Winter 2004. Las Vegas. Miami. Los Angeles. All places that hide my secrets. Drugs delivered to my hotel room in Vegas. Coke deals done with quick hand-to-hand exchanges under the cover of darkness just feet from the calming waves of the ocean in South Beach. I often require a high-end backdrop for the high-end product I was purchasing—it makes me feel like the false image I tried so hard to project. Of course, the dealers I meet don’t care about the ambiance. They just want to make a sale and not be seen.
Today, however, it’s a bitterly cold day in Chicago, hundreds of miles from any sun or ocean. Not a nice hotel. No drug deals along the scenic shores of Lake Michigan. This evening I’m cruising the crack dens and dilapidated drug houses of the Chicago slums. I’m terrified, but I’m not alone. My friend Mike, a cocaine addict like me, knows where the best cocaine is. My trips to Chicago to visit him always involve tense visits to seedy parts of town to score from his dealer. Hotel rooms and all night cocaine binges are a regular staple. The cocaine money eventually runs out. The weekend ends. I always head back to Dallas and my addict life. He stays in Chicago in his. Those with addiction never really think about the lifestyles of others with the same problems. The impulse isn’t to think about the ways their families might be torn apart or the grief, anger, and despair that might be a prison in the same way coke addiction might be. The quest for white powder to drive the masking of pain, guilt, childhood, and loss.
I have my secrets. Mike has his. My drive is for the acceptance of a thirteen-year-old bullied little boy. To change a horrifying reflection that I saw in the mirror. The drive for the elusive feeling of being loved. Mike’s struggles are touched by loss. Profound loss. The loss of a son, his only son at the time. A tragic July 4th weekend years before. The pain. The guilt. The blame. He would never recover. His marriage would never recover. Addiction does not distinguish between the trivial and the tragic. Neither do secrets.
I wait in fear while Mike goes into a housing project apartment to score for our upcoming binge. My fear is not that he’ll be harmed, but that if something goes wrong, I won’t be getting high. But he emerges, prize tucked away and a smile on his face. Now there’s a true friend. Thoughts of the grief he carries are out of mind. Thoughts of my own depression, my own wrecked relationships also seem miles away. Who needs family, when you’ve got friends like this?
Another tragedy was around the corner for Mike, and it hadn’t been revealed to either him or me. He was dying. Colon Cancer. I’d see him only one more time before his death. I never had the chance to speak to him outside the prison of addiction and despair. He died before he was able to find recovery.
I was luckier. I saw plenty of wreckage in my life as a consequence of addiction. Another failed marriage. A career that sputtered to a near stop. But eventually, I found a way out and was lucky to find that path before I too died.
Looking back, it’s hard to say there was an exact date when the seeds of positive change were planted. And those positive changes for me were often a razor’s edge away from the kind of tragedy Mike experienced.
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 on 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.