Your Bro’s A Billionaire: What Problems Could You Have….?
I get that statement/question on a fairly regular basis in social media when I talk about my mental health issues. I also get the fairly regular “you live off your brother’s coattails” comment or some variation.
For those unaware, my older brother is Mark Cuban of Shark Tank and the Dallas Mavericks, among his more well-known endeavors. I also have a younger brother. You might say, “so what?” “Why is this important in your story?” We know that depression, eating disorders, substance use disorder, etc, do not discriminate based on who you’re related to or for that matter, any kind of socioeconomic status, race, sexual orientation etc.
How did the “famous” last name affect my path, identity and life in addiction? I get asked that quite a bit. It’s a fair question.
There was a time when such statements would be intensely hurtful to me because I knew that at one time in my life, they were true. I WAS living off the last name “coattails”. Despite having a law degree, I had no identity or “brand” of my own. I was simply “Mark’s brother.” I was an addict. It was nothing he encouraged or created. I allowed myself to be that. Our father encouraged us to be individuals and forge our own unique path in life. We all have our own lives to live and hopefully create our unique footprint on society in a positive way.
Is there any doubt that “name fame” has benefited me to various extents, in addition to the brand I have created in the recovery world? Of course, it has. From my standpoint, if someone comes to hear me talk or reaches out to me in recovery solely because of my last name, that is still one more person who gets to hear my message and hopefully will benefit from it or knows someone who will benefit from it. There are also those who have no idea who Mark is or I am other than through my work in recovery. That’s fine as well. My view is always “one person-one life” no matter how few or many people I speak to.
As to how it affected my past, we have to start by putting it all in historical context. My eating disorder started in 1979 as a freshman at Penn State. I was abusing alcohol by 1980, and cocaine by 1986. All long before Mark became famous as most people would define the word. Simply put, my last name’s ascent into public familiarity was not a trigger for any of my disorders. Those triggers to the extent we can say anything correlates more than the other, started as a child. Fat shamming at home and weight-based bullying at school being two of the more prominent issues.
So it had no effect? I did not say that. It did, but it had nothing to do with Mark. It was all about me. For all of my life before I went into recovery, I had no identity of my own. I would create “identities” that would enable to me survive day-to-day and appear “normal” to the world around me. I did not want my family, friends and romantic relationships to see the monster in the mirror that I saw every day, born of body dysmorphic disorder. A creature who was unworthy of love, friendship or the ability to love myself.
When in 1999, my last name because fairly well known through Mark’s sale of Broadcast.com to Yahoo and then in the year 2000 with his purchase of the Dallas Mavericks, I was already deep in self-loathing, bulimia, alcohol, and drugs, as well as steroid abuse. THAT was my identity. I will never forget the day I had a doctor’s appointment the week it was announced that Mark had purchased the Dallas Mavericks. A nurse in the office asked for my autograph. My autograph? Someone took interest in me! I was someone! The feeling of acceptance in that moment was as powerful as any drug I had taken. I had my answer. I had my identity. Simply being “Mark’s brother” would gain me the love and acceptance I wanted all my life, but for all the wrong reasons.
Already an addict and alcoholic. Decades into bulimia. Now I could journey into the social and nightlife world of Dallas with my new identity and false sense of self worth. A whole new Brian would be created that had nothing to do with who I really was. A brutally shy, introverted, bullied, little boy who had never grown up. Free drinks. Free cocaine, Not waiting in nightclub lines. Coked up every night. Drunk every night. Girls, who in my mind would not give the real Brian the time of day, talking to me. Failed relationships because it was easier to be what I had created than risk showing my true self to anyone who loved me. Frankly, my identity as ‘Mark’s Brother” made me one of the biggest knuckleheads on the Dallas social scene but it enveloped me like Kryptonite keeping the shy, introverted Clark Kent invisible to all but myself.
Part of me was very ashamed because I knew I was a fraud. I wanted so badly to just be who I really was but was terrified that everyone would see exactly what I saw in the mirror. Then I would be totally alone. It was so much easier to just be “Mark’s brother” and survive day to day. High to high. Hangover to Hangover. I had become my warped thought process.
None of that was Mark’s or anyone else’s fault. Many in this world have someone in their family who has achieved various levels of fame and dealt with it in a healthy manner. My self image has been and always be my responsibility. My recovery leading to a healthy self image has always been and will always be my responsibility. It took me years of sobriety and therapy to realize that. To realize no matter what goes on around me in family or in the world in general, I am enough. So are you. Be yourself. Create your own identity and brand. Find your passion and make a mark of change that can be passed down generation to generation. It’s never too late. It took me over 40 years to find mine. As we say in the Jewish faith, l’dor vador.