When I speak to college students and at events about my journey through eating disorders, alcoholism and drug addiction which took me to the brink of suicide, I try to throw some humor into the mix. As with most recovery stories, much of mine is the descent into that abyss before the audience gets to hear the climb back into the light. This can takes its toll on an audience. In any story of recovery, we want to see a happy ending. I remind my audience that the fact that I am standing up there speaking to them is evidence of that recovery and happier times. I want to draw them into my story but it is also important to bring them into the recovery and allow them to share my both my pain and then my joy of being on that stage, at that podium or walking through the audience taking questions while sharing my personal joy of experience strength and hope.
One area I throw some humor out is talking about my past relationships. Three failed marriages. All of them failing because I was not in recovery of any type. I put up a wall of shame to protect my eating disorders and addictions. I was not about to let anyone in, even my wife. No marriage or relationship can survive like that. The humor I use is to take a line from the great movie, Glengarry Glen Ross. A five-minute segment in which the character played by Alec Baldwin berates three down and out salesmen, telling them first place in a sales contest is a Cadillac Eldorado, second place is a “free set of steak knives”. Third place is they are fired. Making the point that there are no points for second place. While not translating well into writing, it generally gets a good chuckle from the audience.
Finding humor in where I have been in a must for me in my recovery. If I can not learn to laugh at myself, not in a deprecating way, but in an acknowledgement of the variability of life, that is not true recovery because I would be reliving my worst moments in pain rather than in calm reflection and learning. Continuous reflection in a self-flogging” mode can lead me to wonder how things could have been different. If I had not been bullied. If I had not had a terrible relationship with my mom. If I had not done that first line of cocaine or taken that first drink. Revisionist recovery is a false recovery built on a house of cards. There is no “Hot Tub Time Machine” that will allow me to change the past. Not that I would want to change it. Every time I get up on that stage, I know that I have the power to reach one person. To change one life. I would not trade any of the past for that one moment. For the one email. For that one Facebook message. For that one tweet telling me I changed someone’s life for the better in addition to my life, recovering a little bit more every time I tell my story.
That isn’t enough however. I live and interact every day with more than the past. I have to empower the recovery of the people I live with in the present. The people I hurt and whose trust I destroyed with the lies, the deceit, the infidelity. I can’t change that April morning in 2007 when it all came to a head and changed the direction of my life for the better but in that moment destroyed the trust of those I loved the most. It took me many years to restore that trust. I still work at it every day by working on myself and dealing with who I knew I was inside that wall I put up. Working on that bullied little boy who hated his reflection in the mirror. Everything would flow from a better me.
Trust once broken can’t be repaired with “I love you” “never again” and gifts. Life isn’t “The Sopranos” . It is only repaired through day today, minute-to-minute action, constructive reflection, active recovery and time even if the steps are so tiny the only those closest to me could see. That is still recovery. Through this rebuilding of trust, I kept my family. I kept the person whose trust I intimately violated. I worked the days. I worked the minutes. Eight years later we are now engaged. I will have to find another joke. There are no more steak knives. I will continue the recovery process to ensure that there never are.
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 clinical depression, twenty-seven years of eating disorders and Body Dysmorphia Disorder (BDD),drug and alcohol addiction. Brian speaks regularly about his recovery and empowering students and adults to turn their worst moments into their greatest achievement