Friends & Fiction
Friends & Fiction

Episode · 2 months ago

WB-S2E30 We are the Luckiest with Laura McKowen

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

WRITERS' BLOCK Ron Block and Patti Callahan Henry talk with Laura McKowen about her astounding book, We Are The Luckiest, and her hugely popular podcast, Tell Me Something True!

When I went to get sober. Like most people, I thought it was the end of everything. I thought I would never have fun again, I would be boring, no one would ever love me. But it was just really the end of everything good and that life would just be the guy was going into some b version of life that nobody really wanted. Welcome to the friends and fiction writer's block podcast For New York Times bestselling authors, one rock star Librarian and endless stories. Joined Mary Kay, Andrews Kristin Harmel, Kristy Woodson Harvey and Patty Callahan Henry, along with Ron Block as novelists. We are four longtime friends with seventy books between us, and I am Ron Block. Please join us for fascinating author interviews and insider talk about publishing and writing. If you love books and are curious about the writing world, you are in the right place. Welcome to a new episode of the friends and fiction writer's block podcast. We have a truly special one for you today. We explore storytelling from so many angles. In today we are going to focus on telling our own stories. Our guest today is Laura mccowen, and Laura is the best selling author of we are the luckiest, host of tell me something true podcast and founder of the Luckiest Club, a global sobriety support community. She's beloved for her soulful and irreverent writing online and in print. She leads sold out retreats and Courses Teaching people how to say yes to a bigger life. I am Ron Block and I am Patty Callahan. Henry. We have so much to dive into today and I know we won't get to all of it. Heck, Laura and I barely got to all of it over a five day retreat together. So, Laura, welcome, thank you so nice, so happy to have you here. So let's start with your book. We are the luckiest. You and I met in Ireland, where we attended. Actually, we met in the airport but didn't speak until we got to the hotel. We were a little jet lagged and we were both attending a retreat called spark, which was meant to spark our creative potential and it was led by our friend, the astounding Peter Rollins. I want to start there. When we met, you had not yet published your book. We are the luckiest, and you were trying to find your way into what it meant to publish such a personal piece. You already had a huge following on social media, but to publish a book seem daunting and a bit terrifying. So I want you to tell us about the title of the book, Why you wrote it and in your journey to publication. Yeah, Gosh, that seems so long ago and it wasn't. It was two yeah, I was actually that trip. I decided that I was going to try to self publish because my agent had we had gone out to I don't even a forty some publishers and lots of this is amazing, beautiful writing. I just don't know. And Uh, and I was getting discouraged. had been about nine months and as the first time author, I didn't know that that's sort of normal. But I started. I spent most of that retreat, if remember, not...

...even in the sessions. I went and sat in the restaurant or the pub and just was right working on pages and trying to get enough put together. Uh so that I don't know what. I was just trying to push through. The title came from some post that I made years prior so when I went to get sober. Like most people, I thought it was the end of everything. I thought I would never have fun again, I would be boring, no one would ever love me, that that it was just really the end of everything good and that life would just be like I was going into some b version of life that nobody yet really wanted. And it took me quite a while to actually get sober, but when I finally did, I didn't know that I would. I was a fish rely on my way. At this time. I think I had about thirty days and it was a night where I nothing profound happened, but I was having a hard time emotionally. I was a single mom. I'm a single mom. My daughter was young at the time and she was five, and you know, I'd probably just come home from work and had a had a crazy job and it was really those days. It was hard for me to just hit the pillow sober. I just it was very hard and everything was very raw and I got through the night, though, and my daughter was asleep next to me in bed and I had this thought that like I had just made it through this emotional storm and I was okay. I wasn't going to be creating any new destruction, which was a miracle, and I would wake up the next morning and I felt such gratitude in that moment and such like this, this recognition that this is sort of what I had been chasing, this direct experience of life in drinking, and that I felt it, this nearness to life right then in sobriety, and I thought this is I'm lucky, this is we're lucky, not the people who can drink, because I had for so long felt, Oh, I wish I could just drink normally. You know, they're so lucky, all those people, they can drink quote unquote, normally, are so lucky. And I thought now we're lucky, we're the luckiest. And I just posted something like that on instagram and it started to become a phrase that people used and so and then by the time, a couple of years later, people it was it was really a phrase that was used a lot in the sobriety community and it was just the obvious choice for the book. But do you didn't public directly? So we leave the retreat right. Okay, you've told me a little bit about the title. You know I'm crying, and it wasn't like magic, it wasn't all of a sudden. The book knows, you had to push through. Yeah, no, I left that retreat and what happened was I told my agent like thank you, you're wonderful, I'm gonna go off on my own and self published. He's like, let me just give it one more shot. Let's just give it one more shot. I think that retreat was in November, I think, and it was right before thanksgiving. He went out to a few other publishers, including New World Library, who ended up buying the book and it was I got my offer for it right before Christmas. So so then I had to write a book in just a few months and I had several I had been working on those pages and those chapters for a long time. I sold it with with a few chapters done, and I wrote the rest...

...by April of the following year, and it was a year's long process. But that, I think, finally giving up on publishing traditionally, was what helped me get there, because those pages that I wrote in Ireland were what sold the book and what I watched you do and what you teach us all in life to do. It was this sudden act of surrender to not doing it the way you thought you were going to do it and to also write the pages that came from in here instead of up here in the head. Yeah, absolutely, it changed it. When I when I gave up. It's a metaphor for sobriety to what I finally gave up by, things started to happen. Yeah, I'm struck. Patty introduced me to your work of a couple of months ago and I started at the first I was like a little hesitant, but then I got into it I'm just like so impressed by how raw and honest and inspiring your work is. I'm just I'm a huge fan. I'm a huge fan, and let's talk that. The book is about getting sober, but it's about so much more. Drinking might have been your thing, but you also encourage readers to recognize their own thing, which might not be drinking. And as I read it, of course I thought of seventeen different things in my life. You say, we have so many ways that we can check out. Can you talk to us about that? Yeah, one of the things that was really important to me is I when I went to get sober, I knew that, yes, I had a problem with alcohol, but that it wasn't this exceptional, strange anomaly that some people have a thing, an addiction. Addiction is the most human condition. It's been written about from the beginning of time and it's really doing something despite negative consequences. So if you can think of the things you might do in your life despite negative consequences, we're all addicted to many things and not you know, and and it's not just addiction that I call our things. It's something that drags you into the underworld of grief or pain, UH and causes you to come up against every part of your identity that you held to be so true that forces you to change. And so it can be a divorce, it can be an illness, it can be the death of someone you love, it can be a habit that you have, and certainly addiction falls in there. But it was so important to me to normalize addiction because one of the things that I felt when I was stamped with the, you know, the capital p problem, was this is ridiculous. I like I yes, I have a problem with alcohol, but it was this the alcohol, the addiction thing is still very stigmatized. It was like, okay, now Laura needs to go into the basement with other people who have this thing and not ruin the party for everyone else and just be very quiet, and I refused to do that. It just felt so absurd and also perpetuate this quietness, the shame, the stigma that we have about it. So one of the things I wanted the book, to include in the book was just this humanization of what it means to have an addiction. I mean, and then we all come by the underlying core thing is pain and we all experience pain. So how do we deal with that pain? We do things that work. For me, alcohol worked for many different things. Right. It was actually very intelligent thing for me to do. For a while it helped me and then and then it stopped help me. But Wow, your work,...

...your blogs, your poetry, your newsletters and, of course, your books, Laura, you never pull a punch. Honesty is at the core of what you just said. To run what you write about, what you talk about. Do you think that the very act of creative writing is away into your deeper self and to honesty and to tag onto that? Why is honesty so important and terrifying to you and to all of us? Yeah, yeah, yeah, that's its own podcast. I know. No, it's so good. I didn't realize that I didn't know that honesty was my problem like that, that the inability to be honest, and also for very good reason, like I learned. We don't, we don't, we don't lie, we don't begin to lie, because we're these terrible, you know, manevolent, manelent creatures. We lie because it works and it makes life easier for us. We get our needs met, we're protected, we're protected. Yeah, and for all kinds of reasons, big and small. And I didn't realize how insidious the dishonesty was in my life. Like I knew that I had to lie. I was lying about how much I was drinking and, you know, who I was with and things like that. But but lying had become like just dishonesty, this sort of I think the biggest lie that we that we tell, is I'm fine. Yes, everything's fine, I'm fine. We tell ourselves that, we tell the world that and we're not. We're out fine. I wasn't fine. That was the first lie I told to my parents, you know, when they got divorced, when I was really young, and I noticed like, Oh, this isn't gonna I don't there's no space for me to feel anything, and I'm really too uncomfortable to feel anything. So I'm fine, everything's fine, and if I'm fine I don't have to deal with your anger and like, your grief and all this. So, yeah, we start to say we're fine and then we're not fine and we don't know how to talk about the ways that we're not fine because we look around and we go everyone else is dealing, everyone else is coping. So I sobriety is at its core, I think is an issue of being able to be honest with oneself and with the world, and that applies to everybody. I forgot yours, the first part of your question. Oh, do you know the writing right? I feel like it's a way. I mean, I've watched you through the years do this. It's it's a way to tell the truth that feels terrifying to tell otherwise. Yeah, I had always wanted to write and I always had written privately, journals and whatever, but one of the reasons I could. I wanted to write a book, I wanted to write essays, I wanted to publish things, but I am not, as far as I know, I'm not like you, Patty. I don't know that I can create stories. I wanted to write about my own life and I found all the time that I couldn't because I was everything was. There were so many secrets inside of me and I felt like if I told those things, that you know all the bad things, we imagine what happened. So I I when I got sober, though, or when I was struggling to get sober, long before I did, I realized that I had a story to tell, I had something to work out and that I could do it in writing. And writing really helped me...

...figure out what was going on with me, because I didn't know, you know, the like upper level tip of the top of the iceberg problem, right, but you don't know all the things underneath, and writing helps me. It's like a little pick axe. Just helped me get at it. And you the thing about writing is it's embodied, so you feel when it's not true, you feel when you're full of ship, you feel when you're stating on the top right. Yeah, it just doesn't strike right and there. But to dig, to break through the ice or to keep up with our ice metaphor to get to the bottom of the iceberg, that takes an honesty. That means telling the truth, which means exposing ourselves. It does, it does, and this is a this is something you don't quite have the answer to yet, because a lot of people said, Oh, you're so you are so courageous for writing, you're so courageous, and I've never seen it that way too. But I've been trying to say I was just trying to save my life. That's and I yes, I had. I had moments here and there. More more came from other people going I don't think you want to say that you should be careful about this, or or my parents or my friends being uncomfortable with it. But I don't know that I see it as is so courageous, because it's just never it's never come from that place in me. I think when you have every when you've when you basically lost everything, it's like your your reputation is destroyed, you're kind of free. There you go. That's the freedom for sure. And I want to just go back a little bit and I think telling stories from you were mentioning Patty, telling stories, whether they're fiction or your own stories, they have an effect on the reader. So I think there's a lot of similarity there. So I wouldn't discount that, ever, that your stories are not, not, not the same, because I think it's a lot more terrifying to tell my own story than to make one up. Right, because you can still tell the truth, but through fiction, you can do it through your characters, instead of like putting yourself on the line. I just yeah, don't, don't ever forget. No, I just don't know. I've just never tried to make something up. I don't know if I have the imagination. That's all I meant. Yeah, I would love to try someday, but there's something about about you can also, as a reader, you can feel it when the when the writer is not telling the truth. You can feel it and even if you can't say that's what it is, just like I didn't connect, I don't believe you, I don't kinnect. Yeah, I don't connect to this and turn the page. Yeah, yeah, and we are very awfu a little bit. But there's a part book you talked about, touched on this earlier, where a friend Um contacted you and you had to say you thought about like saying I'm fine, but then you decided to tell this person the truth and that really was a change for you and it really strengthened your your story. Yes, it was so silly, but not she. She this was in very early sobriety and we we were both getting sober around the same time, and but just had very different experiences. She very much left it behind, never looked back, never questioned it, and I that was not my experience. I had I deeply missed everything I had attached to drinking. It was giving up an entire identity to me. It was excruciatingly difficult. And she asked me one day, do you Miss Drinking? Like she she was surprised and I almost said now,...

I'm good, because that would have been the pattern. And I said I do, I miss it. I could miss it so much. Yeah, and and you know, it's we all have our defense mechanisms that we use to to get through the world, survive, and mine was always I'm fine, I'm good, I don't need anybody, I don't need anything, and so it's still a thing that I have to work at to go. Am I really fine? Am I okay? Because, yeah, their defense mechanisms. Yeah, absolutely there. And there was no way for me to get sober and continue to do to do that, realizing I needed other people is a terrible realization vulnerability. Can we just not have it from so patty's also shared with me that you both have a love of David White's work and he often talks about the beautiful question. You've said the question is this bad enough to quit isn't the right question, but that the better question is is this good enough for me to stay the same? And that leads to an entirely new conversation, like we have to say like I'm curious what my life would be like without x, Y or Z. Yeah, is this good enough? is a complete shift. And then the bigger question underneath that is am I free? Chill bumps and that you can't escape that question. I could have, I could have tricked myself out of every am I an alcoholic question? Do I have a problem with alcoholic question, but the am I free couldn't trick myself out of that. I was not free when it came to alcohol. It owned it owned me, owned my time and my attention, and I think we all that question is the one that none of us can really evade. I just think that the switch to is this good enough for me to stay the same is way different than is this bad enough? To quit. Oh God, yeah, but that's how often do we say? Is this bad enough? Is it? It's just bad? Is this relationship bad enough? Am I unhappy enough? Am I is this job enough? Right, but is this good enough? It's a whole different thing. Yeah, we don't think that. And Yeah, it's it's different questions, different answers. Different questions, different answers, right, are questions better answers? The degree of honesty with them too? Yeah, yeah, yea, yeah, and a way, a way of wiggling out from under one that you can't wiggle out from the other. Right, you can't rationalize your way out of the other question. And I know I've told you this, Laura, but one of my favorite things you have ever written, aside from the book itself and besides our text string that we could publish, is this quote, that thing that breaks your heart. You don't have to do that anymore. That thing that breaks your heart. You don't have to do that anymore. Every time you post that quote it is like a body blow of truth. Like even reading it out loud, I feel this hush, like that is the truth. So talk to me about that and where it came from. Yeah, it came from drinking. That was the original root of it, this realization that I didn't have to break my own heart again, I didn't have to do that again, not even one more time. But then it became about this, these patterns that I had in relationships with men, and...

...it's really about these places where we feel helpless and hopeless to change, as though we are just destined to repeat the same patterns of pain and dysfunction, and realizing not even, not even one more time. And this question that that statement is actually quite painful in a way to read, because there's a grief we realize in not doing that thing again. It shines a light on what we actually get out of our painful pattern. Well, it's powerful. It's not just about drinking and it's not just about whatever our thing is. It's about the choices we make that hurt us, that we think we have to keep doing, but that thing that breaks our hearts, we don't have to do it anymore. We don't, and and how brave that decision is. It's I don't I don't know why, but it you know, we act as if like we know what we're what we should do, and yet we don't do it. But there are good reasons why and and it's always more complex than you're too stupid or you're too we don't have you don't have enough willpower. It's pull yourself up by those boots guy. It's like, can you care for yourself like someone that you love and are responsible for? And for some reason, the I remember when that for the wording hit me. I was in bed sometime in early sobriety and that you never have to do that again. You don't have to, and that the fact that it's breaking your heart. You know, it wasn't about other people. It wasn't about it being bad or me being a piece of crap, or me being weak or me being you know, it was breaking my heart. Wow, it opens up a minefield too. I think when you start that's just like the doorway into it and the minefield to get past that, and each step you take makes you a little bit stronger and puts that other behind you. And I wish you were my friend fifteen years ago. We can be friends now. I told her that when we met. Aside from feeling like we've known each other, I also wished that her wisdom had been there before. It's so yeah, I'll start crying. Never Mind, oh, I love, I love tears. That's good, they're so let's move on to your tagline on your website. It's falling in love with the mystery of life again. It's all right here waiting for you to say yes. You have courses on sobriety and creativity, podcasts, a book and a newsletter and a blog, all learning about this truth. The podcast you record now is called tell me something true, and you've interviewed some amazing truth tellers like Peter Rollins, burnee Brown, Cheryl Strait Brown, not Bernie Brown advertising. We've just and Cheryl Stra and and most recently I listened to your south by southwest with Jason Isbell. And there's so many more. And we all need something true right now. Why and how do we find our own something true? Mm Hmm, great question. Yeah, we came up with the name for the show and we started talking about in and then decided on it in when the truth...

...was very difficult to grab right and and there's something so edifying, grounding and important about about truth that that we desperately need. Um and what we were looking for our sort of wisdom. Wisdom texts like truths, the sort of staple truths of what it means to be a human in this mysterious existence and little beacons of light that could help us navigate our way through, whether they come through science or philosophy or theology or psychology or poetry or art. And we we talked about that. I talked about the history of life, because that's what I find to be. You know, this isn't a show about science. I Love Science, but it's not a show about landing on hard facts. It's almost more a show about asking the right questions. What are the best questions you can ask and what are how do you engage more deeply in this mystery and not look away from it and not look away from the complexity and the paradox of of what we contend with when when we're awake to life? So we tried, you know, we we, we tried to go as as deep and as big as possible. But each conversation that we have is just one person who has figured out or has started to uncover something that we see as essential about the human experience and has the willingness to share it. I mean, I look at Jason Iisbele, for example, since you just listen to that. He's a master songwriter and storyteller and he conveys his music conveys something so under the you know it's way beyond the intellect. It just hits you right in the heart and uh, and that goes beyond all the bs that we're so tangled in every day, the politics and the Oh my gosh, the the media and the top level stuff that we swim in all day and it brings you right to the center where we all sort of live. So we try to find people who can help us get there and and stay there and make sense of even if it's just for an hour, try to make something makes sense. But because you think about when you when you have those conversations and when we have these conversations, if you have them enough, you go back to them when you're in a place where you're not living from your center and you're like, Oh wow, back to center, back to center. So the more conversations we have about that with the more people who are actually trying to do it, the more maybe we can do it. Yeah, and I think so much of it as is is getting when the original tagline for the show is a show for people who want to fall in love with the mystery of life again, and we've. It just speaks to that, like we it's so easy to lose touch of what's real and what's real about it. You know, not. I'm holding up my phone like not. It's not what's in our phones and it's not in our feed and it's not, you know, on the headlines that we read. I'm not saying that all that is not real, but it's what's in our hearts. What has been true about human existence from the beginning of time?...

What is connection? Yeah, all of these things that it was so hard to hang onto in thee to to even just find a tiny thread of what was real. So, aside from creativity and the struggle to stay present and do deep work, a lot of what you and I talk about with each other is healthier relationships and I think it's a bit what your next book is about. Can you tell us about what you're working on? Yes, well, the I have two books in the works. The second one, which will come out early in the spring of three, is called push off from here, and that's an exploration of the nine things that are listed as the epigraph to we are the luckiest so those things are one, it's not your fault. Too, it is your responsibility. Three, it is unfair that this is your thing, for this is your thing. Five, this will never stop being your thing until you face it. Six, you can't do it alone. Seven, only you can do it. Eight, you are loved, and nine, I will never stop reminding you of these things. So that is what the next book is about. Then the third book is about relationships and Love, addiction, codependency. I hate the phrase love addiction, but it it does. It does describe something specific. Um, it does its job. It does it's a job. Yeah, and that, for me, was what I realized was underneath the thing, underneath the thing. You know, that was the original wound and it's what so many of us face. Is this deep belonging to to be in a healthy, intimate relationship and to feel to be able to give and receive love in a healthy way. And I'm deeply interested. It was where all my most of my pain came from when I got sober. It was what I was trying to escape by drinking. And then when I took away the drinking, there it was just waiting for you. Just yeah, and I reached a point in four or five years of sobriety where I thought, if I don't deal with this, it's going to take me out because it was so deeply painful. So I'm writing about that and so it's kind of a sobriety book in a way, but a very different kind one that applies to almost everybody. It does. You've been honest and open with your struggles with social media and how you found the middle ground in peace with it. I need peace with it. To tell me how you did it. Oh, I wish I had some brilliant fo Amelia. Um. Yes, I've had many phases of I mean I even left for a period of time. I quit, I thought I would never go back and then ultimately decided. Um, I was guided by, I would say, people wiser than me to maybe consider the responsibility of having a public voice and what that could be. I think the thing that has helped me the most is, well, there's two things. One, I am a recovering people pleaser and that is so much at the core of why it's hard to be on social media for me, and I think that's true for a lot of people. The second thing is m realizing how abnormal it is too Um. Have your circle of conser earn be hundreds...

...of thousands of people versus just people in your community, your friends and family. That's what we are wired for, and to have it be so much bigger than that is psychologically really damaging and impossible, and it is for everyone. So to not feel like there's something wrong with you, because it bothers you, it affects you. What the thing that I have arrived the place that I've arrived at, which has allowed allowed me to feel okay being there, and there are times when I don't feel okay and I just I just go westside for as long as I need to. The thing that has allowed me to be okay is too and it sounds silly, but to have fun with it instead of having it be true, I to make it a full representation of who I am as a human, which is absolutely impossible, absolutely right. We're complicated and complex and you are going to get feedback no matter what. So, since I have approached it as this is for me and this is fun, I'm going to make it fun, whatever that means to me. It's taken a lot of the pressure off. I also don't send a lot of time scrolling anymore because it makes me miserable, and I took the liberty of just on following people that, for whatever reason, don't feel good, even people I love in real life, because I want to keep loving them in real life. So I'm going to follow you on social media because it's at least so we don't have to know it's it's a gnarly be and I've it's like I've learned to sort of take it with eat it with a little spoon instead of with a garden host and not take it in right. Not Our best. We can not obt we can. Yes, we can. That advice could have saved a lot of relationships over the last couple of years. Oh Yeah, yeah, people are also their worst selves, including me. Yeah, and even the worst selves to ourselves. Why can't I be like that? Why don't I have that? Why don't? Yeah, it's not to start wanting things you didn't even know you want. Wanted. How do I get? I don't even know. I wasn't getting exactly. Oh, Laura, I do not know how to thank you for your insight, your honesty, your conviction and your journey. You talk about your still small voice urging us to say present and you trust yours and because you trust yours when it says yes, no, stop, let go, we can maybe trust ours. So thank you so much for being with us. Can you tell all our listeners where they can connect with you and some of your astounding work and classes and blogs and sure, yeah, my website is just my name and just about everything is there. That's Laura McCowan DOT COM. I'm as far as social media, mostly just on instagram and that's also my name. And then for people who want sobriety help. Um, the luckiest club is the community. I found it and you can just search up the luckiest club and you have a couple of classes. You have the bigger yes, the bigger, yes, you have a creative right, a creative class us. You have great stuff in there. Thank you, thanks, thank you. This is so fun. What an inspiration and I am so, so grateful to you, Patty, for introducing me to Laura. Your...

...work and your words and your your lessons that I'm learning are just unbelievable and they're so meaningful. So I can't I can't thank you enough for doing this with us today. Thank you, thank you. I appreciate that and thank you to everyone for all your support of this podcast for sharing with family and friends and readers everywhere. It means the world. Thank you for tuning in to the friends and fiction writer's block podcast. Please be sure to subscribe, rate and review on your favorite podcast platform. Tune in every Friday for another episode, and you can also join us every week on facebook or youtube. Where are live? Friends and fiction show airs at seven PM Eastern Standard Time. We are so glad you're here.

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