In her newest book, Addict Nation: An Intervention for America, written with the help of her ex – Sandra Mohr, Jane Velez-Mitchell provides a fascinating, provocative read about the addictive behavior that runs rampant throughout our culture.
You don’t have to be personally involved in recovery to recognize the dangerous signposts of a country emotionally off-kilter.
The popular host of HLN’s “Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell” (airing Monday – Sunday at 4 pm PT) takes off the gloves in her new book – tackling a wide variety of dysfunctional behavior our American society demonstrates on a daily basis.
Velez-Mitchell also makes it clear it’s not just illicit drugs and alcohol our nation is struggling with: Some of the more surprising and controversial chapters deal with our predilection towards addictions to consumption, tech, crime, war and even procreation.
The other day I had the opportunity to chat with Jane over the phone about her coming out, her own sobriety, and her new book that hit the bookshelves at the beginning of February.
The BottomLine: Hi Jane, thanks for chatting with me today. I have something in common with you: I’m in recovery myself, coming up on seven years. You’ve been sober for some 16 years now correct?
Jane Velez-Mitchell: In April it will be 16 years.
Thank you – congratulations on your sobriety!
Thank you so much. So you’ve been sober for almost 16 years, yet it took until 2007 for you to publicly come out at age 39? What was the biggest fear for you in revealing your orientation at such a late time?
Well, I think that I was fighting it, as so many people do. There’s this constant drumbeat in society that steers you towards heterosexuality. So whether it’s movies or television or your friends – everything seems geared to the heterosexual lifestyle. So I didn’t really acknowledge to myself that I was gay. And once you get on the straight train it’s harder to jump off.
I feel really happy for these kids today who can figure it out when they’re in their adolescence and come out then they don’t have to sort of switch teams in the middle of their life.
Because I think once you establish yourself as somebody who has a heterosexual lifestyle it’s a little more difficult to say, “Wait a second, the guys I dated, that that really wasn’t me.” I wasn’t really being true to myself and it can feel hurtful to somebody else. It can be messy. Let’s be real, it can be messy.
Oh, I was in the same boat, I came out when I was 37.
Yeah so you know. I think that first I had to admit it to myself. And that’s what happened, once I got sober – that’s when I couldn’t ignore it anymore. As long as I had the drink, I could just drown any of those uncomfortable feelings with alcohol.
But once I got sober I started a whole process of me having to confront my uncomfortable feelings, vis-á-vis the same sex [attraction].
And I ultimately came out gradually – which probably is the case with most people.
I first came out to myself. Then I told my therapist. Then I told my family and friends. Then finally, in 2007 when I was doing a story about Sen. Larry Craig I felt that I would be hypocritical. I was doing like a three-hour radio show on Sen. Larry Craig and I just felt that it would be hypocritical of me not to reveal to the listeners that I was living with a woman at the time.
And the other component was that I fell in love with a woman and if I hadn’t done that – that also obviously pushed it over the edge. So I think there were a lot of things bubbling under the surface that circumstances forced me to confront. And I’m so happy I did, I’m so happy I did. I feel like I got out of a vertical casket.
So then do you feel like it was a huge part of your emotional sobriety – coming out?
Right. And this book “Addict Nation” is an outgrowth of that because this book is all about emotional sobriety. I don’t cover the usual addictions, and yet we are all behaving so addictively. This is really a handbook for people who feel they are doing something that’s self-destructive. Or they know somebody who is doing something self-destructive. It doesn’t have to be just illegal drugs or alcohol. It can be prescription drugs, it certainly can be food – two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese.
I deal with that in depth in my chapter. I call going vegan food sobriety because let’s face it; what is sobriety? It’s about keeping your side of the street clean, being of service, making amends for things you’ve done wrong. And when you look at the facts of the farming system of this country – it’s so hideous – it’s so cruel. To participate in that is not emotional sobriety. I feel that Americans need to wake up to that.
It’s obvious you’ve thought long and hard about the addiction epidemic. What do you ascribe as the biggest culprit for this emotional pandemic?
It’s our culture that says we are consumers, and we’re not just consumers – we are citizens. And being a citizen is a much greater thing than just being a plain old consumer. As long as we self-identify as consumers that de facto says that our purpose out there is to consume. And it’s not!
Our purpose is to have a happy, joyous and free life and be of service and make this world a better place. That fact doesn’t come through when we’re focused just on consumption. There’s no material thing that is going to make us happy. There’s nothing that we’re going to be able to buy or eat or wear or drive. No watch, no car, no hamburger that can make us happy.
Happiness is an inside job. So we’ve been sold this lie and we keep doing it over and over again and expecting a different result. There is no different result – ever – because that’s not the road to happiness, period.
Some of the most miserable people on the planet are the people with the most material goods.
That’s for certain. But don’t you find a certain sense of irony in calling out the cult of celebrity when frankly your show on HLN, “Issues with Jane Velez-Mitchell” has to buy into “giving the audience what they want”?
Absolutely! But what we try to do is tie it to the bigger issues. When we do talk about the celebrities, the Charlie Sheens, the Lindsay Lohans, we really do show the addict mind-set. Frankly, watching the whole Charlie Sheen saga and the Lindsay Lohan saga has been very educational about what the mind of an addict is really like.
Because they are so entitled that they don’t even hide it! They don’t hide the “stinkin’ thinkin’,” they let it out for all to see. Their sense of entitlement. Their grandiosity. Their addictive mentality. Their arrogance. Their denial. Their defiance. It’s all there for the world to see; so actually I think it does us a favor because most addicts in the real world are afraid of losing their houses or their job or their spouse or whatever – will hide it. They hide it and pretend to be something that they’re not.
But these addicts [Sheen & Lohan], their bubble is so thick that they really just let it hang out.
I do feel as long as you try to tie it to something important, like addiction, which we do a lot on our show every single time, then you are redeeming it in a way. So yes, we do cover celebrity.
How do you reconcile your work as a journalist covering so many topics that we have become addicted to? Is this book a result of being overwhelmed at how bad our nation’s addiction crisis has become?
Yeah, and you know the interesting thing is we cover crime also – and I do talk about our addiction to violence [in the book] – but behind almost every crime that we cover is drug addiction or alcoholism. People who are doing terrible things to children; people who are killing their spouses instead of just divorcing them; these people often, a good percentage of them, have a drug or alcohol problem.
So quite often we get to the addiction problem underneath the crime, so again we are pointing it out. Or, sometimes it’s an addiction to porn – that’s another thing that we found in a lot of our crimes. If it’s pedophilia or violence against women a lot of time they find pornography at the location. Or the domestic problem can be debt-related – again – all addictive behavior so we really do try to go into the addiction theme.
You’re familiar as a 12-step attendee with the term “staying in the solution.” So I ask you Jane, how do we stay in the solution facing such daunting odds with this epidemic?
Well, I lay it out in my book. My book isn’t gloom and doom. “Addict Nation” is a blueprint for change. That’s why I called it an “Intervention for America.” So I think if you read the book cover to cover, it’s not just the last chapter where I focus on emotional sobriety. It’s really showing people that there’s an alternative. It’s not about sacrifice.
Over the course of my journey to sobriety – which I’m not fully at emotional sobriety yet – I fall off it all the time, believe you me. I’m not coming from some lofty place [Jane laughs]. I’m coming from the place of I’m the worst addict I know. I get addicted to everything – addictions jump from one thing to another. That is why I wrote the book ‘cause I grapple with it, I continue to grapple with it every day.
So I’ve given up not only alcohol, drugs, cigarettes; but also meat and dairy and sugar. Folks say to me, “That’s a Spartan lifestyle – how do you enjoy yourself?” I enjoy myself more than I ever did when I was doing all those things. I go dancing all the time because I know that I’m not going to make a fool of myself by doing something stupid when I’m out because I’m not drunk.
I’m certainly happy that I don’t smoke because I don’t want to get lung cancer, knock on wood. And meat and dairy I feel that’s a miracle giving that up. I know I can go through this day without killing, which I think is something that is very important, and a very liberating and joyful feeling.
You know they say when you’re really practicing your program there is nothing that you can do wrong – well, that’s how I feel about not eating animals. There is nothing that I can do wrong, no matter what I do today, I can go to sleep, put my head on the pillow knowing I haven’t killed another sentient being, period.
And as far as sugar, you know what, I couldn’t even taste the taste of fruit because my body was so loaded up with sugar. When I finally let the sugar out of my system and cleared it out, that was about ten months ago, no, nine months ago. Anyways, now I can taste the delicious, sweet taste of organic fruit. It tastes sweet to me – it didn’t even taste to me when I was numbed up on sugar. Just like a heroin addict isn’t going to get really that high off a weak joint.
I’m happier today. I go out. I eat. I do all these things. I was at a beautiful restaurant last night, it happened to be a vegan restaurant in New York City. I had a delicious meal – I’m not sacrificing! I’m happier!
Well, are you ever nervous about championing recovery in such a high-profile way and then succumbing to a relapse years down the road?
I’m very nervous about slipping in general. Because my whole family on one side, virtually they were all alcoholics. So I’ve seen my relatives fall to this disease. My dad was an alcoholic. Some of the cousins that I knew growing up were alcoholic on one side of the family. So I’m very terrified. In fact, I think it’s one of the reasons that I do it.
I really don’t want to be in a situation where I could ever slip. So I’m one day at a time – God willing – I will remain sober.
Right now I feel that if I work the program rigorously my obsession will remain lifted because I did experience a miracle. I was a person who couldn’t go one day without drinking, not one day no matter what I did. And then when I finally surrendered and started working the steps, the obsession to drink was lifted and I feel so much happier.
But yes, um, I think it’s always a constant worry and fear of mine because of the experience with my relatives.
Yes, but I think for many of us it’s actually a healthy fear. Now getting back to your book, “Addict Nation.” Are you surprised that the chapter causing the most controversy is “Breeders”? The Right is especially affronted by your suggestion that maybe homosexuality is providing an alternate balance to over-breeding. Do you stand by your statement?
Well, I like to make a little controversy with my books and I simply asked if gay is the new green. Now I don’t have all the answers, but I think nobody should be afraid of a question. And one of the points of the book was our global population is skyrocketing. It’s gotten to the point where we’re going to hit nine billion people by 2050. It’s extremely threatening to our planet.
There are only so many people this particular planet can sustain before it runs out of resources. So I pointed out that nature has a way, not just with animals, well actually, with all animals – we are animals – of coming up with solutions when there’s a problem.
So I asked the question: Could it be that the surge in the gay right movement is somehow aligned with the fact that the survival of the species is ultimately going to become dependant not on our ability to procreate but on our ability to limit population growth simply because there are only so many people our planet can sustain.
I don’t think there is ever, ever, a wrong question to ask – and that’s what I asked for people to think about it. They shouldn’t be afraid of a question.
So Jane, what do you hope a reader takes with them after reading “Addict Nation”?
I really hope that the reader becomes more conscious – that every choice that they make throughout the day – and I do recommend making an inventory of everything. I recommend everybody start writing down for four or five days everything they use, consume, buy – and you’ll see the list. I mean every paper cup, every plastic bag, and you’ll start seeing the wreckage we are all individually creating. That is resulting in global warming, and also trashing our planet.
I hope they become more conscious that every decision they make about what they are going to buy is not just a personal lifestyle decision. It’s a political decision. It’s an environmental decision and it’s a moral decision.
So one of the things that I say as a shortcut: if we change our buying habits just a little bit; and eliminate meat and dairy, and bought organic, and bought cruelty-free (not tested on animals), biodegradable and recycle we would all go a long way toward reducing the wreckage that we are creating. And it really wouldn’t change our lifestyle that much.
You can purchase Jane Velez-Mitchell’s latest book, “Addict Nation: An Intervention for America,” at bookstores everywhere or online at Amazon.com (including a Kindle version).