October 20, 2016. Florence, Italy. Waiting for her to walk through the door. My mind drifts back to a time almost a decade earlier. A time of shame and fear. A time when I thought I would never see her again. I reflect on the past struggles and joys that brought me to this moment. I think about April 8, 2007. The worst and best day of my life.
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. That seemed perfectly logical to me. Like I was writing a brief or arguing a motion in court. 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.
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 on the floor. I’m confused, afraid, and my first thought is how I might manipulate myself out of the situation. I’m a lawyer. I can come up with something that she’ll believe. Amanda is also a lawyer.
“Amanda… That’s nothing. There was no one here. I was using the rubber as a water balloon.” (Yes, I really said that. Yes, I really believed she would buy it.)
My primary thought is that I have to think and act quickly to get out of this. I have to be a lawyer.
“Amanda, I think I need to go to Green Oaks. I’ve been there before.”
“What? What’s Green Oaks?”
“A psychiatric facility.”
“You’ve been to a psychiatric facility? How come you’ve never told me that before?”
“Yes. I’ll explain. But now, I need to go.”
Somehow, she agrees to take me. 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’m still in denial, insisting there was no other woman in my bedroom. I know there had been. I can’t remember her face, name, or how she got there, but the rubber didn’t lie. There were no water balloons. After this, there was nobody left to believe me. No one left that believed in pretend Brian.
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. My father’s love.
The thoughts of disappointing my father 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.
I also instinctively knew that regardless of whether Amanda decided to stay or what my family did, each step forward I took had to be for me, not to convince them of anything. I kept this in mind as I admitted to my brothers I had relapsed. As I helped Amanda move out the next day, wondering if I’d ever see her again. I could have hidden my head as she left and refused to help, allowing the path of least resistance to occur, but accountability had to begin. The accountability of looking her in the eye and facing my guilt and shame and betrayal as I carried each piece of furniture and box to her new place wondering if I’d ever see her again.
As I stood in that chapel in Florence, Italy, thinking about that terrible moment, she walked through the door. A beautiful bride. She had stayed. When asked about why at an event I had spoken at that she attended, she said her faith, her family, and her belief in who I really was were her primary reasons for sticking by me during my relapse and recovery.
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 April 8, 2007.
Brian Cuban (@bcuban) is The Addicted Lawyer. 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 email@example.com.