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.


Staying Well In Law School

The fall semester of law school is almost here!  It will be a stressful time for both incoming students and those returning who may be dealing with ongoing mental-health/substance-use issues as well as those who may not have these issues but want to maintain a healthy mental health outlook.

To get some perspective on these issues, I reached out to David Jaffe. David is the Associate Dean of Students at the American University Washington College of Law. David is also the co-author of the seminal study on law student mental health.

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 him/her?

Given the incredible fortitude it takes for a student to take this step, and noting per our national survey that there is a far greater number of law students struggling with a substance use or mental health issue than those expressing a willingness to seek help, the first thing I do is acknowledge the student’s bravery for having come forward, and let him know that he is in a safe and confidential environment.

Students are first and foremost concerned that they may get kicked out of school or not be admitted to the bar, and we have to disarm them of these fears.  In almost every instance we are assessing the depth of the situation while looking for the most helpful way forward.  As such, often I follow up with a specific question: “Do you want to be a lawyer?”, which also can be interpreted as “is law school right for you right now.”  The immediacy (or delay) in the response drives the remainder of the conversation.

A student who “but-for” the issue facing him has his heart set on becoming a lawyer will answer almost immediately in the affirmative, while a student who hesitates typically is dealing with an unrelated issue likely exacerbating the immediate concern (i.e., the student applied to law school as a default option, bent to the will of his parents in applying to law school). For the latter student, a substantive conversation will yield if continuing with law school at the moment is in his best interest.

Assuming an affirmative response (“I want to be here, but this issue is getting in the way”), and the consequences of the use has not gotten too profound, my goal is to find help for the student without having to withdraw from school.  In some instances, even a 28-day inpatient stay can be employed without a withdrawal, though this involves careful coordination with and support of relevant faculty; a committed dean of students however will have good relationships here and should be able to facilitate a temporary absence.  In the event that a particular course is heavy on participation 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 (in cases where the situation arises late in the semester, we might even make plans for the student to return to the course when it is next taught).  Even where/especially if the student needs to (or opts to) withdraw from one or more semesters, maintaining regular contact signals that someone cares and that avenues for return to law school have not been foreclosed: When working with a student who withdrew partway through a semester and then extended his leave by another, 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.  The student subsequently returned and graduated, with solid grades, and with employment.

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 should be the law school.

What are the top three to five things you tell either an incoming or even a more advanced student who is looking to find a more solid recovery support structure in a high-stress environment?

Find someone to trust.  Left alone, law students will attempt to muddle through while challenged by their mental health and/or substance use issues and will ultimately find themselves in worse to critical shape because they were afraid to seek help.  The stigma and fear associated with getting assistance is real. What strikes me about so many of the conversations I have with students near or in crisis is how similar they are: “Every classmate I see is fine so I am the only one with a problem”; “I have accomplished everything I have set out to do so far in my life so I should be able to handle this on my own”; “No one — from my family to my friends — will understand or believe this is affecting me in this way.” The relief when I share that the student is by no means the first to have come to me with an issue is palpable, and almost always opens the door for a freer conversation about next steps.

A law school seeking to do right by its students should have at least a part-time counselor onsite who can provide ongoing assistance, as well as ample resources for particular situations affecting a student where specialized counseling may be necessary (such as for matters involving sexual assault, PTSD, etc.).  If budgetary challenges exist, access to the university’s resources should stand as a fill-in.  A school in this situation might also check if the state’s Lawyer Assistance Program (LAP) can provide hours at the school.

Establishment of a student organization dedicated to students in recovery is ideal but can be a challenge at the law school level, as one or more students have to be comfortable with their own recovery before placing themselves out to others. At the Washington College of Law, we have explored this development, establishment of Friends of Bill meetings, and even use of a nearby church for support.  We also have tinkered with Thursday night gatherings that do not challenge the traditional “bar reviews” but that are intended to provide comfortable space for non-drinkers.  In each of these instances, the challenge is developing a circle of classmates, ideally to become friends, who can trust one another over the long haul that defines the law school process.

We hear so much about “wellness” as a way of dealing with stress. Very few would claim law school is not stressful. What types of things is American doing to help law students deal with stress and move away from a “drinking culture” that may encourage students to turn to alcohol as a way of dealing with their issues? What more can we do as a profession to help graduate lawyers with a balanced outlook on dealing with the pressures of legal practice?

In addition to the foregoing, we constantly strive for “wellness” activities that have an emphasis on health with the absence of alcohol.  For example, we host weekly mindfulness sessions and yoga sessions for free or at a minimum cost.  We work with the student government to support movie nights, and we continue to host semi-annual puppy days for our students to relax and interact, reminding them of the importance of capturing the moment for other times when they need it.  Finally, we are out and about as often as we can, checking in with students in the hallways and common areas to remind them that a friendly face is around the corner.

We also encourage to faculty to take at least two steps in their approach to students on these issues: First, we ask them to keep class attendance and share with us repeat absences, which is in almost every instance a sign of a student in or nearing crisis.  Second, we ask our faculty to take intentional moments from their class at relevant points of the year to “be real” with their students: let them know that law school is a challenge in different ways for everyone gathered; remind them that they had a life prior to law school and need to continue to nourish the positive aspects that they brought forward; and encourage them to seek assistance before a smaller problem becomes a large one.  As much as deans of students want to be on the front lines of proactive outreach to students, we have to rely on our faculty who see these students on a regular basis.


My Third Trip To A Psychiatric Facility

psychiatristTrip #1.  July 22, 2005. A dark room. Table, desk, chairs. With me is a staff psychiatrist and psychiatric nurse at Green Oaks Hospital.  Nearby are my brothers, Mark and Jeff.  As I sit and listen to the doctor’s questions, I have a vague recollection of my younger brother rousing me from my bed, an angry confrontation, my .45 automatic lying on my nightstand. There was no point in continuing into a black hole. Then shock and confusion on the drive to the treatment center.

The residuals of cocaine, Xanax, and Jack Daniels are still coursing through my veins, but the fog is lifting slightly. Raging anger is settling in its place. Battle lines are being drawn in my mind. They want to take me prisoner. It’s war. I’ll lead the inmate rebellion.

Questions from the psychiatrist pierce my anger like tracer rounds. What drugs have you taken? How are you feeling? Do you want to harm yourself?  He scribbles my fate on the intake sheet. The anger is powerful.  My belief is that if I died, it would teach everyone a lesson and do them a favor.

Trip #2.  April 7, 2007. I am in a daze. An hour before, I had been awakened by my girlfriend (now wife).  She had been out of town visiting family for Easter weekend. I had no idea what day or time it was. Not realizing the weekend was over. Two days had passed.  I had blacked out.  There was cocaine and empty alcohol bottles in the bedroom. My black-market Ambien bottle half empty. No idea how many I had taken.

The familiar ride to the Green.  The familiar haze.  In the parking lot of the hospital, I realized that if I did not get honest starting at that moment, there would be no hope for our future or my future. Right there in that parking lot, through all the drugs, the tears, and anger on her part.  It was time for the self-styled emperor to put away his fancy new duds.  There was no control. There was no life. There was no future. I was naked in the mirror. I finally saw Brian. What I saw made me sick to my stomach. I had failed at life. I had now, in my mind, failed every single person who had ever loved me.  If I did not get honest starting at that moment, there would be no hope for a future with the people I love and who loved me. Families love.  Families care. Families can also distance themselves when no effort is made to at least take one small step towards recovery.

Trip #3. October 15, 2015.  Back in the Green Oaks parking lot.  This time, I am alone.  A rush of feelings and memories as I pull into the parking lot.  My brothers are in fear. My girlfriend in tears.  The intake desk.  The familiar room where I sat with the attending psychiatrist.


(Guest Post) How the Law Leads Those Suffering from Drug Dependency to Recovery – Even if you’ve Never Worn Handcuffs.

Those suffering from an SUD (substance use disorder) and the law don’t mix. Or do they? If you’re a person living with a substance use disorder you’ve had a run in with the law in one form or another. Maybe you were lucky and never got arrested as a result of your SUD. Maybe you found yourself behind bars at some point as a consequence of your SUD. In either case, the law was working for your recovery. The law affects every person who suffers from a SUD in one way or the other in three ways. They do this by enforcing moral standards of society, by deterring drug use, or by public education and rehabilitation efforts. The purpose of this article is to bring awareness to how the law has brought many to recovery in one way or the other.

The law decides what taboo is.

The law is not your friend while you are using. This is true for anyone who’s struggled with a SUD. They (the lawmakers) outright ban the substances you’re dependent upon. Some completely legal drugs are habit-forming too. In this case they control the amount you can receive or ingest. You’re trying to survive, I get it. But all you do is obsess over getting that next fix. The last thing on your mind is whether your behavior is appropriate or not.

Substances like meth, heroin, and cocaine are illegal, but also completely obtainable. You can get them about anywhere. Why then, are they illegal? Substances are illegal because the government functions as a buffer between “we the people” and the safety of its citizens. They also function as a moral guide that determines taboo behavior such as drug use. Maybe you’re a person from a family with little to no ground rules on moral behavior. This is when the law steps in and sets that boundary of moral behavior for you. At some point when the law sets that boundary, it might make you ponder your lifestyle and consider recovery. Recovery might occur when you realize that the monster you are up against is never going to change. Your lifestyle of using will always be immoral.

Consequences and Deterrents

The government determines which drugs are dangerous, and they create laws to impose on those who violate them. The War on Drugs is nothing new; it is a part of American History. Opium was at one point used, as alcohol is today. Once a substance becomes taboo or considered dangerous, they attempted to deter drug use through the creation of laws.

Whether the law deters drug use or not is a debatable topic for another article. Consider though, that the intent is to deter individuals from doing drugs by imposing consequences. When I was using I knew the consequences of dealing were far worse than the consequences of using. This deterred me from dealing. The controlled environment of a jail cell is those suffering from a SUD’s worst nightmare. For some, one run-in with the judicial system is enough to lead them to recovery. For some, it takes many run-ins with the law, but they consider recovery because they can’t beat the system.

The law tries to fix you.

Who remembers sitting through D.A.R.E assemblies in school? D.A.R.E. was a result of a spike in drug use in L.A. in the 80’s. The law intervened and started to program with the vision to decrease drug use amongst kids and it educates kids as a prevention tool. I sat through the D.A.R.E. program in school like any other kid. It taught me that drug use was bad. I still decided to use drugs. But, there are success stories from kids who quit experimenting with drugs and alcohol from educational programs such as this. Programs like these begin in elementary and follow kids through high school. If forced education and morals don’t work, how about forced treatment then?

Most, if not all, people who receive a DUI have to go to drunk driving school to get their license back. The government aims at educating you on SUD’s. Also, they may mandate substance use counseling which is often where recovery begins. Some people charged with a drug offense have an opportunity to avoid stiff sentencing if they opt for SUD treatment. The seed of recovery is then planted, sometimes forcibly.

A lot of people living with SUD would have never considered recovery if it weren’t for the law. Regardless if you’ve ever worn handcuffs or not, the law still has a presence in those struggling with SUD’s life, and attempts to bring them to recovery. Even if you think you’ve never had a “run-in” with the law, you have in one form or another. Sometimes the moral consequences are enough to lead people to recovery. The education outreach is enough to bring someone to recovery. The laws may act as a deterrent from drugs, or may force someone into recovery someday.

It is said that the arm of the law is long. It reaches even those who don’t want to be reached. It plants seeds of recovery into all its citizens. It plants those into recovery those who sometimes don’t want to be planted. The growth however, is optional. Russell Brand has said “the mentality and behavior of drug addicts and alcoholics is wholly irrational until you understand that they are completely powerless over their addiction, and unless they have structured help, they have no hope.” Choose recovery. It’s the best kind of conformity there is.

Author Bio: Hey I’m Rachel. I write what my heart tells me to in an effort to carry out the 12th step…serving others. I have a BA in Sociology and am working my MA in Human Services Counseling specializing in Addiction and Recovery. I hope to be a LCDC sometime in the next year. My biggest success though, is sobriety from drugs and alcohol, and recovery for depression and anxiety. I own 25 acres recreational land of Texas, which includes a stocked pond, a creek, trees, and trails for exploring. If I’m not working or running the kids to soccer or swim, you can find me there.

*This is a guest post and does not necessarily reflect the the views of Brian Cuban.

 

 

 

 

 

 


It’s Okay To Say ‘I Don’t Drink’

Brian Cuban

Brian Cuban

I have recurring dreams. Scenes from law school, struggles with addiction, are all in re-run. These dreams are vivid and colorful, like full-length movies played out in my subconscious.

One particular dream begins as I arrive at a social event. Maybe a law school happy hour or a state bar convention. I’ve been drunk at both. I walk to the bar and order a Diet Coke. The bartender tells me they don’t serve non-alcoholic drinks. Instead he offers me a shot of Jack Daniels. One of my favorite drinks pre-sobriety. Generally, with a cocaine chaser.

Read The Rest At Above The Law

The Addicted Lawyer: It’s Okay To Say ‘I Don’t Drink’


My Moot Court Partner Was Jose Cuervo

One of my favorite movie lines is from a 1994 dark comedy entitled Swimming With Sharks. With “sharks” in the title, you might think it’s about lawyers, but it’s actually about the cutthroat world of Hollywood producers. In one particular scene, the character Buddy Ackerman, a top movie executive played by Kevin Spacey, is on the phone berating a subordinate over differences in opinion concerning a movie production. He closes with, “Say this one time with me: ‘Would you like that in a pump or a loafer?’. . . Good. Now memorize it, because starting tomorrow, the only job that you’re going to be able to get is selling SHOES!”

Read The Rest On My New Weekly Column At ” Above The Law”.

The Addicted Lawyer: My Moot Court Partner Was Jose Cuervo

 


THE DAYS OF DISCO AND MY GOLD, BELL-BOTTOMED PANTS

DiscoI am pleased to present a short excerpt from ”The Addicted Lawyer”. The usual disclaimers. These excerpts are solely for content preview. These excerpts are not professionally edited. That occurs when I pay someone later. They also may not appear in this form in the published book. While your waiting for this book, feel free to read my previous book, Shattered Image. You can also stay up to date by following “The Addicted Lawyer” Facebook Page.

Spring 1975.  Alone in my bedroom watching Star Trek. Thinking about the upcoming school dance, and idolizing Captain Kirk, the handsome, swashbuckling captain of the Starship Enterprise. The looks. The confidence. The women.  If I can only be him. I’ll bet he was the prom king in high school.  I hate school dances. They remind me of what I will never be and the things I will never see.  I will never be invited to the prom. I will never be brave enough to ask a girl to the prom.  I will never see a Brian that is attractive and confident enough to even go on a date despite numerous crushes. Despite camping out with my bicycle in front of her house waiting for her to notice me. Endlessly riding back and forth hoping she will look out the window and see me. I will never command the Starship Enterprise.

I play out fantasies in my head of life with each crush, envisioning an alternate reality of love and acceptance.  I see it every day and want it so badly. The soft hand touch of the first love. The excitement of the prom planning and talk of booze, hotels, and losing virginity. I am lost in the fantasy of acceptance and being someone I am not

I am jarred out of my fantasy world by a knock at the door. My brother Mark is standing there holding pair of pants. Shiny, gold and bell-bottom.  A creation of the new disco craze sweeping the country. Mark is all about the disco.  I would hear him playing the hit song “The Hustle” on the record player in our living room. He is handsome. He is confident. Jet black hair from our mother’s lineage. I have the red hair and freckles from our father’s.  Mark has the confidence, the charisma, and charm from my father.  I am my mother’s child.

“Hey Bri! Check out these babies! What do you think?”  He is holding in his hand, a pair of shiny, satin, gold bell-bottomed pants.

“You’re actually going to wear those?”

“I have been wearing them. Everyone at the disco loves them.  I just bought a new pair. Do you want these?”

Suddenly, I did not care what they looked like. It was an offering from my brother, an offering of love., a piece of him that might rub off on me and transform me into a disco dancing Captain Kirk.   I am off my bed in seconds, reaching for the pants.  He smiles and says, “Have fun, disco boy!”

I immediately shut my door, strip to my underwear, and slide each leg carefully slid into the pants so not to wrinkle them. I stand up. My heart sinks. I can barely get the pants over my ass and up to my waist. I am fat. Mark is not fat.  I start to cry.  I keep pulling. Inhale! Stretch! I get them fastened. Exhale. Then waistline stretches. I’m in. I can only take half-breaths. I don’t give a shit. I am wearing these pants! They are a symbol of Mark’s love. They are my ticket to the prom. I will learn The Hustle.