State Rep. Rob Briley said “unresolved childhood abuse issues” led to him losing his battle with alcoholism about four years ago after 14 years of sobriety, a contributing factor in the failure of his marriage and his recent arrest on DUI and two felony charges.
Briley told The City Paper on Wednesday he had been living his “worst nightmare” and that he was ready to discuss some — but not all — of his personal life and the events leading up to his well-publicized September arrest.
“Because I’m dealing with unresolved childhood abuse issues, in my mind the only way that I could have set the record straight was to disclose that fact publicly, as I’m doing now, which I have been struggling for the past four years to keep very private,” Briley said during an interview in his legislative office. “It was my deepest, darkest secret, and now I’m getting the opportunity to speak about it publicly.”
That nightmare climaxed when the 41-year-old Nashville Democrat from a well-known political family was arrested and charged with two felonies, a DUI and several misdemeanors, which stemmed from two separate incidents in Wilson and DeKalb counties on Sept. 8. A court hearing is scheduled for next week.
Briley, on advice from his attorneys, would not discuss the day of his arrest since he has charges against him, but told The City Paperof his battle with alcoholism, the reasons behind his pending divorce from his wife, his time in treatment and subsequent escape to Tunica, Miss., as well as his future.
A history of abuse
Briley first was treated for alcoholism in 1989 at age 22. The disease was not foreign to his family which Briley said has a history of alcohol abuse.
After being treated, Briley said he was sober for 14 years, until childhood memories of abuse from when he was 7 years old began to surface.
“I began relapsing almost four years ago as certain unresolved issues from my childhood came back to visit me and one of the primary reasons for that was my older daughter was turning the same age that I was,” he said. “And that’s a common event for people to relive childhood abuse when they have a child that approaches and goes through that same age.”
Briley would not say how he was abused. His daughter did not turn 7 until 2006, but as that age began to approach Briley’s mind started to piece together a “film” of what happened in the past, he says.
“That film had been chopped into little, tiny pieces and stuffed down inside my brain somewhere,” Briley said. “About four years ago, little parts of that film started popping up in my mind, so I could see just the small glimpses.
“And about a year-and-a-half ago, my mind put the film together as one long thread and I was able to see the whole event from beginning to end that I had never seen before.”
After he relapsed, Briley started drinking on and off, with some long periods of sobriety. He says he was never drunk when he cast a vote or made any statements in the General Assembly and mostly stayed away from the well-documented circuit of receptions in Nashville hosting state legislators. He says he only attended about one per year, usually involving judicial matters.
Briley says “isolation was the hallmark” of his drinking.
“I would try and do it away from people, and oftentimes alone, which is a really sad way to live your life,” he said.
In his personal life, Briley and his wife, Pier, had been married for just more than 10 years at the time when he began his relapse in 2003.
Two years later, in 2005, divorce proceedings had begun. The divorce is not yet official, but Pier Briley and the two children have moved to Burlington, Vt.
Rob Briley says his divorce was a result of “many things that happened over a long period of time,” but would not discuss specifics.
“Obviously, my alcoholism contributed significantly to it,” Briley said.
The Nashville attorney and former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee until he recently resigned that post would not comment on the Nashville Scene’s allegation that he had an affair with the trial lawyer’s ex-lobbyist, Mary Littleton, who was involved with lobbying the Judiciary Committee.
“I think that as a public figure, I think people have a right to pry into my life,” Briley said when asked for comment on the allegation of marital infidelity. “And over the past four years, I’ve been living my worst nightmare … and at some point in time, I have to be willing to draw the line and say, even though I’m a public figure, there are certain things that are private.”
The Tennessee Association for Justice fired Littleton earlier this week. The group did not give a reason for its dismissal.
The conflict between Briley and his wife was not getting particularly worse leading up to his arrest, Briley says, but his problem with alcohol was.
After his arrest on Sept. 8, a videotape released by the Watertown Police Department showed an apparently intoxicated Briley screaming in pain and asking to be shot “in the (expletive) head” twice.
The pain came from a broken bone in his left elbow he sustained prior to the September run-in with police.
‘Not proud of what I’ve done’
Briley said he has “embarrassed” himself, his family, his Nashville constituents, Tennesseans and his legislative colleagues.
“I’ve been an exercise in how much public humiliation one person can endure and still be able to hold their head up high,” Briley said. “I’m not proud of what I’ve done, but I’m proud of who I am today and for the way that I’m trying to deal with the problems that have confronted me today.
“And I’m looking forward. I’m not going to live in the past. I’m trying to live my life today in the way that God directs me, and God’s forgiven me for what I did. I would hope that us mere mortals would find a way to forgive me too.”
Briley asked the public to forgive him and thanked God that the police officers were not hurt and that “no one else was injured” as a result of the incidents.
After his arrest, Briley checked into Cumberland Heights treatment facility in Nashville to undergo rehab for alcoholism. He remained there for weeks, until he said the Scene article caused him to want “to get away.”
“The 7-year-old kid inside of me that had been trying to keep things secret for a long time wanted to run away, and that’s what we did,” Briley said.
He rented a red 2008 Ford Mustang and drove to Tunica, where he spent two nights. He was initially found, after his brother David filed a missing person’s report, on the casino floor in Tunica. Briley would not say whether he was drinking during the trip.
Briley says he never had a plan to commit suicide, although he made the statements in the video and was supposedly suicidal according to the missing person’s report.
“I think anybody that’s going through what I’ve gone through may think that that is a viable option at some point,” Briley said. “I did not.”
Briley plans to continue to serve in the state Legislature, is still receiving treatment and plans to get treatment for alcoholism every day for the rest of his life.
“I’ve lived through my worst nightmare over the past four years,” Briley said. “Today, by talking to you, I’m living through it again. I haven’t gotten into any of the details of it, but as far as I was concerned, keeping some of those facts secret was the single most important thing in my life for a long time because, to me, it was literally a matter of life and death.”