I am about to celebrate my one-year wedding anniversary. On October 20, 2016, after over 10 years dating Amanda as I repaired myself in recovery — and in doing so, repaired the broken trust so common in relationships strained by addiction — we got married in Florence, Italy. I married the woman who has witnessed me at my best and worst on many levels including my hitting “rock bottom” on April 8, 2007, after decades of drug and alcohol issues, resulting in various levels of consequences, including multiple failures of the bar exam, jail, two trips to a psychiatric facility, three failed marriages, and the implosion of my legal career.
Prior to moving into long-term recovery, I would have never thought a life free of addiction and being in a healthy, stable relationship, let alone a happy marriage, would ever be realities for me. Reflecting back on that weekend, it seems like a foggy nightmare, but it was all too real, as is addiction.
April 2007. I am lying in bed. The last I remember is walking into a nightclub two days before. It now feels like the middle of the day. Sunlight is in my eyes. I sense a presence in the room. Startled, I sit up. Amanda is by the bed looking down at me, confused, worried, angry.
This is her home now, too. She moved in with me two weeks earlier. I thought that having her in close proximity would help me stop my drug use. As a lawyer, that seemed perfectly logical to me. Like I was writing a brief or arguing a motion in court. We are a profession of thinkers. In reality, I was a skilled manipulator. I was counting on Amanda’s presence to fix me. But she’s not supposed to be fixing me today. Today, she’s supposed to be visiting family in Houston for Easter.
I glance at my clock and see it’s Sunday afternoon. Then my eyes focus on the cocaine laid out on the dresser table. The black market Ambien and Xanax, a Tequila bottle, and evidence of the ultimate betrayal of trust, infidelity. My first thought is how I might “think” myself out of the situation. I’m a lawyer. I can come up with something that she’ll believe.” Amanda is also a lawyer. Trying to buy some time to clear my head, I ask Amanda to drive me to a local psychiatric hospital that I had been to in 2005 after becoming suicidal. She knew nothing of my prior mental health issues.
In the car, I’m silent. She’s crying and angry. The familiar drive. The familiar parking lot. The familiar walk through the double doors to intake. I can’t look at Amanda, and instead I look down at the floor in shame and fear as I give my name to the intake nurse. I need air. I walk back into the parking lot. Fixating on the black concrete. Thinking.
I accept that Amanda will leave me. I’d leave if I were her. There’s no reason for her to stay. I’ve betrayed her trust on every level. I have nowhere to go now but the truth. I’m beaten. I’ve let down everyone. More lies. Another relapse. I think of my father. I think of my two brothers. In the few moments of what seems like an eternity, I think of a little boy and his brothers in his father’s arms. Crawling over him on the floor as we tried to pin him down pretending we were wrestlers. Him laughing. The love. The bond. I know in that parking lot, I’m on the verge of so much loss. I’ll lose my girlfriend, my family, myself.
The thought of disappointing and losing my family was more than I could bear. Once my family was gone, I’d have nothing. I was afraid. Fear had been holding me back from seeking help, but now fear was my motivator. It was time for an honest step forward. I didn’t know what that step would be, or who I would have to help me. At the moment, Amanda was by my side, and that was something to be grateful for. And there was something else, too. In the midst of that fear, shame, and humiliation, I for the first time felt something that had eluded me for decades. I felt hope.
Amanda stayed in a hotel that night. The next day, she would begin her move into an apartment and possibly out of my life. I helped Amanda move out. I could have hidden my head and refused to help as she left, allowing the path of least resistance to occur as I had done so many times before, but accountability had to begin. The accountability of looking her in the eye and facing my guilt and shame as well has her anger and pain without excuse. I carried each piece of furniture and box to her new place wondering if it would be the last time I saw her. I, however, also instinctively knew that regardless of whether Amanda decided to stay, each step forward I took in recovery had to be for me, not to convince her or anyone else of my desire for recovery and redemption.
Since that day, there were two recoveries happening. Her recovery of her trust in me. My addiction recovery. It took time. It took work. Rebuilding trust is hard. Recovery is hard. It could not happen for each other. It had to happen for each of us. It was worth every moment. We exchanged vows and rings. Beginning a life that I never envisioned possible on that horrible day in April 2007.
Reflecting back on the last year in marriage, like in any relationship there are ups and downs, but they are moments that are dealt with on their own terms, without the need to change who I am to cope through alcohol and drugs. That is life. That is recovery. That is marriage. Not every relationship will survive such trauma and heartache, but it can happen. I am glad mine did. It would not have happened without recovery.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.