Eating Disorders And The Jewish Holidays

In 1979, as a freshman at Penn State University, I began my descent into anorexia. Within a year, I had transition into bulimia.  I did not know those words existed or what an eating disorder was. They were simply behaviors I engaged in like breathing to get me through each day. The act of binging and purging for those few seconds made me feel like a whole person. Like I would finally be accepted. Of course when those few moments had passed, the overwhelming shame of something I did not understand filled the void. The shame of my dirty secret. A secret I would keep for over two decades.

In 1979 there was little eating disorder awareness for men or women. The golden voiced singer, Karen Carpenter had not yet passed away from complications related to anorexia, a disorder that has the highest mortality rate of any psychological illness. Her untimely death would bring eating disorders in the national spotlight in the pre-digital era. The flip-side is that it also brought the eating disorder gender stereotype to the masses. The thought that eating disorders were limited to women only. This was an easy stereotype to believe. Men simply did not discuss such things. Men were leaders. Men were the bread- winners. Men watched football on Thanksgiving and led the Passover Seder. Men did not starve themselves or stick their fingers down their throats.

Much has changed since then. Gender roles have equalized on many fronts. Eating disorder stereotypes however have not kept up. Despite the fact that 25-30  percent of those suffering from eating disorders being male, we are much less likely to seek treatment and still often suffer in silence and shame. Afraid to reveal our dirty , fearful of  judgement, disbelief and being told to just “not do that”  Of course, we know that for men or women, eating disorders are not a choice.

These issues can be a particular problem during Jewish Holidays. It certainly impacted my eating disorders at various points in my life.

While I did not grow up in a particularly observant Jewish home, there were Passover Seders over my grandparents. There was sporadic Yom Kippur fasting. Unfortunately, there was also a difficult relationship with my mother that entailed fat shaming  related to my intake of food as her mother had done to her, repeating cycles  It is important to note that such words while hurtful, were not a “cause” of my eating disorders. Parents do not cause them. We do not yet know what does beyond the substantial role of genetics and environment. My home life was simply part of that correlating environment.

I became depressed. I began eating more and as often happens when children’s body’s change for what other kids perceive in the negative, the weight-based bullying and fat teasing began at school. I began to see a different person every time I looked in the mirror. A fat, dumb bunny that was not deserving of love or friendship. Moving towards that fateful day at Penn State when I would “take control” over my life using the only thing I felt I had control over, food.

As I entered my sophomore year at Penn State with full blown traditional and exercise bulimia, the eating and fasting aspects of the Jewish holidays weighed heavily on me.

Unfortunately for me, holiday fasting was not about religion. It was about feeding into my body image issues. The legitimate reason became an excuse to starve myself. Stuffing myself at a friends Passover dinner became a trigger to purge. As is very common for those who suffer from eating disorders, every thing becomes a justification for the behavior. An entirely created world in which I became my thoughts. Believing the only way I would ever be accepted was to engage destructive disordered eating behaviors.

As we go through the Jewish Holidays where both eating and fasting are important, it is important to keep in mind that eating disorders do not discriminate. They affect both men and women. Jews and non-Jews. Boys and girls. Even old guys like me. The other thing that does not discriminate is the shame and loneliness. If you suspect that your child, spouse, or friend may be having issues, the best thing you can do is provide an atmosphere of love and trust. So that when they ready to drop that wall of shame we put up around ourselves and seek help, you are there for them. It’s their choice to seek help but it’s your choice to provide the love and trust that will influence that choice.

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.


Some Advice On Dealing With Failure

There are several certainties in life. Death, taxes, and people failing the bar exam.  No one knows the third certainly better than I, having taken the Texas exam three times.  I know the disappointment, depression, and feelings of shame and failure that can accompany not seeing your name on that list. The stress may be more than just shame; a job offer may hinge on the results. The ability to hang out that shingle is delayed.

With each failure of the exam, there was also other truths. The truth was that the sun still rose the next day. The truth was that my family still loved me. The truth was that my pets still needed me. The truth was that while I would rather have not had to learn in that way, the failures taught me in a small part how to be a little more resilient in life, and while not right away, that resilience would later help me in my recovery from alcohol and drug issues.

Maybe after succeeding at so many things that got you to the point of sitting for the exam, not passing is your first true experience with a failure. So what now? Maybe the instinct is to head to the local nightspot and get drunk.  A call to your weed or cocaine dealer. A descent into either a situational depression or being triggered into a long lasting clinical problem and shutting yourself off from the world.  Feelings of failure  will more often than not bring some level of depression with them.  Listing out all the lawyers who failed the exam and went on to great legal careers isn’t  going to make you feel better.  Depression is not a choice, but how we deal with it is. Let’s talk about dealing with it in a healthy way regardless of what event triggered them.

I reached out to psychologist, Dr. Kelly Jameson, PhD, for some advice. Just imagine you are lying on her couch with your legs up. Nice and relaxed. She is talking only to you. Here is what she has to say:

Failure is a necessary, yet painful part of the human experience. We meet failure on many fronts as adults, but when failure is public, and in tandem with professional peers, it can be downright agony. Failing the bar exam can produce significant emotional distress that can have lasting negative effects on an individual’s personal sense of self and professional confidence.

To avoid the possible emotional downward spiral, this type of failure can be addressed with a few strategies:

    • Take time to be disappointed. It’s not reasonable or appropriate to think one can jump right back into the pre-bar exam mental state of readiness and preparation for your second attempt. Give yourself some time to process your sadness in a healthy way. This will look different for everyone, but make time to respect your own feelings. If not processed appropriately, these feelings are pushed down and can become toxic. Talking to a therapist or your mentor is a good first step.

 

    • Talk back to self-doubt. Anytime someone prepares for something as immense as the bar exam, and expectations are not met, self-doubt is always close behind. Am I good enough? Have I made a huge mistake with my chosen profession? Who am I kidding, I’m not smart enough for this! These can be natural responses for anyone! Self-doubt may show up at your door, but don’t invite him in.

 

    • Be honest with yourself. In your quiet moments, when you’re reflecting on  what could you have done differently?  If we are being honest with ourselves, we can generally reflect on failures and find our part in them. (This goes for personal relationships and professional goals as well!) As a therapist, I often ask my patients, “What would you do differently if you had the chance to do it over again?” More often than not, people come up with a decent amount of “should’ve, could’ve, would’ve” responses. Spend some time thinking of those responses.

 

    • Practice your response. No doubt, friends and family will be curious about your results. A simple rehearsed response will help you in those awkward conversations when you may not want to talk about the exam. Something along the lines of, “Well, I didn’t pass, but I’m taking another shot at it in February.” This quick response will give you a sense of control over the conversation. You’ve acknowledged the failure, yet shown optimism for next time. A second response will be needed in the months leading up to the next exam. When it seems like everyone and their mother is asking you, “How’s the studying going? Do you feel ready?” Have your response handy when needed. Try, “Well, it’s a process, but I’m working hard.”

 

    • Manage your stress level. When you are stressed, your brain releases a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol is toxic to the body if the brain is excreting it too often. Taking the bar exam will cause you stress. Perhaps a job is contingent on you passing, maybe your firm is paying for your prep classes (again!), or you’re the only one in a family of attorneys who failed the bar exam. The stressors are vast, but knowing how you best manage your own stress is critical to your success. Practicing self-care, knowing what daily routine works for you, eating properly, hydrating, exercising, and practicing good sleep hygiene are all practical, yet very necessary, components of this process of preparation.

 

    • Mental health triggers. If you are prone to depression or anxiety, make sure you are making and keeping your appointments with your therapist and prescribing health provider. Failure can trigger depression and anxiety, so make sure you are taking care of your mental health.

 

  • Don’t become a recluse! Yes, you have a professional project that needs tending, but keeping a life outside of studying is paramount to your mental health and overall well-being. Finding a healthy balance that works for you will be your key to success as your take another shot at the bar exam!

Failing the bar exam might be a humbling, vulnerable chapter in your life story, but will it be one of shame or perseverance? Only you can decide.


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.


Why Are Lawyers Afraid To Ask For Help

Not long ago I gave a bar association lunchtime presentation about addiction recovery. As I always do, I spoke about the function and value of the Legal Assistance Program (LAP) in helping lawyers deal with addiction and other mental health issues and get back on track even in the face of immediate consequences for behavior that may run afoul of state bar disciplinary rules.

I related the same talking points that I give lawyers every day who contact me about addiction issues. I urge them not to get caught up in the stigma of the immediate problem versus the inevitable long term consequences of ignoring, hiding or “thinking” (in other words, manipulate) a way out of it. Even in the face of suspension, disbarment, private or public censure, down the road the consequences almost always get exponentially worse beyond career. Deal with it now. Deal with it confidentially. As I gave this advice, I scanned the expressions in the room. Eyes rolled. Arms folded.

After the presentation, a lawyer came up to me snickering. He said he would never use the Lawyers Assistance Program. He was sure it would get out. I asked how he knew that. “Another lawyer told him.” How did that lawyer know that? He was not sure. I asked him if he would walk into court with “a guy told a guy” as his argument. He chuckled and agreed but was still sure it was not confidential. It also seemed that some had no idea that there was an LAP until that moment.

How is this possible? Just the other week, I had coffee with a good friend who works at a major law firm in Dallas. There is a blank stare when I brought up the local LAP. When I described it to him, he said that the last time it had been discussed was an orientation right after he passed the bar years ago. It had not been a topic of discussion at any firm he had worked at since then.

This is the culture of asking for help in the legal profession. Short term stigma. Fear of disclosure and career consequences over long term recovery. Lack of knowledge about recovery resources available beyond maybe AA. Not unusual for a person facing getting sober, but still a barrier. How do we overcome it?

I reached out to someone who is on the front lines of representing lawyers with just such issues. Brian Tannebaum is a criminal defense lawyer in Miami Florida. He primarily represents lawyers who are called before the bar, many of them dealing with addiction issues. He is also the author of the great book, “The Practice, The Brutal Truths About Lawyers and Lawyering”.

What are some of the fears, in your experience lawyers have when it comes to getting help for a substance use?

Other than the fear of admitting to yourself there is a problem, the primary issue I see is lawyers believing that their issue will become public knowledge. It is unfortunate that this fear prevents lawyers from seeking professional help.

Lawyers who work as associates in firms fear their partners will find out and they will lose their jobs, and sole practitioners fear their colleagues as well as current and potential clients will find out.

What I try to explain to lawyers is that they are not the first ones to experience problems with drugs or alcohol, and they would be surprised to know who amongst them has gone down the same road. I hear this when lawyers go to AA or NA meetings and see their colleagues in attendance. Lawyers should also know that privilege is not only between a lawyer and a client, but that professionals in this arena adhere to strict confidentiality.

What are some of the myths lawyers tend to believe in terms of seeking help?

Seeking professional help for an alcohol, drug or gambling issue is the same as a client seeking legal advice. It is confidential. Lawyers who convince themselves that it is not, are often using that as an excuse not to seek help. I can tell you that Lawyers Assistance Programs value their confidentiality with lawyers, and will not even disclose information to the Bar without the lawyer’s consent. The only way I’ve ever learned of a lawyer participating in a Lawyer Assistance Program is because the lawyer made that disclosure to me.

What can the professional as a whole do to lessen the stigma and dispel myths surrounding reaching out of help (as an example, what could law firms be doing better to support lawyers or the LAP’s getting the word down to solos that they even exist)

Much of the stigma is based on the lack of discussion amongst lawyers. Partners and associates will meet to discuss cases and clients and billable hours, but the topic of “is everything okay” is not part of the agenda. I think every law office, private, governmental, corporate, should set aside time to discuss issues of alcohol and drug use. Firms should make it clear that seeking help prior to any issue affecting the practice is going to be met with assistance, and not discipline. Bar Associations, and State Bars should be sending that same message to lawyers who are sole practitioners or in small firms. The fear of disclosure often leads to disaster for the individual lawyer, and the firm. When that fear is dissolved, we will have a healthier and therefore more productive Bar.

There you have it. The true reality is that addiction recovery is not part of the legal culture despite the fact that according to recent studies, problematic drinking clearly is. A recovery culture needs to be integrated from the top down. How do we begin this? Start simple. How difficult is it to bring the local LAP into your firm with a presentation a couple times a year? How difficult is it to bring a lawyer in recovery in to talk about the reality? Do it in place of that law firm happy hour. How difficult is it for local bar associations, especially for young lawyers to pair events with something other than wine tastings and happy hours? Maybe even a recovery event now and then? Time well spent. Culture changes one person at a time.


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.


Dealing With Social Isolation

sad unhappy young woman law studentFeelings of social isolation are an issue common to law students and lawyers, not to mention people in active addiction. 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.

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.


My Dad Was An Addicted Lawyer

One of the hardest things with regards to addiction is when a family loved one relapses despite all of their efforts to help the person change their path to one of recovery.  Here is Lori’s story. (I have changed her name to protect her anonymity.)

I’m the daughter of an addict. And while my dad was so much more than an addict — he was smart, accomplished, generous, and ambitious — ultimately, his addiction took him down.

 

Law was actually my dad’s second career. In his first career, he was a high-level executive, and certain injustices he saw in his workplace inspired him to go to law school. His goal and intention in getting a law degree was to provide a voice to those who couldn’t otherwise afford to speak up. It was lofty and noble, and he was a cool dad to look up to. He taught us about doing the right thing, and about speaking up for those who couldn’t speak up for themselves. He inspired me to go to law school, and to become the lawyer I am today.

Around the time my dad started law school, in his late 40s, we noticed that his drinking had started to pick up. He had gone from someone who drank socially at dinners and football games with friends to someone who seemed to be drinking consistently earlier and earlier in the day. I say “seemed” to be drinking because we never saw him drink at home. He knew my mom would monitor how much he was drinking if she saw bottles and beer cans being emptied out, so he just kept it hidden. That meant a lot of spiked soda or iced tea in the cup he always (and I mean ALWAYS) had with him. So we were spotting the warning signs … he was slurring his words, he stumbled when he walked, and his decisions weren’t rational. As we started catching on and asking him about it, he started finding more reasons to travel for work (he was still working full-time while attending law school part-time), more client matters that kept him at the office longer, or more times he needed to stay at school late to study. He always denied that he was drinking, and seemed offended that we would question him. He would remind us of how much he was doing (work, school, family) and blame his behavior on stress or lack of sleep (or just say that it was our imagination that he was acting drunk).  We would do sweeps of his home office and find empty vodka bottles and beer cans hidden in every possible hiding spot in the room … on top of the furniture, behind books, inside bags, under chairs. We knew that he was going downhill, so we staged an intervention. Led by an intervention specialist we hired, about 20 of his family members and close friends showed up early one Sunday morning to a hotel conference room we had reserved for the occasion.

 

At the intervention, my dad agreed to go to rehab, and for the next several years, he remained largely sober. In that time, he retired from his first career, finished law school, and passed the bar exam. It took him two attempts to pass, and we suspected the failed first attempt was because he had fallen off the wagon while he was taking it. So the second time, my mom stayed with him in the hotel during the bar exam, hoping to keep an eye on him and keep him sober. He passed on his second attempt, and for the next several years, he seemed to be on a good path.

 

He had been required to report his alcohol treatment on his bar application, and he was concerned that any relapses would result in him losing his license. So those first few years, he was constantly attending AA meetings. He would go to a meeting at least once a day, and sometimes two or three times a day when he seemed to be really struggling. Looking back, and as a lawyer now myself, I can understand what an incredible weight that must have been on him. I think he was terrified that if he relapsed, he risked the Bar association revoking his license. If that happened, he would have been saddled with over $100K in law school loans for a degree he couldn’t use. And beyond the potential financial repercussions, he risked embarrassment and shame if he had to tell clients, friends, and family that he had failed. He was a proud man, and I think that weighed heavily on him.

While he was sober, he was great, both as a dad and an attorney. He had a niche in a particular area of employment law, and clients often sought him out because of his name and reputation in the field. He was making a good living, and loving the new challenge in his second career. His clients were happy, and their word-of-mouth referrals led to a fairly bustling practice.

 

I still remember the first big relapse, around Thanksgiving. I had moved to another state, and when I came home for the holidays, something seemed “off.” He was late to our family dinner. He left early. He seemed fidgety and distracted. And perhaps the biggest flag was that he said he was too busy to attend his AA meetings. He said he was really stressed with client work, and needed more help at the office. He said he would be hiring a paralegal or assistant, and that was going to alleviate the situation. I trusted him, and I could certainly understand the stress, but I was worried.

Several weeks later, my dad checked into rehab. He said he’d fallen off the wagon, and needed to get help. Despite his concerns about the bar association revoking or suspending his license, he decided that getting help was more important. Luckily, they didn’t suspend his license, but he was put on probation and required to continually check in and report on his progress.

 

After that, things got better, and seemingly back to a good place. But not long after his probation ended, he relapsed. This time, he went to an outpatient clinic, where he was in and out within about 72 hours.  He was sober for several months, and then relapsed again. This cycle kept repeating for the next several years, and his visits to rehab kept getting closer and closer together. It got to a point that he was going every other month, and he never seemed to be sober in between visits.

 

Along the way, my dad had an accident while he was drunk, and he was prescribed Vicodin for the pain. My dad had never been one for taking medicine, but Vicodin quickly changed that. So in addition to watching for the signs of his drinking, we were now looking for the signs of him taking pills. Those signs came in the form of new doctors and pharmacies showing up on insurance statements (he forum-shopped for different prescriptions), and (even more) impaired speech and motions.

Once Vicodin was added to the mix, his work really started to suffer. He missed deadlines. Calls (especially those in the afternoon) were incoherent. His filings were sloppy and full of typos, or sometimes just nonsensical. A particular low was when he fell asleep while on a call with a federal judge. Clients started complaining. They would ask for their retainers back and threaten to report him to the Bar. To my knowledge, no one ever reported him … I think my dad just gave their money back and hoped they would go away silently.

His employees steadily quit, one by one. They each said they loved him, but that it was too hard to watch someone so smart continue on such a downward spiral. They also got tired of constantly having to cover for him, or answer to clients, opposing counsel, or judges about why he had missed deadlines, why he was unavailable, or why he sounded like he was completely blitzed.

 

The last person to jump ship was my mom. She had been married to him for almost 40 years, and took her wedding vows seriously. But they were living separate lives by then, and his life revolved solely around pills and alcohol. When they divorced, he moved out, and spiraled even lower than the rock bottom we were sure he must’ve hit by then. One night he mixed alcohol, prescription drugs, and blood pressure medicine, which proved to be a lethal combination.

 

Addiction doesn’t discriminate, and my dad is certainly an example of that. You can be the smartest, most accomplished person in the room. You can be the dad that inspires his kid to follow in his footsteps and become a lawyer. And this disease can still hit you. Although my dad’s life ended, I don’t want his story to end. He had so much to offer the world, and even though he’s not here to do it in the way I would’ve expected, I’m hopeful that in sharing his story, someone will be impacted, and know that they’re not alone.


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 Legal Profession Has A Suicide Problem And Silence Is Deadly

Not long ago, I keynoted the Cuban American Bar Association Annual Judicial Luncheon in Miami. They said it was the first time they had brought in a speaker such as myself as the event was usually about election cycle stump speeches. They wanted this event to be different for very personal reasons.

The  Cuban and Miami legal community had recently lost a well known and respected colleague with the suicide of Miami lawyer,  Ervin Gonzalez.  Not long after that, the death of Miami federal prosecutor Beranton J. Whisenant was ruled a suicide. Two tragedies among a profession with a suicide rate in the top five of all professions.  I was almost one of those grim statistics.

July 2005. A dark room. Table, desk, chairs. I’m with a staff psychiatrist of the Green Oaks Psychiatric Facility in Dallas, Texas. My brothers, Mark and Jeff, are sitting at the table across from me. I have a vague recollection of my younger brother rousing me from my bed. My .45 automatic lying on my nightstand.

The residuals of cocaine, Xanax, and Jack Daniels are still coursing through my veins. Questions from the attending psychiatrist pierce my fog and anger like tracer rounds. “What drugs have you taken? How are you feeling? Do you want to hurt yourself? “

In the back of my mind, what’s left of the lawyer takes over. I know that my family can’t commit me, but he can. Proceed with caution. I don’t mention that I had been “practicing” sticking the barrel of the gun in my mouth and dry-firing the gun.

Ripped back to reality. Voices in the room. The doctor is talking to me again. When was the last time I used cocaine? I’m pretty sure it has been recently, since it was all over the room when my brothers showed up. I had become the consummate liar in hiding the obvious cocaine habit and drinking problem from my family.

More questions. Do I think I need help? Will I go to rehab? Sure, whatever will get me out of here? I lash out again. They have no right to do this. I yell across the table. “You have no right to control my life!  I am an adult!  Mind your own business!”  They quietly let me rant.

Blaming them for the darkness is so much easier than seeing the light. The doctor is asking calm, focused questions, to ascertain whether I am a danger to myself. At times I am calm in my answers. At times I am crying, angry at him, then at my brothers. Quit asking the same questions! I know your game! Quit treating me like an idiot!

An hour has passed. The room is getting brighter. The love and calm of my brothers soothes me. Quiets me, softens my edges. It’s always been there, but I wasn’t present enough to sense it. I was thinking only of myself: My next high. My next drink. Without the drugs, what am I going to see in the mirror each morning? The thought terrifies me. My brothers calm me, and I begin to focus on my love for my family. Arms are around me. Holding me. I begin to feel the love penetrating my shell. They are not the enemy.  Should I go to rehab? What about twelve-step? I’m still on the defensive, but at least for the moment I can listen. Have to grab those moments. They don’t come often.

Sitting in that room during my first of two trips to a psychiatric facility seems so long ago.  Today  I am approaching 11 years in long term recovery. I still deal with clinical depression and take medication daily. I see a psychiatrist weekly. I am also a lawyer. I am part of profession with alarmingly high depression rates.  As I often write about, there is also the serious issue of problem drinking in the profession. Both have a strong correlation with suicide.  I’ve been there. I get it. I talk to many in the profession weekly who are currently struggling. Some have contemplated suicide. I ask them what they are afraid of in seeking help. What’s holding them back from taking that first step forward towards the light.  It’s almost always about loss. Loss of license. Loss of job. Loss of family. Interestingly however, the fear of loss is generally attached to disclosure of the problem and not the possible consequences of the problem itself. That is what we know as “stigma”.   A problem that cuts across demographics but is particularly powerful in the legal profession. We are strong. We are hard chargers. We are “thinkers” who can problem solve our way out of any situation without disclosure. We are not vulnerable.

I am here to tell you that that emotional vulnerability is a good thing in taking that first step to get help. Reaching out is not weakness, it’s courage. Asking questions as a friend or family member is not intrusive, it’s compassionate.

September is Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. Be vulnerable. Be compassionate. Ask questions. Provide resources. Learn what your State Lawyers Assistance Program (LAP) has to offer. Learn what your local bar association has to offer. Does your law firm have an employee assistance program?  What is your law firm doing to empower  talking, compassion and empathy without stigma?  If you are a solo practitioner, don’t isolate.  People want to listen. Talking is healing. Silence can be deadly.


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 .  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.


Name Fame: How Sibling Celebrity Affected My Recovery Journey

*September is National Recovery Month.  There is no better day than today to start your journey or reach out to someone struggling. 

I am regularly asked how the celebrity of my older brother Mark Cuban played into my problems with alcohol and drugs. The first thing I point out is that my problem drinking, cocaine addiction, eating disorder, and other mental health issues such as clinical depression long pre-dated Mark’s ascent to international celebrity status.

My drug and alcohol use did escalate to epic proportions after he bought the Dallas Mavericks. In large part, it was because I had no sense of self-worth and self-identity. I had been searching for love and acceptance since I was a young teen and I sensed a way to finally get it, even if it was an illusion.  Rather than facing my myriad of mental health issues, I decided it was easier to be “Mark Cuban’s brother” and embrace “Name Fame” to take the place of self-love and the ugliness I saw when I looked in the mirror. An ugliness that only fake adulation, cocaine and alcohol could sooth. I think back to late December 1999.

I am working out at a health club in Dallas, Texas. I am unemployed and broke. As I’m standing there with a towel around my neck, staring blankly at the row of lockers and trying to decide if my dealer will trade some cocaine for unsolicited legal advice, I feel a hand on my shoulder. It’s Mark. He asks me how I am doing.

“Everything’s good.” I shrug. Well, that’s partly true, anyway. Not much is good in my life at the moment. But neither my brother nor the rest of my family knows anything about my descent into addiction. As long as I can maintain that illusion, things are good enough. Mark says,

“Listen, Brian, I have some big news, but it hasn’t been made public yet so you have to keep it a secret. I just bought the Dallas Mavericks. It’ll be announced in a few days. You can come work for me.” 

 I tell him, I’ll “think about it,” but there’s nothing to think about. I’ve just been tossed my lifeline. I am “somebody” again. A week later, the sale of the team to my brother is announced.

The announcement of Mark buying the Dallas Mavericks is only a few days old, and I’ve already had my own business cards printed up with the Dallas Mavericks logo on them. The card reads, “Brian Cuban, Corporate Counsel” even though I have not been given that position. I sheepishly brought out one of those cards and signed the back. Someone wants my autograph? She thinks I’m a co-owner of the team with Mark? No reason to tell her otherwise. Someone’s interested in me. Someone cares about me! It’s only name fame, but it’s my last name too, and I like it.

As my illegible signature takes form, I feel a sudden high. It’s almost the same feeling as that first hit of coke years earlier. I was no longer just “Brian.” I was Brian Cuban, someone with a name that needed to be reckoned with. Now I could journey into the social and nightlife world of Dallas with my new identity and false sense of self-worth. Free drinks. Free cocaine. No waiting in nightclub lines. Girls, who in my mind, would not give the real Brian the time of day, suddenly couldn’t wait to talk to me. I started cycling through relationships (many held together by nothing but drugs and alcohol) just as fast as I could hand out my fake business card. Frankly, my identity as “Mark’s brother” made me suddenly one of the biggest knuckleheads on the Dallas social scene. Part of me was very ashamed because I knew I was a fraud. I wanted so badly to just be who I really was, but was terrified that everyone would see exactly what I saw.

My sudden name fame not only provided more opportunity for me to feed my drug and alcohol use, but it was also a self-imposed obstacle to confronting my problems and seeking help. In this way, I understand attorneys who risk so much out of fear of the damage admitting addiction might do to their reputations. Of course it’s irrational; we’re all much more likely to wreck our lives by allowing addiction to progress than in confronting it. There is a saying, “No one ever ruined their life by getting sober.” The hardest conversation I have with struggling lawyers is to get them to see that today is as good as it’s ever going to get. But when your whole sense of who you are is mixed up with your standing in the community, when you feel the pressure of so many expecting so much from you, it’s easy to view seeking help as a risk.

Shortly after purchasing the Mavericks, Mark entrusted me as his point person for the construction of the soon-to-be-opened American Airlines Center (AAC), which would be the new home of the Mavericks, and in which Mark had an equity interest. My responsibilities entailed sitting in on construction meetings, taking notes, and reporting back to Mark with anything I thought he should know. It was a high-profile position sitting in with high-profile people also involved in the construction of the new arena.

It was important work that should have pushed me to excel and open up new doors to my professional future. Unfortunately, as often happens when addiction meets work life my level of competence and caring was limited, causing me to work up to only my very low expectations and not worry about anyone else’s.

I’d often show up hungover after partying all night. Sometimes I was still a little tipsy. More than a few times, I had not showered in days and smelled like a cologne factory. There were very few days when I offered anything to the process other than body odor and booze vapors coming from my corner of the conference table. Needless to say, I was soon no longer a part of those meetings, falling deeper and deeper into an abyss of addiction and shame, eventually becoming suicidal.

Part of the recovery that began in 2007 was learning that it is okay to just be me as a unique and worthy individual. The expectations that matter are the ones I create for myself. I am now continually trying to set that bar a little higher every day both in recovery and what I want out of life instead of working up to the lowest level of my incompetence as is so common when addiction is at play. One thing is certain. If Mark ever runs for president, you won’t see my own brand of beer.

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.


Is Law School An ‘Adderall Nation’?

Anecdotally, all one has to do is look through law school message boards or talk to current students and recent grads to get a feel for how prevalent Adderall use both prescribed and illegally obtained is for both law school and bar exam study.Empirically there is data on the topic.  The study, “Suffering in Silence: The Survey of Law Student Well-Being” published in the Journal of Legal Education and co-authored by another contributor to The Addicted Lawyer (David Jaffe), found that 14 percent of students responding reported they had taken a prescribed drug without a prescription within the last 12 months, and 79 percent of those students reported the drug taken as Adderall followed by Adderall XR, Ritalin, and yes, there it is… cocaine.

Here is Ali’s story and observations on Adderall use. Ali is a millennial West Coast attorney not long out of law school. She starts with her bar exam observations.

Ali says:

When I took the bar exam, we were limited as to what we could bring into the testing area. A small zip-lock bag that could hold identification, a pen or two, and individual tablets of medication. A memory that stands out was taking a look around after finally sitting down in the massive convention center exam room and seeing a sea of colors through those zip-lock bags: the unmistakable hues of Adderall, categorized by dosage. Everywhere I looked, the vast majority of those around me had at least a couple, ‘just in case.’

 

Seeing every exam taker’s personal stash out in the open only served to echo and what was the norm in the law library around finals time: You could walk up to any given study group in the library and it was almost guaranteed that at least one person in the group either had a prescription for Adderall or knew somebody who did and merely bought that person’s pills and shared with the group. Adderall was such a staple of studying in law school that it was easy to forget the fact that all of us who partook without a prescription weren’t only doing so illegally, but were also dosing ourselves with an addictive substance — an unwise choice for the subset of law students already prone to addictive tendencies and substance issues. And while I personally knew a few classmates who had a legitimate ADD diagnosis requiring a prescription for Adderall, those people were the minority.

 

For me, I survived law school finals during my first two years without ‘needing’ an Adderall prescription of my own. I outlined early and often and also had the self-discipline to stay in the library for long hours studying. When I would bum a few pills from a classmate though, studying seemed to fly by. Adderall made the outlining, note organization, and repeated reviews easy to do, and it made me confident in doing it. Moreover, Adderall is a stimulant, which also made it a perfect sidekick to study groups where we could debate hypotheticals for hours on end.

 

While initially these side effects were more fortuitous, by 3L year, Adderall was almost mandatory for my study group. Rather than a study aid, the effects of the drug served as our required motivation that once came naturally. By this point, I had secured my own prescription, too. I never took the required test and was never diagnosed with ADD by my longtime family doctor. ‘Just to get me through graduation,’ soon turned into, ‘Just to get me through the bar exam.’

 

When I returned to the small law firm I clerked at as a newly licensed attorney with a crazily disproportionate workload, I hadn’t gotten legal work completed without the help of Adderall in over a year, and I was convinced I required it in order to stay on top of work.  My tolerance had also gone up, which meant I was taking more pills than prescribed and running out of my script early each month. Luckily, the attorney in the office next to mine had his own prescription; we’d often have to pool our resources.  Unlike law school though, my workload never got lighter. Like any first-year associate in a litigation setting, the competitive and adversarial atmosphere was intimidating deep down, but taking Adderall always made me appear confident and in control.

 

In practice, this meant that I attributed a lot of my hard work and success to the fact that I had help in the form of a pill. This had a terrible downside, though. If I forgot my Adderall at home or ran out of pills, I would often find myself staring at my calendar and to-do list seemingly frozen and not knowing where to begin.  I didn’t think I could accomplish the work and meet my deadlines without taking a pill. As a person who always has had a stellar work ethic in school, this was an unfamiliar feeling for me, and an undoubtedly unhealthy one at that. After only being in practice for one year, taking Adderall as often as I did had also caused me to lose 25 pounds when I did not have 25 extra pounds on me to lose. Mentally, Adderall wreaked havoc on my natural self-confidence and work ethic. I now looked physically unhealthy as well.

 

After changing jobs, lowering my dosage, and getting sufficient experience to keep the courtroom jitters away, I was able to wean myself off of the high dosage I was prescribed. To date, I still always keep a script filled, ‘just in case,’ but no longer working in a job environment where my coworkers and direct superiors also used the drug (and its cousin, cocaine) took a lot of my personal focus away from thinking that I needed to be taking Adderall daily to succeed and I am doing well without it.

 

I know old classmates and coworkers who came out on the other end of the spectrum, though. A prior coworker ended up graduating not just from Adderall to cocaine, but from cocaine to crack. Another classmate is currently in outpatient treatment.

The casual use of Adderall that I was introduced to in school became a much more slippery slope than I had imagined. And while I eventually did call it quits on taking the pill every day, not everybody has been able to do this and the pill itself has been proven to be very addictive.