Lying down, surrounded by empty wine bottles and dozens of strewn Xanax, Brian Cuban opened his eyes and had no idea where he was.
It was then he realized he had a problem. After a two-day drug- and alcohol-induced blackout in April 2007, Cuban was faced with the harsh reality of either losing his family and his life, or accepting the hard truth — he was an addicted lawyer.
“I was somebody who was already broken and already had a terrible self-image,” Cuban said. “And it was right there that I thought I would never be loved and be totally alone.”
The non-practicing Dallas attorney, author and addiction recovery advocate shared his story of redemption at Indiana University McKinney School of Law on Thursday, opening up about the horrors of his past struggles with alcohol, substance abuse and bulimia.
After a childhood full of bullying and fat-shaming from his mother and peers, Cuban quickly fell into a mentality of self-loathing and shame. By 18, he was anorexic. By age 19, he became bulimic, binging and purging until he was 40.
At the age of 22, Cuban was a full-blown alcoholic, going to class drunk and hung over, unable to socialize or function without alcohol. Then, after barely scraping by at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he was introduced to cocaine.
“Let’s talk about the insanity of addiction. The (Dallas) Mavericks are going to the championship series for the very first time. My brother owns the team, so I’m a pretty big fan. I had an opportunity to get some tickets for my friends,” he said. “Do you think I gave those tickets to my friends? I didn’t. I took those two tickets and sold them to my drug dealer for a $1,000 of cocaine.”
But Cuban noted that at that point, drugs had long since stopped making him feel good.
As his addiction to cocaine grew, Cuban simultaneously practiced as a lawyer, waiting outside chiropractor’s office’s looking for clients to fund his dependency. He didn’t care about his cases, nor his clients, remembering with remorse that he had played with someone else’s freedom to support his own self-interest.
“Back then it was more important for me to fuel my addiction than to be ethical,” he said. “And as you might have expected, you don’t maintain many clients that way.”
Paranoia took over Cuban’s life as he continually appeared in court drunk, did cocaine in the office, and eventually lost all his clients.
“Then in 2005 I became so hopeless that I became suicidal. In my mind I thought I was doing my family a favor and relieving them of a burden,” Cuban said. “I was very lucky — my brothers came into my room at the urging of a friend that thought something was wrong.”
With a .45 semi-automatic pistol on the nightstand, cocaine, black market Valium and alcohol, Cuban was ready to end it. But when his brothers came and found him, they immediately took him “kicking and screaming” to a residential psychiatric facility.
“They’re trying to save my life, and all I can think of is, ‘leave me alone.’ I don’t want the connections of love, I want the connection of addiction,” he remembered. “That was survival to me.”
Looking back 11 years later, Cuban is acutely aware of the need for community in the midst of addiction. He said he was afraid of revealing who he really was to those closest in his life, but avoidance wasn’t going to get him anywhere.
“When you put up those walls and those masks, you can’t let love in and you let love out,” he said. “To drop the mask and drop the wall is to risk vulnerability.”
Being vulnerable ultimately saved his life, he said. Recovery looks different for everyone, and no one should have to endure it alone. Looking past his personal shame, Cuban saw others struggling with similar issues and for the first time realized that everyone has a story.
“We have to, as a profession, realize that vulnerability is okay. It’s okay to talk to people, it’s okay to deal with the past,” Cuban said. “Dealing with the past is so important, and when we are people who are trained to believe weakness is vulnerable unless we’re taking advantage of it in our opponent, there is no recovery, there is only denial.”
For more than a decade, Cuban has not had a drink, purged, or used cocaine. But he said that road wasn’t an easy one to walk. And he needed help to do it.
“I had to deal with all the baggage. I still see a therapist and take medication for clinical depression,” he said. “But as a lawyer standing here, recovery is possible.”
Cuban noted that depression and addiction can cause attorneys to crawl back in fear of judgment. However, he said, reaching out for help is the first step of moving forward into new life.
In Indiana, attorneys and judges dealing with substance abuse and mental health issues can turn to the Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program.