He said, “You need to try this. You’ll feel great.” And so the dealer gave me some lines gratis, and I remember the first feeling.
[27:04] Shlomo Hoffman: Like a sampler.
[27:06] Brian Cuban: Gave me a sampler. Trigger warning to everyone who is in recovery. Move away if you don’t want to hear this because I’m going to give some description. It was running down the back of my throat. It runs down, and my entire throat went numb, and I thought I was going to die because I couldn’t swallow. But then came the other feeling where it just swooped up. Looked in the mirror and say, “Wow, that guy’s handsome. All the girls love that guy. The girls who rejected me for the prom love that guy. The girls upstairs that I’m going to go hit on now because I am no longer brutally shy love that guy.”
[27:46] Shlomo Hoffman: They already love me now. They haven’t even met me yet.
[27:49] Brian Cuban: And everyone in Dallas, my mother loves that guy. All these things. And she did love that guy really. But, yeah, and I had never felt that before. And it was “Katie, bar the door” because I had to have that feeling—
[28:04] Shlomo Hoffman: Again and again and again.
[28:06] Brian Cuban: Alcohol and cocaine took over my life.
[28:09] Shlomo Hoffman: Did it ever stop for you? Did it come to a point for you where it wasn’t giving you that feeling, but you just needed it physically?
[28:16] Brian Cuban: Sure. I don’t know. You go through those thought processes. It got really bad for me, the whole cycle because I added Xanax to it. So basically as a lawyer, it got to the point — and this is moving up through the summer of 2005 after I had one failed marriage or two failed marriages up to that point — where I was cycling through days, cocaine at night and alcohol and night, and then Xanax and alcohol in the morning, and sleep through the day, cocaine at night, and I was showing up at court intoxicated and hungover. How I wasn’t disbarred or grievance filed against me is amazing. It is truly amazing that I skated through all that.
[29:08] Shlomo Hoffman: And you actually survived, and you’re living to tell the story.
[29:10] Brian Cuban: Yeah, the Xanax and the alcohol and the cocaine, people die. The Xanax withdrawal and the sleeping pills. So I was going through all this and getting it all on the black market.
[29:21] Shlomo Hoffman: Where was the money coming from?
[29:23] Brian Cuban: I had good years as a lawyer. I had some pretty good years as a lawyer despite myself. And that eventually dried up, but in the summer of 2005, there was nothing that was quelling the pain. There was nothing that was changing how I felt about myself, and I decided to end my life by suicide.
Believe me, cocaine wasn’t the end-all to the high life.
[29:55] Shlomo Hoffman: So there were 17 years. Basically, you were doing cocaine from 1987 til 2005. 2005 it comes to sort of a head. Cocaine is not giving you what you need anymore, so now you have no escape. Is that what it was?
[30:05] Brian Cuban: It wasn’t that thought process. 2005 came to a head because I couldn’t stop the pain, and I didn’t see any point. The only way in my mind I could stop the pain was to end my life by suicide. It wasn’t a specific thought process about cocaine. It was a specific process about “My life is worthless. It will always be worthless. I would be doing my family a favor.” That was the thought process.
[30:32] Shlomo Hoffman: Wow. It’s so ironic because you talk about it in your book a little bit. You read about people that have survived suicide, etc. That’s a common theme, that I’m a burden to other people. I’m not giving anything to anyone. They don’t need me. My life is just making other people problems. And so often the people that survive it will come back to tell you that the reaction of the people that love them, those people were like “We need you.” It almost invokes that you’ve got to know that we need you, and it will be tremendously painful if this would have actually come to fruition.
[31:13] Brian Cuban: I had a weapon, and I had sent some disturbing emails to a friend who I dedicated my very first book to for saving my life. He got a hold of my two brothers. And my first brother, my younger brother Jeff came into the house, and I was upstairs. I’m in the Xanax and coke, and I’m lying in bed. And the .45 automatic is on my nightstand. And so he confiscated the weapon. My brother Mark flew in from L.A. They cleaned up, and they took me, my first of two trips, down to a Dallas psychiatric hospital kicking and screaming. They’re trying to save my life, and all I can think of is “Get out of my life and let me finish what I wanted to do.”
And so they took me down there, and as a lawyer, they were trying to put a psychiatric hold on me, and in Texas, you have to be a danger to yourself and others, so as a lawyer, I knew what to say so they couldn’t do that, much to their chagrin.
Here’s where privilege comes in. I would be disingenuous to not acknowledge the privilege that I have gone through in both addiction, active addiction, and recovery. There is a saying that addiction doesn’t discriminate, but it really does because addiction hits different demographics differently. And recovery does absolutely discriminate, can discriminate based on privilege and access to resources. I had access to money and resources out with ass-oo. Very few people have billionaire brothers.
[32:56] Shlomo Hoffman: Was that difficult for you in a way though? Was it sort of being in that shadow?
[33:01] Brian Cuban: That’s a different conversation we can talk about, but I’ll get through this story. I could have flown directly from treatment to Florida. They were ready to do that. I refused. I wasn’t ready for recovery. I just wanted them out of my life so I could go back to now the people who really love me, the people who didn’t judge me, at least until the cocaine ran out.
So they drove me back home, and we did what I call the Cuban rehab. They took my car keys, said, “Stay in the house for two weeks, and everything will be okay.” They didn’t know. My family is no different.
I had a few thoughts to that. One, fine, my drug dealer delivers. No problem there. Two, now they know. Now they really know. And what am I going to do? Well, I’m going to distance. So after that, I stopped communicating with them, my family, my father — all the people who love me — and began to really withdraw into my own world. I called a cab. They weren’t going to tell me what to do. I called a cab, went to the car dealership, and got another set of keys made. They weren’t telling me what to do.
This isn’t unusual with people dealing with these issues. No one is going to tell us what to do.
[34:26] Shlomo Hoffman: Was this sort of the first realization for your family about how deeply rooted your problems were at that point?
[34:33] Brian Cuban: I think they suspected, but this was the first time it was in their face.
[34:37] Shlomo Hoffman: They couldn’t brush it away anymore.
[34:39] Brian Cuban: That I was in crisis. I was in crisis. After that, I did bring the party to me, and I was right back out. And then another failed marriage. And at this point, I had no job now. My career had imploded. I had no clients left. It gets around. When you’re not serving your clients and you’re showing up to the courthouse looking like a mess and this and that, it gets around. The clients stopped coming in. And this is where privilege comes in again.
My brother Mark put me to work for him. I failed miserably, showing up at meetings drunk and hungover, all those things.
[35:22] Shlomo Hoffman: You were working for the Mavs at the time?
[35:24] Brian Cuban: Working for him personally. I’ve never worked for the Mavs directly.
[35:26] Shlomo Hoffman: Got it.
[35:26] Brian Cuban: So working for him personally as his jack-of-all-trades lawyer. He was trying to give me an opportunity to pull myself up. That’s not how addiction works either. And so he was really just giving me a paycheck, and I was doing nothing. Is that enabling? Well, enabling is a tough thing to judge in the moment. He saved my life because I could have been living under a bridge. I might have tried again to end my life by suicide. It’s the enabling that got me on the show talking to you over 14 years in recovery.
[36:04] Shlomo Hoffman: It’s such a fine line. We talk to people, the struggle of the support people, the people that supporting you, the struggle of giving them what they need, keeping them alive and not, like you say, enabling them to continue doing what they’re doing. It’s so hard to define it. I think it sort of varies from person to person as well.
[36:23] Brian Cuban: It’s that gray area between love, enablement, and recovery is one of the most brutal parts of the family dynamic. And for me, the privilege I lived in, financial privilege, skin-color privilege, all of these different privileges came together that I had the benefit of a brother and family who loved me dearly. Another privilege because many do not have that. That also came with very deep pockets.
I’ve seen families bankrupt trying to figure out that gray area between love, enablement, and recovery. My family wasn’t going to be bankrupted. And so I can’t… It would be so intellectually dishonest of me not to acknowledge that I am a little bit outside the Venn diagram with that. Or way outside the Venn diagram with that issue.
[37:19] Shlomo Hoffman: In your book, you have some diary entries, and you talk about the first time you walked into AA. I think that was the day of your sober date, April 11, 2007. This is what Brian writes in his book.
[37:33] Brian Cuban: Actually, my sober day is April 8, 2007. I was not in an accurate dating sort of mind back then.
[37:45] Shlomo Hoffman: Got you. So in the book is says April 11, but you’re saying—
[37:49] Brian Cuban: Yeah, well, I started keeping the diary April 11th.
[37:53] Shlomo Hoffman: Got it. I just want to read this because it moved me. “It was so hard for me to walk through the doors of AA. Pride, shame, still detoxing, fear, abandonment, feeling them all at once. I dreamed last night that the city of Boston was burning, and I walked through it. I realized today that in almost every single stupid decision I’ve made, alcohol has played a factor.”
That’s the diary entry from April 11th, 2007, three days after your sober date.
[38:22] Brian Cuban: I can tell you what the context of that dream was. My girlfriend at the time who had just moved in with me and now my wife — our relationship did survive it, all this, and we’ve been together for over 15 years. But at that time, we barely had been dating a year. She had moved in with me, and she had recently moved back to Texas from Boston where she was a lawyer, and she moved out.
[38:47] Shlomo Hoffman: So your wife is a lawyer as well.
[38:49] Brian Cuban: Yeah, she’s a legal recruiter, but at that time, she was a practicing lawyer, and she had moved in with me, and this all happened, and she moved out, and I was terrified she was going to leave me. That was the context of that dream.
[39:01] Shlomo Hoffman: Got it. Wow. What struck me in this diary entry was all these different feelings. At the same time that you’re proud that you’re actually going to AA and you’re trying to change your life and maybe it’s going to stick and you’re hoping it’s going to stick, there is still that shame. There is still the fear. There is still the abandonment. Everything is sort of mixed up and like you’re making this move, and it’s just a lot. It’s sort of an overwhelming feeling, and you got through it.
[39:30] Brian Cuban: Sure. When I walked in April 8th, it was kind of funny. Before I’d gone to my first meeting, I got a little more honest with my psychiatrist, and he’s the one who he said you can go to… Back then you didn’t have all these other options, the harm reduction or whatever. Not that harm reduction would have worked for me. Abstinence is the only path that would have worked for me. There’s no such thing as one line of cocaine for me and one drink.
[39:59] Shlomo Hoffman: But you believe that that varies from person to person, is that correct?
[40:05] Brian Cuban: Absolutely. The paths to recovery are many, and that’s another area where I knock heads with the abstinence-only crowd, especially within advocacy. Within the rooms within the rooms, great. I get it. But I don’t judge anyone’s path to recovery.
Here’s an example. This drives people crazy when I say this. I took the Texas recovery coach certification, all that, and I went through the course, and I passed the test. I don’t practice. I just use it to enhance my knowledge. I don’t charge people to come to me or anything like that. But if someone came to me and said, “Brian, I’m doing an eight-ball of cocaine, three and a half grams a week. My life is a mess. If I can get down to a gram a week, then things will be great…”
I’m not going to say to that person, “No, you have to stop or you’ll die.” I’m going to say, “Why do you think that will be better? And let’s set goals, and let’s try that, and then you tell me if it’s better.” That’s harm reduction.
If somebody is drinking a bottle of gin a week, and they tell me they think they can get down to a glass or whatever, I’m not going to say, “No, you’ve got to stop or you’re going to die.” I’m going to listen and help them achieve their goals. And then you say, “How’s that working for you.”
[41:42] Shlomo Hoffman: Got it. But when you’re dealing with dangerous substances that carry such fatality risks like cocaine and heroin and these types of things, isn’t there a danger that if you don’t abstain, then you might lose your life?
[41:58] Brian Cuban: Let’s not buy into false narratives. The overwhelming fatal OD risk with heroin is contaminated heroin with fentanyl. The OD crisis related to heroin is fentanyl-related, not necessarily just stand-alone heroin-related.
[42:21] Shlomo Hoffman: But it is very difficult nowadays to know when it’s…
[42:25] Brian Cuban: Absolutely. The issue is is everything informed. Are decisions informed? And would I say if someone asks me if I think that’s the best path, I’d say, “For me, no. And here are the risks. Any given line, you can die. Any given pill, you can die. It can be contaminated.”
So people have to understand those risks, but harm reduction, whether it’s through Suboxone or methadone to get people back, to get people into a lifestyle where they can live is a valid strategy. Is it a strategy that would have worked for me? Probably not. But I don’t judge other people’s recovery pathways. It just cringes me when I see these abstinence talks that just say it’s replacing one addiction for another. It is not. It is not. And it just gets me on a soapbox and makes me sad.
[43:29] Shlomo Hoffman: You’re on the soapbox.
[43:31] Brian Cuban: Because that’s how people die, when you shame people out of recovery pathways. That’s how they die. Because when we shame people, people are going to use regardless, and they’re going to find the drugs. And when you shame people onto the streets of Kensington and whatever in Philadelphia and onto the streets, that’s where the risk is. When you’re forcing them out there to do that because there’s no way to know what you’re getting.
[44:03] Shlomo Hoffman: There has to be a way to find each person’s individual path to recovery.
[44:07] Brian Cuban: That’s right. I’m all for abstinence.
[44:12] Shlomo Hoffman: Abstinence worked for you.
[44:13] Brian Cuban: I’m all for abstinence. Yay, abstinence. It worked for me. Yay, suboxone if that’s allowing you to hit all the pillars of recovery with wife, children, work, all your goals. Yay, methadone if it’s allowing you to do this.
Now, we can get into should all of that… Because I see this too. “Well, that’s great, but the path should always be abstinence.” So we have “You’re on methadone,” “You’re on suboxone.” You’re doing this. You’re on Vivitrol, whatever it is—
[44:44] Shlomo Hoffman: But you mean the end goal.
[44:47] Brian Cuban: The end game should always be abstinence. So we have that in the middle. And that’s not my judgment to make. I can tell you that abstinence is great for me.
[44:58] Shlomo Hoffman: It’s really worked for you.
[45:00] Brian Cuban: I would never force my recovery path down anyone’s throat.
[45:05] Shlomo Hoffman: You found a writing career. You’re a lawyer. You found a writing career. Do you think that finding something that you love helped you stay on the path?
[45:16] Brian Cuban: Absolutely. So you’re in 12 Step, right? You’re going through. I did my 100 meetings in 90 days and all that. So I had to find things that gave me joy and gave me sense of purpose in life other than cocaine to fill those gaps. So that took time. You search and you search. And during the searching period, I relied a lot on my compassionate community to fight through those brutal, brutal times and that brutal, brutal pull of “I need to get back out there with these people, my cocaine peeps. Gotta get back out there because I’m lonely. I’m bored. I’m unloved. I’m ashamed. They will unbore me. I will no longer be lonely. They will love me.” All of this pull right back out to that lifestyle. And that was the hardest part for me. That was absolutely the hardest part.
And so I relied on my 12 Step community. I relied on my family. I relied on the compassionate community I created outside of 12 Step, and I relied on the activities and behaviors that I created that gave me a sense of joy, a sense of purpose in life. And writing was one of them. Writing continues to be one of them.
[46:37] Shlomo Hoffman: Was that something that you had always enjoyed, or it’s something that you found?
[46:40] Brian Cuban: I always had a creative side. I just wasn’t able to find it without sobriety.
[46:45] Shlomo Hoffman: So it’s a good cycle, meaning you abstain, then you look for something to give you meaning, and that allows you to continue recovery, to stay in recovery.
[46:59] Brian Cuban: Yeah, how am I going to find those things when I’m zonked out, Xanax-ed out in bed every day and cocaine my way through the night? How am I going to find my passions? It’s impossible.
It got so bad for me. I don’t know if I talked about this in the book, and I think about this a lot of just a microcosm of my life. I was Xanaxing cocaine and at the time, I was also unable to exercise and get into my exercise routine because I was always in this cycle. So I decided to try this weight loss drug. I forget what it’s called, but it’s one of those things that blocks some beta-blockers, and it can cause some different side effects. And I took it. I took Xanax, and I ended up shitting in my pants. There is it. Right? I was drunk. I was Xanax-ed out. Poop. There’s the life.
[47:59] Shlomo Hoffman: That’s what it boils down to. We were talking a little bit before about your family. I see it in the book that your family was a huge element of how you’re here today. Support from friends, from family, this is what we hear from people who made it back. You were talking about the privilege of having that support system. You’re the middle brother, right?
[48:23] Brian Cuban: I’m the middle.
[48:25] Shlomo Hoffman: You’re the middle brother. Was it a struggle for you that your brothers were successful? We touched on this. Was that a weird place to be?
[48:34] Brian Cuban: This is a question I get asked quite a bit. You have to remember that I was struggling with alcohol. I was struggling with cocaine, and I had an eating disorder, and I hated myself long before Mark became famous. So, no, his fame didn’t cause any of that. None of this is Mark’s fault.
[48:52] Shlomo Hoffman: I wasn’t talking about the fame aspect. More like the success because, obviously it wasn’t overnight. Mark obviously was a guy—
[48:58] Brian Cuban: Fame, success, yeah. So what happened is that I had never had my own sense of self-identity. I hated myself. Every time I looked in the mirror, that consumed who I was. And so when Mark became internationally famous and successful, all of a sudden, I could walk into any bar I wanted without waiting in line. People were shoving cocaine in my pocket. I was dating girls half my age. All of a sudden, everyone loved Brian.
[49:36] Shlomo Hoffman: All the doors opened.
[49:37] Brian Cuban: All the doors opened, and it had nothing to do with my accomplishments. I call it name fame. It had nothing to do with my accomplishments, but because I had no self-identity whatsoever, I thought to myself, “Okay, I’ll embrace that because—”
[49:52] Shlomo Hoffman: This is cool. This works.
[49:54] Brian Cuban: That’s right. Just like cocaine gave me the artificial self-love, I can embrace all these things to feel good about myself.
[50:01] Shlomo Hoffman: Another survival tactic.
[50:03] Brian Cuban: Yeah, and become Mark Cuban’s brother. And that was fine with me because all of that seemed great at the time. That’s what happened. None of that is Mark’s fault.
[50:15] Shlomo Hoffman: And ultimately, the way that you succeeded is by carving out your own self-identity by writing, by inspiring people. It’s amazing what you’ve done with your life and how you’ve come back with all the privileges acknowledged. But there’s a lot of hard work here too. I know you’re chalking it up all to privilege, but I see a man here—
[50:40] Brian Cuban: [Inaudible 50:39] privilege, but it’s disingenuous to discount my last name in opening doors.
[50:45] Shlomo Hoffman: Got it. But I do want to make sure that you give yourself a little credit too. I give you credit.
[50:52] Brian Cuban: Self-deprecation is one of the problems I still struggle with.
[50:55] Shlomo Hoffman: Very cool. What was your experience with talking to lawyers for this book? Why do you think it is such a problem in the legal profession, and what were your impressions from talking to all the people that you talked to, the different profiles that you have through your book? What stuck out to you in terms of cocaine and boozing in the legal profession?
[51:15] Brian Cuban: That we’re all people. All lawyers, everyone, what struck me is that not necessarily… Let’s start out with the legal profession has a very high rate of alcohol-use disorder, alcoholism. Over 20% of all licensed attorneys would qualify as having alcohol-use disorder, alcoholics, under the AUDIT and some other diagnostic tools, which is almost twice the US rate. So that’s a problem.
About a third suffer from diagnosable depression. We have the fourth highest white-collar suicide rate. What struck me in talking to all the different people is that it’s rarely just “I’m a lawyer, so here’s the problem — stress.” It is, like me. We are all an accumulation of snapshots throughout our life. Trauma, family problems, different things that create who we are. We’re all humans that way. That’s no different than taxi drivers, grill cooks — we’re all an accumulation of snapshots.
Now, does the legal profession attract people who may be predisposed, not genetically but the type A personalities and things like that? Sure, sure, that could be an issue. Lawyers tend to be closed off to allowing themselves to show vulnerability. That’s an issue. So we tend to internalize our struggles because we are taught to take advantage of vulnerability, not to show it. So those are issues.
There are a wide—
[53:10] Shlomo Hoffman: It’s an aggregate. Brian, you have a book coming out, your first fore into fiction. What’s that book going to be called? Do you have a title?
[53:20] Brian Cuban: It’s called The Ambulance Chaser.
[53:22] Shlomo Hoffman: Look out for The Ambulance Chaser. It’s hitting the stands in December of 2021 tentatively.
[53:28] Brian Cuban: It’s about a Pittsburgh lawyer who is a personal injury lawyer who is accused of the murder of a high school classmate 30 years prior. Her remains are discovered, and he has to go on the run to both find the one person who can prove his innocence and save the life of his only son.
[53:50] Shlomo Hoffman: So it’s a legal thriller.
[53:51] Brian Cuban: Yes.
[53:52] Shlomo Hoffman: Watch out, Grisham. Brian Cuban’s coming for you. Brian, thank you so much for coming on, sharing your experiences, your insight, your story of adversity, and ultimately triumph. It’s an inspiration. Check out Brian’s forthcoming book we just said, The Ambulance Chaser. Follow him on Twitter @BCuban. For speaking engagements, [email protected]. All these are ways you can reach out to Brian.
Brian, thank you so much for coming on. Best of luck to you in the future. Thank you so much for just sharing your story. Are there any last thoughts you want to share?
[54:30] Brian Cuban: Thanks for having me on. Don’t forget I have a current book out, The Addicted Lawyer. Wherever you stand, we all have compassionate community. You just may not realize it at the time. And sometimes it’s hard to reach out.
And if you are part of that compassionate community, don’t sit on your heels. Here’s what I’ll leave you with, the two-ask rule.
If you think someone is struggling, without being accusatory or judgmental, they’re having a tough day, just ask how they’re doing. Have that conversation. And before that conversation
breaks, ask if they know that they can reach out to you if they want to. With those few seconds with those two questions, you’ve become a link in a cog of mental health where that person may, at some point, if we all just ask those two questions, it may not be with you, but it’s an accumulation, and they may, down the road, finally say, “Yes, I’m ready.”
[55:30] Shlomo Hoffman: That’s amazing. One more quick drive-by question on the way out. Does Luka have a chance to be better than Dirk?
[55:38] Brian Cuban: Don’t put me in that spot. Luka is Luka, Dirk was Dirk. They are both… Dirk is an icon. Luke will be an icon.
[55:49] Shlomo Hoffman: That’s a wrap on another edition of Rubber Bands. Thank you, Brian Cuban, for coming on, sharing your story. Please rate, listen, subscribe to Rubber Bands, conversations about the push and pull of addiction, a podcast for the addiction community. Thank you, guys. Thank you for listening. Have a great day.
“Strength of the Titans”
Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0
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