I break my initial and on-going recovery from drugs, alcohol and eating disorders into two basic parts. Dealing with where I am and dealing with how I got there.
The dealing with the present was of course initially getting sober and now focuses on staying sober. That began with twelve-step. There was also psychiatric treatment and numerous types of therapy, including cognitive behavioral (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). I continue to see a psychiatrist to this day. There also was (and still is) medication to deal with clinical depression and body dysmorphic disorder.
The hardest part of my recovery however was facing the past, specifically my childhood. Dealing with how I got to the point of standing in the parking lot of a Dallas psychiatric hospital for my second time. The suicidal thoughts, jail for DWI, multiple failed marriages and so on. That meant tearing back the layers of my life to a brutally shy, introverted little boy who was severely bullied in school over his weight and had a difficult, verbally abusive relationship with his mother. A child who felt unloved and alone. Turning to alcohol and marijuana as a teen to mask those feelings and feel accepted.
With the help of my psychiatrist, I realized that as long as I avoided turning back that clock, I would always be vulnerable to relapse when those feelings came to the surface. The key word being “vulnerable.” I had to allow myself to be vulnerable in opening up the past to keep from being vulnerable in my recovery. Not an easy task in a profession wrapped around hiding weakness and projecting invulnerability.
When I speak to lawyers about recovery they rarely want to talk about the past but often loosen up when I start sharing my childhood. It’s not easy. Who wants to revisit a childhood that may involve and alcoholic parent(s) verbal or physical abuse, sexual abuse, bullying etc. It’s easier to say, “I’ve dealt with that” and deflect to the present.
“I just need to stop drinking. Let’s focus on that. What do I do today?”
“Today” is of course important because without sobriety, it is difficult to turn back that clock with clarity. In a profession that is wrapped around holding in such feelings however, the past is often the most difficult barrier to breach. No one wants to “talk to their inner child”. Such a cliché, but for me it has great value. I write letters to my younger self. These letters allow me to open up to those feelings in a safe setting. Maybe you have been reluctant to face the long suppressed pain that may unconsciously be driving destructive behaviors. I will get you started by sharing a letter I have written to a teenage Brian. I hope it helps.
I can see you. It’s nineteen seventy-four. You are thirteen years old in your bedroom. You are sitting at 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.
You’ve now met thirteen-year-old Brian Cuban. You’ve met my inner child. Write yourself a letter. You may be surprised at what that child has to say.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.