Brian Cuban Interview: ‘Today is as Good as It’s Ever Going to Get’
Attorney Brian Cuban doesn’t sugarcoat it. He begins his new book recounting how he traded his brother’s Dallas Mavericks NBA Championship game tickets to his cocaine dealer for $1000 worth of cocaine – twice.
And it only gets more real from there.
Recently, Cuban, author of The Addicted Lawyer, sat down with attorney Benson Varghese, Managing Partner of the Fort Worth law firm of Varghese Summersett, to discuss his book, his journey to recovery, and the issues facing so many attorneys today. He encourages lawyers and law students who are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction, eating disorders, or mental health issues not to wait to hit “rock bottom” before seeking help.
“Today is as good as it’s ever going to get,” Cuban says.
Videography: RH Media.
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Transcript: Interview with Brian Cuban
|Benson Varghese:||Brian, thank you for being here this morning. |
|Brian Cuban:||Thanks for having me. |
|Benson Varghese:||Absolutely. I’m excited you’re here, and just got done reading your book The Addicted Lawyer. |
|Brian Cuban:||Yeah. |
|Benson Varghese:||You start the book off with a story about tickets that you got to a particular game, and what ended up happening with those tickets? |
|Brian Cuban:||Well, it was back in 2006 when the Dallas Mavericks went to the NBA Championship for the very first time, and as you might imagine I was gonna have some pretty good seats for those games. I also had the opportunity to get some free tickets for friends, because of my privilege as Mark’s brother, and so I got those tickets. I didn’t give them to my friends. And, maybe you think I sold them on eBay for some astronomical amount. I didn’t do that either, because that would be disrespectful to my brother, the team, and the city. I took those two tickets and traded them to my cocaine dealer for $1,000 in cocaine. To show you how the mind of addiction works, selling them on eBay was disrespectful in my mind, but trading them to my drug dealer for scalper’s prices in cocaine was perfectly acceptable. |
|Benson Varghese:||Did you end up using the coke? |
|Brian Cuban:||I ended up doing a little bit of the coke. And, it had long stopped giving me the feeling that I had obtained when I first did it in the bathroom of the Crescent Hotel in Dallas, Texas, where for like 20 seconds I looked in the mirror and I felt wonderful, that’s a great looking guy in the mirror, he’s the most popular guy in town. And I had so many underlying mental health issues, and so many issues of self-loathing and not feeling good about myself, and self-image, that I immediately became psychologically addicted to cocaine, to that feeling in that bathroom. Not physically dependent, those are two different things. That would come later. So I had to have that feeling again and again and again. |
|And what happened was, I didn’t get that feeling, the shame came in, the paranoia, I started thinking I heard police outside. I mean, I had a lot of cocaine on my desk. I’m a lawyer, I know these things, I could go to jail for a while. And so, I flushed it down the toilet. Probably about $900 in cocaine at that point. But the interesting thing about that, is the next morning I wake up, and it so often happens when we have negative experiences and addiction, and those experiences get into our rear view mirror. I was like, “What kind of idiot am I? I just flushed all this cocaine down the toilet. There’s another game tonight.” |
|Benson Varghese:||What’d you do? |
|Brian Cuban:||Another call to my drug dealer, another $1,000 in cocaine, two more tickets, once again did some, same feeling, and I’m thinking, “Well, maybe I need to change dealers.” Not that maybe I have a problem, maybe I need to change dealers, maybe I need to change the liquor I’m drinking with it, get a better grade of coke, change from this to Jack Daniels. That’s how the mind works in addiction. It wasn’t about self-awareness. And I flushed it down the toilet again. And that’s what we call the “insanity of addiction”, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. But addiction isn’t “insane”, addiction is what many people go through. We may have many different stories, I doubt anyone else has traded Mav tickets for cocaine, but we all do things that if we thought about it in a sober, mentally healthy state, we’d be like, “Man, that just isn’t the way to go.” |
|And I look back on it all these years later and I laugh about it. But it was a story I actually didn’t tell until two years ago, because I did understand that it could be an embarrassment to my family, and I wanted to wait until enough time has passed to be able to use that story as a learning tool. Obviously, since Mark’s on the cover of my book he knows about that story. And it’s kind of funny, when I finally told that story two years ago, the Dallas [inaudible 00:04:00] News put it on the front page of their sports section like it was some big news. I’m like, “This happened eight years ago.” It’s like, okay, not really front page news. |
|Benson Varghese:||That story that you open with, really captures the essence of this book. It is a soul bearing, tell all. You don’t hold back. |
|Brian Cuban:||You can’t hold back, because for me the power of recovery is in story telling. I’m not a counselor, I have a JD after my name, not a PhD. I believe that sharing and connections are one of the most powerful parts of allowing people to know that recovery is possible. And in order to share, in order for people to connect, you have to be authentic. I can’t be authentic and hold back. |
|Benson Varghese:||Right. What made you write the book? |
|Brian Cuban:||As I was going through addiction, before recovery, I certainly partied, and I certainly did drugs with a lot of lawyers. I drank with a lot of lawyers, I knew a lot of lawyers who were alcoholics, I knew a lot of law students who had drinking issues. Not so much the drugs at Pit Law, because I really didn’t understand those things even existed then, but a lot of law students had drinking issues. And I know lawyers who have died, I know lawyers who were in jail. And as I went through these things, I began to wonder in recovery whether this was an anecdotal issue, where okay I’m just hanging out with these people and it seems like everyone in the legal profession is doing it, or if there was really a problem. |
|So I wanted to explore it a little more, and I then began to really start digging into my stories. In law school, my memories, trying to remember things that I had pushed aside years ago, so that I could try to connect with present day in the legal profession and in law school. And I thought that that might be a help to other law students and other lawyers. Ironically, as I was getting ready to finish up this book, the ABA Betty Hazelden Ford study came out, showing that up to one in three lawyers is a problem drinker. I didn’t plan that, I didn’t even know the study was there. So it just happened to be good timing. |
|Benson Varghese:||Talking about not wanting to be a lawyer, one of my favorite examples that you use in the book is from one of my favorite movies, where you talk about the character of Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. |
|Brian Cuban:||That’s right. |
|Benson Varghese:||And what really touched me is the masks that we wear. And, to some extent, being a lawyer was a mask for you. |
|Brian Cuban:||Absolutely. Addiction is about masks. Hiding your addiction is about wearing masks. And you become very good at wearing these masks, for a period we need to, to let the other world see this respectable lawyer, this respectable Brian. Whether it’s dating a girl who doesn’t know about the issues, whether it’s applying for a job, you don’t want them to know the issues, we wear masks. And I wore those masks, and I also wore the mask of trying to not allow myself to see who Brian really was. It’s kind of funny, when I first thought about Patrick Bateman I’m like, “Oh, people are gonna think this is the weirdest example ever.” But it is. You know? Even though it was in the context of a psychopath and I don’t compare that to addiction, substance use, problem drinking, is about wearing masks in order to survive day to day. |
|Benson Varghese:||You talk about more than just addiction. You talk about depression, you talk about body image issues, things that are common among attorneys and that we all try to mask. How do we as friends, as peers, realize that someone may be in need of help? And you talk about looking for subtleties, can you kind of build on that? |
|Brian Cuban:||Sure. There’s no magic bullet, magic pill, to say you observe behavior, and say someone has a problem, unless of course they show up drunk or show up high, which I certainly did on occasion to court, to hearings, to work, but there are signs. I mean, an associate or a partner is not showing up for work without reason, not opening mail, voicemail filled, coming to work disheveled, complaints from clients, what I call binge working, which in itself isn’t necessarily an issue, a lot of people like to work hard all at once. |
|But binge working and addiction, what I’ve seen from other lawyers, and what I’ve experienced myself, is when all week you’re drinking, you’re hungover, you’re not putting in the work for your client, “Okay, I’ve gotta pull it together for one day, get all these hearings done in one day, work all these files in one day, and all the sudden you’re working all these clients in one day.” Because you haven’t done it for the rest of the week because of your drinking, or drug issues, or other mental health issues, depression issues, you can’t get out of bed or whatever. How can you possibly give the effort and the competence you need to in each file when you are already working at a lower level, and all the sudden you have to do it all at once. And so, if you take all of those in the context of, maybe a gut, maybe the overall picture, then maybe you can say, “Okay, maybe there’s an issue here.” |
|Then the issue becomes how do you address that? The million dollar question within the legal profession. How do you address that? What if I’m wrong? I have to work with this person. Will it get to the state bar? You address is as a human being. You address it with empathy, not an accusation. It’s okay in any situation to say, “Are you doing okay? I’ve noticed these things. Are you doing okay? Tell me how I can support you.” That’s just empathy, and we all have the ability to be empathetic. Now if they say no, and you notice there really is a problem, then obviously we have ethical obligations as lawyers, within the firm. Obligations to the firm, fiduciary duties to the firm. And it gets to the point where you may have to say something to the firm, where you may have to take it to another step, but the first step is always just empathy. As a person, as a colleague, as a boss. “I’ve noticed you’re struggling, and here’s why I think you’re struggling. Do you want to talk about it?” |
|Benson Varghese:||Before we get to how the bar may respond to issues that attorneys face, I want to talk a little bit about … There were many times throughout the book where you paint these pictures of the things going on in your life that a reader might think, “That was rock bottom.” But it never got there. So, how do we as friends, as peers, get through to someone who has this mask on? That their livelihood, perhaps in their mind, depends on this denial. |
|Brian Cuban:||That’s a great question, and here’s something that I always try to get through to lawyers and law students, and it’s one of the hardest conversations to have. Because when someone’s struggling, especially in the legal profession, and in law school because you don’t want to have to leave school, you don’t want the perceived consequences, a lawyer doesn’t want to have the name partner find out, doesn’t want to lose clients, doesn’t want to lose his job. So, all of that is a wall to allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, right? And being vulnerable is one of the first steps to getting help. |
|When you tie that into a statement to lawyers, it is … What I try to tell them, and I say it in different ways, is today is as good as it’s ever gonna get. Whatever you’re going through … And I don’t accuse, I don’t say, “Okay, you have a drinking problem, you have a drug problem, this problem or that problem.” Whatever you are going through, today is as good as it’s ever gonna get. Because mental health issues tend to be progressive, they tend to be cumulative, and the impulse within the profession is to push it aside until the consequences catch up, and it is no longer as good as it’s ever gonna get. So why not start now? Even as scary as that is. Maybe it’s a call to The Lawyer’s Assistance Program, and begin recovery now before it gets to the “rock bottom.” |
|In 2005, a lot of people might have thought my rock bottom was when my brothers took me on my first of two trips to Green Oaks Hospital, back then known as Green Oaks Psychiatric Facility. After they came into my room and I had a 45 automatic on my nightstand, intending to end my life. I was right back out on the scene. And my, what I call recovery tipping point … And I don’t like the term rock bottom if we can, when we can talk about that. My recovery tipping point was about in 2007, after a drug and alcohol induced two-day blackout. Which may not seem as bad, but that was the moment where I decided, “Okay, it was time.” |
|It is not incumbent upon us as lawyers, as friends, to determine what someone’s recovery tipping point is, what their “rock bottom” is. There’s no way to know that, and we don’t think about those terms, except in the rear view mirror, right? We’re not thinking, “This is my rock bottom.” Generally. What we can do, is try to empower someone to not think in terms of bottom, think in terms of stepping forward. |
|Benson Varghese:||Brian, I truly appreciate you being here and sharing, both with us and through your book, so much about your experience and how we can help each other and be on the lookout for opportunities to really help, to get folks to the path of recovery. |
|Brian Cuban:||Thank you, and I appreciate you having me here. And it’s always an honor to be able to share my story, so thank you, and share the various thoughts I have on the matter. Thoughts that other people may have other viewpoints on, and that’s okay. But the most important thing to remember, and I will go right back to it, whether you are a law student struggling, whether you are a lawyer struggling, whether you are a name partner, an associate, even a support member, don’t wait for the consequences to catch up to you. As tempting as that sounds, “Push it off, push it off, push it off.” Today’s as good as it’s ever gonna get if you’re not in recovery, if you do not begin the journey. |
|And let me tell you something else. We are a profession that has taught ourselves that vulnerability is weakness. Vulnerability isn’t good. Vulnerability is what we take advantage of, right? It’s part of our job, it’s part of the adversarial system. That is drilled into us starting in law school. Vulnerability is not allowing other students to have our study … It’s all about competition. Competition is good. So is vulnerability. It is okay to allow yourself to be helped. One of the biggest aspects of recovery is allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. |
|And allowing ourselves to be vulnerable isn’t just about walking in a 12 step. It isn’t just about going into residential treatment. It isn’t just about stringing together sobriety, or staving off a consequence. As lawyers, it’s okay to recognize that we bring a lot of baggage, whether it’s childhood or whatever to the game. Part of recovery is figuring out how we got there in addition to just dealing with where we are. So being vulnerable means figuring out how we got to that position. |
|Benson Varghese:||Powerful stuff. Thank you. |
|Brian Cuban:||Thank you. If people are interested in my book The Addicted Lawyer: Tales of the Bars, Booze, Blow, and Redemption, you can get it on Amazon.com. It’s available in some bookstores in Dallas, some Barnes & Noble. But the easiest place is either barnesandboble.com or amazon.com. |
Also published on Medium.