On Live TV, Lemonade Joy & #theDryLife
It's a gorgeous and sunny day here in New York City. After a pastry date with my three girls, I just dropped them at school and now here I am at a little table at Le Pain Quotidien, waiting for my coffee and avocado toast. My computer is open and I'm typing these words, which feels good and right. I haven't been blogging much and I've missed it.
I have things to say.
Last week, as many of you know, I appeared on live television. I was on Megyn Kelly TODAY to talk about motherhood and drinking, but truly about the bright flip-side thereof, motherhood and not drinking, or as I like to call it, the Dry Life. The whole thing was wild and serendipitous because an NBC producer found me (thanks to my amazing friend Ruby Warrington) and when I chatted with this producer on the phone, on the sidewalk outside my girls' school, I told her that this is a topic about which I'm passionate AND that Megyn is a friend of mine. Which is the truth. Our kids went to preschool together. So: a bizarre, happy coincidence.
That night, I met a slew of preschool mom girlfriends for a festive birthday dinner out in the beautiful back room at one of my very favorite neighborhood restaurants Tessa. In walks Megyn and she comes over to me and says, "I just got an email from my producer about you." And I laughed and said, "Yup." And we caught up a bit and she said something, something which made me happy. I didn't even know you don't drink! This made me happy, I'm realizing, not because I'm not proud of the fact that I don't drink (I am!), but because it doesn't define me. It's just a piece, albeit an increasingly meaningful one, of who I am. This is important to me.
Our friends at dinner that night caught on to what we were talking about and said they wanted to come to the show, which many of them did, along with my hubby. I loved having them there. Another crazy detail: The next day, just after I got an email from NBC confirming my upcoming appearance, I raced to a little diner to meet two of my best friends from law school. We talked and talked, catching up, and then at the very end of our meal as we were paying the check, I said, "Guys, I think I'm going on TV on Tuesday. On Megyn Kelly TODAY." And my one friend, her face changed and her eyes widened and she fiddled on her phone and then showed me its screen. On the screen: her ticket confirmation for Tuesday, April 24 for Megyn Kelly TODAY, for the exact show I was now slated to be on. You cannot make this stuff up.
A producer and a camera crew came to my home on the Friday before the show, to do a pre-tape and I will be honest and say that I went on an obsessive clothing hunt for bright solid colors that would look good onscreen and I was nervous, too. I settled on a lavender sweater and bright blue earrings and when the wonderful producer asked me questions, I felt good and comfortable. I talked and talked, rambling at times, and when it was finished I felt great, but I also couldn't quite recalled what I said.
And the weekend? It was good, full of kiddo stuff and soccer games, but I felt anxious and unsettled. I couldn't eat much and I am an eater. My body and mind knew that I was approaching something big, and I was. The night before the show, I sat with my love at our kitchen island and we ate takeout and I said, "Why am I doing this?" And he said something perfect and simple like, "You are doing this because you've been asked to and it's important." On the stoop of our brownstone that morning, right after we'd put our babes on the school bus, he'd said something else that had soothed me. "You are just showing people that there's an alternate way." Yes.
I slept fine the night before the show, but then my eyes snapped open at 4am. Which is not unheard of because this is often when I rise to write fiction, but I just lay there in bed next to my man and our purring cats. I finally got out of bed around 5 something and went down to the kitchen for coffee and in my white nightgown, I paced around and around and talked out loud about all of this, about my decision to stop drinking, about motherhood and how it is tricky and miraculous, about purpose and presence, and love and loss, and strength and story. The brilliant thing: I did not feel nervous at all.
I was ready.
The day itself was glorious and strange and, get this, fun. I put on my pink-red blouse and skinny black jeans and the floral booties I'd had forever and the big white flower earrings that felt very me. The girls gave me big, good-luck-on-TV-mama hugs before they went off to school.
Soon after, off I went in the SUV NBC had sent. I chatted with the driver and he was kind and humored me as I blathered pretty much non-stop.
And then I arrived and spent time in a charming little green room with two other incredible women - Laura McKowen (already a dear friend - hello again, universe) and Kelley Kitley (now a friend for sure) - and there was so much laughter and brightness as we chatted and cycled in and out of hair and makeup (talk about fun).
And then it was game time and our mics were checked and we were shuffled toward the set and it all happened. And there were bright lights and big cameras and a studio audience with a full row full of some of my favorite people and there was my friend Megyn. And is so good at what she does, so so good, and she made us feel comfortable and she asked good questions and it all felt very organic and, I don't say this lightly, but meant to be.
I said things I'm so happy I said, things which I believe and deeply.
I said that historically drinking is thought of in black and white terms, that people either have NO problem with drinking or an EPIC problem with drinking that requires intervention. I said that my experience has been in the middle, in the vast, under-explored Gray Area, where I struggled, often silently, with bad patterns and habits that were dragging me down and dampening life, but there was no glaring issue that people would notice.
I said that mine is a story of Anxiety and Self-Medication, which it is. That I was, and am, a type-A perfectionistic creature and I drank to numb my nerves, but they only made my nerves worse and I didn't even know it! I said that now that I am almost two years into the Dry Life, my anxiety is 90% better, which it is. I also said that every single aspect of my life has improved since I stopped drinking, that when I put down the wine glass, my life sprang into technicolor. All true.
And then I even sneaked in my very favorite Walt Whitman quote, guys: Be curious, not judgmental. I had not planned to do this, I had not planned ANY of this, but there I was, on live TV, sharing these words I try to live by. Our worlds are soaked in judgment, and certainly with respect to alcohol. There is so much, too much, shame and secrecy around the topic and there doesn't need to be. What happens, I mused, if we just get curious about our own drinking - why we drink, how we drink, why it is hard to imagine giving it up? What if this is our first step, just getting curious? That's how it all started for me.
After our segments were over, we went back to that cheery little room and my phone lit up. On the screen: Mom. I picked up. She told me how good I was, how proud she was. And this was everything to me. Because she's my mom. Because I've sometimes been more public about stuff than I think she's wanted me to be. Because I care what she thinks, and always will. Because I'm a mom now and the mama-daughter stuff is at the very core of who I am.
Home again, I collapsed on the couch and watched our segments back. One word: surreal. And then I started hearing from SO many people, so many of you, those whom I know and those who just saw the show and said they could relate to my story of Gray Area drinking, who thanked me for telling my story, for shining a light.
And then, guys, the BEST part of a pretty freaking remarkable day? Watching it all back with my babies. My 11yo was hilarious and noted that I used lots of fancy words. They clapped at the end.
Perhaps obvious: I am doing this for me, but I am also doing this for them.
And then the icing on a crazy, otherworldly day? Another dinner with friends. And not just friends, but my first mommy friends. And where did we go? Back to Tessa. The perfect bookend.
Home after dinner, I posted the following on Instagram:
And now here I am. In this new, brighter, still-imperfect life. It's not that utopia awaits on the other side of drinking. Not at all. But it is that we (some of us) are more awake and aware and alive in the life we have. Does that make sense? My dad is still gone and I miss him. My mom is still battling her own health stuff and I worry. I still wrestle with the daily stresses of raising three daughters in the wilds of Manhattan and trying to write the book I want to write.
There is still stuff. There will always be stuff. But the simple fact: without the cloud of booze, without the shame and darkness it brought me: I'm better able to handle the stuff. I'm stronger. I'm able to do things I would never have been able to do before.
Like: host a big event with ZERO alcohol. Okay, so backstory: I've been hosting my beloved Happier Hours Literary Salons since 2010. For these evenings, I bring in an author or two to talk about her/his/their book(s) with a gathering of many, typically 50-100 book-loving women. When I first started hosting these, the nights, for me, were as much about the Pinot Grigio as the books I showcased. They were about cocktails AND conversation.
But then I changed. Then I began to question my own drinking, to dance between abstinence and moderation and sometimes excess too, but still I kept serving wine at these events. Truth: I felt I had to; that I had no choice.
But then a funny thing happened. I hosted a salon last May, May 2017, with two of my favorite authors Dani Shapiro and Courtney Sullivan, and it was a brilliant night in my yellow living room, but then when it was over, I just stopped. I stopped hosting. A full year went by. And when people asked about the hiatus, I fumbled for an answer I didn't yet have. I needed a break. I was busy with other things.
But now I can see the truth, or at least the partial truth: I was uncomfortable being someone who was serving lots of wine when it was something I was no longer interested in, or believed in. I wasn't even aware of this though.
But then, here it was, an occasion to realize. This Tuesday, I hosted my first Happier Hour in a year for a GORGEOUS memoir called Beauty in the Broken Places (read it!). I welcomed its authors, Allison Pataki and her husband Dr. David Levy, and they talked to all of us who were stuffed in that bright yellow room about their very personal, miraculous story of living through Dave's midair stroke three years ago. Long story short: It was an incredible night.
And it was a moment for me, a huge one. Because for the very first time, I served ZERO booze. Just sparkling water and lemonade. I was truly nervous about this, on edge, but I had no reason to be. People didn't seem to care and if they did, if they no longer want come to these events, that is fine too! When the night was over, I felt this tremendous surge of gratitude that I was able to follow my gut, to be unapologetically who I am. A lemonade night in the lemonade-yellow room? Meant to be.
Here I am. Happy. Startled in the best way possible by the last ten amazing, bizarre, memorable days. Recovering because, hey: I'm also an Introvert. Strange because I didn't really know this until I stopped drinking and devoured Susan Cain's book Quiet (read it!). I am, by nature, a quiet, introspective, philosophical soul who savors solitude and reflection. BUT, like many of us, I've learned to do extroverted things - like appear on television and host big parties - and do them well. But a secret? When these things are over, I'm relieved. Relieved to settle back into my quieter, less-glam, real, cherished life.
And this is all that life. The big stuff and the small stuff, the public stuff and the very private stuff. The moments onscreen and the moments where I am deeply, edifyingly alone. The moments of shouting-from-the-rooftops and the moments of slow-dancing with my baby on a regular Wednesday night.
I am endlessly grateful for all of it, every tiny ounce of it, for the unfolding. And I am grateful too for this oft-neglected place, this corner of the ether, that waits patiently for me to come when I'm ready, to tap keys, to share about this stunning, complicated, technicolor life.
This place that waits and waits for me to come and say: hey hey, this is Me.
If you would like to follow my ongoing musings and observations about #theDryLife, click here: @drybeclub