The New Marianne Williamson

By Laura Vogel 10/24/11
At 25, Gabrielle Bernstein was addicted to cocaine and weighed under 100 pounds. Today she’s a bestselling author and inspiration to legions of admiring women. How did she get from there to here?
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Bernstein stops traffic serenely Photo via

Gabrielle Bernstein is a hip happiness guru for generation Y. At 31, the New York City–based life coach, author, and motivational speaker has already published two books—Add More ~ing to Your Life: A Hip Guide to Happiness, which was released in January of 2010 and her second, Spirit Junkie: A Radical Road to Self-Love and Miracles, which just came out last month—with Random House.

Bernstein is beloved by celebrities like Eliza Dushku and Elizabeth Berkley, and has been called “a new role model for New York’s former Carrie Bradshaws” by The New York Times. Her theology draws heavily from Marianne Williamson and her interpretation of A Course in Miracles, a self-study spiritual curriculum written in 1976 by Helen Schucman.

Before becoming a full-time motivational speaker and life coach in 2006, Bernstein worked as a public relations entrepreneur. She founded the PR firm SparkPlug Communications and co-founded the Women’s Entrepreneurial Network, a non-profit professional organization that connects female entrepreneurs. In 2008, Bernstein founded the social networking website HerFuture.com to connect young women with mentors. Bernstein sat down with The Fix to talk about the crucial role of spirituality in recovery, finding love, and her own path from party girl to guru.

"It’s tough to tell someone how to surrender. But I can suggest staying focused on a willingness to change. The slight willingness will lead the way."

What led you to this path of funky, modern enlightenment?

I was 25, running a PR business and also doing a lot of cocaine. I was routinely up until 5 or 6 a.m. every night partying, and I weighed about 98 pounds. My friends had tried an intervention, but it didn’t work. Then, one night, I finally let it go; I wrote in my journal, “I need help. God, Universe, whoever is out there…I surrender.” The next morning, October 2, 2005, I woke up to a loud inner voice that said, “Get clean and you’ll have everything you want.” I felt I had no other choice than to listen.

I am happy it happened the way it did. I found God myself. I got clean myself, no intervention. My conscious surrender was when I asked for help in my journal. I got an answer right away, and I have been sober since that day. I was desperately looking for happiness, and I was seeking everything good—peace and happiness—outside of myself. Spirit Junkie is my story—an urban girl finding peace in the midst of the chaos. The graffiti on the cover helped emphasize New York as a character in the book. 

What would you say is the primary takeaway message of Spirit Junkie?

My hope is that it helps readers to find spirituality within their own experience. It’s all about their relationship with a God of their own understanding. Your happiness is not going to come from an outside source—it has to come from within.

How did your mom and dad react to their depictions in the Spirit Junkie (Bernstein’s father was portrayed as distant and cold, and her mother as a bit of an esoteric hippie)?

They are both very happy that my experience led to what I am today. I can be totally honest with them, and there is so much love and recovery there now. My parents are truly great—they’re my best friends.

How did you find Marianne Williamson—obviously a huge impact on your work—and the Course in Miracles?

I was getting help in a recovery program and a friend of mine recommended the Course. Then I went on to learn about Marianne and her interpretation of it. I learned so much from the course and from her, and I am expanding it for a new generation.

What advice would you give to a young woman who is currently in the dark place where you were when you finally surrendered and asked for help?

I would suggest that she get willing—do whatever she can to get willing. That’s all you need. I would guide her towards surrender—to God, to a higher power of her own imagining. Of course, it’s tough to tell someone how to surrender. It’s an individual thing. But I can suggest staying focused on a willingness to change. The slight willingness will lead the way. 

Did you have to ditch all your old friends and change your lifestyle completely when you got sober? 

Many of my friends fell off naturally. I made new friends and began to attract very happy people into my life. When you change your behavior, the people around you change accordingly. You attract your likeness. Therefore when you get clean you start attracting clean people. It’s awesome!  

Tell me about an average day in your life and how you fit spirituality into it.

I pray every morning: I choose one prayer from A Course in Miracles, like the daily prayer: “Where would You have me go? What would You have me do? What would You have me say, and to whom?” I also meditate throughout the day. I sit and meditate with complete intention in the morning, but I also find moments of meditation on the subway, standing in line, doing everyday things. At night, I pray again: I wish for peace for myself, pray for gratitude, and pray for people who need help.

You sound relentlessly happy; is every day rainbows and moonbeams for you?

I go through dark parts of the day, like anyone, but no protracted bouts of depression. If I do feel down, today I have the tools to work my way out very quickly.

Have you ever been tempted to use since getting clean? 

These days, I’m not very tempted to use. In early recovery, it was tough to be in a club or at a dinner party when wine was being passed around. But today I am in love with my life. I wouldn’t throw that away. My happiness keeps me clean. 

Do you think spirituality is necessary for sobriety? 

Yes, yes, yes! Getting sober is a spiritual path. When you have spirituality in your life, your recovery is guided.  

Your book is filled with references to love: What is your feeling about the power of love in a universal sense?

I refer to love as the primary experience, the way it’s supposed to be; all the work we do to recover is working towards getting back to the love that’s within all of us. You can take the love you feel for a close friend or a parent and expand it to the rest of the world. Through a spiritual practice, we can have love for all people.

What’s the one thing someone should do if she wants what you have?

Sobriety has offered me everything. Today I live a life beyond my wildest dreams. I expect miracles. I pray for all those who are struggling with addiction to find peace in a sober life. To get to where I am, I think surrendering to a prayer practice is mandatory. It’s such a precious gift we’re given. Even if you don’t believe in God, it’s the most important thing you can do. In regards to the book, hopefully it’ll be a good can opener, and my story can help people begin on a journey. 

Laura Vogel is a Los Angeles–based writer and editor whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Elle, Real Simple, Travel+Leisure and The New York Post, among other publications and websites. She has written about the best sober apps and recovery radio shows, among other topics, for The Fix.
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