It's a Brutiful Life
Renowned Momastery blogger Glennon Doyle Melton applies her distinctive honesty to her new book, Carry on Warrior. She talks to The Fix about alcoholism, motherhood, bulimia and critics.
Blogger Glennon Doyle Melton of Momastery calls life brutiful—a mashup of brutal and beautiful. The word is a perfect descriptor of her memoir Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed, (published this week by Scribner). The book tells her story of being a recovering alcoholic, addict and bulimic in a collection of confessional essays that lay bare the dark secrets of her past while maintaining a welcoming, inclusive and hopeful tone about her current life as a mother of three. "Carry(ing) on," adapted from a popular blog post, for Melton, isn't about complacency, but confronting the daily struggles of life through rigorous and often humorous honesty—whether she's talking about cocaine, abortion, toddler tantrums, adoption, God or party planning.
You got sober when you found out you were pregnant at age 26. How did you deal with withdrawal, physically and emotionally?
In the book I wrote that my sobriety was more of a weary surrender than a bold march into battle. When I found out I was pregnant, I hadn’t spent a single night sober during the previous eight years. But I’d had an abortion a few months prior and I didn’t want to go through that again. I was running low on friends, family, health, sanity and other ideas. I got sober because I couldn’t think of anything else to try. I wouldn’t have given up drinking under any other circumstances. I guess I ran out of creativity, thank God. My withdrawal was awful. I remember sitting on a friend’s bed just willing my hands and legs to stop shaking so hard. I lived on sugar for months. I ate a bag of chocolate chip cookies every single night. Whatever it takes, right? I gained 55 pounds, which is a big deal for a 5' 2'' lady. But I was sober, so I considered myself heroic and insanely motherly.
You mention in the book that while you haven't had a drink or drug since you quit, bulimia is still occasionally something that crops up in your life. How does your food addiction play out differently than your addictions to drugs or alcohol?
Staying away from drugs and alcohol is pretty easy for me. I live a pretty public life—being a mother makes one public property—so a slip back to booze would be painfully obvious and devastating to the people I love, including myself. I miss alcohol, but in the same way that an abused spouse misses her abuser. It was a comfort to me, but I know it never really loved me. It often left me for dead. Food is different. It’s so confusing, how I have to eat it to survive but not eat too much of it in order to survive. Moderation is tough for me. So every several months or so I overeat and I just get that old overly full feeling. I hear that wretched voice that insists that if I allow myself to stay in this full moment until it passes, I’ll die; so I throw up. Every time I do, I feel like such an asshole. But honestly, I feel better than I did before I threw up. And yes, I do see this is a problem.
I dropped out of the world officially when I was eight. And I just don’t feel like apologizing to anyone on behalf of my eight-year-old self. I think she did the best she could.
In "Day One," an open letter to a friend on her first sober morning, you write, "I absolutely love being a recovering alcoholic. I am most proud of the 'recovering' badge I wear than any other." Can you elaborate on that?
Even though we’re also big liars, I think addicts are the only really honest ones. Life is hard, and everyone thinks so, but we’re the ones who say we will not pretend. I think that addicts are sensitive and honest at their cores, in a way that could transform the world if harnessed correctly. I think it was Anne Lamott who admitted that she believes God loves addicts the most. I totally agree. Through our recovery, we also tend to end up much more self-aware and grateful than the general population. We believe in miracles, because we are one. We tend to be compassionate to others’ suffering because we’ve suffered. I really like us.
You didn't join AA or other 12-step programs, instead quitting cold turkey. Of that experience, you write that you embrace the term healing, "which means surrendering to and following the world's truest rules, the rules created by the Higher Power." Do you ever feel you missed out by not officially working the steps?
I often wonder if the fact that I didn’t work the 12 Steps is why I still struggle with bulimia now and again. But I don’t know. Nobody’s perfectly healthy, right? I’m healthy-ish. I tell myself that my whole life as a writer and community leader is the 12 Steps. Every single morning I start the day with quiet time, turning over my life to my God and admitting that whatever the hell is gonna happen that day is gonna go ahead and happen. I tell the truth every day in my writing, because I do believe that we are only as sick as our secrets. I spend half of my day every day responding to emails and reaching back out to women who need help with their recovery.
So I follow many of the steps, but then I get stuck on the making amends step. My bulimia started when I was eight years old. It morphed into a lot of other addictions, but I dropped out of the world officially when I was eight. And I just don’t feel like apologizing to anyone on behalf of my eight-year-old self. I think she did the best she could with what she thought she was facing in this crazy world. I wish she’d had better coping mechanisms in her arsenal, but I’m not ashamed of her; I’m proud of her for calling a spade a spade. I know enough about addiction to realize that I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder, and that those chips are dangerous for us. Maybe it will take me down, eventually. Maybe I need to get my ass to some meetings.
Your blog is rooted in Christianity, but you address readers of all faiths (or even no faith) and quote Anaïs Nin and Pema Chödrön. Who do you see as your primary audience?
I have readers of every faith and no faith. We all believe in the power of love to transform people. That is enough unity for us. Momastery is the first place outside of my home that I really feel I belong. Not because we’re all the same, but because we’re all so different and we all agree that that’s okay.
A major theme of Carry On, Warrior and your blog (including its motto) is truth-telling, whether at the playground or other public spaces or in writing. Even though you didn't start blogging until 2009, many years into your recovery, I'm curious about the connection between writing and recovery for you. Is the level of truth-telling you practice something you'd recommend to others in recovery?
I don’t think I’d recommend truth-telling to the number of people that I truth-tell to. With that comes a host of challenges that are just a lot to deal with. But a person must have at least one safe person to whom to tell the truth. Get it out in the light and it loses all its scariness. That’s what writing does for me. It gets it all out into the light. And that reminds me that I’m not bad—just human.
How much of your story do you plan to share with your children?
I’ll tell them all of it eventually. I’m not ashamed of my past. It all led me to here. I like me and I like where I am. If nothing else, they’ll learn from me what might be better to avoid. Good lesson.
What are your coping mechanisms for dealing with criticism?
Sometimes criticism sends me straight to bed for hours and hours. It always throws me into a deep well of terror and anger and self-doubt [but] I’m learning to climb out of my criticism/self-doubt well more quickly. I’ve read a lot of my criticism and overall, I think folks have been pretty fair to me. They say I’m neurotic, that my family is messy, that I was a blubbering mess for decades, that I’m insanely dramatic and that’s all sort of true. I am who I am. My point is not that I’m perfect, but that you can be completely imperfect and still say what you need to say. And still make a difference for folks.
You've designated your followers "Monkees," and engage in charity projects to help people in need. How did this get started and what are you most proud of?
The term “Monkee” evolved naturally from the blog a long time ago—I don’t like to think of the Monkees as “followers.” The Monkees are all part of the big family of diverse voices speaking out of love at Momastery. We call ourselves Monkees because we live like monks, in that we put our faith in something beyond ourselves, we find value in quiet, and we practice living peacefully in community—on the internet and beyond. We are unlike monks in that we curse and watch trash TV and become annoyed quite easily. Monkees seemed like a good compromise. Through Monkee See—Monkee Do, we’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for struggling families. We raised $85,000 in five hours for a homeless teen and her baby in March. That was pretty special. But what I’m most proud of is that Momastery is a place where all different kinds of folks can come and find peace and rest together.
What message do you hope readers will take away?
I hope that when they finish Carry On, Warrior they will remember that they are loved and that they are not alone. That is all and that is everything.
Rachel Kramer Bussel has edited over 40 anthologies, including Women in Lust, Obsessed, Fast Girls, The Mile High Club, Gotta Have It and Best Sex Writing 2012. She writes widely about sex, dating, books and pop culture, and blogs at Lusty Lady and Cupcakes Take the Cake. She's also written for The Fix about how she envies alcoholics.