The following are excerpts from the City Paper’s interview with Rob Briley on Wednesday. The interview occurred in his legislative office, and lasted for about 30 minutes.
Q: How did (alcoholism) start for you?
A: I’ve been dealing with alcoholism my entire life, from the time I was born. It’s been in my family for many generations. And so, I’ve been dealing with alcoholism for a long, long time. I guess that’s how it came about.
I’ve been dealing with it personally for a long time as well.
Q: When did it start to pick up for you where you really had a problem?
I’ll tell you that I was first treated for alcoholism in 1989 at the age of 22. And I remained sober for over 14 years following the treatment.
Q: So that puts you to what, 2003?
A: Yes. And 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 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.
Q: What age was that?
Q: Do you care to get into how you were abused?
A: No. I don’t want to. Right now, that’s not something that publicly I want to talk about, the specifics of it. But for the past four years, I’ve been dealing with some unresolved issues of abuse that occurred when I was a child and had never dealt with them previously.
Q: So she turned 7 in 2003?
A: No. She turned 7 in 2006, she turned 8 in 2007. But as she began to approach that age. And let me tell you what it’s been like.
Let’s say that you have a film in your mind of an event that occurred in the past. With regard to me, that film had been chopped into little, tiny pieces and stuffed down inside my brain somewhere.
About 4 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.
So that’s what I’ve been dealing with for the past four years, really.
And, prior to that time, anybody that’s been through a divorce knows that divorces happen for many reasons usually, and mine is no different than anyone else’s.
My divorce was the result of many things that happened over a long period of time.
Q: Not just the alcoholism?
A: Not just the alcoholism. My work habits tended to add to … And I don’t want to get into the specifics about why my wife and I’s marriage didn’t succeed, specifically.
But just to say that it was because of numerous reasons over a long period of time. Obviously, my alcoholism contributed significantly to it.
Q: From ‘03 to ‘07, were you on and off the wagon or were you battling it the entire time?
A: There were times of significant sobriety during that period of over a year. And then there were other times, when it was like every alcoholic goes through, a daily battle.
Q: Last fall was your first stint in rehab?
A: No. I was treated in 1989 when I was 22. But then, last summer I was treated again. Yes.
Unfortunately, alcoholism, it’s got some unique characteristics from other diseases. It’s the only disease I know of that you can get put in jail for, or from the conduct that results from it.
And it’s the only disease that people can really get mad at you for having. But I am very grateful to God that I am here today. It is by His grace that I am here.
Q: Can you elaborate a little bit on that?
A: It’s coming to understand that I’m not in charge. There’s a power greater than me that’s in charge of my life. And that is the most significant part of my recovery.
Q: Leading up to (your arrest day), was the problem becoming worse, the weeks leading up to that incident?
A: Yes. Alcoholism is a chronic, progressive, fatal disease. And as I continued to use, I got worse and worse and worse.
Q: What were some of the factors that were making that worse?
A: It’s just alcoholism. That’s the way it works.
Q: But I mean, the conflict with your wife wasn’t getting worse at that point?
A: I don’t know if I’d say that. It’s just the nature of alcoholism. It’s a progressive disease that just continues to worsen over time. It’s also a very treatable disease, and that’s what I’m working on today.
Q: You are trying to receive treatment?
A: I am receiving treatment from a number of sources and will have to continue to receive that treatment on a daily basis for the rest of my life. It’s not a disease you can cure, but you can treat it.
Q: How was the time at Cumberland Heights?
A: The time at Cumberland Heights was very good. I think that the spiritual program at Cumberland Heights is excellent, superior. And I made significant progress while there.
Q: Do you regret going to somewhere that was in your hometown and not going away?
A: No. I don’t. Because I think Cumberland Heights is that strong a place.
Q: Are you and Pier, is your divorce final?
Q: But she has moved away?
A: She has moved away, to Vermont, Burlington, Vermont, with our two children. And I would hope that people would give them the respect now that they have left the state to give them a chance to start their lives over again without the public scrutiny that they were under here.
Q: The divorce had been going on since ‘05?
Q: Do you care to elaborate about anything regarding that and how it broke down?
A: No, I really don’t. There are always in legal matters, not always, frequently, allegations made in court filings. We have what’s called notice pleading, which means you don’t have to sign everything under oath any more. There’s a way through the discovery process to test the veracity of divorce filings that are not true or completely true.
But I don’t want to get into specifics about my divorce except to say it was caused by a multitude of reasons that had accumulated over the entire 14 years of our marriage, 15 years now.
It was certainly not due to any one cause or any one person.
Q: Now, there was this article printed, alleging that you had some marital infidelity. Can you comment on that?
A: No. I’m not. I think that as a public figure, I think people have a right to pry into my life. And over the past four years, I’ve been living my worst nightmare, not only personally but through the media.
And the fact that my battle with alcoholism, my personal problems in my marriage, have become an item of public consumption has made it more difficult.
But 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.
Q: Do you plan to continue to serve in the Legislature?
A: Right now, I plan to continue fulfilling the remainder of my term. I don’t plan on resigning from this office. I’m still capable of serving and willing to serve.
I have embarrassed myself, I have embarrassed my family, I have embarrassed my constituents, I have embarrassed the people of the state, my colleagues up here by my conduct.
I’ve been an exercise in how much public humiliation one person can endure and still be able to hold their head up high. 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.
Q: Are you asking for forgiveness, from your constituents and others?
A: I don’t think that’s something that anybody ever needs to ask for.
Q: Even though you are their representative?
A: Well sure, if you think that’s what it takes to get forgiveness from people, if you have to ask for it first, sure, I’m asking for forgiveness.
Q: I’m not trying to say that’s what it takes. I’m just asking.
A: I don’t know the answer to that question. I would hope that everyone could forgive me, and I think they can.
And sure, I would ask for their forgiveness. I am sorry for what I’ve done, for what I did, and for the embarrassment that it’s caused for everyone.
Q: Have you considered how you were going to plead?
A: I know that I have a hearing scheduled next week, and I’m just going to rely on my attorneys as to how to handle that. But I’m not going to talk about it …
At some point in time I’ve got to start living my life again. I’ve got to start letting people know some of the truth, the whole story about what’s been going on.
I don’t think over the past four years this has negatively impacted in anyway my performance as a legislator.
Q: During this past legislative session, were you ever drunk when the Legislature was in session, during committee meetings?
A: No. One of the common characteristics of late stage alcoholics like myself is isolation. So I would not drink around other people because I did not want them to know that I was drinking. I may have come in smelling like alcohol at times, but was never intoxicated while I was here or I never consumed alcohol here.
Q: So you don’t feel that any of your decisions, votes or statements here in the Legislature were influenced by alcohol?
A: No. I don’t. There may have been other causes for my conduct at times, but it wasn’t alcohol.
I don’t believe I’ve gone to a reception. I may have gone to one last year, one the year before. I typically average about one reception a year, and it’s usual for the judges’ conference or something along those lines that would directly relate to my work here where there would be people there that I would want to have a chance to speak with.
But I’m not reception hoppin’ at all. Like I said, isolation was kind of the hallmark of my conduct. I would try and do it away from people, and oftentimes alone, which is a really sad way to live your life.
Q: How would you describe the relationship with your brother at this point?
A: I’d rather not talk about my family relationships.
Q: Did he let you go from the law firm?
A: I’d rather not talk about my family relationships … well I’ll say this about the law firm, now that I think about it, there was a mutual agreement to part ways.
Q: Is your law license in jeopardy?
A: Not at this time.
Q: Has the Board of Professional Responsibility, the ABA or the TBA, have they made any contact with you about bringing you in to talk?
A: I will tell you that when I first found myself in trouble that I self-reported to the Board of Professional Responsibility and to another group called the Tennessee Lawyer’s Assistance Program, which is designed to help people with alcoholism or other problems that are legal professionals.
And so I have been working closely with them since that time. But I self-reported immediately so I will deal just with that at another time, but they know what’s going on.
Q: So you don’t feel that you are in danger of losing your law license?
A: Oh, of course I’m in danger of losing my law license. I guess. I don’t know the answer to that really. But I know that anytime a lawyer gets in legal trouble like that, what they are supposed to do is to report themselves to the Bar so they are not out there as a danger to anyone practicing law. I didn’t ever have any issues in my law practice because of alcoholism, other than me not showing up to work sometimes. But never any cases with any problems.
And I don’t know what the Board is going to do. I was taught when I went to law school and when I took the Bar exam that if you ever get in trouble, somebody is going to find out about it someday so you are better off going ahead and letting them know.
Q: So, yeah I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens in the courts.
A: Yeah. But I anticipate doing everything that TLAP advises me to do.
Q: I’m sorry, TLAP?
A: The Tennessee Lawyers Assistance Program. Because what they advise me to do is not only important later on for my law license, it’s going to be important for me to do to maintain my sobriety, which is the single most important thing I’m working on today.
Q: Do you plan on going away to treatment or are you going to stick around here?
A: I mean I’m out of treatment now.
Q: I mean going back in?
A: I don’t plan on it, but I may. I’m willing to do anything to keep my sobriety.
Q: Best of luck. I know a lot of people have been praying for you.
A: Well, it has been, like I said before, I’ve lived through my worst nightmare over the past four years. 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.
Q: This may be a difficult question for you obviously, but how close were you to committing suicide?
A: I never had a plan to do that. I think anybody that’s going through what I’ve gone through may think that that is a viable option at some point. I did not. I never had a plan.
I wanted to get away for a while. That resulted in my trip to Tunica. The 7-year-old kid inside of me that has been trying to keep things secret for a long time wanted to run away, and that’s what we did.
Q: How long did you stay in Tunica?
A: I was there for 2 nights.
Q: Were you drinking?
A: I’m not going to get into any of that.
Q: After Tunica, did you come straight back to Nashville?
Q: You talked about going to Key West in the missing person’s report?
A: I don’t want to talk about that. I never planned on going to Key West.
Q: Key West would probably be a little better than Tunica.
A: I don’t want to get into any of that. But the main reason that I became upset with the article …
Q: Was that what spurred you to get away?
A: … the only way I felt I could set the record straight was by disclosing a secret that I had tried to keep since I was a young boy. And the young boy has believed for a long time that the disclosure of that secret was a matter of life and death.
I have been working on those issues for the past couple of years, and I have finally reached a point where I know that it’s not a matter of life and death. That I’m going to live through it if I have to disclose it. But that’s what happened that caused me to leave treatment was I got scared that the only way I could set the record straight was by talking about these things publicly, which again, was my worst nightmare.
But it’s come to a point in time where I think it’s OK for me to talk about it without getting into too many specifics. And that was a major contributing factor to my divorce and alcoholism. If I had to put a percentage on it, I would say that was 90 percent of what was going on.
A: And the problems of my divorce was directly related to the unresolved childhood abuse issues that caused other things to happen. Let me say this too, this ain’t fun to talk about.
Q: Do you want to still serve on the Judiciary Committee?
A: I don’t know. That’s going to be up to the Speaker [Jimmy Naifeh].
Q: But your decision to resign as chair, was that your decision?
A: Yes. That was my decision.
Q: He didn’t put a whole lot of pressure on you or anything?
A: He didn’t put any pressure on me. I know some issues came up with that after Gov. Bredesen said what he said, but I really didn’t pay any attention to that. And was not in a position where I was in a place where I could even talk about those things with anyone for a few days. So once I got to that point, I called the Speaker and said I think it would be appropriate for me to step down as chair of Judiciary on an interim basis and kind of see what happens.
I care about the General Assembly a lot as an institution. I want to see it thrive, not just survive, and I felt like removing myself from that chairmanship and from the other study committees that I was appointed to was the appropriate thing to do at the time. So I asked the Speaker to do that.
Q: One last topic, medical malpractice reform … did you intentionally kill that bill by adding the locality rule?
A: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. That was something Sen. (Mark) Norris and I had been talking about for months, whether that was going to be a component to any type of reform that we wanted to do. He didn’t put it on in the Senate. He told me to put it on in the House if I could. Stuck it on in committee and ran with it.
The success or failure of any bill was never due to any of my personal problems.