Balancing Act

Finding beauty in truth -- even the tarnished parts

A chat with Glennon Doyle Melton, author of 'Carry On, Warrior' and founder of momastery.com

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A person can only say so much about countertops, and Glennon Doyle Melton had said enough. Enough about countertops and Little League and all the ways her life was good and healthy and enviable. It was exhausting, and it was not the whole story.

It wasn't even the beginning of the story.

To her church friends and neighbors, Melton, 37, was the lovely, wise, smiling, designer-jeans-wearing mom of three darling kids.

And she was — is, in fact — all those things.

She is also a recovering bulimic and alcoholic. "For 20 years, I was lost to food and booze and bad love and drugs," she writes in her very funny, astonishingly brave new book, "Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed" (Scribner).

Presenting one side of herself without the other started to feel false. "I wanted my insides and outsides to match," she writes.

She toyed with introducing herself at the playground with a showstopper: "Hi, I'm Glennon. I'm a recovering, well, everything, and most recently I've been struggling with isolation and intimacy with my husband, and I've also been getting quite angry with my kids for no reason. I feel awful about those things. But yoga is helping. … How are you?"

Her sister suggested she tone it down — filter it, she said, for her family's sake.

"I asked her if 'filter' meant 'lie,' and she said yes definitely," Melton writes.

But who would that help?

If any good could come from her two decades of turmoil, Melton knew she had to share her past and current life with anyone who wanted to listen. She bypassed the playground and went a little bigger.

She founded Momastery

.com, a website launched on the premise that motherhood is like a monastery: "A sacred place, apart from the world, where a seeker can figure out what matters and catch glimpses of God." She started blogging at The Huffington Post. She gave a speech at TED (the global speakers conference aimed at sharing stories and ideas) titled "Lessons from the Mental Hospital." She wrote "Carry On, Warrior."

She wants her story — the whole of it — to make people feel less alone and less inferior.

"We live in a time when it's never been easier to compare ourselves to each other," she told me by phone last week. "But we only see two dimensions of people's lives. You see a picture of your friend dragging their kids in a wagon to the petting zoo and, meanwhile, you can barely get breakfast on the table, and you think, 'I'm not doing this right.'"

Melton, God love her, has the courage and the resolve and the wit to show us all of her dimensions. She's the anti-Instagram.

A parenting magazine recently asked her to write an advice column about raising happier kids.

"I don't know," she said. "I think the kids are all right. I'd rather help make mamas happier."

Which is, in many ways, the same thing. Happier mamas make for happier kids, after all.

"This all stems from the fact that I felt really, really alone for 35 years," she says. "I've been a freaking mess and I've felt horribly alone. And now I'm talking about it all and now I don't. And that makes all the difference."

The response has been mostly positive. She gets her share of detractors, of course. But she focuses more on the lives she's touching and the minds she's opening.

"I was at a book signing last week, and a woman said to me, 'I disagree with a lot of what you say, but I feel like you've taught me how to love someone I disagree with,'" Melton said. "That's one of my favorite things anyone has ever said to me."

People frequently ask her if she's "better" now.

"Better is a troublesome word for me," she writes. "Better suggests increased value, and I think I was worth exactly the same when I was a falling-down drunk as I am now: a sober, loving, creative wife, mother, sister, daughter and friend. … I prefer the word healing to the word better."

Those words, all of her words, make the world a better place.

And a healing place.

hstevens@tribune.com

Twitter @heidistevens13

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