By Ellen McCarthy – Washington Post
The world can be divided into two groups: those who’ve never heard the name Glennon Doyle Melton, and those who know pretty much everything there is to know about her. The bulimia and the alcoholism, the anxiety, depression and drugs. They know the contents of her refrigerator, how she looks when she first wakes up, where she finds God and what she says in response to her 8-year-old daughter’s mid-dinner inquiry about how babies are made. (Prayer alone doesn’t cut it, she explains .)
The number of people who know these things about Doyle Melton is not insignificant. She’s a writer whose publicity team estimates that her blog and social media posts reach 7 million readers a week. And that camp is about to get a lot bigger.
This week, Doyle Melton published a new book about the one aspect of her life that she hasn’t fully shared with followers: her husband’s infidelity. Tens of thousands of copies have been pre-ordered. And that was before Oprah announced “Love Warrior: A Memoir” as her new book club selection, a designation almost guaranteed to catapult it onto bestseller lists.
Doyle Melton became a quasi-famous person with a cult following in the traditional way: She quit her job to stay at home with her three young kids. Isolation, exaltation and ennui ensued. As it does. Every day, she says, was “too much and not enough.”
In 2009, the Virginia native was living in Centreville, feeling starved of authentic connection, when she noticed people posting Facebook lists of “25 Things About Me.” While her baby napped, Doyle Melton banged out her own list. She wrote about her conflicted feelings about parenthood and marriage and about her stained daily existence.
“My number six was, ‘I’m a recovering food and alcohol addict, but I still find myself missing food and booze in the same twisted way someone can still love a person who beats them and leaves them for dead,’ ” Doyle Melton, who now lives in Naples, Fla., recalls during an interview at her sister’s home in Falls Church, where she was visiting.
Later, she noticed that her friend’s number six was, “My favorite snack food is hummus.”
“I was like ‘Ohhhhhhhh, crap. We’re not doing that here, either,’ ” she says. By “that” she means telling the truth. The real truth. The one that no one was sharing on the playground or at the bus stop or in church. The one that wasn’t airbrushed with smiling family photos and knee-jerk pleasantries. “I’m great! How are you?”
“I was starting to feel shame that I’m not doing this right,” she says. “I’m not doing parenting right. I’m not doing marriage right. I’m not doing faith right. I’m not doing life right.”
Hours after she posted her list, Doyle Melton’s inbox was filled with dozens of emails from friends and acquaintances saying, “I never knew. . .” and “Me, too.” When her pastor asked her to speak at church — thinking that she would talk about her relatively mild bout of postpartum depression — she instead related her whole story, including the drugs and alcohol, the stint in a mental institution and her flirtation with suicide. Afterward, a line of people waited to confide in her.
That night she told her husband, Craig, “This is what I’m going to do. I’m going to be a truth teller. This is a key that can unlock people,” recalls Doyle Melton, now 40. “This is what I’m going to do with my whole life.”
She started a blog called Momastery. She wrote in the predawn hours and forced herself to hit “publish” every day before her children awoke. Over the first two years, the blog gained slow, steady traction. Then an acquaintance offered to redesign the website. The day after it went live, with “share buttons” that allow readers to promote posts on their own social media accounts, Doyle Melton published an essay titled “Don’t Carpe Diem.” In it, she recounted the near-daily exchanges she had with older women who saw her with her young kids and cloyingly advised her to “enjoy every moment.”
“Clearly, Carpe Diem doesn’t work for me,” she wrote. “I can’t even carpe fifteen minutes in a row so a whole diem is out of the question.”
Someday, when she’s the old woman standing in line behind a harried young mother, she hopes she’ll have a clear enough memory to say, “It’s helluva hard, isn’t it? You’re a good mom, I can tell. And I like your kids, especially that one peeing in the corner. She’s my favorite. Carry on, warrior. Six hours till bedtime.”
A couple of hours after the essay posted, the counter on her site said that it had been viewed 250,000 times. “I was like, ‘Oh, this is broken,’ ” she says, sitting on her sister’s couch, her bare feet curled beneath her.
It wasn’t broken. The post had gone viral. Within a week, she was getting calls from New York book agents, and soon 10 publishers were in a bidding war for rights to her first book, a collection of essays called “Carry On, Warrior.”
The book debuted at No. 3 on the New York Times bestseller list in April 2013 and eventually sold more than 200,000 copies.
But the week before Doyle Melton was to go on the road to promote it, her spinning world slammed to a halt. Craig, the doting husband who seemed like a crown jewel in her perfectly imperfect life, confessed that he’d been cheating on her throughout their marriage.
Doyle Melton told readers that she and Craig were separating because of something he’d disclosed during a therapy session, but she didn’t share much more.
“Love Warrior” fills in the sizable gap. It tells of the couple’s first meeting 15 years ago during a drunken bar crawl in downtown Washington. The abortion of her first pregnancy. Their backyard wedding after she became pregnant a second time, at 25. Their struggles with communication and sex. Craig’s porn habit and extramarital one-night stands. Doyle Melton’s simmering resentments and discomfort with physical intimacy. And, then, how they recovered from all that — through anger, grief, self-exploration, so much therapy and, ultimately, grace.
It’s a haunting powerhouse of a book, not just because it gives readers a chance to do what we’re told we can never do: Be inside someone else’s marriage. There’s solace and fascination in that — the chance to be less alone in our own relationships just by seeing what someone else is going through in hers.
But the story isn’t just about the healing of a marriage. It’s about what happened to Doyle Melton — what happens to so many young women — at the dawn of adolescence, when societal pressure bears down just as hormones and insecurities flare up. And the extreme measures so many take to find acceptance. For Doyle Melton it was bingeing and booze. For others it’s self-mutilation or starvation. And the effects last long after high-school graduation.
“We’re all like, ‘What’s wrong with the girls? Why aren’t they eating? Why are they worried about their bodies?’ Are you kidding me?” she exclaims. “Maybe because every message they’ve gotten since they’re born is that in order to be a successful woman, you have to get smaller and quieter until you disappear.”
Doyle Melton wavered about writing the book — and exposing her family’s pain so fully to the public — but in the end decided that she had to. “I am someone who spent a lot of time in a prison. For me, bulimia, alcoholism, drugs were like being jailed,” she says. “And the only way I know how to stay free is to be really freaking honest.”
Craig, a former model turned suburban soccer dad, agreed. It was his journey, too, and though he could have been cast as a villain, in many ways he’s portrayed as the most empathetic character in the saga. “He’s a believer in this truth-telling thing,” Doyle Melton says. “It’s scary and hard, and we believe in it as a way of life.”
Doyle Melton often appears at the top of lists of “Mommy Bloggers,” a term that stashes hordes of women under the same tattered pink umbrella. What sets her apart, aside from her graceful prose and good humor, is the intimacy she offers. Both to herself and between followers, who often write about their own struggles in the comments section and are cheered on by other readers.
In person, she comes across much as she does in print: self-aware, funny and wise. She says she hopes that readers will gain from her book the same thing she gained from the breakdown and redemption of her marriage: “Freedom from fear. The courage to listen to that voice that’s inside of them that knows who they are and knows what they need to do,” she said.
At the end of a 2½ -hour interview, she pauses before answering a question about whether she worried that writing a book about saving her marriage might somehow jinx her marriage.
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“No,” she finally says. “I don’t really believe in jinxing.”
Besides, “what this whole journey of the warrior has taught me is that I’m not afraid anymore of my marriage falling apart,” she says.
Because now she knows this: “That no matter what happens, I’m going to be fine.”
Two weeks later, a month before the book’s release, she posted a new update on the blog: She and Craig are separating again.
“You can be shattered and then you can put yourself back together piece by piece,” she wrote. And sometimes, “no matter how hard you try, you simply cannot fit into your old life anymore.”
Ellen McCarthy is a feature writer for Style. She is the author of “The Real Thing: Lessons on Love and Life from a Wedding Reporter’s Notebook.”