Law School Was Largely About My Eating Disorders

I recently spoke at the University of Kentucky College of Law and Emory University School of Law.  At the beginning of the talk as I always do, I provided my “résumé of dysfunction.” Part of that résumé, in addition to problem drinking and drug addiction, is my recovery from eating disorders.

I struggled with both traditional and exercise bulimia for over 20 years.  I spent my three years at Pitt Law knee deep in bulimia, wrapped around severe body image issues and Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

While at Pitt Law, I was binging and purging sometimes multiple times a day, while also running excessive distances for the sole purpose of offsetting any calories I had eaten that day. These behaviors were more important to me than class or grades. You, however, would have not known that I had an eating disorder at a glance. I was of “normal” weight by accepted metrics. It is a myth that eating disorders can be diagnosed solely by appearance. There are many different types of the disorder and symptoms, not just the stereotyped image of the emaciated man or women with ribs showing.

During the events at Kentucky and Emory Law, when I stated that I was in recovery from bulimia, I saw expressions change and knew for some, I was the first male they had ever seen, in-person, talk about having an eating disorder. When I asked if that was the case, multiple hands went up. I then stated that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychological illness. It was the first time many had heard this statistic. These reactions are not unusual.  Eating disorders are often seen by the general public as mysterious and something only women experience.

Of course, the ideal situation is when a law school is budgeted in a way to have on staff counseling available. A handful of law schools do this including Emory. but I get that realistically, it is either on the radar for some but there are budgetary constraints and not even in the realm of thought for others.

Eating disorders are also generally not at the top of the list in terms of what we deal with on a day-to-day basis in law school, even though we know statistically that students deal with it. A recent study of mental health issues in law school published by the Journal of Legal Education found 27% of law students (18% of male respondents and 34% of female respondents) screened positive for eating disorders.  Yet only 3% of respondents had actually been diagnosed.

It is not just the most well-known eating disorders that students may be struggling with. Binge Eating Disorder is on the rise.  Maybe a law student is substituting alcohol for food on a regular basis (which I did), which can be a type of eating disorder known as “Drunkorexia.”

These are disorders that required trained professionals to screen for and diagnose. While many universities have such professionals who screen for eating disorders and organizations that raise awareness, this is generally not the case with law schools. Nor should we expect this. While we want to be able to notice things and have options available when we do, it is simply not realistic to expect faculty and administrative staff to be knowledgeable in every mental disorder out there.

What we end up seeing as a result, however, are only the most extreme, weight loss-based cases being noticed by staff, professors, and classmates.  We also have the intertwined issues of a highly driven population in which healthy relationships with food and body image are simply not “on the menu,” so to speak.  Why is this so important for law schools to address on some level? We know that the longer an eating disorder goes on, the harder it is to successfully treat. I am definitely an outlier in successfully going into recovery in my mid-40s.

So what can law schools do?  The first thing is to understand that eating disorders are not just defined by appearance, they are defined by many different types of behavior. If there is a larger university in the mix, be sure to understand what they are doing with regards to eating disorder screening and awareness and be willing to be a part of that conversation. Have an eating disorder point of contact with the larger university. If it is a standalone law school, talk to someone in the medial professional/counseling community about how to better understand the issues so at a minimum, some tools can be given to the law student population. With more knowledge, comes expanded ability to identify issues.

When you are talking about a law student “wellness week,” make this part of the discussion in a non-threatening way. Wellness encompasses so many things including a healthy relationship with food, with our bodies, and understanding that the stress of law school and the practice of law can be a strong trigger for destructive relationships with food possibly leading to eating disorders.

Finally, if you are a Lawyer’s Assistance Program that allows law students to participate, what are you doing to be sure you are up to date on the latest eating disorder information, so you do not get caught up in stereotypes and misinformation? This is pure speculation, but my guess is that if I went to many assistance programs and asked what their current understanding is, there is a very high probability that it will be not a lot, or based on outdated literature. That is not an indictment of the programs. There are medical professionals who are not up on the latest research and dispelled myths. Reach out out me and I will point you to the current data and science.

February 26th begins Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Let’s take a little time to think about these issues and how we can do better to include them in the law student wellness conversation. One of the deadliest symptoms of eating disorders is silence.

Eating Disorder Resources

  1. National Eating Disorders Association
  2. Eating Disorder Hope
  3. Project Heal (I am on their advisory board)
  4. National Association of Males With Eating Disorders
  5. Binge Eating Disorder Association

Brian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. Brian is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, The Addicted Lawyer: Tales Of The Bar, Booze, Blow & Redemption (affiliate link). A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he somehow made it through as an alcoholic then added cocaine to his résumé as a practicing attorney. He went into recovery April 8, 2007. He left the practice of law and now writes and speaks on recovery topics, not only for the legal profession, but on recovery in general. He can be reached at brian@addictedlawyer.com.


Popping A Xanax With Beer Is Not An Olympic Sport

I was watching the Winter Olympics and happened to catch an interview with skater Adam Rippon (who by the way, bravely came out with his eating disorder struggle). Alan was giving an emotional interview in which he stated, “I want to throw up, I want to go over to the judges and say ‘can I just have a Xanax and a quick drink.’”

In anecdotally scanning the social media reactions there were two distinct observations. The general spectator generally found the statement authentic, funny, and endearing. The other reactions I monitored were in the recovery and mental health community. Many expressed shock because of the potentially deadly effects of mixing Xanax and alcohol and the specter of it being made out as something hip and cool in the vein of Madmen’s Betty Draper popping a “mother’s little helper” with a glass of wine.

For me, Xanax and alcohol were not hip and cool. Mixing them was not an Olympic sport. When Rippon made the comment, I was immediately taken back to a time early in my recovery when I came upon a 2 mg Xanax bar that I had hidden at the bottom of a shoe box of change that I often used to conceal my drug stash.

It was a time not long past mixing Xanax and alcohol being routine for me. Mixing, Xanax with Jack Daniels would erase entire days because that’s what I wanted.  Not long after mixing, I defecated in my pants after passing out on the combination. After becoming suicidal while under the influence of Xanax and alcohol and having to be taken to a psychiatric facility. You want true authenticity on the topic? There you go.

It was a shoe box with that Xanax bar lying innocently with years of accumulated lose change and many other memories.  Susan B. Anthony Dollars. Fifty-cent pieces. My first-day desire chip taken from “John G.” sobbing, powerless, and broken during my first 12-step meeting (Alcoholics Anonymous being the most known). Worn, corroded pennies, nickels, and dimes. Fragmented memories and dreams.

I see foreign coins in the box.  Drunken trips to Mexico. Signs on every bathroom stall that cocaine is illegal and you will go to jail. Didn’t care. Never saw one of those signs on the countless United States bathroom stalls I utilized to snort my cocaine. Would it have mattered? Nope.

Slot machine tokens and left-over casino chips from various casinos in Vegas. My favorite place to do cocaine. Then I would pop a Xanax with alcohol to undo the effects and pass out. Unused chips from The Palms and the Hard Rock Casinos. Meeting places with my drug connections.

Looking at that forgotten Xanax bar, I feel my heart rate quicken. I talk about addiction triggers all the time and how to deal with them. Now here it is. It’s me. It’s now. A decision. I could pop it and no one would ever know. Is it about that? A new cycle of guilt. A new cycle of sobriety. Staring at that tiny, white, oblong object that had the ability to stir up so many intense memories and emotions within seconds while erasing my life one day at a time. Frantic calls to my dealer for baggies of Xanax to bring me down.

I pulled that Xanax bar out of the shoe box of memories.  I walked upstairs to my toilet and dropped to my knees as I had done so many times before either in the throes of bulimia or intoxication praying to the porcelain goddess. I flushed it down the toilet. I remember it clear as day because I was sober. It was not cool. It was not hip. I was not laughing.  I admittedly, did laugh when Adam Rippon joked about it because I know the reality of misusing Xanax. It is definitely not an Olympic sport.


Brian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. Brian is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, The Addicted Lawyer: Tales Of The Bar, Booze, Blow & Redemption (affiliate link). A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he somehow made it through as an alcoholic then added cocaine to his résumé as a practicing attorney. He went into recovery April 8, 2007. He left the practice of law and now writes and speaks on recovery topics, not only for the legal profession, but on recovery in general. He can be reached at brian@addictedlawyer.com.


Gary Was A Great Lawyer When He Was Sober

When I spoke to the National Conference Of Bar Presidents in Vancouver, one of the weaknesses in our profession I noted was our often reluctance to say something when we see a colleague struggling.  We don’t want to butt in. We are afraid we might be wrong. We are worried about causing a scene. Ruining  a personal or professional relationship.  There are a myriad of reasons to stay silent instead of risking that you might be right.  I wonder how many times a lawyer looked at my friend and law colleague Gary and said nothing as he struggled. I know I did not do or say enough.

Summer 2013:  A muggy, hot morning headed over the 100-degree mark, not unusual for a Dallas summer. I’m taking my usual drive to my favorite Starbucks.

I drive past the same bus stop every day. To the average commuter, the bus stop had nothing to set it off from any other. Just one more city hub with people waiting to go to different parts of their lives: jobs, family, shopping. This particular bus stop always catches my attention, because to me it symbolizes more. I know it as a way-station for those in various stages of drug and alcohol recovery and descent. The apartment complex across the street houses many recovering addicts. It’s cheap (by Dallas standards) and within walking distance of a local AA group. The bus line also takes people close to several sober-living homes. Different stories from all walks of life confirm that addiction does not discriminate.

This morning, I see one such story with whom I’m intimately familiar standing at the bus stop. It’s my old colleague, Gary, waiting for the bus. Also a lawyer, Gary has an undergraduate degree from Boston College, summa cum laude, near the top of his class at Antioch School of Law, and then on to a great sports-related job with NBC in New York City. He wasn’t just a lawyer; he was a distinguished lawyer

I’d met Gary in 2003 (four years before I got sober) when we both worked of-counsel to a local Dallas general practice firm. At the time, I was trying to hold my life together between addiction, failed marriages, and an eating disorder.  While the reality is that there is no such thing as a “high functioning lawyer’ when addiction is concerned, I had bought in being one. Being “high-functioning” was a blessing and a curse. In my mind, I needed no help despite the daily snorting of cocaine in the bathroom of the firm or on my office desk. It provided just the pickup I needed sometimes, and it all made perfect sense to me. I viewed my law firm bathroom/coke breaks as a performance enhancer that would allow me to do my job better. To make me a more confident attorney, if only for a few moments.

I tried a case with Gary — a bench trial contract matter. It was the last time I’d appear in court to litigate a case. Sober and brilliant, Gary ran the show. I admired his skill, but didn’t envy him. Being in the courtroom made me sick to my stomach. A sickness only alcohol and cocaine could cure.  I couldn’t wait to be done with trial. But Gary was truly talented, and he knew exactly what he was doing. We had a good result.

Then Gary disappeared. He’d done so sporadically over the years since I first met him. I knew what that meant. Gary would go through stretches of stellar representation of his clients, and then there’d be periods of complaints of neglect, and even rumors that he’d show up to client meetings apparently high. Then an arrest on an outstanding warrant in the middle of a court hearing.  Doing what so many lawyers do when dealing with problem drinking or drugs issues.  Avoiding dealing with them until the consequences catch up to the problem.

On this day, Gary doesn’t see me drive by him at the bus stop. He’s staring at the ground, just waiting. I’ve called him recently and noticed that his voicemail was full. I know what that means. I suspect many addicts and their families know what that means. Gary has “gone out.” He’s not sober.

I pull a U-turn so I can drive up alongside and offer him a ride. He gets in. He’s been to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and is headed to the transitional living sober home where he’s a resident. The only thing standing between him and living on the street.

After he gets in the car, Gary asks if I know he’s been disbarred. I’d seen it in the local legal periodical. As often happens with lawyers and addiction, some money due to his clients never made it to them. State Bars take a dim view of stealing from clients, and addiction is no excuse. It’s a surprisingly common story, and there’s an unsurprisingly common explanation from Gary. It’s all a big mistake, he claims. He’s lost everything, but he’s still in denial, still trying to cling to a reputation that was far in the past long before news of his disbarment broke in the legal periodicals. I don’t say anything in response to Gary’s excuses. I understand. I was once full of them.

On the way to the transitional home, we stop at a diner, and I buy Gary lunch. We talk about nothing in particular. We’ve previously spoken many times of relapses, failed stints in rehab, going to AA meetings together, and “one day at a time.” What more can I say to him? The feeling of helplessness so many trying to help know so well.

Then, as I drop him off, he makes a request. Just a few bucks, he says, “until I get back on my feet.”  For a few months, it becomes our routine. The bus stop. The drive. The excuses. The money. I just listen to what Gary has to say.

Then one day, he’s gone again. I give him a call, and his voicemail is full again. I worry. I check with the sober house, and he’s no longer there. He’s tested positive for drugs and has been kicked out. He’s gone. Onto the streets.

July 2013:  My cell phone rings. A 516 area code — Long Island, where some of Gary’s family lives. It’s Gary. He’s moved back home. Maybe he’s thinking that returning to family and roots will save him. I’d had the same experience, if only instinctively, when I moved from Pittsburgh to Dallas to live with my brothers. If recovery were only that simple.

He also tells me he’s sober and working as an attorney — he’s licensed in New York. I bite my tongue. Am I ethically bound to say something about his disbarment in Texas to the State Bar of New York? I struggle with the conflict between my view as a lawyer and as a person in recovery. It’s not my recovery. It’s his. I congratulate Gary on the progress he’s made.

November 2013: I recently appeared on the Katie Show, a now off-the-air talk show featuring Katie Couric, to talk about my battle with body dysmorphic disorder, and of course that includes my recovery from addiction. I’m now preparing for a “watch party” at a local restaurant.

I get a Facebook message from Gary. The message is cheerful and includes a photo of a plane ticket to Dallas for the watch party.

It’s the last time I hear from him.

The message comes from his ex-wife, and the Google explosion of his name tells the story. At age 54, Gary has been fatally struck by a tractor trailer. He was walking along the middle of the highway when it happened. It’s unknown whether he’d been drinking, but it doesn’t matter. He’s gone. He never “got it” in recovery. It’s not that he didn’t want it. He tried. He tried every day.

One piece of encouragement. One kind word.  One life empowering moment can light that path up. Your friend, family member, legal colleague, or fellow law student. Find the words. Take the risk.  They are waiting for your support and empathy.

  1. http://www.americanbar.org/groups/lawyer_assistance.html
  2. http://www.aa.org/
  3. http://www.smartrecovery.org/
  4. http://www.celebraterecovery.com/

BrianCubanBrian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he somehow made it through as an alcoholic then added cocaine to his résumé as a practicing attorney. He went into recovery April 8, 2007. He left the practice of law and now writes and speaks on recovery topics, not only for the legal profession, but on recovery in general. He can be reached at brian@addictedlawyer.com.


Should I Drop Out Of Law School?

One of the toughest decisions a law student struggling with addiction or other mental health issues may have to face is whether it is in his/her long term best interests to take a break from law school to focus on self-care.

There are often attendant feelings of  the shame, guilt,  loss and  fear that the student will never make it back. These emotions can be overwhelming and keep the student from addressing the issue with the level of self-awareness needed to make this difficult decision.

Taking a break from law school does not have to be the end. It can be a new beginning.  It is possible to take that break, get healthy, develop a plan and the tools for self-care and resume studies.

Parker is an example of a law student who took that pause, got healthy, developed a self-care plan and re-entered law school. Here is his condensed story, the full version is  in my book, The Addicted Lawyer.

By the time Parker turned twenty-six, he had graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Texas, been accepted to Teach for America, been elected Teacher of the Year on his campus, won the annual Outstanding Young Educator award for Houston ISD, and received the full-tuition Root-Tilden-Kern scholarship from NYU Law.

Although Parker had struggled with substance use disorder since he was fourteen, he worked incredibly hard to keep the discordant realities of his life separate. The progression of his substance use, however, eventually required morning-to-night abuse of opiate painkillers and anxiety medications to stave off debilitating withdrawal symptoms. His friends and family were concerned about the symptoms they could spot, but Parker assured them (and himself) that he didn’t have a problem.

“I desperately hoped that going to law school would fix me,” he says “I had wanted to be a lawyer since I was a child and had worked for nearly a decade to get into a top school. Something had to change, and surely the new environment and challenge of law school would provide that opportunity. Either way, there was no Plan B.”

But nothing changed, in spite of the new environment and challenge of law school. Parker’s addictions exploded, his hope faded, and he was isolated in his dorm room whenever he wasn’t in class. Suicidal, longing for the safety and security of his family, he withdrew from NYU Law and moved back home. Five months later, he entered a residential treatment program for substance abuse and began his winding road to recovery.

Ten months after checking into treatment, six of which were spent in the grip of a brutal heroin addiction, I, along with the help of a therapist, my family, a loving church community, and a twelve-step support group, was finally able to begin building the foundation of a sustainable, long-term recovery from substance use disorder.”

Slowly, Parker’s life began to improve. His relationships healed, and some long-lost self-respect returned. Years of shame began to fade, and he learned how to laugh again. He reveled in the simple joy of early recovery. One day, out of the blue, an old counselor of his offered him a newly created job position—director of Three Oaks Academy, a high school program designed specifically for students in recovery from substance abuse.

“I was surprised and more than a bit intimidated,” he says. “At the time, I had been sober for only six months. But I stepped through my fear and accepted his offer, a decision for which I remain indescribably grateful.”

Parker says that his experience at Three Oaks was transformative, both professionally and personally.

During my time (there), I saw many young people restored to health and wellness, and their families healed, thanks to the full continuum of care provided by the recovery school and alternative peer-group models, from initial treatment to ongoing recovery and academic support,” Parker says. 

Parker had to work through a tremendous amount of fear to even consider returning to law school, but, with the help of the same support network that carried him through his early days of sobriety, he realized that it was a risk worth taking. He studied hard to retake the LSAT, applied to several excellent schools, and was accepted to Stanford Law.

Parker says that the contrast between his life today and the mere existence he was “eking out’ when he arrived at NYU Law seven years earlier couldn’t be greater.

“Instead of investing all of my hope in a “geographic cure,” I’ll arrive at Stanford with a solid recovery foundation and a plan, devised by me and my therapist, of the specific ways I will maintain my physical, mental, and spiritual health while I’m in school, along with how I’ll have fun and relax. There are twelve-step meetings on campus. I look forward to attending those and to learning more about the Stanford recovery community. I’ll continue to be an advocate for school-based recovery support systems, and I hope that, moving forward, my story can help persuade more schools to provide their students with ongoing recovery support, not only in the name of saving lives but also to create stronger and healthier student bodies, ones with a diversity of life experiences, comprised of students who are well along the road to happy destiny.”

Parker’s relationships today—with his family, his friends, and his partner—are stronger than ever, He is comfortable in his own skin, and his life has newfound direction and purpose. He is currently in his second year at Stanford Law as well as seeking a dual  graduate degree in Education.

There are many possible touch-points when a student is faced with making these difficult decisions about his/her future. One critical touch-point is the law school Dean of Students office.  It’s a touchpoint often enveloped in an aurora of fear and stigma in itself. Some common concerns are,  “Will what I tell them be confidential?”  “How will what I tell them affect my ability to take the bar exam?”

Here is what the  David Jaffe, who co-authored the seminal  law mental health study and deals with these concerns as the associate Dean of Student Affairs at the American University Washington College of Law. Here  had to say:

If a student comes to you and says, “I think I have a substance use issue and I am afraid if I seek help—I will have to drop out and will never make it back.” What do you tell her?

Noting that there is a far greater number of law students struggling with a substance use or mental health issue than those who approach their dean of students, the first thing I do is acknowledge the student’s bravery for having come forward, let her know that she is in a safe and confidential environment. 

In most instances I respond initially to the student in an indirect way, but for a specific reason: I ask the student, “Do you want to be a lawyer?” The immediacy (or delay) in the response is almost always a clear table setter for the remainder of the conversation. A student who, but for the substance use or mental health issue facing her has her heart set on becoming a lawyer, will answer almost immediately in the affirmative. Conversely, a student who hesitates with the reply often has something else going on that is not related to the immediate issue (such as having started law school as a least-worst option, or owing to pressure from parents, etc.). For this latter student, a substantive conversation must be held to glean if proceeding with law school is in her best interest.

Assuming the student’s response is in the affirmative, my goal is to do everything in my power to have the student receive help without dropping out of school. In some instances even a twenty-eight-day inpatient stay may be effectuated without the student having to leave school.

A dean of students will have a good relationship with the student’s faculty and should be able to facilitate a temporary absence. In the event that a course is heavy on interaction, and too much class will be missed, the dean of students should be able to arrange for a withdrawal from the course without a complete withdrawal from the semester. 

Further, even in the instance that the student chooses to (or needs to) withdraw from one or more semesters, maintaining contact with the student will send a positive signal that there is a place for her. I worked with a student who withdrew partway through one semester and took another semester of leave prior to returning to earn his degree. We met every couple of months off-campus just to talk, during which time I was able to reassure him that we were prepared to receive him back (and provide ongoing assistance, if necessary) when he was ready.

In sum, a student who want to earn a law degree should not be prevented from doing so due to a substance use or mental health issue. If the student is committed to assistance and recovery, so too will be the law school.

 

 


Gambling Your Law School Tuition And Legal Career Away

Gambling addiction is incredibly stigmatized in the legal profession. It is known as a “process disorder.” It is often accompanied by devastating results to legal careers, personal lives, and families if not dealt with early on. You only have to run a Google search to note that stealing from clients/trust account violations can accompany such issues.

For me, problem gambling always went hand in hand with drugs and alcohol. I would lose all my money, the anger and shame would be intense. I would chase my losses and looked at it as some “higher power” punishing me for all of my teenage and adult sins and the self-loathing of what I saw when I looked in the mirror.

Fortunately for me, the solution was to get out of Vegas and the anger and self-hate and desire to chase my losses would dissipate.  When alcohol and cocaine were taken out of the picture in recovery and I as I worked on myself image, my desire to gamble decreased.

Wyatt is a second-year law student at an Eastern school. His experiences with gambling started at 12 years old. He says:

My buddies and I would hold poker tournaments and various other card games for money. As harmless as this may sound, it wasn’t. The feeling of winning a giant pot (probably $40 at the time) was captivating. The feeling of bluffing a pair of garbage cards to a win was addicting. And honestly, the money isn’t what hooks you… it’s the feeling of taking a risk and that risk paying off.

When Wyatt turned 21, his parents took him to a casino for the first time. He says:

I’ll never forget my first time at the casino. I sat at a two-dollar denomination slot machine, put one hundred dollars in and hit a jackpot worth $2,400.00. I was instantly hooked. So, what did I do the next week? I went back to the same casino (by myself), sat down at the same machine, and hit it again for $2,000.00. The first thing that popped into my head, “Boy, this is easy, why doesn’t everybody do this?”

Luckily, Wyatt was an athlete in college with very limited time and money on his hands. Once his gambling winnings were spent, he stopped going as often. Things didn’t get bad until his first year in law school. He says:

Law school is a challenging time. It changes the way that you think and the way that you act. It creates new stresses that you’ve never had to deal with. People choose to handle stress and anxiety in different ways. For me, I chose gambling.

I remember taking an Uber to the casino with about $400 on me for the third time that week. I was having a good week so far and didn’t see the harm in playing with the houses money. Except whenever the house got their money back, I went to the ATM. This is what we like to call chasing our losses. We lose, we take out more money and up the bet in order to recover our loss.

Long story short, the five grand that Wyatt had saved for law school was gone. He says, “I was absolutely sick to my stomach. The anxiety that I was gambling away came back ten times over once I was out of money. My grades during 1L fall weren’t very good and my anxiety was worse.”

Today, Wyatt is in his second year of law school. He says:

I still gamble. But I do it within my means. $25 bucks here and there on a college football game. No more 3am trips to the casino losing $400. What changed? I started working out and relieving stress in other ways. Also, I work two jobs clerking at two different law firms. I’m so busy that I don’t have the time or energy to even play. Law school can really stress you out and if you don’t have a healthy outlet, you’re in for a long and challenging three years.

Hopefully Wyatt will continue to relieve stress in healthy ways. I happen to know that his Dean of Students was also helpful to him in figuring it out. The next story illustrates what can happen if the problem is not dealt with early on.

Marty is a recovering compulsive gambler. He says: “While I haven’t made a bet in more than 37 years, I once found myself lost in the world of casinos and bookies and dwindling funds.”

Marty knew he wanted to become a lawyer at the age of nine. He aspired to become a criminal defense attorney like Spencer Tracy’s character in the movie Inherit the Wind, where he defended a teacher accused of the crime of teaching evolution. He says, “Because I did not have much money, my gambling hadn’t been a problem through college, law school, or my two-year stint serving in the army.”

Marty entered into a partnership with a few friends from law school and after a year or so, the practice shifted to real estate law. That proved to be much more lucrative. He says:

I was making excellent money; however, I began to become disgusted with the long hours. I searched for a way to blow off steam after stressful days and began to watch ball games. I found that they could not keep my interest without a small bet on the game. These small bets became medium bets which then escalated into ridiculous bets.

Marty went to Las Vegas with a group of friends. His casino host loved him because he lost plenty of money. He says:

It was not unusual for the hotel to “comp” me to a five-bedroom suite with two pool tables and the car of my choice in the garage. The gambling fed my ego and gave me a false sense of pride. I’m not sure what I was chasing or why I was chasing it. I had a beautiful wife and three amazing children who adored me a large home and a thriving practice.

Soon enough, however, family was pushed to the backseat as gambling took over every aspect of Marty’s life. He says:

At that point I didn’t understand that gambling was an addiction. Nor did I understand its progressive nature. I had the opportunity to stop at that point while having lost all of my savings There still was time for me to stop but I just could not bring myself to do it based upon my will power alone, the disease was too strong. I had been strangled by this addiction and I was struggling to breathe.

I didn’t have a gambling problem; I had a stopping problem. My life became very small and the gambling consumed much of my time at this point. It’s sadly a disease that hurts the ones we love the most. .

Marty had become numb to any feelings and even amongst the largest crowds felt all alone. He didn’t know that there was help out there. He says, “I was afraid to go to a Lawyer Assistance Program in fear of a lack of confidentiality. While gambling is socially acceptable, it is not something that a practicing lawyer wants to advertise for a variety of reasons.”

Marty was at a crossroads. At that point, he had only lost his own money, but soon began to borrow from others. He says, “I began to borrow from my trust accounts intending always to repay. That was of course the beginning of the end, By the end of 1980, I lost my house in foreclosure, my cars were picked up, and I surrendered my license. However, I still did not believe I was a compulsive gambler. That is the insidiousness of this disease and the level of denial I was in.”

Marty then took $50,000 to Atlantic City and within a very short amount of time he had lost it all. He says:

And just like that, I knew that that was the end. I moved into a hotel so my wife wouldn’t be bothered and planned on taking my life that night by way of an overdose of sleeping pills. My life had taken a dark turn and I wasn’t sure how to turn it around other than ending it.

That was when fate intervened. A member of Gamblers Anonymous called Marty and asked to talk after communicating with his wife. They spoke for 12 hours that day and he suggested that Marty go to a Gamblers Anonymous meeting the next day. He says, “It was on that following day that I developed a glimmer of hope. That was on June 2, 1980, and I have not made a bet since.”

Marty also served four-and-one-half half years in prison related to his gambling. He says:

Gamblers Anonymous and its members and Gamonon have been by my side and my wife’s side since. I paid off all of my very large restitution and other debts without missing a payment. My family has stayed with me throughout it all and I learned who my real friends were. I have been married for sixty-three years and have three children and five grandchildren who all love and respect me deeply. Over the last 37 years I have devoted my life to help people who, like me, were in a position without hope or a way out. It’s been a wonderful second act.

Finally, we have Andy’s story. Andy’s gambling did not take him down the path of trust funds and loss of licensure, but there was loss before redemption. He says:

For 15 years, I practiced law while at the same time feeding my gambling addiction on a daily basis. Since 2007 I have not placed a bet and have helped hundreds of people in many different states do the same.

Gambling was commonplace in Andy’s family. He started gambling at an early age. He had his Friday night card games with my friends. He says, “The first time we went to a casino my friends would want to leave and I stayed not knowing how I would get home.”

Thereafter Andy started feeling like he didn’t want to go with anyone to the track or the casino. He didn’t want anyone to see the relatively large amounts that he would be spending.

In law school there was not much gambling. He says:

I did well in law school writing for the law journal and thereafter passed the bar. Although I knew how to prepare for my law school exams and the bar exams this compulsive gambler was not prepared for the practice of law or life for that matter.

Andy interned at a large District Attorney’s Office. At lunchtime, he would bet on the horses. He says, “My character changed dramatically in the throes of my addiction. On one instance, I remember asking a dying relative to change the channel on his hospital TV set as there was a bowl game on and I had a bet on the game.”

After working at the DA’s Office, Andy worked at a small law firm. His gambling progressed as his income increased. He got married and went to Atlantic City for their honeymoon. He says, “After the honeymoon, my wife called Gamblers Anonymous realizing the extent of the problem.”

Despite going to Gamblers Anonymous in 1992, Andy would not stop gambling until 2007. He would take a two-hour lunches and drive to the track to get his daily double bets in. He says, “While at the law firm, I remember cashing my paycheck on a Friday and coming home to my wife with no money.”

Andy opened up his own firm. He had a lucrative practice, however, much of the excess money went to gambling, He says, “My clients loved me for the most part but I didn’t love myself. My gambling was a form of self-sabotage. I didn’t believe that I deserved a happy life. I gambled to escape from the stresses of life and practicing law.”

Andy found that his gambling would increase as a trial date would near. The idea of trying a case gave him a feeling of being out of control. He says:

I was full of fear and self-doubt. Good enough was not good enough. I had to prepare endlessly to cover all possible situations. I would play the part of the victim, feel sorry for myself and gamble.

What changed for Andy was a downturn in his practice in 2007, a downturn in the economy, and an increase in gambling to try to cover the difference. He says:

The result was my home going into foreclosure, my wife leaving with the kids, and the loss of respect of my son. Those events were my so-called bottom which allowed me to be open and willing to try something different and to let go of the old false pride.

Today, Andy is free today from the prison of addiction one day at a time. He says, “I am free to love, free to forgive, and not old grudges or resentments. My marriage is stronger than ever as well as my relationship with my son, who is also a lawyer. My life is simple and sweet today and my goal is to help others going through similar circumstances. I owe my life to Gamblers Anonymous.”

The way people gamble has changed a lot since the days of Marty, Andy’s days, and my days gambling, in which it was was pretty much brick and mortar. Andy says:

I see young people come into the program today and I get very emotional. Gambling is so socially acceptable and prevalent. The World Series of Poker on ESPN and online gambling have been glamorized to the point where we have many very intelligent young men come into the Program having spent their student loan money or maxed out their credit cards and feel like their life is over.

I reached out to the Texas Lawyers Assistance Program with regards to problem gambling. It does not take a psychologist to figure out that this is an issue that is incredibly shameful and stigmatizing, and a lawyer who is dealing with it is probably going to be much less likely to come forward for help than other “more accepted” issues like problem drinking, especially when client funds are at issue.  Here is what the program’s director, Bree Buchanan had to say:

Like with alcohol and drugs, there is a strong stigma attached to having an addiction to gambling. Studies show that others view the gambler as being impulsive, irresponsible, greedy, untrustworthy and downright foolish. Lawyers Assistance Programs across the country will assist lawyers, law students and judges who are struggling with problem gambling.

If you are dealing with this issue or know a lawyer who is, here are some resources:

https://www.americanbar.org/groups/lawyer_assistance/resources/lap_programs_by_state.html

http://www.gamblersanonymous.org/ga/

http://www.gamblersanonymous.org/ga/hotlines

http://www.gamblersanonymous.org/ga/content/gam-anon-help-family-friends


Brian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. Brian is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, The Addicted Lawyer: Tales Of The Bar, Booze, Blow & Redemption (affiliate link). A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he somehow made it through as an alcoholic then added cocaine to his résumé as a practicing attorney. He went into recovery April 8, 2007. He left the practice of law and now writes and speaks on recovery topics, not only for the legal profession, but on recovery in general. He can be reached at brian@addictedlawyer.com.


The Socially Isolated Lawyer

Feelings of social isolation are an issue common to law students and lawyers.  Social isolation can also be a trigger to problematic alcohol and drug use.

As a law student struggling with addiction, I felt that the only way I could exist was to drink alone and isolate myself from other law students so they could not see my pain and loneliness, not to mention my belief that I was not good enough to be in their presence.

As a lawyer deep in addiction, rather than seeking out and engaging in healthy work and social relationships, I narrowed my interactions down to those also drinking excessively and doing cocaine.  In a room full of drinkers and snorters, I felt totally alone and isolated.

This is not to say that the desire to be alone is in itself a bad thing. In recovery, I narrowed my social connections down to a very small circle of healthy connections and came to embrace myself as someone who is inherently shy. They were very different types of connections. They were sober connections who were part of a sober world that I had forgotten existed.

Here is how a current law student and practicing lawyer have experienced and dealt with social isolation in their lives.

Garret is a second-year law student at the University of New Mexico. Garret is unique in that he also played collegiate football while going to law school. Wow! Garret says:

Playing football amplified the isolation I have felt during law school. On the one hand, I would miss out on opportunities to interact with my teammates because I was studying for school. On the other hand, I would miss opportunities to bond with my classmates because I was travelling every weekend for football. These circumstances made for many lonely nights spent reading countless pages trying to stay caught up. During this time, I did not feel that anyone could understand what I was going through.

How did Garret cope? He says:

I allowed myself to ask for help. Instead of drowning alone, I reached out to others and found that they were more than willing to help. UNM’s career services department helped me form a strategy to stay caught up in school. My classmates also offered comfort and support when I finally opened up about the struggles I was facing. Once I allowed myself to seek help, there was no shortage of love from those around me. I firmly believe that I would not still be in school without the support of my peers and the faculty and staff at UNM during this time in my life.

Miriam is a practicing criminal defense attorney in the Washington, D.C. area. She says:

When I went out on my own, it was pretty jarring. There was no one to ask a question of, no one to just vent frustrations to. And criminal defense is an incredibly frustrating area of law. There was no reason to take a break, because who was I going to socialize with? Myself?

Miriam then joined a listserv called SoloSez (part of the American Bar Association), and it turned out she wasn’t alone:

There were lots of us solo practitioners struggling with the same thing. Who do you talk to when you are literally all by yourself all day long.”

As to how isolation impacted her personally and professionally, Miriam says:

I realized the value of human interaction in professional settings and how important it is as a stress relief. Water cooler talk may be lame but it is important. I ended up renting an office inside a larger firm. Lots of solos in that office space and we became friends. My productivity increased and I was just generally happier.

Today Miriam has a small law office with employees, and they all have an open door policy. She says:

We eat lunch together, we talk about our cases on a regular basis, and we are able to talk to each other freely. What’s the point of working with people if you can’t talk to them? I recommend renting an office in a suite – having someone else there to vent to is incredibly important. And while you may say oh I can talk to my wife when I get home, etc., it really isn’t the same. Being at work and bitching, then being able to go home and not feel so frustrated, is a great thing!

I also reached out to a treatment provider who deals with social isolation issues in his practice. Dr. David Henderson is a psychiatrist practicing in Dallas, Texas.* One of the issues I asked him to address is the difference between damaging social isolation and the simple desire to be alone. He says:

There are two states of aloneness: the physical state of being alone (solitude) and the emotional state of being alone (loneliness). Solitude is not always painful. In fact, it may be quite pleasant for those who are confident and comfortable with themselves, and who understand that it need not be a permanent experience. A stable balance between solitude and time with others is necessary for mental and physical well-being. Even when we are forced to be alone, knowing that someone is with us in spirit helps.

Conversely loneliness, the emotional state of being alone, is the belief that no one else understands our circumstances, our thoughts, or our emotions, nor do they care. Social isolation is the combination of these two states, experienced by an individual for an extended period. The length of time in social isolation for any individual can vary, but both the emotional state and physical state feed off of one another, creating a perpetual inability within the individual to reengage society in a meaningful way.

Here are Dr. Henderson’s tips for dealing with social isolation:

  1. Plan ahead. Isolation and loneliness can result from procrastination. When an individual fails to anticipate future isolation and plan for it, it never gets better. Individuals must carve out time in their schedules for social engagement like they would carve out time to study or complete a task for work. Waiting until the last minute always ends with missed opportunities.
  1. Confront the mind-games you play. We all have a script that plays over and over in our heads that dictates our actions. The most successful individuals are the ones who recognize the script and make the hard decisions to act contrary to it. The key to overcoming social isolation is being able to acknowledge the very real pain that exists in engaging others and then working to develop the confidence within oneself to know that you have the power to endure and overcome it.
  1. Seek out accountability. For many, this accountability starts with one person: a trained professional counselor. A professional can challenge you to think outside the box, provide you with resources that will help you overcome the struggle, and check in with you to measure your progress. Overcoming social isolation is like any other challenge. In order to break the cycle, we must reach a point at which the pain of staying the same is worse than the pain of changing. If you are struggling to reach out and find help, simply ask yourself one question, “What do I have to lose in reaching out for help?” Make a decision today that you are going reengage one step at a time. Fight discouragement with true statements about your abilities, and recognize that with each decision to think and act contrary to what you feel, you are getting stronger and closer to your goals. You are not alone. Keep reaching!

What’s the common thread here to either becoming or staying connected in a healthy way? Reaching out! Regardless of the genesis of your feelings of loneliness and isolation. It all starts there.

* David L. Henderson, M.D., is a board-certified psychiatrist, author, and professional speaker. He is the owner and president of Four Stones Collaborative Group, a mental health practice in Dallas, Texas, treating a wide range of psychological issues including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and trauma. He is the author of the book My Teenage Zombie: Resurrecting the Undead Adolescent In Your Home. For more information about his practice or for further resources, you can visit his websites at www.drdavidhenderson.com and www.fourstonesgroup.com


Brian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he somehow made it through as an alcoholic then added cocaine to his résumé as a practicing attorney. He went into recovery April 8, 2007. He left the practice of law and now writes and speaks on recovery topics, not only for the legal profession, but on recovery in general. He can be reached at brian@addictedlawyer.com.


Will Your Child Become A Bully?

I was bullied without mercy in my tweens and teenage years. It generally centered on my weight. No need to re-detail it here.  I write about it on this blog. I speak about it to anyone who is interested.

The bullying ranged from fat shaming and other appearance and intellect based taunts, to an actual physical assault. It came from both school- peers and adults. I remember my baseball coach telling to run faster to first base by pretending I was chasing a refrigerator.   I remember the gym teacher taunts about my gut during the dreaded “shirts and skins” dodgeball or basketball sessions.  If I knew there was a shirts and skins gym event scheduled, I sometimes forged my mothers signature on a sick note.

What I don’t write about much, is how I became a bully during my early college years. In particular, my freshman year at Penn State.  It centered around my overpowering desire for acceptance and how I defined the way to gain that acceptance. How I perceived others as defining it.

I bullied my freshman college roommate, “Hawaiian Dan”  without mercy. We called him “Hawaiian Dan” because of the touristy, bright, Hawaii-style shirts he would often wear.  In bullying/fat shaming Dan, I was hoping that doing to him what happened to me  would both gain me acceptance and make me feel better about myself.

Dan was, like me, an overweight quiet, shy kid. He was from San Diego and like me, wanted nothing more than to be included and to make friends.   My response to these similar needs was to call him a “fat pig” and tease him about his loose fitting clothes on his “big body.” I would leave notes on his bunk on how he was not wanted and unworthy to be my roommate.

The irony was that our other two dorm roommates wanted neither of us around. They left me notes on my bed asking me to find another place to live and take Dan with me.  Of course, in my mind it was because I was fat an ugly and the only way they would change their mind is if I showed I was one of them by  treating Dan like they treated me.  Like the kids in high school treated me. Like some adults treated me.

Eventually, Dan’s brother, a much bigger guy than I was, came to the school and confronted me, threatening to beat the hell out of me if I continued to bully his brother.  I stopped. I never apologized to Dan for my behavior and regret that to this day.

A lot has changed since then in terms of awareness but bullying still goes on at all levels of education. Behavior learned. Behavior repeated. A never-ending, damaging cycle to both the bully and the victim unless self-awareness becomes part of the equation to allow us to step back and looks at our behavior, a tall task for a teen wanting acceptance.

That is not to say that every bullied child will grow up to be a bully or suffer the long-term effects. As I constantly stress, correlation is not the same as cause.  We are all unique individuals. Genetics and environment can take one hundred different people going through the same issues in one hundred different directions. However, learned behavior and the need for acceptance can be powerful motivators to bully when the psychological conditions are ripe.

While what happened to me can be an anecdotal cautionary tale in the possible effects of childhood bullying, not all children will respond the way I did. Adults who experience the effects of bullying as a child, self-esteem and awareness have to step in for recovery. Face the past. Analyze it. Discuss it. Learn from it. Allow themselves to be vulnerable. I have been in therapy for over fifteen years doing that very thing. Not only does it lead to recovery from the long term effects of child hood bullying, it can prevent cycles from being repeated.  It starts with teaching our children compassion, empathy and voice.  Compassion and empathy for those who appear to be struggling. For the bullied. For the disabled. For the kids perceived as different in a negative way.  The voice to express empathy in a way that will prop someone up instead of allowing others to tear them down.

How can you stop a bullied child from becoming a bully? Being an expert in only my story, I reached out to Dr. David Henderson PhD. Here is what he had to say:

You can stop a child who has been bullied from becoming a bully by giving them an open invitation to channel their pain in three very important activities that will transform their pain into a greater purpose:

  1. Invite expression: When a child has been bullied, there are a lot of feelings that might surface that they have difficulty articulating. Inviting a child to talk about what hurts and teaching them how to get to the root of that hurt not only empowers them to deal with the bullying itself, it equips them to become emotionally intelligent as adults, able to talk out their feels rather than acting on them. Bullying, at it’s core, is an acting out of deep-seated emotions that can’t be expressed in any other way. Most bullies are not emotionally intelligent. If you want your child to avoid being a bully themselves, teach them the skills necessary to process difficult emotions using language and verbal expression. In the end, this will lead to a stronger sense of self, deeper connections in their relationships, and a security that enables them to manage future challenging relationships in a healthy way.
  2. Invite empathy: Let’s face the fact that hurt people hurt people. When we understand why people do what they do, we will be better able to preempt their hurtful actions by setting healthy boundaries and establishing appropriate responses. Empathy allows us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and understand their motivations. What does a bully really want? How is bullying getting them or not getting them what they want? What are the long term consequences of bullying? These are the kinds of questions we can be discussing with our kids. By allowing them to step into the shoes of a bully, we can ask those harder questions and challenge or kids to decide what will be best for them to do, given similar circumstances.
  3. Invite leadership: Bullying is a very primitive form of immediate gratification. If someone feels angry, it’s easy just to lash out. Putting someone else down takes less effort than building yourself up. It makes us feel powerful and in control to “put someone in their place,” but it’s reactive, impulsive, and generally not a sustaining coping skill for dealing with our own insecurities. When our kids are bullied, it reveals insecurities that can be accepted or worked on depending upon what is being revealed. This can actually serve to strengthen a child and push them to accomplish great things. Think of the Bill Gates Steve Jobs of world. When working with children who are wanting to lash out in anger, getting them to value patience, persistence, and hard work as the way to get back at “haters” is key. It’s also important for them to understand that if they are ever going to accomplish anything in life, naysayers and bullies will always stand in their way. Better to get used to it now. As Eric Geiger said, “If you want to make everyone happy, don’t be a leader. Sell ice cream.” This is a valuable lesson for kids to learn early. Parents can instill this mindset by having regular conversations about the best way to react to bullying in their own lives.

 


What Megyn Kelly Gets Wrong About Fat Shaming

Megyn Kelly and I have a couple things in common. We are both lawyers. We were both fat-shamed by a parent.  As she recently revealed, she endured this as a young law student. Endured is clearly a relative term however, since she apparently asked her step-father to fat shame her as a weight loss technique.

If I had the chance to explain to Ms. Kelly the negative role fat-shaming played in my life, along with many other men and women, young and old, who share the same negative experience, she might reflect on the wider ramifications of flippantly throwing out the term “fat-shaming” as a positive weight loss technique. It certainly was not a positive experience for me.

Beginning freshman year of high school, I would come home from school to eat lunch. I loved Chef Boyardee Ravioli. Sometimes I would not even heat it up and eat it straight out of the can. My mom would come home from selling real estate and see me doing this. I would sometimes be cautioned that if I did not curb my eating I would grow up to be a “fat pig.” It’s the type of thing her mother would say to her about food. Fat-shaming in families is often passed down generationally.  Ms. Kelly seems to imply that her father had her best interests at heart. So did my mother.

The fat-shaming did not stop at home. Some of the bullies at my school apparently agreed with my mom. One day walking home from school, they physically assaulted me a mile from my house.  My older brother Mark had given me a pair of shiny gold bell-bottom disco pants that he had worn. They fit him fine but were very tight on my “fat” stomach. The bullies thought the pants looked too tight and funny for me to be allowed to wear them. They attacked.  They ripped the pants off me, tearing them to shreds and throwing them out into a busy street leaving me only in my shirt and underwear.

Like Ms. Kelly’s experience, the fat-shaming worked! I began to restrict my food intake. And then I began to starve myself. As a freshman at Penn State University, I fell into anorexic behavior years before anyone talked about the women or men who suffered from it.  I transitioned to binging and purging. I had discovered bulimia. My bulimia continued through law school, and I would not go into recovery until 2007.

While Ms.Kelly assigns credit to her stepfather, it is important to note that I do not blame my mother or the bullies at school. While fat-shaming correlates with different mental health issues, that is not the same as cause.

Unlike Ms. Kelly’s “fat-shaming” diet in law school, when I entered into my first year at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, I had already been traditionally and exercise bulimic for over three years. I would not be going into recovery from them for over two decades. Did the “fat pig diet” or the bullies cause that? There is no way to know but we do know that fat-shaming has a strong correlation with eating disorders and other mental health issues.

Back in my day, something going “viral” meant fifteen kids in the lunchroom knew about it. Fat-shaming existed as brick and mortar bullying. When Ms. Kelly so flippantly talked about her “fat pig” diet, I have to wonder if she considered todays’ world in which fat-shaming occurs virulently in social media.  Are we going to teach children that they are doing their friends a favor when “fat pig” comes out of their mouths in the school hallway, playground or gym during the dreaded “shirts and skins”?  Are teens and young adults now learning that “if it’s okay for Megyn Kelly it’s okay for me to speak to my friends and those who look differently from me in such ways?

Instead, let’s teach our kids kindness in words and actions. Let’s teach them that they and their friends are enough from the time they are in grade school on through college and law school and beyond. Do some women want to be fat-shamed? Maybe. Perhaps some guys do as well. We need to ask how that shaming effect on someone’s self-esteem shapes their view on their weight and body as a societal value. Having just turned 57 years old, I still struggle with my relationship with food and exercise. Do I blame the “fat pig” diet of my teens? Of course not. Do I acknowledge its likely impact? Yes. The next time Ms. Kelly wants to publicly put her face on something so damaging as fat shaming, I hope she will consider its serious influence in the continuum of life and that is not just trying to fit into some clothes in law school. That message is both damaging and wide-ranging.  Let’s encourage people to be happy and healthy. To eat to live and not live to eat or live to diet. Let’s teach them that regardless of their appearance, that they are enough.

Postscript: Since I wrote this, Ms. Kelly has somewhat walked back her comments about fat shaming. I thank her for that. It’s however, still an ongoing issue for children, teens and adults.  Let’s continue the conversation

Brian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. Brian is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, The Addicted Lawyer: Tales Of The Bar, Booze, Blow & Redemption (affiliate link). A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he somehow made it through as an alcoholic then added cocaine to his résumé as a practicing attorney. He went into recovery April 8, 2007. He left the practice of law and now writes and speaks on recovery topics, not only for the legal profession, but on recovery in general. He can be reached at brian@addictedlawyer.com.


When Bar Examiners Become Mental Health Experts

The most stressful question during law school that a  student in addiction recovery or who has sought treatment for other mental health issues , may not be about the rule against perpetuities on that property exam. It may be the  addiction/mental health  question on the bar examiners application that must be filled out to sit for the bar exam.

The question that may be phrased in a way requiring an applicant to disclose mental health issue(s) that may only be known to the applicant and  his/her therapist or other treatment provider.  A question which, if answered in the positive, can have substantial ramifications on when and if the applicant will be allowed to sit for the bar exam or obtain a license if the exam has already been taken and passed.  I had to answer those questions while dealing with mental health issues.

Around 1985, as a student at Pitt Law, I filled out my Bar examiners application in preparation to sit for the Pennsylvania bar exam. While I don’t remember how the question was phrased, the likelihood is high back then that questions about mental health were asked in a way that would require me to disclose treatment regardless of what real world bearing the answers had on my ability to practice law. Ironically, I would have been one of the applicants the examiners would want to flag.

At the time I filled out the application, I was an alcoholic. I was clinically depressed. I was bulimic.  I mentioned none of these. I was not being dishonest. I had no idea I was an alcoholic. I did not know what depression or bulimia were. I had not sought treatment for any of them as relatively few people did at that time.

When I applied to sit for the Texas bar exam in 1987, my defaulted student loan (I corrected that) was an issue, but not the still untreated eating disorder, depression or alcohol. I had also added addiction to cocaine to my “resume”.   To the best I can determine, here is how the question as asked in 1987:

“Within the last (ten) 10 years, have you abused, been addicted to, or been treated for the use or abuse of alcohol or any other substance, to include court ordered treatment”

Once again, there was no self-awareness that I had any problems. In my mind, I was not abusing alcohol or cocaine.  I had never sought treatment, so was nothing to disclose.  From strictly a sitting for the bar exam standpoint, ignorance was both bliss and beneficial to me. I failed regardless. Cocaine and Jack Daniels were not great study aids.

While I don’t believe in revisionist recovery, the argument could certainly be made that if I had answered in the affirmative as to my mental health issues, getting me into some sort of practice and delaying my sitting for the exam could have changed my recovery path for the better in the long term.

While my own lack of self-awareness and treatment (which would have been good thing for me back then), spared me the bar examiner scrutiny, others have been put through the grinder of being flagged and required to jump through mental health hoops to prove they are worthy of sitting for the exam or getting their license to practice if they have already passed.

Atticus Finch (not his real name) is one such example.  Atticus is a licensed attorney in large eastern city. He says,

“There should be a ‘Miranda Mental Health’ warning on state bar fitness applications indicating that anything you disclose from a mental health standpoint may be extrapolated by someone completely unqualified make such decisions, that anything disclosed may be extrapolated to its worst possible speculative outcome and prevent you from sitting from the bar exam or delaying your licensing after you have passed”

Of course you’re dammed if you do and damned if you don’t.  You disclose it and put yourself at the mercy of some faceless person who may have no mental health training and if you don’t you’re dishonest on your application and it can come back to haunt you after you have established your career.  I was dammed because I was honest.” 

Upon passing the bar on his first attempt, Atticus was eager to get admitted and wanted to be as honest as possible in submitting his character& fitness application. He says,

“I disclosed everything I ever did wrong, including a public urination that occurred years before. After four months had passed, I was told they needed records of an arrest for a failure to appear that was ultimately dismissed with no charges files. I felt compelled to disclose this because on the character and fitness application I was asked if I had ever been “temporarily detained” or “placed in cuffs” Same with the question that asked if I had ever been suspended or kicked out of a University. I had both these things happen to me, so once again gave them my narrative and explanation.”

Upon providing them with all the requested records, Atticus was invited in for an interview. He says,

“After going through each incident that I voluntarily disclosed, the person that interviewed me asked me if my parents had been divorced. He asked me if I saw a psychologist and what medication I was on. I of course told him the truth that, yes my parents were divorced and that I was currently seeing a psychiatrist for the sake of getting my ADHD medication prescribed.”

The examiner then recommended that Atticus meet with the Character and Fitness psychiatrist for a mental evaluation to see he I was “prepared to practice.” He says,

Despite the fact that I had no problem with drugs or alcohol, the counselor recommended to the committee that I meet with the drug and alcohol bar counselor for six months. “

Additionally, it was mandated that Atticus have weekly therapy appointments for six-months with a private therapist that he had to pay for myself. His therapist would report to the bar counselor with monthly progress reports and with a follow up evaluation at the end of the period. Atticus jumped through those hoops and was finally recommended to the committee to be admitted to the bar, a year and a half after passing on his first attempt. He was finally licensed two years after taking the exam. Atticus says,

“The ordeal of the mental evaluation was degrading and took a toll on my self-esteem. Not to mention, the delay in bar admission has hindered my marketability.”

The individual who interviewed Atticus at the character fitness committee said his application reflected someone who was not equipped to practice. Atticus says:

“I’ve never been convicted of a crime.  I never had an alcohol or drug problem. During law school and after, never drank or drink more than 2 nights a week and not to the point of getting drunk. It appears my sin was one of complete honesty.”

While Atticus got to sit for the bar exam before being flagged for his honesty, some don’t even make it that far. Their ability to sit is significantly delayed. Nationwide change is needed in several areas including (but not limited to), how bar examiner application mental health/addiction questions are asked. How the process works once an applicant is flagged, and how law schools guide students through this process. Some change is occurring. We need to go further.

I reached out to Leah Rosa, a licensed professional counselor and the former clinical director of the Louisiana Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program(JLAP) for her perspective and suggestions. She says,

I want to start off by saying that as a former clinical director for a JLAP, from both a clinical and systems perspective, some of the most difficult cases to work with were often Bar applicants. Clinically, they are emerging from a time in their lives where newfound freedom, alcohol, experimentation, and figuring out how to cope with “adulting” is a huge roller coaster.

As Bar applicants, they are part of a process where they are powerless. Very often, the first time they fully understand that DUI or arrest they had during their time as an undergraduate is going to affect their bar application, is after they’ve entered and completed a significant portion of law school. The bar application process feels shrouded in mystery, and often even law schools are hesitant to help applicants fill out their application to the bar.

Applicants to law schools are required to disclose their legal histories on their applications. If they are accepted, they often believe their mental health and legal histories are “approved.” They are surprised and frustrated that those issues come back to affect them currently, in such a serious way, by delaying or preventing them from being licensed.

Bar examiners and law schools hold the key to truly getting to the root of helping to improve the mental health of law school students, and future lawyers. Encouraging law school students to seek help early, even while in law school, is instrumental in changing the prevalence of advanced substance use disorders in the population of practicing attorneys. Students are often fearful that disclosing that they are struggling or have gotten help will make bar admission difficult or impossible. The inherent culture of law schools, the competitive, show-no-weakness academics when paired with a philosophy that all that matters is academic standing, is a recipe for disaster. 

If the system were in place where law school applicants were actually encouraged to seek help, it could make a huge and positive change. Some professions do better with this issue. For example, Physicians have programs in each state that assist medical students, similar to LAPs or JLAPs. Many states, on their applications ask physicians requesting licensure to disclose their mental health and substance use history. Applicants are asked if they are in good standing, and able to practice safely and check the box, “Yes” or “No.” There is a provision that states that if an applicant is currently involved in the state PHP and in good standing, they can check the yes box. It is a beautiful system, that allows and even encourages physicians struggling with these issues to admit it, seek help, and have enough oversight to ensure that they are practicing safely.”

Brian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. Brian is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, The Addicted Lawyer: Tales Of The Bar, Booze, Blow & Redemption (affiliate link). A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he somehow made it through as an alcoholic then added cocaine to his résumé as a practicing attorney. He went into recovery April 8, 2007. He left the practice of law and now writes and speaks on recovery topics, not only for the legal profession, but on recovery in general. He can be reached at brian@addictedlawyer.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


I Loved And Hated New Years Resolutions

I used to love New Years resolutions. They brought the hope and the fantasy of a whole new Brian without any concept of what that meant or how to do it beyond reflexive responses to pain, regret and shame.

I remember making resolutions dating back to college and law school. Study harder. Be more outgoing. Make some friends. Drink less. Get drunk less. Stop binging and purging (I was bulimic).  Lose lots of weight (even though I was of normal weight) Each resolution lasted few a few days, maybe a week.  Then came the drinking binge. The food binge with the resulting purge. The inevitable “what’s the point.”  Anger. Shame. Defeat. Depression.

As the years passed, and I sunk further and further into untreated clinical depression, addiction and problem drinking, my resolutions still came but only adjusted to fit the problems of the day.  Snorting less cocaine. Possibly changing drug dealers (yes that was an actual resolution) or switching to Jack Daniels and Diet Coke from Rum and Diet Coke to find the right balance of intoxication that would allow me to feel confident, outgoing while also self-medicating the pain of depression and childhood trauma.  Taking cabs instead of driving after my DWI so I could inhale more cocaine and drink and lessen the risk of arrest and  killing anyone but myself(that did not last long either).

During my career as a lawyer, (during the time I had one before it fell off a cliff do to drug and alcohol use), I don’t remember once making a resolution to better a better lawyer. Better serve my clients. Take care of myself mentally so that I can better serve my clients.

January 2006 was my last resolution that I would stop drinking so much and stop using cocaine completely.  I had met a woman I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. Her love would be the difference.  You might imagine how that worked out.  Addiction is a disease. It takes more than love to deal with it. By June 2006, we were dating and I was trading Dallas Mavericks championship tickets for cocaine. In April 2007, I took my second trip to a psychiatric facility. Once again, Pain Shame. Defeat. Cycles repeating.

When I began my long term recovery from drugs, alcohol and my eating disorder in April 2007, I decided that it was time to do something different. Yearly resolutions clearly were not my path to sobriety and self-love.  I began taking my life one day at a time and concentrating on the day I was in rather than projecting far into the future and setting myself up for failure and another cycle of pain and shame and of course addiction relapse

My resolutions transitioned more to daily goals. One day sober. One day without sticking my finger down my throat. At least one meeting in 12-step(Alcoholics Anonymous is the most well known). One session with my therapist. One Lexapro to deal to even out my clinical depression.  One day of allowing myself to be vulnerable. Dismantling the brick wall I had built around my feelings decades ago, one brick at a time. One day at a time.

As the years passed my goals built on that base.  Doing what I love most which is writing. Blogs, books articles. Sharing my recovery in as many forums as I could. Hopefully hitting the pillow each night having opened up the possibility of recovery to at least one person regardless of what path they ultimately chose.

Today I also have daily affirmations. To do the next right thing and learn from it if it was the wrong thing. To exercise mindfulness in my decisions either in preparation or reflection. That is often done in a hot shower rather than a traditional meditation session.  To do at least one thing to take care of myself mentally and physically.  Finally, each day, to love myself and allow myself to be loved. Each day, I tell myself, I am enough.

As we begin 2018, whatever your resolutions, goals or affirmations, be sure to love yourself and take care of you every day. Build on that. Take it from me. Playing catch-up sucks.

Brian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. Brian is the author of the Amazon best-selling book, The Addicted Lawyer: Tales Of The Bar, Booze, Blow & Redemption (affiliate link). A graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, he somehow made it through as an alcoholic then added cocaine to his résumé as a practicing attorney. He went into recovery April 8, 2007. He left the practice of law and now writes and speaks on recovery topics, not only for the legal profession, but on recovery in general. He can be reached at brian@addictedlawyer.com.