Discussing Addiction and Recovery with My Brother

If you’re struggling with addiction and refuse to address it, there are only three ways it will end — you’ll “sober up, get covered up or locked up.” That’s according to my brother David Scaramucci, who has battled drug and alcohol addiction since college.

David joined my TMI (The Motivation Inside) podcast this week, based on a recommendation from his oldest daughter, who interned at SkyBridge, to candidly discuss his battle with — and recovery from — addiction problems. It took a lot of courage for David to talk publicly about how addiction nearly destroyed his life and caused so much pain for those who care about him.

But that’s why I’m so proud of David for coming on the show — his experiences have made him eager to help people fighting similar demons.

As he said on TMI, “Alcoholics Anonymous is an anonymous thing. Most people want to keep their addiction to themselves or their families. But I’ve found it’s helped me the most by being out there with it — and I have a chance to help other people by telling my story and letting people know what I’ve been through.”

Growing up as the oldest son in a close-knit Italian family, David was the one most impacted by our parents’ up-and-down marriage. When he was 7 or 8 years old, he escaped through schoolwork and sports instead of alcohol and drugs, but the desire to escape from reality played a role in the behaviors he developed later in life.

“Our parents loved us to death, but I think they had a stressful marriage and the kids felt that stress,” David said on TMI. “I think the older kid in the family feels the brunt of the parents’ pain. I think we all felt it in different ways, and my way was my way.”

David started drinking when he was 13, and when he went away to Tufts University, he first tried marijuana, cocaine and other drugs. Some of David’s friends got hooked, and some didn’t.

In spite of his growing dependency on alcohol and drugs, David was able to manage his bad habits because addiction hadn’t yet overwhelmed him. He had the fourth-highest GPA in his high school class and he made the Dean’s List at Tufts. David studied during the week and partied hard on the weekends at Tufts, and continued this routine in the MBA program at New York University.

Then, in 1987, at age 25, David got his first job on Wall Street. That was the same year Oliver Stone’s movie Wall Street, starring Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen, was a big hit at the box office. There was prolific cocaine use on Wall Street at that time, and David and other young portfolio managers and traders were encouraged to entertain investors every night at New York Ranger games, bars and nightclubs — all expenses paid.

“I looked at it like Candyland,” David said of the environment on Wall Street. “I created this façade of success, where I was able to work hard, play hard and be successful, and [said] ‘I can’t have a problem — I’m managing a $2 billion bond portfolio, I’ve got a beautiful wife at home, I’m starting a family. How can I have an addiction problem?’ I lied to myself all the time that everything was under control.”

David recalled that by his early 30s, “My life was falling apart.” By September 1995, his wife Rebecca, whom David describes as “one of the greatest people in the world,” couldn’t take it anymore. Rebecca, who was pregnant with their second child, took their 1-year-old daughter and went to live with her mother. That’s when David realized he had a problem, and he needed help.

“The struggle is that you want to stop — you wake up every day and say, ‘I don’t want to do that anymore,’ … and by 4 or 5 o’clock that day, you’re doing it again,” David said. “You lose the ability to say ‘no,’ and the ability to stop, even though you have so many people in your life who you love and so much you’re living for. The addiction overwhelms you, and it takes and takes and takes.”

On September 8, 1995, I accompanied David on the car ride to a 28-day rehab program in Upstate New York. David said on TMI that the drive to rehab was “like a nightmare — I said in the car, ‘Am I really living this life? What the hell happened to me? Why am I here?’”

The driver heard David, and being a recovering addict himself, told him, “You’ve got some baggage you need to unload. Make sure you unload it when you get up there.”

At the end of the day, when I had returned home, I got into the house, went to the basement, and cried for three hours. I felt my brother’s pain, and my parents’ pain, and I wanted them to heal.

David has apologized many times, and did so again on TMI, for the pain his addiction caused me, our parents, our sister Susan, and the other people in his life.

“When you’re in the throes of addiction, you become so self-centered and selfish in a way — it’s almost unavoidable for addicts,” David said. “You know the people around you are struggling with what’s going on with you, but you don’t realize how deep the pain is. You’re dealing with your own pain so much you don’t even realize how self-absorbed you’ve been and how you’ve hurt other people, and for that I have a lot of regrets and I’m really, really sorry.”

After he completed rehab, David began attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, but when his life began returning to normal, he thought he no longer needed AA.

“The success reinforced that I was okay, even though I wasn’t,” David explained. “So I got back in my life. We had two more kids. I got my job back. I got up in front of everyone I worked with and said I was suffering from a substance abuse problem, and they patted me on the back and said, ‘Welcome back, Mooch.’ I started trading my positions, and I got promoted. I was like, ‘Do I need AA? I’ve got it all together.’ I slowly faded away, going to meetings five times a week, then four, then twice a month, then once a month, and by year eight it was over.”

It was a big mistake, as David admitted on TMI: “For guys who stop going to meetings, who stop AA, the chance of relapse increases every day. Once I stopped, I had no defense against picking up.”

In 2005, during a night out, a young kid accompanying one of the brokers David worked with whipped out a small amount of cocaine. David tried it, and three months later, his life was out of control again: “I said, ‘it’s been 10 years, how bad could it be?’ It was worse than ever. Within a few months, my wife was crying again.”

David went back to rehab on October 16, 2007, and has been sober ever since.

He regularly attends AA meetings, performs community service, and serves as a sponsor to other addicts, including many Wall Streeters. David said on TMI he believes about 20% of people who work on Wall Street suffer from addiction, compared to between 7% and 8% of the general population.

If David and I can help even one person who is struggling with addiction, or knows someone who is, then this podcast’s objective has been met. As David said during our TMI conversation, “I’ll call three alcoholics every day until I go to my grave. The only thing that works is an alcoholic sharing their experiences with another alcoholic.”

David’s advice to anyone suffering from addiction is to acknowledge the problem, try to get over the shame, and do a Google search for Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous — every day, there is a meeting within two miles of where you live.

Our entire TMI conversation is available at: https://soundcloud.com/anthonyscaramucci/24-battling-addiction-with-david-scaramucci