The Book Show #1693 - Glennon Doyle
Joe Donahue: Glennon Doyle is the author of the number one New York Times bestseller “Love Warrior” an Oprah's Book Club selection as well as the New York Times bestseller “Carry On, Warrior.” An activist, speaker, and thought leader, she is also the founder and president of Together Rising, an all women-lead nonprofit organization that has revolutionized grassroots philanthropy, raising over $20 million for women, families and children in crisis.
Her latest, “Untamed” is both a memoir and a wakeup call. It offers an examination of the restrictive expectations women are issued from birth, shows how hustling to meet those expectations leaves women feeling dissatisfied and lost, overwhelmed and underwhelmed, and reveals that when we quit abandoning ourselves and instead abandon the world's expectations of us, they become women who can finally look at themselves in the mirror and recognize there she is.
Glennon Doyle's latest is “Untamed”. It is a great pleasure to welcome her to this week's Book Show. How are you?
Glennon Doyle: I'm great. I mean, what could make me happier than the Book Show? I am thrilled to be here.
Well, it's wonderful to have you. We're thrilled to have you. I have to say first of all, congratulations on being number one in the New York Times bestseller list. That is wonderful. The third time you have done that and good for you. You are a young woman, and you have three memoirs. That is something. That's a lot of life, isn't it?
Yeah, it feels like I have lived a few lives. You know, the first one was about getting sober. I became bulimic when I was 10, and didn't get sober till I was 25. So that's what that one was about. The second one was about marriage and the infidelity in my marriage and how I healed from that. That was “Love Warrior”. And then the third one, Joe, is about how when I was at my first event to launch “Love Warrior”, which was being touted as an epic marriage redemption story. I met Abby, who I ended up falling in love with and starting a life with and who has now been my wife for four years. So yes, Joe, it has been a doozy of a life.
You know, the first line of the book really sets up the story where you say four years ago married to the father of my three children. I fell in love with a woman. That's as the book is coming out. That's as the second book is coming out. That happens to you.
That's correct. And you know, wasn't just as it was coming out, it was as it was coming out as Oprah's book pick. It was coming out as a book that was, you know, people were saying would help people save their marriages, and here I was ready to let go of my marriage. Joe the funny thing about books is that we authors finish them and then life goes on and we are often not on the road talking about them until two years after we finished them. So it's very interesting to be on the road always on book tours and in media discussing a version of yourself that is often a year or two old.
And then it takes us a while to catch up, meaning us the readers, to know what's going on. You write in the book early on, you're talking about your high school experiences and you rigged an election. Quote, “I rigged an election trying to be golden. I spent 16 years with my head in a toilet trying to be light. I drank myself numb for a decade trying to be pleasant. I've giggled at and slept with a******* trying to be touchable. I've held my tongue so hard I tasted blood trying to be gentle. I've spent thousands on potions and poisons trying to be youthful. I have denied myself for decades trying to be pure.” So in that catchup time, do you feel you’re pure now?
I don't know what pure means. I mean, I think pure for a woman means whatever the culture you were born into told you that good women don't do. But the messages are different depending on where you're from. I was raised in a fundamentalist kind of Christian culture. And so there was a lot of, you know, women were not supposed to speak, women were not supposed to speak loudly. Women were not supposed to have ambition, or desire. As a matter of fact, the first story I was ever taught about women was the story of Eve, which was very clear that when women want more, the world falls apart, and everyone she loves is punished, right? So yes, I think that if you are a woman in any sort of culture, you are going to spend a lot of your life trying to unlearn all of the expectations and ideals that that culture teaches us. And really, in all they just say, be quiet and be small and disappear.
Is you wrote in that section that I just read of all that trying to be pure. So then what is the aspiration now? There is no such thing as pure, it says it's happiness, right? Is that what it ultimately is?
No, not for me. I can't try to be happy all the time. I just I don't get it. I think that happiness is something that…I don't Joe. I mean, I'm someone who's struggled my whole life with depression and anxiety and if I go for happiness as my goal, I'm screwed. I don't think so. I don't think being human is about feeling happy all the time. I think it's just about feeling everything. You know, as a recovering addict, even these addictions we have to these little cages of expectations and ideals and that we think will keep us safe from life, I don't know. I think my goal is now just to be free, as free as possible and just to feel all of the human experience.
So I guess what I'm trying to get to here is do you feel that you have arrived to the place that you want to be at?
I can tell you that I feel more myself and more free than I ever have before. I don't feel that I'm free from pain in any way. But I've now been through enough pain and survived enough that I don't feel afraid of pain anymore. So I don't, I do know that I tend to live a life where I build and build and build and then the tide comes, you know that there's no solid ground. So I don't expect that life will stay perfect and wonderful as it is right now, but I do feel less afraid for whenever the next iteration of my life comes because I know I've been through it and I can handle it.
The other story that could happen is that you're a young girl you understand that that you, of how you feel. You are not in a cage as you as you put it, and you are free to feel the way you do and love who you want to love. And you have that freeness at a very young age. But do you think it would mean as much had you not gone through all the other stuff now?
No. I think sometimes you got to live through and figure out, you to learn what God and sexuality and love are not before you can figure out what they are. That's how I have had to learn it. I think and I think we just so appreciate the sun after a long darkness. And I think that had I not had to fight my way out of narrow versions of religion and faith and sexuality and gender, now, I don't think I'd feel as home and free as I do right now, but I think that's a good question.
When you look at it, though, and you think of the time, because it makes us all I mean, we all mature. We all get older, we get hopefully a little bit wiser we understand. We've been batted around a little bit and you become calloused to some aspects of the world. So when this happens to you, and you see, walk into that room a year later, you're married. But that is that's a whirlwind of a year, isn't it?
It is an amazing story. And what I think though, Joe, is it's not, “Untamed” is not a story about just like, a love story between me and Abby, although it is that. I think what happened when I saw Abby, and it was in a moment where I was in a very broken marriage to a good man. Okay, and that was that's a hard place for a woman to be because we're supposed to be grateful, you know. If it's not terrible, we're supposed to say it's good enough. And I think when I felt whatever it was rise up in me and recognize Abby as a love, I think it was more a question of a am I going to just abandon myself again? It felt so much more important than am I going to love Abby? Am I going to go towards her? It was more like, okay, I have heard from myself, the self that I've been burying for so long. Am I gonna just ignore it again? Am I gonna abandon myself or might I take a risk on just abandoning everyone else's expectations of me? Because I had to go through a lot of, you know, I had to cause my children pain. I had to tell Craig, I had to do all of this publicly at a time where I had a very faith-based audience. I mean, it was, it was a little bit like risking everything. And I don't believe, none of us believe, Abby doesn't believe, I don't believe that I risked everything for Abby. I think I risked everything because I wasn't living my true enough life anyway. Like all of the things I had, were worth risking, because they were all based on me hiding who I really was and pretending that I was happy when I wasn't. So, you know, it felt more dramatic than will I love Abby. It was will I live as myself? Will I abandon myself? And so in retrospect, it was hard and it was traumatic and you know, dismantling my life, and my career, and my family, and divorcing, and all of that was hard, as it always is. And I don't think anybody in my family would say that we'd have it any other way now. You know there's no such thing as one way liberation.
Right. I'm interested in because a couple of things here. Glennon Doyle is our guest By the way, the name of the new book is “Untamed”. It is published by The Dial Press. You talk about this, that as you say, Craig had been unfaithful to you. It was it was very difficult at that time, of course, and yet he has he is the father of your children and has remained very much involved, not only in the in the children's lives but in your relationship even with Abby.
Yeah, listen, he's we got married so young and we got married because I was pregnant. And we got married when I was just freshly sober. I mean, there was so much going on. And I really think that we married each other because it was the right thing to do, you know, not because we were the right ones for each other. And a lot unfolded in our marriage. And yes, there was infidelity. And I knew when it happened that I wasn't supposed to leave right away. I just knew there was unfinished business that I had to figure out how to forgive. It turned out not because we were going to stay together forever. Just because I needed to figure out how we could co-parent forever, right? And leave each other. Leave our marriage. We've never really left each other because we're still this blended family, but leave our marriage in a way that we could trust and respect each other, which we do now, although it took a hell of a lot of work. So yeah, he's in the top five most important people in my entire life and always will be.
And the others, of course, being Abby, and then your children.
Yes. Three kids.
Talk a little bit about the kids. Because it strikes me that, as you say, you are you were unhappy with who you were at that time. But you are their mother. So you are changing, but you don't want to change ultimately, that role, and the love and support that you give your kids.
Yeah, it's so tricky. I mean, I think that comes down to how we define what good mothering is. I stayed in my marriage for a very long time. After the infidelity even though I was just angry all the time. The reason I did that is because I have just been tamed to believe that a good mother just doesn't cause her children pain, right? So I just thought I stay for them, I stay for them. And one day, I was braiding my daughter's hair. And I looked at her and I thought, oh my god, I'm staying in this marriage for her. But would I want this marriage for her? And if I wouldn't want this marriage for her, then why am I modeling bad love and calling that good mothering? And that is when I realized that, um, there's a very simple reason for that. Why we why all women do that is because, you know, somewhere along the line, we just accepted this cage that good mothers are martyrs. Right? That, mothers in order to prove their love, just burying themselves, bury their dreams, and their ambition, and their emotion, and all of it in honor of their children. And that was one of those moments where I just figured out I mean, that's what untaming is, it's figuring out what cultural messages you have been given and you are hustling to meet that don't even make any damn sense. Because that's not what we want to show our children with a burden for children of mother martyrs right to know that they are the reason that their mother stopped living, right? To know that if they become parents, they will one day also have to martyr themselves because if we hold up martyrdom as the epitome of love, that's what our children worse will strive for. That's what I why I think Carl Jung said the greatest burden on a child is the unlived life of a parent. Right, so, so when I say that I left my marriage, broke up my family and pursued the love of my life, it's not in spite of my children, it's because of my children. Because I believe that motherhood is not about martyrdom, but about being a model. Right, that our children will only allow themselves to live as freely as we give ourselves permission to live. So we cannot settle for any life or relationship that is less true in beautiful than the one we'd want for our babies.
You meet Abby in 2016. And she shows up and you write that you saw in her someone who never internalized the stuff that you had been trying to shake off. She seemed so free and strong. And that was the kindest person in the room. You knew, as you as you say in the book, and I referenced it in the introduction of, there she is. You knew, I guess, did you know what the depth of that was at the time?
Now, all I know is that I had this very strange experience that I've never really had before, where I just looked at her and this just, there she is. Recognition. It felt more like I was recognizing her than meeting her. And I did understand, of course, I did not know in that moment that she would be the love of my life, and I would marry her, and all of this would happen. But I did understand that something strange was going on and that I was hearing from an internal voice that I hadn't heard from from a long time. And I think what I understood and came to understand over the next few months, was that it was a true and real voice that I was hearing from that was beyond my indoctrination, that was beyond my cultural conditioning and my social programming. And I think the way I knew that is because I wanted her and it was the first time I had wanted something beyond what I had been trained to want. And I loved her, which I came to understand over the next weeks, and it was the first time in my life I had loved someone beyond the people I had been trained to want. And that's how I knew that it was coming from a really real pure place which I now understand kind of as the girl that I was before, the world told me who to be. So I didn't know, of course, of what the future would hold. But I did know that it was an important moment in my life and that I would have to decide whether I was going to listen to that voice or not.
When you talk about this, that's basically you live up until you're, you're 10. And then you're told where to go, where you're supposed to be.
Yeah, I mean, I think that most that's what most of the research says is that we are born little individual wild creatures, and then we have to be assimilated into cultures, families, religions, nations. And the way that we are assimilated is by behavior control, that, you know, our families look at us and say, okay, here's how a good Doyle acts. Okay, you're a little girl. Here's how girls are and aren't. Okay, you're a Christian. Here's what Christians believe and think. And so we start to internalize our social conditioning and that usually happens between eight and 12. And I find it fascinating because when I was 10 years old is when I became sick, is when I became bulimic. And I don't know, I can't go back there and figure out exactly what happened, but I do wonder if some of that conditioning was setting in, is that I was starting to feel those cages and, you know, needed some kind of escape. I don't know, it's really interesting to me.
Do you look at it as societal or do you also look at how you're brought up and your parents? I mean, how do they come out of this story?
I mean, I feel like it's all the same, right? I mean, our families are completely conditioned. Our parents are conditioned by culture, too. So if a culture, if you live in a culture that says little girls don't act on their anger, they don't. They're pleasant, they smile, they are grateful, they're sweet, they are accommodating. And then of course, your parents are also going to want you to be able to assimilate into that cage because they want you to be accepted, right? So, in many, many, many women I talked to the messages from their parents are very similar to the messages of the culture, which were, be sweet, be accommodating, be pleasant. You know, I never ever learned, and I think few of us do. I don't think this all has to do with gender. I think we live in a culture that doesn't teach kids how to deal with hard emotions. You know, we just are supposed to feel happy all the time. And so when we as children start to feel shame and fear and anger and rage and doubt, we don't know what to do with it. We think there's something wrong with us. So that I've also believe is one of the reasons I started numbing with food, and probably why all of us numb with something or other because we really haven't learned how to metabolize and sit with and use the uncomfortable emotions. Which is really a crucial part of my becoming sober and “Untamed” it was just learning to you know, accept all the entire human experience, the comfortable emotions and the hard ones. I remember my first, my sixth AA meeting, I was having such a hard time and this woman came up to me and she said, I just wants you to know that. It's not hard right now, because you're doing it wrong. It's hard right now, because you're finally doing it right, because feeling all of your feelings is really, really hard. But all feelings are fulfilling, even the hard ones. And she said, if you're missing any secret in life, it's just that being human, it's just really hard sometimes for people who are showing up and doing it right. So I think about that day a lot.
You have written, you talk about therapy and a therapist said to you, you are not a mess. You are a feeling person in a messy world. Do you still feel that way and I'm also getting curious as to the part that therapy plays in your life now?
Yes, I do feel that way. Because of my early my childhood, and my bulimia, and my addiction, you know, for a really long time. Even in my first memoir I wrote I was born broken. That's something that I really believed about myself. I don't anymore at all. I'm raising a little sensitive one, one of my daughters is super sensitive and she cares the most amount about everything and she has big feelings and she pays attention to the world and raising her has helped me understand myself as a child. I think that I was just a really highly sensitive kid who didn't have the skills yet that she needed to deal with her sensitivity, but I now understand clearly that that sensitivity that I thought was a weakness was really absolutely a superpower. You know, the sensitivity that lead me to addiction. It's the same sensitivity that I use now to be a good writer, a good artist. And, you know, the kind of anxiety that can lead me to be fearful sometimes is the exact same anxiety, fire, I call it my fire, that makes me a really good activist. So it's interesting, I think some of the things that we think our weaknesses really do end up being these huge strengths later in our lives, and we figure out how to channel them, you know,
in that channeling for you was it natural to want to, eventually, I mean, even after the first book, that that you wanted to share that, that there was a and you could fill in the word of whether it was a necessity, or a desire, or want to share with other people, as opposed to, okay, I'm going to go in, I'm going to figure this out. I'm going to shut the door for a couple years and then I'll open it and tell you what happened?
Yeah, I think it's both. I mean, I've learned, I think I learned how to heal most clearly and powerfully through recovery meetings. The first time I ever went to a recovery meeting, I just thought, oh my God, thank god like these are the first honest people I've ever met. I just the process of sitting in a circle with honest people and having them be real about their pain and about life. I saw it, I saw it heal people. It did. It does and did for me. And so I actually started writing when I was just a young mom just dripping with children and I was unable to find my way to recovery meetings. I just couldn't find the time. So I started writing as a place where I could use that voice that I used in recovering meetings. So to answer your question, yes, sharing is, not just in my writing, but it everywhere in my life, of this shameless existence is a crucial part of healing for me. And also, I would say that that can look different than memoir, right? I mean, a memoir is not pain in real time. It's kind of like a diary, or, you know, my friend, Nadia always says, we share from our scars, not our open wounds. And I believe in that. You know, people often look at “Love Warrior”, which is a book a lot about pain, because of the infidelity in the marriage and talk about how raw it was. And it's true, kind of, but, you know, I wrote that book three years after it happened. So I don't know, I just think that there's a difference. I think in this age of vulnerability, where we're telling everybody vulnerable, people often share too early, and I can see when it happens. It makes people uncomfortable, and it feels more like a cry for help than an act of service, which I think art has to be in some way. So I think there, there's a difference between a diary and memoir. And I think for me, memoir comes when you've kind of sat with the pain of life enough that it doesn't feel personal anymore. It gets to the point where it feels universal. And there's wisdom there that you've kind of mined right through the pain, that you're then able to turn around and offer. So it feels more like an offering than a cry for help is how I kind of distinguish those.
It strikes me you look back at your two previous books, you still look back at those fondly. You don't, some authors will look back at previous memoirs and say, oh, god, I can't believe I wrote that. Or I oh, you know, and they don't even want it in the world. You don't seem like you're like that.
I mean, I'm a little like that.
Alright, that's good. I like that you admit that.
I’m a little like that. Yeah, I feel cringy a little bit about some of the things that I wrote in those two books. But I also don't know that sometimes I feel like the cringier I feel about how I was 10 years ago, 20 years ago, eight years ago, five years ago, the better, right because that means that I've made progress. I do not ever want to be in a place where I feel and think and behave and believe the same as I did five years ago. It's just the way of a writer's life is if you're going to show up and port yourself out onto paper, and then keep living and keep writing, you're going to look back on some of it and say, yeah, hopefully, hopefully, if you're growing and evolving as people should.
Glennon Doyle’s new memoir is “Untamed”. It's published by The Dial Press. Glennon a delight to speak with you. You are just wonderful. I thank you so much for sharing with us. I thank you for your openness and your honesty and just the very reassuring voice that you have. Thank you very much for being with us.
Joe, thank you so much. Stay safe.
You too. Thank you.
Bye-bye. We enjoy hearing from our listeners about our shows. You can email us at email@example.com. And you can listen again to this or find past book shows via podcast or at WAMC.org Sarah LaDuke produces our program. Thanks to Rob Chacon. Bookmark us for next week, and thanks for listening for the Book Show. I'm Joe Donahue.