The New Activism: Truth-Telling, Showing Up & Getting Real
May 5, 2017, New York City
Photographs by Bill Miles
Nobody is more ready to show up than anybody else. It’s just that some people show up before they’re perfect and before they’re ready.
Kristen: Hi Glennon. Welcome to New York City!
Glennon: Oh thank you. I love it here.
Kristen: Thank you for sitting down with Best Self on this rainy Friday morning. If you could just bear with me, I would love to gush over you for a second as I introduce you to our audience.
Glennon: I think I can handle that.
Kristen: Glennon Doyle is a writer, momma, dreamer, sought-after speaker, love flash mob revolutionary, online community leader, Sunday school teacher, activist, truth teller, hope spreader — who calls herself a ‘recovering everything’, and believer in all things ‘brutiful’. Not beautiful, brutiful, which I’ll let her explain in a moment. In between all of that, she has written 2 New York Times best-selling books, Love Warrior, and Carry on, Warrior. Glennon is the founder of Momastery, an online community reaching millions of people each week. She is also the creator and president of Together Rising, a nonprofit organization that has raised millions of dollars for families around the world and has revolutionized online giving.
I’m so excited to sit down with you today, Glennon. Let’s start with ‘brutiful’.
Glennon: I figured out early on that the most important parts of life, for me, would be sobriety, relationships, love, and faith. These things are so beautiful and also so brutally hard. All at the same time, beautiful and brutal. The thing that I tried to do for so long is numb out the brutal. That’s what addiction is — it’s a hiding place from pain and numbing out. If you numb the brutal, you don’t get to experience the beautiful. At some point along the line, I just said, “Okay, I’ll take all of it.”
Kristen: When I was reading this beautiful book of yours [holding Love Warrior] and simultaneously drying out my highlighter, I was thinking to myself: I’ve got to interview her.
I believe in timing. I actually feel very fortunate that I’m getting to interview you at this point and time in your life, because in many ways I feel like you are more cracked open, more activated, more recklessly telling the truth.
Glennon: Oh yes. God, it’s good to be in your 40’s. I would not go back to 30 or 20 for all the money in the world. I feel like in the beginning, we just live for everybody else, and we’re just trying to fit into all of these boxes and trying to be what the world wants us to be. And then when all of that falls apart — we’re free.
I feel so free. I feel freer and freer every year.
Kristen: We’re actually lucky if it falls apart and we’re lucky if we travel through it, right?
Kristen: Most people don’t realize that there’s such a long period of time between handing in a manuscript to your publisher and finally seeing it on a bookshelf. Especially writing a memoir, which chronicles a moment in time of your life, a lot of life happens in between.
Glennon: That’s hard for some people with Love Warrior, because that is the story of my life, and specifically the implosion of that marriage and then the healing of my marriage. It ends with my husband — my now ex-husband — and I seemingly redeemed, our marriage redeemed. In many ways it was, but then books end and life goes on. When Love Warrior came out, that story had been written two years beforehand. I was on the road with people who had just finished my book and were so hopeful for my marriage. I had to say, “Oh no, no, no. That’s over.”
So, when you are a writer and you’re releasing books, you are always on the road representing yourself from years ago, which is interesting.
Kristen: Let’s go back for a minute — I don’t want to gloss over this story. On the outside, your life looked perfect. Setting the stage: you’re married, happily married. You’ve got three kids, a doting husband, a writing career, and then BOOM. Life cracks open.
Glennon: 12 years into the marriage, 3 kids, career taking off — my husband told me one day in therapy that he had been unfaithful to me throughout our entire marriage. So, it was a bad day! [smirking sarcastically]
Kristen: That’s a boom.
Glennon: I was doing what so many women do, which is that I had my entire identity wrapped up in the roles that I was playing. I was a wife. I was a mother. I was a writer. At the time I was a relationship expert, so I remember thinking, “Well, that gig is probably over.” [laughing]
Kristen: Time to take a look at the Classifieds.
Glennon: I think as women, we think that the way we’re supposed to grow up is we’re supposed to become things. So I became, I became, I became.
We end up like those Russian nesting dolls. We’re just putting on bigger and bigger costumes until we lose ourselves. The beautiful thing about getting an eviction notice from your life, like I did in that therapy session, is that we don’t get evicted from our lives unless we’re also being invited to a truer life, a better life.
Kristen: Those sirens are ringing for you. [NYC street sirens]
Glennon: I would say angels. So, that was a hard eviction, but what I figured out is that we cannot, as women, put all of our identities in the people that we love or the roles that we play. We cannot put our worth and our identity in things that can be taken away from us.
So, the reason why you look at me now and think that I’m free and strong is because women who’ve been to rock bottom in their lives get to experience fully and learn the truth about life — which is that the only things you really need are the same things that can never be taken from you. That’s why women who have been through it are the brave ones who can laugh at the days to come. Fear just dissipates when you lose what you think you need and you realize you didn’t need it in the first place.
Kristen: You did try to save your marriage by going to therapy to hold onto it, to scramble and pick up all the pieces.
Glennon: For years.
Kristen: I think it’s also probably fair to say that we need to give ourselves permission to find out: Is this salvageable? Do I want to stay?
Glennon: I’m not sure that going to therapy was to save my marriage. I just knew there was some self-saving that needed to go on.
These crises don’t happen to us unless there’s something there, something to learn. I completely believe that the people who come into our lives are there for a reason. I needed to figure out what was it that this tragedy and pain had come into my life to teach me? I remember going to my therapist and saying, “I am in more pain than I’ve ever been in. I don’t know if my marriage will be saved, but you need to help me figure out how to use this pain so it’s not wasted.”
That whole journey was so wrapped in sex and intimacy that the only way through it was for me to go back to when I was 10-years-old and figure out why I became bulimic.
I ended up starting this work that has ended up freeing me. It didn’t have so much to do with saving my marriage. It had to do with me becoming whole. It was a catalyst. Everything is a catalyst.
Kristen: I believe that we leave breadcrumbs for ourselves — that there’s a trail that leads to a place that we needed to go back to, to really delve into authentic healing. In hindsight, do you see the red flags that you missed?
Glennon: Completely, and that’s the beauty of therapy, and that’s the beauty of being an artist and a writer. However, I need to specify that when I was going through this, I was not waking up every day and saying, “There must be a gift in this and I would just like to mine this for some wisdom. I just feel like this experience is very spiritual.” On the contrary, I woke up every day and cursed and cried and rued the day I was born. I hated everything and everyone and all day I would ask, “Why me?”
So, I just want to be clear that all of this wisdom came in the reflection — in the writing of Love Warrior, not the experience of Love Warrior. When I was experiencing infidelity and trying to save my family I was just surviving, which is what most of us do in those times.
It is so important for people to have some time to reflect on what happens to them. My growth grew in the reflection, not in the happening of it. The writing of Love Warrior is where I figured all of this out, and got the wisdom and courage. When it happened to me, I was just trying to make it through the day.
Kristen: Your online community is called ‘Momastery’. Did you literally start writing in a closet?
Glennon: Yes. I’ve come out of the closet in so many ways. [laughing]
Kristen: Let’s not get too far ahead of the story. [laughing]
Glennon: Sorry. Teasers! Spoiler alerts!
Kristen: So you were home, taking care of your 3 kids when you began to candidly write about loneliness. You weren’t supposed to be lonely when you had a family, but you started sharing it and literally millions of people a week started responding to it.
Glennon: Yes, it was wild.
Kristen: What is it about a woman who’s writing in a closet in between diaper changing that was striking such a chord with so many?
Glennon: The inspiration for Momastery came from a recovery meeting. I was wasted when I found out I was pregnant with my first child. I had been an alcoholic for a decade and a half, and I’d been bulimic for longer than that. I held up that pregnancy test and thought, “Oh my God. This could be my last invitation to come back to life.” So, I went to my first meeting that day. It was Mother’s Day. Subtle, subtle message. [smirking]
Kristen: No pun intended.
Glennon: I remember sitting in that recovery meeting and listening to these people tell their stories and thinking, “Oh my God. These are the first honest people I’ve ever met in my life.” In that circle is where I figured out that this is powerful. This is freedom, being able to share your story bravely with no fakeness and no act. The flip side of that is listening to other people’s stories without judgment or without trying to fix anybody. That’s the beauty of these recovery groups.
Kristen: That’s the key.
Glennon: It’s the respect. It’s being brave enough to tell your story and kind enough to hear other people’s stories without your own crap and judging them through your own lens. I remember thinking I was so sad when they made me leave the meeting. “Oh my God. I have to go back to my life?” I want to live here.
I thought, “Why is it that we can only be this honest in little dark basements of churches one hour a week?” That’s so weird. If that one hour a week is so powerful, what if we could do this out in the open? What if we could actually be fully human and honest with each other in real life?
That is where the idea of Momastery came in, because a monastery is a place where sensitive, spiritual people retreat from the real world because they feel like there’s a better way to live. Then they create intentional communities that are based on love and freedom and kindness. So, I thought, “Why couldn’t we make a place like that on the Internet?”
Kristen: There’s this powerful passage I want to read from your book, which I would say is an ode to stay-at-home moms everywhere. This is the honesty that you have the ability to convey. You wrote this is in reaction to Craig, your ex-husband coming home and saying, “How was your day?'”
Glennon: Such an aggressive question, “How was your day?”
Kristen: You wrote: How was my day? It was a lifetime. It was the best of times and the worst of times. I was both lonely and never alone. I was simultaneously bored out of my skull and completely overwhelmed. I was saturated with touch, desperate to get the baby off me, and the second I put her down I yearned to smell her sweet skin again. This day required more than I’m physically and emotionally capable of, while requiring nothing from my brain. I had thoughts today, ideas, real things to say and no one to hear them.
Glennon: Good times. [sarcastically]
Kristen: It reflects your ability to encapsulate emotion and paint a relatable picture.
Glennon: Because it reflects this cultural idea that is very specific to our country actually, which is that if you admit that anything is hard or complicated, that’s like an admission of failure.
Being a mother is all beautiful, right? Being a mother is a hard. If it’s not hard for you, maybe you’re not doing it right!
Glennon: These things in life — marriage, family, God — I often find that they’re hardest and most complicated for people who are doing them right, who are showing up every day vulnerably and with their whole selves and getting knocked down and getting back up again.
I’ve been a stay-at-home mom. I’ve been a working mom. All these labels, I know we hate them, but I still think —and half the world will be furious with me for this — but I still say that being home with those babies all day was the hardest mom-ing I’ve ever done. Bless these women warriors.
Kristen: Absolutely. In Love Warrior, you spoke of the moment where you came across something. I think it was on Facebook and it was ‘The 25 Things’. Can you tell us about that?
Glennon: By this point, I was often in recovery meetings questioning where can we tell the truth. I just want to be able to tell this truth in real life. I couldn’t find anywhere, people in playgroups, people at church, which is so funny. I went to church thinking that that’s where people would be honest because of God. And yet, in there, people were acting like everything was perfect more than anywhere else. I thought that is so funny: Acting like you’re perfect at church is like getting really dressed up for an X-ray.
Kristen: I love that quote.
Glennon: God knows we’re jacked up. What are we doing if we can’t even be honest here?
I was exhausted with all of the pretending. There was this thing on Facebook. People were just listing things about themselves. I thought, “Oh I could do that.” So, I sat down and pounded out a list that was like my ‘truthiest’ truth. I was talking about alcoholism and bulimia and all of it.
Anyway, it turned out everyone else was doing it on a little bit lighter scale. I remember my #6 was, “I’m a recovering food and alcohol addict, but I still find myself missing booze in the same twisted way we can miss those who repeatedly beat us and leave us for dead.”
That is true! But my friend Lisa’s #6 was, “My favorite snack food is hummus,” right?
Kristen: Oooh, don’t tell anybody!
Glennon: So, that’s when I figured out that we’re not doing that. We’re just saying stupid crap about ourselves. We’re not even being honest here.
That was a hard day. I wanted to die because my #6 was my most lighthearted one. Then later I got really brave and I started opening these emails that people had written to me after reading my list. They were from people who I had known my whole life, but they had never really told me their stuff. We had been so busy trying to pretend to each other that everything was ‘perfect’.
Kristen: That’s such a truth.
Glennon: We had never brought the real stuff to each other — the stuff that keeps us up at night, the heavy stuff that we were actually meant to help each other carry.
There was something about me saying, “OK, here I really am. Not my representative, not my shiny self, but my real self.” In response, that made them finally feel comfortable and brave enough to say, “OK, then. Here I am too.”
These emails said things like, “You know, my sister’s bulimic. She’s been bulimic for 15 years. We don’t know what to do. My marriage is falling apart. I cry myself to sleep every night. We’re out of money.” I just thought, “Oh my God. This truth-telling thing is like a key that can actually unlock people.”
Kristen: From the suffering and silence, which is amazing.
Glennon: We all live in quiet desperation. I remember saying, “That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going be a truth teller,” because I think all you need to be a truth teller is shamelessness. I was born without it. I don’t know where shame is. I can’t find it. I just never have had it.
Glennon: No! Well, maybe the first 25 years of my life. Maybe that was what all the booze and addiction was about: shame.
Kristen: What about guilt?
Glennon: Guilt is good. Guilt is when you say, “I acted like a jerk and I’m going to change it. I acted in a way that is unworthy of who I am.” Shame says, “Who I am is unworthy.” Guilt presupposes that you know yourself to be better than you just behaved. It’s a correction. I am better than that. Shame is poison. Shame is, “I’m not good enough. I’m not worthy.” Shame is just an excuse. Also, shame is the same thing as pride. It’s the flip side of pride. Pride says, “I’m better than everyone, so I don’t have to show up for life.” And shame just says, “I’m worse than everybody, so I don’t have to show up for life.”
They’re both just denials of our common humanity, which is that nobody is better than anybody else. Nobody is more ready to show up than anybody else. It’s just that some people show up before they’re perfect and before they’re ready.
All the beauty and good in the world is done by those people. I think that pride and shame are for wimps; I don’t believe in them. Every time I feel shame creeping in, every time I feel shameful about anything, that’s when I know what I need to write about, because things that we feel shame about, the longer they stay in the dark, the bigger and scarier they get.
So, for me, that’s putting them on paper. The second they get out into the light, they’re so much less scary. Shame can’t handle light. The second it’s out, it just disappears.
Kristen: You have this poignant quote when you were writing ‘The 25 Things’ — I was envisioning you there in your closet…
Glennon: We lived in a very small house. My closet was the only place I could get away. By the way, every once in a while I would look up in my closet and my entire freaking family would be in my closet with me. [laughing] Get out!
Kristen: This is sacred space.
Kristen: You said: As I finish and stare at my writing, I feel more like I’m looking into a mirror than I have ever felt looking into an actual mirror. There I am, the inside me, on the outside. As I read and reread my list, trying to get to know me, I hear crying from upstairs. Amma is awake from her nap and she needs me. She’ll have to wait because I’m finally awake, too, and I need me first.
Glennon: Oh, that’s good. I like that. I’ve actually thought about that sentence a lot: I felt more like looking into a mirror than I ever have looking into a mirror.
I’ve had a very confusing relationship with food and body and appearance my whole life. So, for me to be able to put all of that aside and say, “Okay. Here’s the inside me. Go ahead and see that. Go ahead and judge that. Do whatever you must do with that. The writing me is ‘realer’ to me than the physical me.”
Kristen: I just recently attended a panel discussion of memoirists, amongst them was Dani Shapiro…
Glennon: I love Dani Shapiro.
Kristen: She’s wonderful. She said, “We don’t always know what we’re going to write about. It chooses us.” She also said, “If you censor the story, you’ll never know what it is meant to be.”
Glennon: Listen, I wrote 2 or 3 different book proposals before Love Warrior. I did not want to write about that most painful time in my life. I wanted to write anything else. The previous proposals sucked. They were terrible. I kept thinking, “Why can’t I figure this out?” The reason why they sucked is because I wasn’t writing the thing that I was called to write.
Kristen: Did you have someone pushing you along saying, “Girl, you gotta write the other story”?
Glennon: Totally. One of my dearest friends is my editor, Whitney Frick. She’s amazing. Everybody knew I was eventually going to write Love Warrior. They were all just pretending that I wasn’t, guiding me along, letting me handle as much as I could handle at the time.
I remember thinking, “Okay. So, I’m a writer and because I’m a writer, God, the universe, whatever you want to call it, gives me a story to write. If I don’t write the hell out of this story — I’ll just have to stop being a writer.”
You can’t say you’re a writer and not write the story that the universe has given you to write. So, I had 2 choices: I can either do my best and write the hell out of this Love Warrior, or I can be something else. But I can’t keep calling myself a writer if I don’t do this.
Kristen: I love the part of the book where you talked about the inner self and our ‘representative’ and that internal dialogue between the two.
Glennon: We have our representative selves — that’s who we send out to the world.
When people say, “How are you?” There are 5 things you’re allowed to say. For example, you’re allowed to talk about the weather. You’re allowed to say, “I like your scarf. I like your hair.” You’re not supposed to say, “Oh actually, my marriage is in the shitter and I am feeling really overwhelmed lately.” You’re just not allowed to say those things that you’re really thinking.
I believe that there has to be a place for every woman and every man to be able to reveal that true voice. This is what recovery meetings are. For some people, it’s coffee with a dear friend. For some people it’s dancing. For some people it’s writing.
Virginia Woolf said, “Every woman needs a room of her own,” and I certainly didn’t have that. I was in a closet, but I do believe that every woman needs an hour of her own a day. An hour where she can step outside of all of her roles and she can just be her soul. So, this is there where that voice that we hide all day can come out and onto the paper and that feels like freedom.
Kristen: You were claiming that in your writing, in your closet?
This is the hour where I’m not a mom and I’m not a wife and I’m not a nonprofit president. I’m just this soul that I was born with and that I will die with. I feel more committed than ever to that internal voice.
I think that half the things I’ve done in my life I did because external voices were telling me that was what I was supposed to do and who I was supposed to be as a woman. I ran that ship into the shore. It just didn’t work. So many times I talked to women after they’ve done something that they knew they shouldn’t have — where their inner voice had been saying “No, no, no.” Or their inner voice was saying, “Yes, yes, yes,” but all the voices and expectations of the world were saying the opposite. As women, we are just so addicted to listening to outer voices instead of our inner voice.
Kristen: People pleasing.
Glennon: Yes, but let’s not blame ourselves for it. From the time we’re born, what is the highest compliment our culture can bestow upon women? She’s so selfless. Let’s think about that for a minute. The ultimate compliment for a woman is that you do not even have a self! Then we get to this age where we can’t find ourselves anymore and we wonder why.
That’s why the most revolutionary thing a woman can do is to begin to practice stillness, listen for that wisdom on the inside, block out all the outside — because there is a knowing. There is a voice that rises up in stillness inside of a woman. You can call it whatever you want. I call it God. You can call it intuition. You can call it wisdom. I have a dear friend who has some God issues; she calls it, Sebastian. I don’t think it freaking matters what you call it.
Kristen: Just call it.
Glennon: Exactly. This rising, this knowing, settles in or rises up. It will tell you what to do next, but it will never give you a 5-year plan. I have a tattoo on my wrist that says, “Be still,” because whenever I don’t know what to do, it’s just because I haven’t checked back in.
Be still and know.
This was another gift. No — it was the single gift of the marriage implosion.
Kristen: The crisis gift.
Glennon: Crisis means to sift. We all want to avoid crisis in our lives because we think it’s a bad thing. Crisis is an opportunity. The word crisis literally means to sift like a child who goes to the beach and lifts up the sand and watches all the sand fall away, hoping that there’ll be treasure left over.
It comes in so that we can hold up our life in front of us, watch everything fall away that we thought we needed, and then we can find out what’s left over. During that time my marriage imploded, I was already a writer. I was on the road constantly. I was out there. Everyone on earth had advice for me. Everybody knew what I should do. The church had some serious ideas about what I should do. My family, the Interwebs, my publishers, everybody. I realized along the way I’m going to lose my mind if I try to please all of these people. There literally is no way to please all these people because they all want opposing things. The only way I’m going to survive this and know that I’m doing the right thing for myself is to shut all of it out and go inside. It was survival.
So, I promised myself during that time that I was going to take 15 minutes a day and just be really quiet and listen to myself, to God, whatever you want to call it, whatever that deepest voice is. And it started working because the thing is, it didn’t have anything to do with right or wrong. What’s the right thing to do? What’s the wrong thing to do? These are socially constructed ideas.
The ‘next thing’ is never about right or wrong; it’s just about precise. What is the precise next thing that I’m supposed to do? That only comes directly to you. That can’t come from any institution in your life.
Kristen: You’re the one who’s got to live with it.
Glennon: Right. Then you get to this point where you question, “What is best for me?”
The world has convinced us somewhere along the line that if we choose what’s best for us that it will be screwing everyone we care about. There could be nothing further from the truth. What is right and true and good and precise for me is inevitably what is right and true and precise and good for my people.
I figured that out when I thought, “Oh my God. I’m staying in a marriage and in a relationship that I know is not right for me — for my children.” One day I sat down and thought, “But would I want this for my children?” I realized I was staying for my daughters, but would I want my daughters to stay in this?
Kristen: What would you be saying if they were in this situation?
Glennon: I would be saying, “Honey, you can love and forgive a man and still not want to be married to him for the rest of your life.”
Glennon: If you want your daughters to be warriors who live true to themselves and aren’t lying and aren’t pretending — then you better do that because they’re not watching what we say. They’re watching what we do.
Kristen: So, Craig was unfaithful to you, but in the end of the day, you were actually unfaithful to yourself.
Glennon: I thought that this book and this journey were about betrayal. I thought it was about betrayal that happens between a man and a woman. But what I figured out is that this book was about me learning how not to betray myself. It was about self-betrayal.
The only promise I will make is that I will never betray myself again. I think that self-betrayal is allowing the fear voices in my head to override the still small voice of truth that already knows what to do.
Kristen: Has that gotten easier?
Glennon: Yes. Women are so convinced to be selfless that sometimes when I talk to women about this still small voice, they don’t know what I’m talking about. They’ll say, “I don’t think I have it. I don’t think I have that voice. I don’t even know what I want for dinner.” Where is the knowing?
It’s so interesting. I do this with kids. My son is 14. He has these girls who come over all the time. I will walk into the room and say, “Okay. Do you want pizza or chicken or whatever for dinner?” So, all the boys will yell out exactly what they want and the girls will look at each other.
This happens so many times that I actually said, “Okay, that’s enough.” [clapping her hands] I called all the girls into the other room one day and I sat them down. I said, “Here’s the thing. This house is going to be a safe place for you to have opinions, okay? You actually have opinions. You know how the boys just said what they want? You can also do that.” They didn’t know what I was talking about so we had to do an exercise.
I got a quarter out and I said, “This is what we are going to do. I’m going flip this coin, okay? Heads, pizza. Tails, chicken. I’m flipping it now. What do you want it to be?” They’re like, “Heads!” I was like, “Oh my God. That’s your voice. You want pizza. That’s your voice!”
Kristen: You did it. Mission accomplished.
Glennon: Sometimes you have to actually trick your voice into speaking, because we’re so convinced that if we do, we’re being selfish or whatever. Once we trust that voice to make little decisions for us — pizza or chicken — we hear it, we do that, and then the decisions get bigger and bigger until we trust ourselves.
Kristen: Once something happens that validates it, suddenly we can trust it.
Glennon: The world’s not going to fall apart because we say we want something. If it does fall apart, it was a world that needed to fall apart for you to build the world that you were supposed to live in. There are plenty of worlds that need to fall apart.
Listen, we come by this fear of female desire honestly. Here’s the first story I ever learned about the universe and women when I was about eight: God made this garden. He put man in it. Man was lonely and bored. So God made a woman out of man’s body. Then the woman wanted something. She went for it. Then the whole freaking world fell apart.
When I heard this story, I remember scratching my head thinking, “But don’t women give birth to men? This is the first time I’ve heard that.” This is like biblical alternative facts, right? We’re taught very, very early not to trust female desire. And because of that, we think deep in our bones that what we want is shameful and dangerous and will destroy the world. It’s just not true.
What women really want are love, real love, freedom, equality, good sex, good food, sharing and power. What women want is good and true and should be trusted. When we think hard about who’s teaching women that what they want will destroy worlds — there we have patriarchy. The really interesting thing is when you start considering that maybe if women started to go after what they wanted, worlds would crumble. But maybe those are the exact worlds that need to crumble so that our creation can be rebuilt on something truer and fairer and less patriarchal.
Women are starting to figure out that what they want is true and good. And when that happens, things are going to get interesting.
Kristen: They are.
Ultimately you decided to leave the marriage. There’s a passage in the book where your entire family is staring at you and you have to just say, “I gotta go.” The beautiful thing I want to say about that is that you both worked really hard in therapy. In the end you refer to each other as ‘healing partners’ that came into that marriage equally broken and that the end result of not being together didn’t matter. What mattered was that you had been a part of each other’s healing and are still very much a part of each other’s lives and co-parenting.
Glennon: Absolutely. And we probably like and respect each other more than we ever have before.
I think people need to be really careful with their language about marriage, because somebody said to me recently in an interview, “All that work, and then your marriage failed.” I thought, ” That’s so interesting.” Never, not for one minute in my existence have I considered that my marriage was a failure. Craig and I were brought to each other to help each other heal. When I married Craig, I was a freaking disaster. I had been sober for like four minutes. I was just learning how to be a human being. I had all of this pain and unhealed, open, gaping wounds. He had wounds that I didn’t even know about yet.
We left each other. We did the hard, hard work of forgiveness. We stayed on our mats. Then we left each other more whole and braver and stronger and better people.
Kristen: And loving each other and not judging each other.
Glennon: We both think of our marriage as a raging success. I don’t think of it as a failing or even ending, it was just complete. We had completed our contracts to each other and it was time for both of us to begin again.
Kristen: It really is a testament to love, because you’re still very much in each other’s lives.
Glennon: Every day. He is a daily part of my life and I cannot imagine that there’s a better father on the earth than he is to our kids.
Kristen: So, this was your contract. This was the role. He was your healing partner.
Glennon: He got me to a good place.
Kristen: When Love Warrior was just going out into the world, the people around you knew what was going down in your personal life. They also knew that everyone who read the book would be rooting for this marriage to succeed and you already knew that it was dissolving in its present form. Everyone told you, “You can’t tell. You can’t let anybody know.” And yet, you really stood in that truth and said, “Momastery is not created on that platform.” Damn girl, that was an act of bravery.
Was there a moment when you wavered in that decision?
Glennon: No, the only wavering had to do with timing, like at what point do I tell? It’s very interesting to be a ‘professional truth teller’. [laughing]
Kristen: Do your kids catch you on that?
Glennon: Oh totally. Well, I definitely lie to my kids. [laughing] Let’s not be ridiculous, but I think that it’s tricky because if you’re a truth-teller, does that mean that you keep nothing to yourself? Is there a difference between secrets and privacy? This is a dance. I owe the world the truth, but I do not owe the world my whole life and my whole heart. I can’t live that way.
That was a dance I had to walk and think through a million times over with all of the people that I love in my life. What it came down to was, I can keep my life to myself in ways that I choose. However, this part of my story, I had made public and I made those choices all along.
My dear friend, Liz Gilbert helped me with this. Because I had shared this story so publicly and because my marriage was such a part of my work — I knew that I owed the truth about that in real time to my people. So, I announced our separation three weeks before the release of Love Warrior, and everybody was telling me, “Oh this is going ruin the book.”
Glennon: Disaster. Nobody’s going to buy this book.
Kristen: Truth is never a disaster.
Glennon: No, it’s always the best policy!
It’s so hilarious how we try to convince ourselves, “Oh maybe in this situation, the truth is not the best policy.” Never! It always is, at all times. My entire platform and life is built on telling the truth, whether it’s popular or easy.
I have always known that all of this could go away in a hot second. That is a daily thing for me that I think it probably will. I don’t think that anybody can speak out as much as I do, especially now in my activism, where it doesn’t eventually cause major repercussions.
For me, success is not keeping as many followers as possible or selling as many books as possible. Success for me is going to bed at night and knowing that I lived as honestly and truthfully and honorably as I possible could that day.
Then, whoever sticks around are the people who were supposed to stick around. But I’m not keeping people or readers based on a version of myself that’s not my true self — that will never feel like success for me.
Kristen: You use a term I love: ‘unbecoming Glennon’. You had to unbecome Glennon, to become the real Glennon. And I think that’s a great takeaway for people to think about.
Glennon: It’s the Russian nesting doll thing again.
We spend our 20’s and 30’s becoming things. I will become a wife. I will become a mother. I will become a working woman. I will become the PTA president. I will become… Then we realize at some point that all of that didn’t make us happy, that it didn’t do whatever it promised us it would do.
And then something happens typically in our 40’s. That is the catalyst to ‘unbecoming’ all of these things. I’m convinced we don’t have to learn anything new, that we were born knowing everything we need to know, but that wisdom comes from unlearning all the crap that this world has accidentally taught us since we’ve gotten here.
Kristen: Where has the unbecoming led you today?
Glennon: Well, one way that I can describe this is that I feel like the process of Love Warrior — which was figuring out how to listen to that voice inside and really just become that whole voice — my whole being now is that voice. I’ve figured out a way to just embody it and stop…
Kristen: …simply writing about it.
Glennon: Yes, and not second-guessing it anymore and not analyzing its depth.
I think that even when women hear from that voice, the reality is that we’re consensus takers. Instead of just listening to it, we need to call 60 friends and ask, “What do you think I should do?” Blah, blah, blah. And the hilarious thing is that our friends don’t even know what they need to do in their life, but we think they’re going to know what we need to do in our life.
Kristen: But they’ve got opinions for us.
Glennon: Of course, because it’s easier to think about what you should do than stay at my house and think about what I should do. That’s why we all want to talk to each other about each other’s lives. We have a system. We call all of our wise friends first and then we save the last one who would tell us what we want to hear for the end, so we can just do that thing.
I figured out that it takes too much time to be a consensus taker. I want to do big things and live honestly and truthfully and with integrity. I love my friends, but it is not their job to know what I should do with my life. It is not anybody else’s job. We have to stop asking people for directions to places they’ve never been.
Kristen: Oh, I love that.
Glennon: Nobody has ever been us. They don’t know. It’s a powerless and wimpy thing to keep asking. What I figured out is that I can do this next right thing without asking for permission first.
And the best part is, I can do it without explaining myself later, because we women have our pre-thing and our post-thing. First we ask for permission consensus, then we do the thing. Then we spend the next year and a half justifying that thing to everyone we know.
The most revolutionary thing that a woman can do is not explain herself. Can you imagine living this way? It’s almost like living like a man.
If you made a mistake, guess what? You just backtrack and try something else. It is not the end of the world to make the wrong decision. You just try again. That’s why I feel ever so slightly fearless, because I’ve already lost everything that was supposed to kill me to lose. It didn’t kill me. I’m still standing.
Kristen: Are you truly fearless?
Glennon: I’m fearless in terms of knowing that the world won’t end no matter what happens. I thought that divorce would ruin my children’s lives. I thought that I would crush them beyond all being and that was the one thing I thought I couldn’t do. That’s why I stayed for so long, but then I did that, and everyone’s OK. There was pain. That pain belonged to my children because it was part of their path. I think that the mistake that we make as parents is that we think our job is to protect our children from their pain. It is not our job, nor our right.
Kristen: It’s actually a disservice.
Glennon: It’s stealing, because all of our wisdom and wholeness and courage come from the pain of our lives. Wise people and brave people and resilient people and kind people are not people who have had nothing to overcome. They’re people who have overcome and overcome and overcome.
We are trying to protect our children from the one thing that will allow them to become the people they were born to be. We want our kids to grow up to be wise and kind and brave and resilient. If we want that for them then we have to let them struggle and overcome. So yes, I brought a lot of pain to my children last year. Then I walked them through it. We made it through. And I didn’t tell them that their pain wasn’t real. I didn’t distract them from it.
I just pointed them directly to it every day and I said, “Look, I see your fear and I see your pain and it’s real and it’s big, but I also see your strength and I see your courage and it’s bigger, so let’s just get in the fire again today.”
Now they know that they survived it. They’ve got to be a little bit more fearless. So, in that big cosmic way, I’m fearless. In the daily way, I’m scared all the time; like for this interview, for the next thing I do, for speaking tonight. I’m just a raging pile of anxiety about daily things.
Glennon: Scited, yes! The butterflies, the half scared, half excited feelings are what we call ‘scited’ in my house. I live scited for sure. What I have figured out is that nobody who I know who’s doing awesome world healing work feels prepared to do it. It’s just that some people show up even before they feel ready. The people who are doing all the good work in the world are just people who show up scared.
Kristen: What a beautiful gift to give your children, to empower them at such a young age to know that they will come face to face with things that are brutal and things that are painful and things that will crack them open, but to also know that they can come through it and that there will be gifts. You’re not making light of this, but you stand as a testament to that. Craig stands as a testament to that and your relationship stands as a testament to that, which is a ‘brutiful’ gift.
Glennon: Hopefully, they won’t be as afraid of pain as most people are. I really think it might be the definition of freedom: to not be afraid of pain.
Kristen: These are conversations we never had.
Glennon: I did not know that until yesterday. It would’ve been helpful to know this about 20 years ago.
Kristen: We got here as fast as we could.
Glennon: Timing is exactly what it is. Truth reveals itself to us when we’re ready for it.
Kristen: Did you ever think that there was room for another love story?
Glennon: No. I thought that I would run Momastery and be monkish for the rest of my life. I’m like the love warrior who had no freaking idea what romantic love was. I don’t think I had ever actually experienced romantic love in my life. So, I didn’t understand what anybody was talking about. I hated romantic comedies. I didn’t understand them. I used to say, “You know love is a light and some people use their light like a laser on one person, but I’m more like a floodlight. I just love the whole world”. I used to tell myself crap like this and I used to believe it myself.
The most amazing thing about life is that you can think you have it all figured out. You can think you know what your life’s going to look like, and then it just keeps surprising you.
Kristen: So, do tell, how did it surprise you?
Glennon: I fell in love with a woman. Her name is Abby. I’m about to marry her in a second. You know how in the movie, The Wizard of Oz, everything is black and white in the beginning and the suddenly there is this scene where it all turns to Technicolor? And you don’t even realize until you see it in color that you were watching it in black and white before. You just thought that’s what it looked like and then it comes to color and you’re like, “Oh my God. I didn’t even know what I was missing before.” That’s the best way that I can describe how my life’s been since I met Abby.
Kristen: How has that unfolded in your personal and professional life?
Glennon: It was just another layer of trusting myself. I come from all kinds of backgrounds that would tell me that this wasn’t right or good or true, but I had already learned not to trust those voices.
Kristen: The heart loves what the heart loves.
Glennon: Right, absolutely.
So, it was just another step where I said, “OK world, bless your heart. You just go ahead. You do your world thing. You freak out and fret just as much as you need to, and I’m just going to keep doing my thing. So, when you are ready, just come back.” That’s what I said to everybody.
Luckily, for my kids, the woman thing didn’t bother them much, because I’ve been a raging gay activist for a decade. My kids have actually been to more gay pride parades than Abby has. My kids are better gay activists than Abby is, I’ll tell you that. [laughing] That part they were ready for.
Kristen: Kids are so advanced and so they’re so smart.
Glennon: It’s taught me a lot about making sure that you are living your values with your children out loud before they affect you personally.
I know so many people who are in the Christian world or whatever and they don’t believe this crap that the Christian church teaches about gays and all of this. But they don’t say anything because it would be rocking the boat. It doesn’t affect them personally, so they let their kids listen to this crap. Then one of their kids turns out to be gay, and then they have to un-teach. They have to go back and say, “Ooh, actually, we don’t believe it.” Then on some level, their kids never believe that.
Kristen: They have to ‘unbecome’.
Glennon: Their kids never believe them because they knew that they were the catalyst to get their parents to change. That is no longer okay. If you were in a church or an institution that is teaching something that is outside the bounds of love and equality and justice, your job is to speak up about it before it affects you directly.
That’s the basis of all activism right now, but I’ve learned it really well this way. Thank God that I spoke up about gay rights for other people’s children before it affected my own children, because there was no change of values in my family. My children understood this as a continuation of the truth of who our family is as opposed to a separation from the truth. Which is why my children are able to embrace it completely.
That’s an important aside. You just do it before. Do it for your children. Do it for other people’s children. Raise your hand when something’s not true whether you think it affects you or not.
Abby and I knew early that we had found the most important thing in the world. We knew. It very clear to both of us that we had found this love thing that is what all the great stories are written about, that is like the Holy Grail of life. Other people’s fear kind of shrunk in the reality of that. Nobody was going to take it from us. We knew that. We just imagined ourselves as a little island with a moat around us and with alligators in the moat. We would actually envision this.
Then we would tell each other ‘no lies in’ — which meant that everybody could have their fear, but fear is always a lie. Everybody could have their drama and their fear and judgment, and that was fine. It just wasn’t coming to our island.
The second part of that was we would tell each other ‘only love out’. Only love coming off the island, because we figured out that fear is just love holding its breath. A lot of the fear that was coming at us was from people who loved us. They were just so scared for us — not of us, just for us — but it was not our job to convince them, ever.
Kristen: Was it fear for you or was it just their own fear?
Glennon: I don’t know. I think some of it came from a sweet, honest place. I talked to kids whose parents are dealing with their coming out and their parents are having such a hard time. It’s so easy and maybe sometimes right for these kids to rage against their parents, but it’s sometimes more peaceful to think, “Baby, you’re okay, and your momma’s not scared of you. She’s just scared for you. She looks out at the world and sometimes she thinks the world’s going be so hard on you — and it’ll just be easier to change you then to change the world.”
One of those two things has to happen. I just call BS on that. I would rather fight my whole life to change the entire world than change one hair on my kid’s head.
I think we preemptively bring fear to our children because we’re fearful of the world. Sometimes we just have to say, “I am completely on your side and we will handle it together, whatever the world brings to us.” The problem is that when a child or an adult like me thinks that it’s my job to put you in your place about your fear, it’s just too exhausting.
Hence, only ‘love out’. The people who loved me, who felt angry or hurt or fearful, they would bring it to me and I would say, “You sound so afraid. Tell me more.” That’s it. “I love you. I’m okay. I want you to be okay.” And I would also say, “You can’t come to us until you accept us completely, because we’re not going to allow your fear near us. But I’m not trying to convince you. Take forever. Take a decade. Take 20 years. Never see us again, if that’s what is necessary. You just can’t come here with any fear.”
There’s not one person in my closest circle or in the circle outside of that who didn’t eventually see my OK-ness and say, “OK.” Nobody that matters to me, anyway.
I think that what people need to be okay with is for us to be okay. When they can see your unshakable peace and they can see you’re not desperate to convince them, everybody takes a deep breath.
Kristen: Let’s not bypass your activism. Something tells me that you came into this world as a little spitfire, even if you didn’t know what you were meant to do with it.
Tell us about Together Rising.
Glennon: Together Rising is our nonprofit that was born organically out of the blog. When women are filled up — which is what we do at Momastery — we tend to spill out into our communities. It can start out very small, like helping each other through Christmases, and now it’s turned into an international movement. We’ve raised over $7 million for women and children in crisis all over the world.
Our major focus abroad right now is refugee relief. At home, we do all kinds of first responding to people in need here, one family at a time, and we also partner with several homeless organizations. This year especially, the LGBTQ community is the largest growing homeless community in the country because their families are rejecting them.
Together Rising is the most important thing I do. I think every word that I speak or write is really about Together Rising. I think that is how the world works. It gives us these gifts and these talents, and certainly writing is one of mine and speaking is one of mine, but these are just hooks. The universe has you use your talents as hooks that get you to the surface.
I became a writer. A writer’s job is to look carefully, to look more carefully than the average bear, at people and things, to notice things that other people don’t notice, and then to tell about them. Inevitably, what happens to artists who are carefully looking at people is that they fall in love with people. You can’t get close to another human being and really see them without falling in love in some way. And when you’re looking closely and you’re falling in love, you want to serve, which leads you to philanthropy and charity work.
I began to realize we were inundated every day with need, need, need. People couldn’t pay their bills. People couldn’t keep their lights on. Refugees had no homes. At one point I thought, “What is causing all of this?” I read this quote that said, “You can only pull people out of the river for so long until you want to look down the river and see who’s pushing them in.” I was trying to pull them out of the water and then suddenly I had to ask, “Wait. Why? Why do these people not have homes? Why can’t these people pay their bills? Why are these people hungry? Why are these kids not getting served?” That’s when I figured out I had to look further up the river.
That’s why people who are paying close enough attention in philanthropy become activists. I am still committed to pulling people out of the water — because that’s my honor and joy on earth — and because I’ve been a woman or a child in crisis most of my life. This is the circle for me. Women have helped me so I want to help.
But I’m not going to do that anymore unless I’m also asking questions and showing up on the doors of these institutions. Why are so many LGBTQ kids homeless? Because there are institutions that are telling their families, “This is shameful — get it out of your house.” I can keep helping these kids over here, but I also need to be showing up at the church and saying, “What the hell are you teaching these families and why?”
Art leads you to philanthropy. Philanthropy leads you to activism. I see it again and again and again. And of course, activism is scarier than charity work. It’s scary to knock on the doors of institutions and shake those cages. It’s also great fun.
Kristen: Where is this leading you right now? What’s the vision for Glennon? I know you’ve got the wedding right around the corner — by the time this comes out, you will be married.
Glennon: I’m getting married. [singing]
Kristen: So what’s next for you?
Glennon: I’m supposed to be writing another book right now. I have zero words of that done, so I hope my editor doesn’t see this interview [laughing]. I feel super strongly about diving into this relationship that I’m in right now and really feeling and living romantic love. I care less now about telling about it. Been there, done that.
I’ve seen the price that you have to pay for it. I have so much empathy for Craig now when I look back on that time in my life, not because of the telling of it, not because of the writing of it, but because of the way you live with another person when you know you’re writing about it, because the whole freaking thing becomes a social experiment. How does that person ever feel surrendered and comfortable and safe?
It’s really interesting about memoirists. Nora Ephron said that everything is copy. That’s one way to live, but I’m not sure it’s safe to anybody around you. Joan Didion said, “A writer will always sell you out.”
Kristen: Well, you did say in the book, “This is my family. These are real people. This is not material.”
Glennon: Yeah, except that it was material because I was writing about it.
I don’t have regrets. That book did exactly what it was supposed to do and made me the woman I am today and I wouldn’t change it for anything and neither would Craig. He’s very happy now.
I’d be an idiot not to learn from it. I don’t ever want Abby to feel like she’s material. I’m rethinking boundaries in my life and figuring out what I want to keep for myself and what I owe to the world. The question is, What version of my life do I get to keep for myself?
I have learned that what you give away between two people you do not get to keep between two people. I’m trying to figure out how to keep my relationship with Abby, which is the most precious thing in my life, safe first and foremost — but I will never stop showing up in the world.
I think that there’s never been a more important time for people of love, and people who actually believe in the American ideals of equality and justice for all, to show up relentlessly and wisely and loudly. I think that I, like many other women, were put on the earth for just such a time as this.
I think the world needs brave women more than it ever has needed brave women. I’m excited about that because there’s certainly never been a time when there’s been more raging misogyny in the air and that’s scaring people.
Kristen: It’s a pushback.
Glennon: Of course, it’s a pushback. The dying gasps of patriarchy, right?
It’s beautiful. It’s desperate. It’s never been more important for brave women to speak up. So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m just going to keep doing the next right thing and I’m not going to allow the powers that be to scare me into not doing and saying what I know is true and right.
When my kids ask me what I did during this time, I want them to be able to say that their mom showed up and did everything she could to guide this place into a direction that’s based on love and the belief that there is no such thing as other people’s children.
I sat down with my kids after the Charleston shooting and talked to them a lot about the civil rights movement. Tish and I were looking at pictures of a march. Amma said, “Hey mom, if we lived back then would we have been marching?” I almost said, “Yes! Of course, we would’ve.” And Tish said, “Oh no, Amma. We wouldn’t have been … I mean, we’re not marching now.”
That was the moment for me when I realized, “Oh my God. We all think we would’ve shown up.” We all think we would have shown up during the Holocaust. We all think we would’ve shown up during slavery. We all think we would’ve shown up during the civil rights movement.
But what if the best indicator of how we would’ve shown up during those moments is how we’re showing up in this moment, in this civil rights moment? If I am not marching now, I sure as hell wouldn’t have been marching then. I would’ve been one of the silent complicit sheep.
I want my kids to look back on this time and see their own faces in those marches. I don’t want them to say, “Oh my mom … ” I want them to say, “My mom dragged me along.” That’s it.
Romantic love and universal love. That’s what I’m going to concentrate on.
Kristen: That’s a pretty tall order.
Glennon: I’m not afraid.
Kristen: You’re the love warrior. “Love, pain, fear — I was born to do this.”
Glennon: I was born to do this.
Kristen: I’m going to close with a quote from Elizabeth Lesser about redemption: “Redemption is living your life, using the difficulty for something, wasting nothing.”
Glennon: That’s amazing.
Kristen: I feel like that embodies you.
Glennon: That’s exactly it.
Kristen: I want to thank you for showing up here today. I want to thank you for showing up for everyone that gets this beautiful book in their hands and every other book that is to come, for showing up for activism for the world, for your children, teaching them to walk through that fire. Thank you so much for everything that you’re doing.
Glennon: This has been amazing. You are a wonderful person to talk to. Thank you for your work. Thanks for being in it, sister.