Glennon Doyle Melton’s big moment of truth telling was a now-famous Facebook post: “25 Things About Me.” For #5 she shared: “I am a recovering alcoholic and bulimic. 7 years sober … so in many ways I’m actually 7 years old. Sometimes I miss excess booze and food, in the same indescribable way you can miss someone who abused you and repeatedly left you for dead.” That moment led to her book Love Warrior, about the beauty and grace that came from turning around and facing the truth of her pain. We spoke with her recently about her ongoing journey.
S&H: Describe the process of coming into your voice.
Glennon: It’s an amazing way to live, good and bad. The idea of using the voice inside that’s thinking really true things, while the representative outside of us is speaking more socially appropriate things, started as a philosophy for how to stay sane and sober. The first time I sat in a recovery meeting and heard people really use their true voice, I remember thinking, Oh, this is how you do it. The way to stay sane and sober, and have a real life, is to use this true voice. Why do we only get to do this in basements? Why can’t we do this in real life? That’s what that first list was, to just try it and see what would happen. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since. There is an interesting reaction from the world, when you do actually let that truest voice out; other people tend to do it too. Something about saying “Here I am” makes other people say, “Okay, here I am too.”
There is that aspect of being really seen.
For me, it feels a lot like love. When you speak from your truest self, then you can actually be seen by other people. That’s terrifying, and a lot of people won’t like you, but some will, some will love you. I can’t imagine what else we’re here for, except to be truly seen, so we can be truly loved. Some of us are so lonely because we are only showing our representative to the world all the time. Even if that representative is liked, we can’t feel it, because it’s not really us. It feels fraudulent. There is a difference between being admired and being loved. You can send out your shiniest representative self for your whole life and be admired by tons of people. But it will be lonely because you’ve never let your true self be seen.
There’s so much vulnerability in that.
We are in this moment when vulnerability and truth telling are buzzwords. People think it’s some kind of answer, that if you do that, you’ll be fine. The truth is, you get hurt a lot there. You can do it, you can be vulnerable, but don’t expect not to get hurt. There’s pain in hiding and pain in showing up. I’ve just found that the pain of showing up is better than the other kind of pain.
We try to avoid pain, but you talk about pain being a holy place.
There is a scene in Love Warrior where I was in a hot yoga class and all the fear and terror and rage that I’d been running from crashed in on me, and I realized that my journey was to stay on that mat, not to run away. That’s where I figured out that that’s the place. The place that we try to tap out of with our easy buttons, our addictions. Those places where we tap out, and run off our mats, are why we miss all the lessons. All the courage, wisdom, and grit we need to create the next thing are in the pain of this thing.
There is a part of pain that is holy. It is a time when we are not God, a time of powerlessness and surrender. When we are in a place of powerlessness, our instinct is to grab whatever fake power we can. Our instinct is to lash out, but our real power comes from letting pain have its way with us; we will always come out of it. We think we never will, but we do. First the pain, then the rising; you can never speed it up. There is always a time when you will come out of it and be creative. The third way is when you figure out the creative thing to do next, where you decide to create something that hasn’t been here before.
What is the journey of the Love Warrior?
It’s rushing toward pain instead of away from it. The first half of my life I thought the pain of life would break me, so I ran away from it with all means necessary. The second half I’m doing the opposite. I believe the journey means facing yourself every day and actively dealing with the pain in your relationships instead of pretending it’s not there. On a bigger level, it’s rushing toward the pain of the world. That’s what my activism and nonprofit work is about: not hitting the easy buttons, but actually rushing toward people who are hurting, and making a difference. Not because I’m a good person, but because that’s where the joy is. The warrior has figured out she was afraid of the wrong things. She’s not supposed to be afraid of the pain, but she should be afraid of the easy buttons, because they keep her from becoming who she is meant to be.
In my journey I’ve learned that the only way to stay true and sane is to find that space where you block out every single piece of advice, whether it’s fear based or love based, and you get really quiet and start listening to your inner voice. I call it god, some people call it intuition or wisdom. I don’t think it matters what you call it, but I do think it matters that you know how to find it, and hear it. It’s about asking your deepest wisdom what to do, and then trusting it.
The journey of the warrior now, especially as a woman, is to just do the next right thing, without asking for permission and without explaining yourself. The most revolutionary thing a woman can do is to refuse to explain herself.
You’re now familiar with that journey. What would you tell someone who finds herself with her face on the floor, so to speak, and doesn’t know how to get back up?
I will never tell anyone what to do, but I will always remind people that they already know. What a woman needs to do if she is lost and confused is to find 10 minutes a day. If she has 10 minutes a day, she has all the spirituality she needs to know what to do. She can sit quietly and practice listening to the still, small voice inside her that will tell her what to do—and then trust it.
There’s lots of science around mental health, but there’s also spirituality to it. I think that our running toward alcohol, drugs, and food is a form of running from the knowing—trying not to know something that your soul knows. Women get scared when we talk about sitting still and trusting because they know what’s going to come up there. That’s why we don’t want to sit on our mats, because what is in the quiet is truth, and truth is scary.
Start by taking some of the pressure off. If you want to practice the knowing, you can sit quietly, and if what comes up in that 10 minutes is that terrifying, gripping knowing, give yourself permission to do nothing about it for a while. But don’t pretend you don’t know it. You owe yourself at least that: not to abandon truth, not to abandon yourself. That’s the first step: tell yourself you don’t have to do anything about it now, but don’t pretend it’s not true.
You define beautiful as filling yourself with beauty. How are you doing that now?
I moved close to the ocean because that’s my happiest place on earth. No matter how big and overwhelming my problems feel, all I need to do is sit near the water to get some perspective on my size in the universe. My idea that I can control everything and that I’m in charge of creating beauty is clearly not true when I sit next to the water.
The best thing we can do now to collect beauty is to remember that life is in front of us. It’s not on the news or the Internet. Every time I start to feel terrified and hopeless and crazy, it’s always because my face has been in front of too many screens. If I can just get myself face to face with my people, I can breathe again.
Activism has evolved from your personal journey. What are you most passionate about championing, and how has this work supported your own growth?
Most artists I respect become activists. Our job as artists is to pay close attention to people and to our world, to notice things that others might not notice. When you look closely, you fall in love. When you fall in love with people and the world, you want to serve. Together Rising is the nonprofit I run with my sister and fierce friends Liz and Allison. Together Rising was born out of a love and passion for justice; we’ve raised over $5 million in four years for women and children in crisis all over the world. Serving is my greatest calling and honor. I’m now an activist first and an artist second. I suspect every word I write and speak is really about Together Rising. Internationally, my passion is helping to provide aid in refugee crisis. Together Rising is partnering with on-the-ground aid groups to feed, clothe, and care for thousands overseas. Domestically, my passion is fighting for groups made even more vulnerable under our current administration. I want to resist the normalization of racism, religious intolerance, misogyny, and homophobia. It’s never been more important for people of light and justice to be loud.