A Letter To My Thirteen Year Old Self


Here is a short excerpt from my upcoming book, “One Step Forward”

Dear Brian:

I can see you. It’s nineteen seventy-four. You are thirteen years old in your bedroom. You are sitting a table playing with your baseball cards and putting stamps in the stamp book given to you by your brother Mark. So alone. Wanting to be loved. Wanted to be accepted. Wanted to be included in the happy conversations in the Mt Lebanon High School lunchroom. The after school parties. Trips to “Mickey-D’s. The prom. Your friends are going to see the group “Super Tramp” in concert. You are sitting at their table but alone in the conversation. Non-existent. Wanting to exist if only for that moment. They are talking about the new album and the concert coming to the Civic Arena. Please ask me to go! Please include me! I won’t ever ask again. I know the answer. We don’t include shy, fat kids in our group. You will never be one of us. You will never date one of us. You will never go to our prom. You are meant to be alone forever.   I feel that day. Not much different than other days in your mind. Alone in your bedroom. I remember that lunch table. I dream that dream with you.

I want you to know the lessons I have learned that you will have coming in your life. You are not alone. I will always be with you. I will always talk to you. I want to take away your pain and absolve you of your shame of body and self. The self-blame. I want you to know it’s not your fault. You are just a child. You have your whole life in front of you. I want you to know that your mom loves you. You are too young to understand this now and it would not matter if you did. Your mom is hurting too. She went through the same things as you with her mother. She was alone. She wanted to be loved by your nanny. Your nanny who takes you to Kennywood Park. Your nanny who sits alone in the sun for hours while you ride the rides. She waits patiently every weekend for you to take the bus to see her. Some weekend you don’t. She still waits. Her relationship with her daughter is not your fault. It’s ok just to love your nanny the way she loves you, unconditionally. You won’t understand this until you are older. You will feel unimaginable guilt for abandoning your nanny because your mom abandoned her.  Try to release your pain. Let me take on that guilt for you. You are a little boy who deserves to love her. To love yourself. Know that it’s ok to be a shy little boy. You were never taught to stand up to the bullies who made fun of your body. The bullies who assaulted you. Forgive yourself for that. You are a beautiful little boy. Love yourself. Love your nanny. Accept that your mother loves you. I love you. You are enough. You will always be enough.

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A Free Set Of Steak Knives-Restoring Trust In Recovery

10420027_10152885347148028_4223912836897604108_nWhen 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



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We Can All Be The Dancing Man

I recently felt the body-shame of heavy-set gentlemen I had never met, who in my mind wanted nothing more than to be happy, be accepted and have fun. I felt the shame of “Dancing Man” A gentlemen apparently having a good time dancing at an event. When realizing he was being laughed at, he experienced the cruel, non-empathetic scourge of body shaming and ridicule.   Photos of his body-shame went viral and he became known as “The Dancing Man” as the social media community rallied around with empathy, fighting back against anonymous internet trolls who seek to prop themselves up by bringing others down. I felt his shame as if I was standing in that spot on the dance floor staring at the floor as people laughed. I thought back to a unusually warm,spring evening in nineteen-seventy-seven in Mt Lebanon, Pennsylvania.

Decades Before 4-Chan, Reddit and Al Gore invented the internet (that’s a joke), I went to a high school dance. I was a brutally shy sixteen years old at Mt. Lebanon Sr. High School. Fat shamed at home, weight bullied/teased at school and even physically assaulted, having my pants ripped off me because a group of kids thoughts they looked too tight on my body.   It took all the courage I could muster to go to that dance. I had no illusions of dancing however.   The courage and self-confidence to speak to a girl or inject myself into a social situation un-enhanced by drugs, and alcohol would not be part of my life for decades. On that day I was, in my mind, fat, ugly, stupid and unworthy to dance.  Words that had been spoken to me time and time again.

The dance was a scene right out of the movie Sixteen Candles, with me blending into  the gym bleachers with the John Cusacks and Anthony Michael Halls of Mt. Lebanon Senior High. We stood there watching the kids with dates who were holding hands, dancing, laughing, and talking about where they were going to hang out after the dance. I scrutinized every guy with a girl I considered pretty and tried to analyze what it took to be that guy. What could I change?  As I stood there wishing I were one of the kids dancing, one of the prettier girls made eye contact with me. She started walking towards me. I began to sweat. Someone was interested in me! By the time she came face to face with me I was a damp, heart-pounding mess. I remember her raven hair, and the sneer of disdain on her face as she looked me right in the eye and said,

Do you always hold your brother’s hand when you walk with him? You’re pretty weird.

She was referring to a couple days before, when I had walked my little brother Jeff home from school while holding his hand. I love my brothers. My father instilled a sense of loyalty between us when we were very young. Always comfort and protect each other in times of need. I certainly didn’t think holding my brother’s hand was weird. I just wanted him to feel safe.  The dark-haired beauty and her friends giggled and walked away, and left me standing there with my raging self-doubt. I blended back into the bleachers of the gymnasium, and then set out into the night to walk home, back up that same hill I where I had held my brother’s hand. I never attended another high school social function.   This young girl had not said anything exceptionally cruel but in the mind of an insecure teenager, the words were like daggers, dreading the shaming talk behind my back in the lunchroom the next day.

In nineteen-seventy seven, the bullies, insensitive and ignorant had to look you in the eye when they bullied you. No kids carried Polaroid Cameras around with them. Going viral was worrying whether everyone in my homeroom class or the lunchroom knew of my “dancing man” shame. Today we don’t know who is snapping, recording or laughing from across the globe as we are made famous in our shyness or the simple act of growing up.   We laugh at, make fun of, and share the shame of those who we don’t know and feel no empathy for yet we all have the ability to be empathetic. To project ourselves to a person, time and place and at least try imagine what that shame feels like.

As was demonstrated by the incredible outpouring of pubic support, we can all be the dancing man and think about what he is feeling before we open our mouths or post that photo. We can all take a stand against body shaming.  Not everyone is ready to dance like there is no tomorrow or no one is watching. When they finally are, don’t shame them. Embrace their love of life and love of themselves. We can all be that little boy, shamed by the girl and wanting that first kiss. Project that. Feel that. Come back to the present. Then act.  That’s empathy. Use it.

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Brian Cuban Recounts Battle With Eating Disorders And Addiction

(George Washington University) B_GovIKWoAEyhAN“The author and activist tells GW students “empathy” is the best tool to offer friends who are struggling with body image.

A pair of shiny gold disco pants, and the bullies who pulled them down, haunted Brian Cuban for more than 30 years.

His brother Mark, owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, gave them to 13-year-old Brian when they were growing up in Pittsburgh. One day, while walking home from junior high, his classmates taunted Brian Cuban, commenting on how tightly the pants hugged his overweight body. They ripped the pants to shreds and ran away laughing.

Read the rest here.

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