Shattered Image

Pills, Booze And A .45 In my Mouth

BrianCubanBrian Cuban is a an author whose  best-selling book “Shattered Image: My Triumph Over Body Dysmorphic Disorder” chronicles his first-hand experiences living with, and recovering from childhood bullying, eating disorders and Body Dysmorphia Disorder (BDD) and drug addiction.  Brian speaks regularly to about his recovery and breaking the male eating disorder stigma.  You can purchase Shattered Image here   If you would like Brian to speak to your university, group or organization please email

July 22, 2005. A dark room. Table, desk, chairs. With me is a staff psychiatrist of the Green Oaks Psychiatric Facility. I have heard of Green Oaks—it isn’t far from my home in Dallas. Now, in the room with the psychiatrist, scenes of Jack Nicolson and One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest go through my muddled mind. I am in the middle of a crisis and I’m thinking about movies. Nearby are my brothers. 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. 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 shrink pierce my anger like tracer rounds. What drugs have you taken? How are you feeling? Are you nuts! I’m angry! Do I want to hurt myself? Yes! Maybe! Not sure. Not sure of anything. The anger is too powerful. I believe if I died it would teach everyone a lesson. My family. The kids who ripped my pants off. My mother. Myself, for being unable to fix the distorted reflection I see in the mirror each day. I can’t tell him that! What answer will get me out of here? 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. “If I wanted to hurt myself there would have been bullets in the gun.” I don’t mention the fact that the person I had asked for bullets had ratted me out to my brothers. And I don’t mention that I had been “practicing” sticking the barrel of the gun in my mouth and dry-firing the gun. I drift away, thinking about that night with the gun, the barrel in my mouth, my confused beagle watching from the doorway.

Ripped back to reality. Voices in the room. The doctor is talking to me again. When was the last time I used cocaine? I am pretty sure it has been recently, since it was all over the room when my brother showed up. I had become the consummate liar in hiding the obvious cocaine habit from my family. It’s that damn persistent cold that used to appear mysteriously every weekend. Now it’s a daily occurrence. No one is buying it in this room.

Yelling. Accusations. All coming from me. I am angry at my brothers. I hate you! I want your attention! Now I have it! I am an eleven-year-old child, lashing out at my mother who is a thousand miles away. They have taken away my control. What control? I am out of control. Anyone in my line of sight is fair game. I’m blaming my brothers for everything that has gone wrong in my life. Why are they trying to hold me back? When I am on drugs, I am their equal. I can’t even look at them. If I would only look them in the eye, I would see nothing but love and concern. I look at the table. I look at my shoes. I find that fixed point on the floor that provides me comfort. I wish that shrink would stop asking me questions! The shrink is my enemy. My brothers, They have betrayed me. They are calm. Trying to make sure I am still above ground tomorrow.

I notice the room is not really dark. Sunlight pours through the windows, but I am in the darkest of places. I remember seeking a release of everything in me. Need those bullets! Too coked up and Xanaxed down to go out and buy some. Who do I know that can help?

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. 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, agitated at him, then my brothers. Quit asking the same questions! I know your game! Quit treating me like an idiot!

So alone. More and more I start to feel like the shy, introverted boy I once was. I’m no longer the sophisticated, in-shape, cover model I created in my imagination—the myth that drugs and alcohol and eating disorders and steroids and plastic surgery helped to make. The desperate delusions of a mind distorted.

Up until now, each day has been a battle to see someone different when I looked in the mirror. But in this room there is no reflection. I’m unshaven. Unkempt. I reek of booze and days of neglected hygiene. I’m as raw and vulnerable as I could possibly be. I’m exposed. And I can no longer escape the stark reality of how I was getting by day by day.

An hour has passed. The room is getting brighter. The love and calm of my brothers soothes me. Quiets me. Softens me. It’s always been there. I wasn’t there. I was thinking only of me. My next high. My next drink. Without the drugs, what am I going to see in the mirror each morning? 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 through my shell. They are not the enemy. There is a pinhole of real light beginning to expand. Should I go to rehab? What about twelve-step? I’m still on the defensive, but I am now listening for a moment at least. Have to grab those moments. They don’t come often.


After the one-hour psych evaluation, I was taken home from Green Oaks, wondering how I had taken myself to the brink of eternity so quickly. In reality, it was not quick. It was a cumulative lifetime descent with just enough good moments to blind me to the reality of the slide. Even in addiction and body dysmorphia there were good moments in my life.

It was decided that a facility out of state and away from the mirrors, coke addicts, and obsolete environment of self-loathing I had created for myself would be the best course of action. But ultimately I would not go.

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PANTSED!-A Shattered Image Excerpt

943226_10151634657043028_1943166013_n This is an excerpt of my book  “Shattered Image”.  Shattered Image is the story of my struggle with, and recovery from, a compulsive behavior clinically known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). That struggle has included recovery from bulimia, anorexia, alcoholism, and addiction to cocaine and steroids. I also suffer from clinical depression. For decades, I engaged in self-destructive behavior with the single goal of correcting a terribly distorted sense of self-image, a self-image rooted in early life experiences.  Release date is August 2013  See what people are saying about Shattered Image!   

When I was thirteen years old, I was “pantsed” by kids I thought were my friends. Or should I say, I was pantsed by kids who I was pretending were my friends in a vain attempt to feel accepted. It was the most humiliating experience of my young life. In reality, it was a physical assault.

While I was walking home from junior high with these classmates, they started making fun of my shiny gold pants my brother Mark had given me, commenting on how tight they were on my fat body. They started pulling at them. One kid yanked them down over my underwear and tore them off me. The rest joined in ripping them into rags that they threw into the street. I was laughed at and taunted about having to walk the mile home on a busy street in my underwear. Many drivers passed and gawked but no one stopped. I gathered up the remaining shreds that were lying on the pavement and tried cover myself up for the walk home—a cross country trek of shame. The message from my “friends” was loud and clear. I was not one of them. The last thing I remember hearing as I stood there in my underwear letting them build some distance from me was, “Hey Cuban, when you get some new pants, get a bra while you’re at it.”

What happened that day was not posted onto YouTube. No Facebook page was created. No one tweeted about it. There was no Facebook. There was no Internet. There was no such thing as cyber-bullying in 1974. It never went beyond the group involved and whomever they told to boast of their deeds. If bullying went “viral” it spread through the lunchroom and classroom. After the incident, kids would come up to me in the lunch line and ask me how I liked walking home in my underwear. I could feel the derisive looks and smirks. How did I handle it? I did not fight back as I had done in summer camp. Instead, I used my tried and true technique of self-deprecating humor and self-degradation. A coping skill I would take with me into adulthood. Ha, they really got me good didn’t they . . . Instead of fighting back or getting angry, it seemed easier to make fun of myself and try to be everyone’s friend, even if they continued to bully me.

I never stood up for myself so nothing happened. I could have fought back. I could have gone to my parents. I could have gone to the school. I did none of those things. Thinking back, the reasons that resonate over forty years later is that I was ashamed. I was ashamed of my body. I agreed with the kids who were humiliating me. I felt I should be humiliated by my inability to control my body. To “fix it.” What I saw in the mirror was a mass of grotesque imperfection, and the bullies had done me the favor of confirming that my thoughts about myself were accurate.

For some kids, the Episode of the Gold Pants might seem like a typical rite of passage, an act of mortification that they might even laugh about as adults. But for me the walk of shame and the public gossip that followed it altered the way I thought about myself for many long years. How is that possible? Why did this one act of bullying have such an outsized impact on my psyche? Bullying is a hot topic in the media now, with new book releases every season about the deleterious effects of bullying culture in the country. We all read reports in the news about children pushed to acts of self-harm by elaborately orchestrated bullying campaigns. The subject has been covered so extensively lately, that there’s even a sort of backlash: a few writers point out that some of what we label “bullying” is an inevitable part of the fabric of childhood and that over-diagnosing the problem is counterproductive.

What some of these conversations miss, however, is that all bullies and their victims are individuals with rich and complex personalities, not just generic social actors. To every experience, we all bring unique innate tendencies along with a network of past experiences. In my case, I already had an innate tendency toward obsessive behavior and shyness, a growing sense of social isolation in a new school environment, and—perhaps as significant as anything—a home life increasingly characterized by discord and verbal abuse from my mom. At school, I badly wanted to fit in, and I lived in constant fear that I’d hear from my peers words that echoed those I’d hear from my mother at home: We don’t accept fat pigs and dumb bunnies into our group.



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Man I Hated Camp-Shattered Image Excerpt

Brian-Cuban-8193-1This is an excerpt of my book  “Shattered Image”.  Shattered Image is the story of my struggle with, and recovery from, a compulsive behavior clinically known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). That struggle has included recovery from bulimia, anorexia, alcoholism, and addiction to cocaine and steroids. I also suffer from clinical depression. For decades, I engaged in self-destructive behavior with the single goal of correcting a terribly distorted sense of self-image, a self-image rooted in early life experiences.  Release date is August 2013  See what people are saying about Shattered Image!   

Summer 1971. I’m at Emma Kaufman Camp near Morgantown, West Virginia. Emma Kaufman is a summer tradition for countless Jewish children from Pittsburgh, and it was a tradition in our family. My brothers went. I went. But that summer of ’71 stands out in my mind, marking some of the earliest memories I have of feelings I’d later associate with embarrassment and shame about how I appeared to others.

It is the night of the Emma Kaufman Camp annual talent show. I walk up to the front of the wooden stage. I sweat a little more with each creaking old wooden board echoing throughout the structure. I am suddenly facing 100 ten and eleven year olds. They are laughing and joking with each other. In my mind, they are laughing and making fun of me. I am terrified. I am nervous and nauseous. Teeth and braces grinding enamel. The musty smell of the wood building and the damp rain falling on the leaves outside intensify the feeling.

The Beatles hit, “Let It Be” is the song. There is no microphone. There is no music. I am standing naked and exposed in front of a hundred other kids. I remind myself that this was my choice. I chose to sing this song, nobody was making me, and I chose to sing because I wanted to take control of my fear. To cast aside uncertainty. To become popular. To be noticed. If I could sing “Let It Be,” my weight would not matter. My shyness would not matter. I hoped this would be no different from the piano recital. I handled those. I could handle this. Take a deep breath. Count to ten. Focus on a fixed point. In recitals it was the piano keys. I focused on the wooden floor in front of me. I was too terrified to look at the kids staring me down, talking and laughing. I opened my mouth.

The only sound that emerged was a guttural groan, such as a wounded animal might make.I started to sweat. Kids were laughing. Now I was sure they were laughing at me. I was humiliated—not much different than the humiliation of shyness and the shame of body that constantly gripped me, but this time the feeling was focused like a magnifying glass in the sunlight bearing down on a blade of grass.

Continuing to focus on the wooden floor, I walked off the stage and moved quickly through the door. I broke into a run back to my cabin. I cried. I knew that the worst was yet to come. My cabin mates would be back soon. Some were just waiting for the next excuse to ridicule me as if they were bored with calling me fat. Our cabin counselor would intervene and tell them to leave me alone, as he had done before. I wanted to go home. I couldn’t

My fellow campers filtered back into the cabin. One made his way straight for me as I lay on my bunk. “Not only are you fat but you sing like shit.” Still crying I jumped up and attacked him. I ran at him as hard as I could and used all of my 200 pounds to knock him back onto the bunk bed. I had stood up for myself. It felt good. He never bothered me again, but I was banned from the Camper vs. Counselor softball game, the one event where I felt I’d be comfortable around my peers.

The talent show was just the beginning of my embarrassments. At Emma Kaufman, I had a camp crush. I remember her smile, dark skin and long, dark flowing  black hair, almost Greek features,  as she stood on the porch of her camp cabin. I remember making any excuse I could to get within feet of her in various camp activities. I tried to befriend others who were her friends to be close to her. No matter how close I got, I was unable to say anything other than mumbling, barely audible  hellos as I looked at the ground. She sometimes smiled and hello back, but that was as far as we’d get. I finally remember her laughing derisively to the unwanted and embarrassing shout from my friend that I had a crush on her.

Man, I hated camp.

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Dreaming Of Past Bullies(Shattered Image Excerpt)


I have recurring dreams. Scenes from law school, struggles with addiction, and failed relationships are in constant re-run.  They are vivid and colorful. Like full length movies played out in my subconscious . They say this is common with recovering addicts. That’s what they say.

This particular dream begins as I arrive at a party. I’m by myself as I walk into a dark, empty room. I am embarrassed and alone. I don’t want to be alone. Even in my dream,I can feel the emptiness in my stomach. The ache of loneliness and isolation. I want to be accepted and popular. I know high school classmates will be showing up, and I want to be included in their fun. I order a diet coke. The bartender tells me they do not serve it. He offers me a Jack Daniels and Diet-Coke, my drink of choice pre-sobriety. I take the drink from him but I can’t raise the glass to my mouth. My arm won’t move.. I go to the bathroom to do a line of coke. I’m can’t snort it. The cocaine is just out of reach of the straw. The white powder vaporizing into the ether of the dream. There is always a barrier keeping me from drawing anything into my blood that will transform me into the Brian I want to see in the mirror every morning. Attractive, slim and confident. The Brian I never see. Sometimes I wake up with the familiar, peculiar smell of cocaine in my nose, the smell of ether and baby laxative. They say that is a sign of recovery. So they say.

I am walking through the room. I see a high school classmate. He said he was my friend. Before he and others assaulted me and tore my pants off.  Exposing my fat, ugly body to the world.  He is sixteen, I am fifty-one. He wants nothing to do with me. He makes fun of my weight. I run to to the bathroom and  look in the mirror.  I am no longer a heavy teenager. I am a grown, mature adult. Why is he making fun of my weight? Doesn’t he see me? The room is filling up. More high school classmates. More bullies of my childhood. They are all teens. How did I get so old? I ask “Can I join your group?” They all laugh and otherwise ignore me. I am right here! You know me! The room gets darker.  I can no longer see them. The familiar feeling, the familiar ache. The loneliness. An empty, gut-wrenching void. Wanting to scream in my dream with only a guttural groan emanating from my sleeping mouth.  Dream shifts. I am standing up against the gym wall at the high school dance, wishing someone would talk to me. They are back. My childhood bullies appear again. . They start pulling at and tearing my clothes, exposing me. I am crying. I am screaming. Why Don’t You Like Me!  They laugh in response. I am awake. The ache is still with me. The nighttime remnants of a once shattered image. It will fade. Hopefully a different re-run tomorrow night.

Dreams fade to morning, and morning brings with it decisions that will have consequences for both the mind and body. The choices I make through the day can leave me feeling calm and happy by sundown, or feeling like I’m still stuck in a nightmare. But this feeling is not a dream. It is the reality of Body Dysmorphic Disorder.

Brian Cuban is a an author whose  best-selling book “Shattered Image: My Triumph Over Body Dysmorphic Disorder” chronicles his first-hand experiences living with, and recovering from childhood bullying, eating disorders and Body Dysmorphia Disorder (BDD) and drug addiction.  Brian speaks regularly about his recovery and breaking the male eating disorder stigma.


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