Story and photos by Jan Osborn.
Brian Cuban has lived in Dallas since the early 1980’s. At the time he moved to Dallas, he was a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and had recently earned his undergraduate degree from Penn State University. But when he landed in the Dallas social scene, his last name began opening doors to a life of clubs and partying. His shy nature took a backseat to the pressure of putting on the right mask—pretending to be the guy who had it all together—the career, the social life, the connections. From photos you would think that Brian was living life to the fullest, but underneath, Brian was a hurting young man struggling with Body Dysmorphic Disorder and fought battles with eating disorders, depression, alcoholism, and drug addiction. Now more than a dozen years in recovery, Brian is boldly sharing his story with the hope that it will help others who are walking the same path.
The middle child of three boys, Brian grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and attended Mt. Lebanon High School. The oldest, Mark, was always the outgoing, entrepreneurial type, selling one thing or the other and became what the first born might be expected to accomplish. Brian’s younger brother, Jeff, was a nationally ranked wrestler. As the middle child, Brian was shy and withdrawn, a little less certain and had an overblown need for acceptance. Brian began to internalize every negative thing said to him and turned to food to quell his depression. When kids at school bullied Brian about his weight, he would laugh it off, playing the self-deprecated clown to serve as a defense mechanism, but the wounds cut deep. In his early teens, Brian began experimenting with hash and alcohol, and by sixteen, he was a veteran at drinking.
Brian squeaked by high school with mediocre, sometimes poor, grades and was accepted into Penn State University. He believed that being on his own, away from the antagonists of his childhood, would lead to better mental health. Instead, Brian developed an eating disorder to cope with his underlying Body Dysmorphic Disorder, a mental illness involving obsessive focus on a perceived flaw in appearance. It was at that time Brian developed the habits of anorexia and bulimia, and began to binge and purge, while also exercising in extreme amounts. With no plan for the future after graduating with a degree in Administration of Justice, Brian decided to apply for law school at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. It gave him an opportunity to hide from his eating disorder for another three years while also holding up a mask that was worthy of acceptance by his peer group. Brian spent his time at Pitt Law just as he had done at Penn State, often drinking and exercising to excess, and pretending to play a lawyer in upscale Pittsburgh nightclubs.
After Pitt Law, Brian moved to Dallas in the summer of 1986 to begin his career as an attorney, still battling severe body dysmorphia, loneliness and low self-worth. The combination of psychological vulnerability and abundant opportunity led to experimenting with harder and more addictive drugs. The next several years were filled with drugs and alcohol, along with the inability to hold down a steady job. It was July 2005 when Brian’s brothers, Mark and Jeff, intervened and drove Brian to Green Oaks Hospital, leaving him as raw and vulnerable as possible. He was exposed and could no longer escape the stark reality of how he was making it through each day. But he left Green Oaks and it wasn’t until April 2007 that Brian asked his girlfriend, Amanda, to take him back to Green Oaks for psychiatric treatment. He had hit the bottom and was ready to begin the long journey to recovery.
It was almost eight years into his sobriety, when Brian and Amanda joined his family in a suite as the Dallas Mavericks played the Los Angeles Clippers. As usual, Brian slipped out at halftime to the restroom, but this time, instead of digging cocaine out of his pocket, he pulled out an engagement ring. He went back into the suite, dropped to one knee and proposed to Amanda.
But for Brian, his decision to open about recovery wasn’t just one bright light moment of change. “It’s a transition, a process,” he said. When Brian first began recovery, his admitted struggle was not with alcohol and cocaine, but instead, an eating disorder. “I was very ashamed of it as a guy, and the decision to go public about it didn’t have anything to do with the perception of doing good in the community,” said Brian. “It was a process and a cog for healing myself because I was living with so much shame and that shame was affecting my mental health on a broader level.”
Brian said that he really did not know how to express his own experience until he came across a blog about a model named Carolina Reston. Carolina Reston died from complications related to anorexia nervosa and while reading the blog, he began to notice comments from males. “Intellectually, my brain knew that I couldn’t be the only male with an eating disorder, however, my obsessive-compulsive feeling was that I was the only male suffering from this disease,” Brian shared. “I feared if I told anyone that I would be shamed, embarrassed and called a liar. And so, my emotional side won out and told me not to tell anyone, not even my therapist.” But over time, the intellectual side won.
In 2008 Brian decided to write his first blog about the eating disorder. At that time he had not told his family, or even his therapist, about his struggle with bulimia, but managed to type out the details and quickly posted it on MySpace. “The response was not what I expected,” admitted Brian. I began to get messages from guys who were struggling with eating disorders, and then I also began talking about my struggle with body dysmorphic disorder.” He decided that he would take all of those blogs, and write his first book, Shattered Image: My Triumph Over Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Brian said that because of his last name, his eating disorder recovery, and his body dysmorphic disorder, the book made a big splash.
Brian’s second book The Addicted Lawyer: Tales of the Bar, Booze, Blow, and Redemption was published in June 2017. The book is a look back at how addiction to alcohol and drugs as well as other mental health issues destroyed his career as a once successful lawyer. He addresses how he redefined his life in recovery and found redemption. “I was doing a lot of reflection on the friends I’ve lost to alcoholism and it was very personal to me,” shared Brian. “I worked with Gary as a lawyer and when he was sober, he was brilliant! I tried my last case with Gary. I wrapped the profession around my experience with Gary and started thinking about all the other lawyers that I’ve seen that I partied with that just went off the rails and I decided I’m going to do a deep dive into this, and I’m going to hopefully raise a little bit of awareness in my little corner of the word about this problem we have in our profession.”
Recently, CNN said 12-12.5% of people in the United States can be classified as problem drinkers, and we have reached a crisis point. (Alcohol-related deaths have doubled in the US and women are at an increased risk, study says.) For the legal profession, rates nearly double to 21%, and if you look at data from lawyers who are millennials, it reaches a staggering one in three. This crisis has been created through a high-stress culture that is ingrained in the legal field. The American Bar Association is beginning to work with several groups to address the legal profession’s high rates of substance-use disorders and mental health issues. (Growing ABA wellness campaign includes anti-stigma efforts)
Brian is often asked how his brother’s name affected his mental health journey and he adamantly rejects the idea that Mark’s success caused any of his addictive and mental health issues. “I had an eating disorder before Mark became internationally famous,” said Brian. “I was a problem drinker before, Mark became internationally famous. I had a cocaine problem before Mark became internationally famous. My body dysmorphic disorder was well entrenched before Mark became internationally famous. But when you have no identity of your own, and you’re trying to seek validation from others, whether it’s dating whether it’s a relationship, whether it’s people validating you by letting you in line at the club, by giving you free drugs just because you’re Mark Cuban’s brother, and you have no identity of your own. So, it made perfect sense to me to be Mark Cuban’s brother. And from that standpoint it affected me that is not Mark’s fault. It is my responsibility to form my own sense of self to look in the mirror and say you are enough, you don’t need to be Mark Cuban’s brother. You can be Brian Cuban. You can be shy. You can be ‘not the life of the party.’ You can be okay with that. And it took me a while to get there.”
Brian recently passed his Recovery Coach Certification and is working toward his practicum hours. The primary qualification of a Recovery Coach is lived experience, not clinical expertise. “I don’t tell people you need to do this or that,” Brian said. “I can say, here’s what I did. Here’s what works for me. I can help you figure out what works for you.”
On the writing front, Brian is making a foray into fiction with a legal based thriller, entitled The Ambulance Chaser. He anticipates release the first quarter of 2021. Today Brian has a support group and believes much of recovery is about connections. “I’ll have 13 years in April. We love to say one day at a time, but I’ll tell you what, I’m confident that I’ll have 13 years in April!”
Congratulations, Brian! We are celebrating with you!
Mental health problems are common. You are not alone. They are treatable. But no one is born knowing how to deal with a mental health issue. If you are looking for help and resources, Mental Health America of Greater Dallas (MHA) can help you find the help you need. The resources have been carefully selected to provide you with reliable information about mental health problems and local caregivers. For more information, visit mhadallas.org.
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