On this episode of Unlocking Us
Strap yourselves in! In this episode, I talk to my dear friend and sister Cheetah, Glennon – author of the New York Times #1 bestseller, Untamed. This is an honest conversation about walking away from the lifelong training that keeps us small, quiet, and afraid, and embracing our wild, brave hearts.
Glennon is the author of two #1 New York Times bestsellers – Untamed and Love Warrior. She’s the author of the New York Times bestseller, Carry On, Warrior, an activist, and the founder of Together Rising, an all-women led nonprofit organization that has revolutionized grassroots philanthropy – raising over $25 million for women, families and children in crisis. She lives in Florida with her wife and three children.
Listen to the episode
Check out Glennon’s latest #1 New York Times best seller, Untamed.
Production by Cadence13
Brené Brown: Hi everybody. I’m Brené Brown and this is Unlocking Us.
BB: I’m really excited about today’s podcast because I am talking to Glennon Doyle, my friend. She’s a writer, she’s an activist, she’s the founder of Together Rising, and she is the author of a brand new book that just came out called Untamed, which will shake you up and set you free. Glennon’s also the author of the number one New York Times bestseller, Love Warrior, and another New York Times bestseller, Carry On Warrior. She is an activist, she’s a thought leader, she’s the founder and president of Together Rising, which is an all-woman led non-profit that has revolutionized grassroots philanthropy, raised over $25 million for women, family and children in crisis. Let’s talk to Glennon.
BB: Today is the Glennon Doyle Untamed pajama party. Glennon and I are both physical distancing because of COVID-19. So, are you in Naples, Glennon?
Glennon Doyle: I am, yep. At home.
BB: Glennon’s in Naples, Florida, I’m in Houston, and we’re both wearing our matching pajamas, and we’re really hoping that you’re in your Untamed pajamas, snuggling up with someone who is equally fierce and listening to us today. So let me start by saying, Glennon, I love you and I’m so glad we’re doing this together.
GD: I love you and I’m so glad that we’re doing this together and thank you for always showing up for your friends. It’s such a beautiful thing and I’m so grateful.
BB: I want to start with the hard stuff because, as you say, we do hard things. I know that in the big scheme of things, that cancelling a book tour, giving up a sold-out book event run, I know in the big scheme of things, is not life or death. And, I also know the heartbreak that goes into not being able to share something that you have poured your heart into with the world.
BB: How are you?
GD: I am okay. It was hard. We made this decision. Now it seems like it is incredibly obvious to cancel, but we cancelled about a week ago, and it was still iffy about whether people were going to cancel or not. And there’s a whole team of people, as you know, that works so hard for a year to plan every moment of the tour. And I was laying in a hotel room and I had to make the call the next morning, and I kept thinking, “How can I cancel this? This book is the most beautiful, important thing I’ve made.” And then I said to Abby, “Oh my gosh, no, no, no, that’s not right. The most beautiful thing that I’ve been a part of creating is this community. It’s the people that are going to be showing up at these events, it’s the people who have planned this event.” And so that moment in leadership became crystal clear to me when I figured out, “Oh, there’s no product, there’s no piece of art that I can put out that’s more important than the people that I am inviting to these events.” And so then it just became really clear, we cancel everything. We show up by not showing up, is what we decided. And thank God, because it did turn out to be the right call.
BB: I gotta say, as someone who has spent a lot of time studying courageous leadership, when I saw your video out to the community, which I consider myself a part of, I guess what I really saw… Because you called early. You called when there was still some ambiguity about what we should do. And you called early. I remember you said you signed off, it was you and sister together, and you signed off by saying… And I could tell. As someone who’s been inside a million hotel rooms, I knew exactly the door you were leaning against. I was like, “Oh my God.” And you said two things. You said, “Don’t forget, one, we belong to each other. And two, just keep doing the next right thing.” And I just have to say, thank you for modeling what daring leadership looks like. Because daring leadership is not doing the next right thing when you’ve got a little bit to lose. It’s doing the next right thing when it doesn’t matter how much you have to win or lose, but other people that you’re serving have a ton to lose. So I just really appreciate your courage.
GD: Thank you. Thank you, Brené. From you, that means a hell of a lot. Thank you very much.
BB: Alright, you ready to dig in? We have a lot of questions, and I just have to say that I don’t know what I was expecting when I opened Untamed. I was expecting you and I was expecting your voice, and I didn’t know structurally what to expect, but it is maybe the best structured… The heart is there, but you took me at such a fast clip through so much in such an artful… Maybe I’m just talking to you writer to writer right now, just the art and craft in this book is breathtaking.
GD: Thank you. I really wanted it to read like the cheetah running. I wanted the experience of reading it to feel as wild as the wild I was trying to describe. I wanted the actual medium to be the message. As you know, while it feels wild, it is structured beyond belief. I wanted every single chapter or story in the first half to be how we’re tamed, and then I wanted every story in the second half to answer each of those tamings, and to show how we can undo each of the ways we’re caged in the beginning. And Brené, I actually wrote this book twice, okay? So I wrote…
BB: I did not know that.
GD: Yes. I wrote a book about being untamed, about un-taming, which is really just un-learning all of our social programming and social conditioning so we can return to ourselves and build lives that we recognize as our own. And I was writing and writing about the way I just spoke to you, and our mutual dear friend, Liz Gilbert, came to stay with me for a weekend a long, long time ago. And she said, “Okay, read to me. Read to me what you’re doing with Untamed.” And I read for a while, and she was very quiet. [chuckle]
GD: Mm-hmm. And she said something like… What we figured out is that I was writing a book about being wild without writing it wild, that I was writing a book about…
BB: Oh my God.
GD: I know.
BB: Yes, I just got goosebumps from head to toe.
GD: Oh, Brené. We figured out, “Oh, oh, I see what I’m doing. I’m writing a book about breaking free from existing structures, and I’m writing it inside of an existing book structure that maybe has worked and works for a million other things, but not for this message.” And by the way, Brené, I knew that. I knew it. I knew that it sucked, I just was hoping no one else would notice that it sucked. I really was. I just thought, “It’s good enough.”
BB: [chuckle] I’ve been there 100 times.
GD: Oh God, because the idea of… I don’t know what I had, maybe 100,000 words. Enough to make you cry yourself to sleep that night.
GD: We just have those friends, you talk about these people all the time, the ones you keep on your index card or the sticky note, the friends that will tell you the truth even when it’s hard. And so we spent a couple of days talking about everything in the world, and then the next week I just started writing this way, the way the book turned out. And I just said, “Alright, I’m just going to trust my reader. I’m not going to write about the book, I’m going to write the book.” And this is what we ended up with.
BB: I always write about the book before I write the book.
GD: And maybe that has to happen, maybe that’s the foundation that then…
BB: I don’t know.
GD: I don’t either. Clearly. But this is what we ended up with. And I just stopped explaining what I was trying to describe in art to everybody and just created it like a bunch of… I don’t know, like a bunch of paintings.
BB: Just the whole thing. The cover looks like the inside, feels like the words, feels like what happened in my body when I read it. Let me just tell all the listeners right now, when you crack open this book, do not think you’re going to read this book with your mind. You will be reading this book in your toes. You will be… Damn. Okay, let me ask you this. Would you feel comfortable telling us the cheetah story?
GD: Yes. Yes, of course. So, you know as a writer, we have these ideas and these invisible knowings inside of us, and then every once in a while, we’re out in the world and we see something that perfectly illustrates… It’s like something visible that perfectly illustrates the invisible thing inside of us that we’re trying to make real. And this is of course why we’re all obsessed with metaphors. [chuckle] Whenever I turn in a draft to my beloved editor, Whitney, she’s like, “Okay, so it’s good. We need to take out 490 of the metaphors and just stick with 20.”
BB: I’m like, “Over my dead metaphorical body.”
GD: That’s right. That’s right.
GD: So I’m at this safari park with Abby and the girls, and they want to go to this event called the Cheetah Run. So we line up, it’s a million and 40 degrees, we line up with all these sweaty families, and this zookeeper comes out and she’s holding the leash of a lab. And I’m thinking, “What the hell is… That’s not a cheetah. I’m not a scientist, but that is definitely not a cheetah. That is a labrador.” The safari park woman says, “Hi everybody, welcome to the Cheetah Run. Do you all think this is the cheetah?” And all the kids say, “No.” And she says, “You’re right, this is not Tabitha the cheetah, this is Minny the lab. And we raised our cheetah Tabitha alongside Minny the lab to tame her. And so now Tabitha and Minny are best friends, and Tabitha does everything that Minny wants to do. So we’re going to watch Minny run the Cheetah Run first, and then Tabitha will go.”
GD: So we watch this labrador chase this Jeep. And this Jeep, it has a pink bunny attached to it. And so Minny wants to catch the pink bunny, the Jeep takes off, Minny chases after the Jeep. Then they bring out Tabitha and she is just majestic and stunning, and her muscles are just rippling beneath her body. And we all count down, “Three, two, one,” and that Jeep takes off with the dirty pink bunny and Tabitha, this majestic, powerful creature, chases this dirty pink bunny until they cross the finish line. And the crowd…
BB: And this pink bunny is just tied to the back of the Jeep, and so that’s the training?
GD: Yes. That’s the training. They’ve been trained to want this pink bunny. The race ends, the crowd cheers, the zookeeper throws this old steak at Tabitha, and she lays down in the dirt and eats it. And I thought… It just hit me, Brené. If a cheetah can be tamed, so can a woman. If a cheetah, a wild, majestic animal like a cheetah, can forget her wild so much so that she can be convinced to spend her entire one wild and precious life chasing a dirty pink bunny, that’s what we do. That’s why we are so underwhelmed and overwhelmed and exhausted, and we feel unseen and unknown, because we spent our one wild and precious life chasing these ideals and expectations and shoulds that zookeepers train us to, instead of just being who we are. So just that moment… I knew the moment I saw that cheetah run that that is the metaphor that I wanted to use to describe the process that all of us, men too, I was focused on women in this book, go through in our social programming. That we are trained to chase certain things that will always leave us restless and tired and unfulfilled.
BB: I want to read a piece that I will never unsee or be able to forget this story. And I want to read something that you wrote in your cheetah chapter. So Tabitha eats the dirty steak off the ground, and she gets back in her area that’s penned off, and she said, “There… ” You write, “There in that field away from Minny and the zookeepers… ” Minny’s the labrador, “Tabitha’s posture had changed. Her head was high, and she was stalking the periphery, tracing the boundaries that the fence created. Back and forth, back and forth, stopping only to stare somewhere beyond the fence. It was like she was remembering something. She looked regal and a little scary. Tish, your daughter, whispered to you, ‘Mommy, will she turn wild again?’ Glennon nods at Tish and keeps an eye on Tabitha as she stalked. I wish I could answer her. You turn to your daughter and say, ‘What’s happening inside of you right now?'”
BB: You write, “I knew what she would tell me. She’d say, ‘Something’s off about my life. I feel restless and frustrated.'” This is the cheetah talking, “‘Something’s off about my life. I feel restless, I feel frustrated. I have this hunch that everything was supposed to be more beautiful than this. I imagined fence-less, wide open savannas. I want to run and hunt and kill. I want to sleep under an ink black silent sky filled with stars. It’s all so real, I can taste it.’ Then she’d looked back at the cage, the only home she’s ever known. She’d look at the smiling zookeepers, the bored spectators, and her panting, bouncing, begging, best friend, the lab. She’d sigh and say, ‘I should be grateful, I have a good enough life here. It’s crazy to long for what doesn’t even exist.'” And Glennon, you write, “I would turn to her and say, ‘Tabitha, you’re not crazy. You’re a goddamn cheetah.'”
GD: That’s how I felt. Soon after this chapter, I talked about my marriage. And I had a good enough marriage, I had a life that women are trained to be grateful for. And yet I was angry all the time. I was just this low-level river of rage, and I felt this constant ache, this longing for a truer, deeper, realer love. And I had, Brené, this constant whisper just relentlessly saying to me, “But wasn’t it supposed to be more beautiful than this?” And I hear that story from honest women about so many things. About their family lives, about their jobs, about their nation, about their world. And yet we are part of this universal gaslighting that tells women over and over again, “No, no, no. That’s not real. That longing inside of you, that imagination you have that it was all supposed to be more beautiful than this, that is not real. Stay in your place. Be grateful.”
GD: And what I have come to believe is that what is inside of us is often more real than what is outside of us. That what is inside of us we were meant to, as you would say, unlock, we were meant to unleash, to change the outside order of things. That maybe imagination is not where we go to escape reality, but maybe imagination is where we go to discover the truest reality that we were…
BB: I want you to say that again.
GD: I said perhaps our imagination is not where we go to escape reality. Perhaps imagination is where we go to discover the truest reality that we were meant to bring into the world. One of my favorite definitions of faith is a belief in the unseen order of things. So there is the visible order of things that we can see in front of us, which is the war and the fighting and the poverty, and all the things that we are taught, the zoo, that we are taught it’s just the way it is. But the unseen order is the thing inside of us that says, “No, it was supposed to be more beautiful than this. I can imagine wide open savannas, I can imagine sleeping under the sky.” And then we think, “No, no, no, that’s just crazy.” But just like Tabitha, “No, no, no.” That’s the reality that we were meant… That’s on earth as it is in heaven. That’s the reality that we were meant to unleash and especially for groups who have been marginalized by the zoo, have been marginalized by zookeepers. If we only accept what we can see, we will never change what we can see. That’s why every visionary… Martin Luther King said, “I have a dream.” That’s why Gloria Steinem said, “Dreaming is a form of planning.” Because if for us, we do not go to our imaginations to plan, we will only get what we’ve always gotten.
BB: Here’s what shakes me a little bit about everything you’re saying. My whole being, especially probably since my early 40s, has been to reconcile what has lived in my imagination and my dream of what could be with what I’m actually in. And when those things do not reflect one another, something’s wrong. But let me tell you something, I have pissed off a lot of people in my life. I have let down. And so when you looked at Tabitha and you saw her walking the periphery of her fenced area, you said she looked regal but a little bit scary. I gotta tell you that 95% of the hundreds of questions we received were the same question, “I want to be untamed. I want to live from my imagination, from what can be. I cannot hurt anyone’s feelings or let anyone down. I am a good woman.”
GD: Yeah. I’m going to tell you a story right now that I haven’t told anyone, except for my community on my book tour, that was one day. I think that one of these poison roots that were planted beneath women is this idea that if we do what is best for us, that if we do what we need to do, that we want to do, our people will be hurt. We have accepted this lie that what we need and what our people need is mutually exclusive. Okay?
GD: And that is a lie. What is true and beautiful for us is always ultimately what is true and beautiful for our people, because there’s no such thing as one-way liberation. When we free ourselves…
BB: Wait, wait, you gotta stop right here. You gotta say that again.
GD: There is no such thing as one-way liberation. When we free ourselves, we automatically free everyone around us. When we grant ourselves permission to live as our truest selves, we automatically grant permission to everyone around us to do the same, because freedom is contagious. So the most loving, motherly, nurturing, life-saving thing a woman can do is know herself and trust herself and be herself and go for what she wants unapologetically. And I will tell you this, one of the reasons that women believe that what they want is bad… Because what you’re saying to me is the deep underlying belief about that is what I want is bad and dangerous. Because if it’ll hurt my people, it must be bad and dangerous. We have been taught that…
BB: Selfish, ego-centric, yes.
GD: Right. We’ve been taught… Well, and let’s talk about selfish for a moment. If you need any proof that we’ve been poisoned by misogyny over and over again, all you have to do is think about the fact that the epitome of womanhood, the ultimate compliment we can receive is, “You’re selfless.” What horse shit is that? The way that you can achieve womanhood…
BB: It’s complete horse shit.
GD: The way that you can achieve womanhood is to not have a self. I’m going to tell you this, I believe that when they taught us that through everything, through the story of Eve, through every piece of media, through all of the places that have taught us that who we are and what we want is bad, so we cannot trust ourselves. My job for the last 15 years has been to listen deeply to women, just listen deeply. And what women tell me they want, women want a moment to take a deep breath and rest. Women want enough power and money to stop being afraid. Women want good food and good sex. Women want to find their purpose and unleash and use it here in this life. Women want safety and food for their children and for all children. They want to look at their families and their communities and nation and see more love and less pain. What women want is beautiful. The blueprints of heaven are inside the deep desires of women.
GD: But they got it a little bit right. What women want is dangerous, but it’s not dangerous to us, and it’s not dangerous to our people. What women want is dangerous to power, is dangerous to status quo, is dangerous to the powers that be. Because if women returned to themselves and trusted themselves and went for what they want, imbalanced relationships would be balanced. Broken relationships would be restored. Institutions, corrupt institutions would crumble. Unjust governments would topple. The world as we know it would end. And that’s exactly what we want to happen so that we can rebuild.
BB: God, we need that death.
GD: Yeah, so we can rebuild families and nations and communities based on justice and equality. So what I would say to that, Brené, the story that I am going to tell you right now, because I’ve gotten the blessing from my perfect son, is that a few months ago, my son sat down with me and Abby and told us that he is gay. And a few months later, or a few weeks later, I’m sorry, he told Craig. And Craig called us right away because the three of us co-parent like a braid, and Abby and I pulled over the car and we’re sitting in our driveway just in shocked silence in the car on the phone. And the first thing that Craig said was this. He said, “You guys, I just keep thinking, what if you had not owned who you were? Maybe our boy would not have owned who he is and been brave enough to share it with us.”
GD: And if I could tell you… First of all, just Craig’s grace and wisdom and courage, that whole moment that my family had together just blows me away. But what it teaches me is it is hard and scary to be who you are in the world. Especially when you are a woman who has been told that her job is to keep the peace no matter what. But when you offer yourself freedom, you offer freedom to all of your people, and I don’t know what else there is to do as a parent. When I first decided… When I fell madly in love with Abby, which was really… It was a choosing of Abby, but it was really an honoring of myself for the first time, not being afraid of myself. I decided in the beginning to abandon myself again. Because I was so tied to this idea of, “A good mother doesn’t do this. A good mother does not break her children’s heart. A good mother does not break her family up.”
GD: And then, Brené, one day I was braiding my daughter Tish’s hair, and I looked at her… No, she asked me a question. She turned to me and said, “Can you do my hair like yours, Mom?” And something about the way she looked at me just made me think, “Every time this little girl looks at me, she is asking a question. She is asking, ‘Mommy, how does a woman do her hair? Mommy, how does a woman live? Mommy, how does a woman love and be loved?'” And I thought, “I am staying in this marriage for this little girl, but would I want this marriage for this little girl? If not, why am I modeling bad love for her and calling that good mothering?”
GD: And so what if the call of motherhood, what if the idea that mothers are martyrs, that a mother proves her love, that a mother is a good mother by burying herself, burying her ambition, burying her feelings, burying her dreams, burying her desires and calling that love, what if that was an idea from the zookeepers? What if that ideal of motherhood is just a dirty freaking pink bunny? Because what if good motherhood is not about being a martyr but being a model? What if our children will only allow themselves to live as fully as we do, and so good mothering is about not settling for any relationship, any community, any conversation, any nation less true and beautiful than the one we’d want for our babies. So I guess what I’d say, Brené… That was a very long answer to the question of… Those women are right who are writing to you. They probably can’t follow themselves and be a good mother if they continue to swallow the definition of good mother that zookeepers have handed them. But if they get still and look inside of themselves and create their own definition of what a good mother is, they will have no other option than to stop abandoning themselves and live fully.
BB: Thank you for telling the truth.
GD: Same to you.
BB: Yeah, no, just the truth telling. There are a couple of things that I thought about when I read this book, and I think it’s why the cheetah story just grabbed me by the heart. It’s not exactly, in my opinion, that we’re taught to chase the bunny. It’s a rigorous, standardized, no-holds-barred training. You can’t tame people or the cheetah by just teaching them something. It’s a training. There are positive rewards, there are negative rewards. You are punished, and not in subtle ways all the time. And undoing that kind of training after a lifetime of conditioning will always make you feel like you’re coming out of your skin.
GD: That’s right.
BB: Because when you reach your hand out to grab something you want and someone says, “Hey, don’t.” that’s one thing. But when you spend your life reaching for something you want and get slapped across the face every time you do it, there’s a trauma tied to not doing that behavior. Do you know what I mean? There’s so much trauma in the training that we receive.
BB: The first thing I thought when I finished this book was this, if you have a patriarchal understanding of power… By that I mean that power is finite like a pizza, like there’s only so much power and if you take a piece or two pieces there will only be six slices left. If you have a finite understanding of power, which is really power over, this book will wreck you. If you have what is traditionally a feminine understanding of power, power with and power to, this book will make complete sense to you. So much of this book, Glennon, is about power and trauma. Did you know that when you were writing it? Did you write that held in your heart? Am I wrong? Let’s start there. Because I could be, for sure, because that’s my lens.
GD: No, you’re exactly right. And a lot of what I’ve figured out since I finished the book is that so much of it is about structural power and how even people who don’t mean to… I’m not talking about people who sit down at tables and decide, “Well, which stories will be included in the Bible and won’t?” The ones that call us to the kind of leadership that you’re talking about, which is non-hierarchical, which is looking inward instead of outward, all of those will be taken out. Or people who sit at tables and decide how to make commercials that make women feel like crap, because women who feel less than buy more. So some of this is strategic and planned, and some of it is trickled down to our parents who, when we’re little and are girls who have big feelings and big thoughts, we make them uncomfortable because they’ve been trained. And so they say things to us that put us back in our place, that do feel like slaps across the face.
GD: I figured out what un-taming is, is it’s like what Whitmans told us to do. Just re-examine everything you’ve been taught in a school, in the world, in a book and dismiss whatever insults your own soul. That’s what un-taming is. But what I figured out… When I did that, Brené… I know how to do that. I can be a good lie detector of cultural messages. That’s what I’ve been spending my life doing. When I started to rip out all these poison roots about what makes a good mother, what makes a good partner, what makes a good Christian, what makes a good implant my own, the scary thing that happened is that it became crystal clear to me that my decision about what to do about my love for Abby was mine alone.
GD: That I was solely responsible for my own joy and freedom, and that scared the hell out of me. Because I think that we all have this kind of initial root poison belief about ourselves, our greatest fear about ourselves, that’s planted when we’re young. Abby’s is that she is unlovable because that’s what the Church taught her as a gay kid when she was little. She’s almost 40 now, and we’re still undoing that every single day. Mine, when I was little, I was a highly sensitive child. I had big feelings, and big hurt, and big doubt, and big questions and big rage, and I was taught that I was too much. All of this was unladylike, this was unacceptable. And so I started numbing myself with food very early, I became bulimic when I was 10, and that morphed into every other addiction. And for 20 years, my life became diagnoses and doctor’s offices and a mental hospital, and my root belief about myself became, “I am crazy.”
GD: Under it all, my belief about myself was, “I am crazy.” And so I stopped trusting myself, because how can a crazy person be trusted not to sabotage her own life and the life of the people she loves? And Brené, something about parenthood and watching your children be children just makes you re-examine all those things you believed about yourself forever. I have this daughter named Tish and she is…
BB: For sure.
GD: Yeah, she is super sensitive and much like I imagine I was as a child. And this one thing happened with her, which is that one day her kindergarten teacher called me and said, “Glennon, we have a situation at school.” And I said, “I bet we do.” And she said, “I may have mentioned to the children that the polar bears are losing their home because of the melting ice caps. The rest of the kids were sad, but able to soldier on to recess. But Tish is still sitting on the ground, her mouth is wide open. She keeps asking me questions like, ‘Wait, where’s the polar bear’s mom? Who’s fixing this? What are we going to do?'” Brené, I am not kidding you when I tell you that the next four months of our lives revolved around polar bears.
GD: We bought polar bear posters for the walls. I had to sponsor four freaking polar bears online. We talked about polar bears… I’m sure it was a fake thing. I don’t know, I didn’t care. I just wanted it to end. And maybe one of my worst parenting moments, I finally asked a friend to email me and pretend to be the president of Antarctica and send me an email telling me that officially the polar bears are A-Okay. So I read this email to Tish, she doesn’t believe it because she is sensitive and not stupid. So the polar bear saga continues. One night, I’m putting her to bed, and she says, “Mommy, it’s just that it’s the polar bears now, but nobody cares. So soon it’s going to be us.” And then she went to sleep, and I was just in the fetal position going, “Oh my God. The polar bears.” I’m looking at my daughter and I’m thinking, “Oh, you’re not crazy to be heartbroken about the polar bears, the rest of us are crazy not to be heartbroken about the polar bears.”
GD: This child is not broken, she’s a prophet. It’s just that in most cultures, folks like Tish, folks like me, folks like you are set apart, they’re considered a little bit eccentric but crucial to the survival of the culture. These are the shaman and the medicine men and women, and the clergy and the poets. They are a little weird but are so critical because they can see things other people can’t see and are willing to feel things that other people can’t feel. But in our culture, we are so hell-bent on power and speed and efficiency that it is just easier for us to dismiss them and call them broken than to realize that they are responding appropriately to a broken world. So what I figured out was, “Oh, my little girl is not broken. Oh, I was never broken either. I was just a highly sensitive kid who didn’t have the tools and the culture yet to know how to use her sensitivity.” And that’s what I think we’re figuring out. That it turns out that angry, heartbroken women are not broken. Angry, heartbroken women are just some of the only people who are responding appropriately to a broken world.
BB: They’re paying attention.
GD: Because they’re paying attention and they’re feeling it all. So, I think that this book is all about power, and I think there’s a lot of structural, institutional power. But I really think at the end of the day, that it’s just about the power to unlock who we are, to unleash who we are. And I don’t think that everyone needs to leave their husband and marry a female Olympian, although I highly recommend. But what I do think is that we can practice unleashing this wild voice that we have inside of ourselves in hard conversations. When people tell me they don’t believe in the tamed and untamed thing, I think, “Okay, have you ever been in a conversation where a dog whistle has been blown? Where a little bit of racism has been thrown into the mix, a little bit of misogyny, a little bit of homophobia, and there’s that part of you that knows, ‘I should say something. I want to say something. I’m bursting to say something.’ And then your tamed self is like, ‘Nope.'” As you would say, “Can’t make it awkward.” I think that this time…
BB: I can’t make the people around me uncomfortable.
GD: Right. And I think that, Brené, we really think, we really believe, “I can’t pay the price of making everyone else uncomfortable, so I will swallow this.” We don’t know that there’s a price to pay for the swallowing. There’s a price to pay by making it awkward on the outside, but there’s a bigger price to pay by swallowing the truth on the inside, because that is how we slowly abandon ourselves and we end up with no self. So, I just think that now more than ever is the time to just practice letting that inner thing that’s swelling inside of us live on the outside. It’s the only way the outside structures change.
BB: It’s really… I want to read this piece to you. This is in “Eyes.” And it goes very much to this beautiful poetry that you write here that I think is a tremendous example of what we’re talking about right now. Here’s what you write. Is it weird that I’m reading this to you?
GD: No, I love it. I love it so much.
BB: Okay. “Right there on the floor, I looked deep into my own eyes. I let the knowing rise and stay. My children do not need me to save them, my children need to watch me save myself. I’d quit using my children as an excuse to not be brave and start seeing them as my reason to be brave.” Jesus. Thinking about what you shared with us about your son, I’m thinking about your daughters… I remember… So, Abby grew up with a fear of not being lovable because that’s what the Church taught her about being a gay kid. Yours was like, “Man, you’re too much. Get smaller, get quieter.” My message was very much, “Be good. Your value is good. When you’re not good, you don’t have value.” And then I bought very much into fifth generation Texan what good meant.
BB: And I struggle with the good. I’m burning memos like a mother right now after reading this book. I’m checking all the memos, because you use this metaphor, “Burning the memos we’ve been giving that tamed us.” And I remember one day, maybe three or four years ago, I came home from a trip. And as an introvert, they can take a real toll on me. And I came home, and I thought, “I need to change really quick and get to this swim meet.” And I said, “I can’t do it.” And I was like, “You have to do it. This is what a good mother would do.” And I ended up not going. I ended up… Just physically, my body was like, “Look, hey, if you’re still buying into the ‘you gotta be good’ memo, that’s great. I’m done with that shit. I’m folding down on you here.”
BB: So, when Charlie came home from the swim meet with Steve, I said, “How was the meet?” And he was telling me about his races, and I said, “I’m sorry I wasn’t there. I’m an introvert, and sometimes when I come home from these tours, I just have to have some alone time before I can fill back up, and it’s this thing.” And I was kind of apologetic about it, but then I was like, “Fuck that. Don’t be apologetic.” And he said, “Mm-hmm. Okay. I understand, I get it.” And the next day, he gave me his birthday wish list. And on his birthday wish list, the number one thing was alone time. And I said, “Tell me about this.” And he said, “I didn’t know we were allowed to ask.”
GD: Oh my God.
BB: And I said, “What do you mean?” And he goes, “You know sometimes when people come over or we’re away with our family and people always say, ‘You’ve gotta go do this and you’ve gotta go do that, and go talk to them’? I don’t like that all the time, and sometimes I just want to go upstairs when I get overwhelmed, and I can come back. But I didn’t know that I was allowed to ask for alone time.” And when I read, “My children don’t need me to save them, my children need to watch me save myself.” I was like… I feel like I know your mom, Glennon, but I don’t. I was raised by a mom who absolutely was taught, “If you are not suffering, you are not loving. If you are not a martyr, you are not a mother.” And it’s like every time.
GD: That’s right. That’s right. And what a burden to pass on to our kids. What a burden to show our kids that love means to slowly die in honor of the beloveds, that love requires the lover to slowly disappear. When all of our work is about proving that real love is about fully emerging, showing up completely. I think that’s what Carl Jung was talking about when he said, “The greatest burden that a child can bear is the unlived life of a parent.” Because it’s…
BB: I have that quote up in my study.
GD: Yeah. I don’t think that I’ve ever heard a more perfect description or example of this than with you and your son. You gave him permission. What would our kids learn is love is you keep abandoning yourself and doing whatever it takes for the other person. And for him to see you… To give himself permission, you set a part of him free.
BB: Another thing that when I was reading this… Let me see what chapter this is in… Where am I? Am I in Cheetah Run here? “Islands.” This. This quote will go down in history, Glennon. “A woman becomes a responsible parent when she stops being an obedient daughter.”
GD: Brené, listen. Telling my parents about Craig and Abby… I’m telling you that you can think you’re untamed until you gotta talk to your momma.
BB: That’s right.
GD: Brené, it was less terrifying for me to reveal to the entire world on Instagram that Abby and I were in love than it was to sit down with my parents and talk to them about this. Because my parents and I have this delicious co-dependence, it’s never going to change completely, it’s just the way it is. And I really had this memo that being a good daughter is about pleasing your parents, that your parents know what’s best. And when I told my mom about Abby and about divorcing Craig, she was terrified. And I could feel and sense her terror in every conversation, every question. “What will the world say? What will the kids’ friends say? How will this affect their life?” And I could feel myself every time I talked to my mom getting defensive and upset. And that’s when I learned that really when we’re making these big decisions, it’s not the cruel criticism of people who hate us that shake us from our knowing, it’s the quiet concern of those who love us.
BB: Say it again.
GD: It’s not the cruel criticism from the people who hate us that shakes us from our knowing, it’s the quiet concern of those who love us.
BB: Tell me about the drawbridge.
GD: Well, I remember one day my mom saying, “Okay, your dad and I are going to come visit next week.” And I was standing under a tree at a freaking soccer game, because that’s where I live, and I just heard myself say, “No, you can’t come here. You cannot come because you are afraid, and you cannot bring that fear to us because my children are not afraid. Because I taught them that love in any form is to be celebrated and that it is always best to be yourself and just let the world catch up.” I said, “They don’t carry the fear that you carry, but if you bring it here, they will see it in your eyes, and they will help you carry it because they love and trust you. And so, I have to tell you this very hard thing, Mom, which is that your fear is not my family’s problem. And my duty as their mother is to make sure that it never becomes their problem. So, go deal with your problem, Mom, and when you are ready to come to our family’s island with nothing but love and celebration and acceptance, we will lower the drawbridge for you, but not one freaking second sooner.”
GD: And she was very quiet. And she said, “I hear what you are saying.” And we hung up, and I was shaking. That is the moment that a mother and a daughter became two mothers. That is the moment where I realized, “Okay, the best way that we can honor our parents is to trust fully the women they raised: Ourselves.” And I did liberate myself in that moment, and I liberated my mom to go work out her fear. And in my case, although this doesn’t always happen, she did. And I also figured out that you can only prove to your people that you are okay by adamantly going about your life being okay. When you find yourself constantly explaining to someone else how okay you are and how okay everything is, that’s your red flag to stop explaining yourself and just go about being okay and let the world observe.
BB: But here’s the tricky part about just going about the business of being okay. That is, to me, the key takeaway from this “Islands” chapter for me and your drawbridge. Is that I think when we find ourselves telling everybody we’re okay, telling everybody we’re okay, “We’re good, I’m good, it’s good. We know we’re happy. We’re good with this.” it’s often because we have not put the boundaries in place to actually just be living okay.
BB: Do you know what I mean? And when we’re just living okay, people think that boundaries are a wall or a moat around our heart. But they’re not. That’s why I love this drawbridge metaphor. Because to me, good boundaries are a drawbridge to self-respect. That we can only get about being okay, not just professing it, but actually being okay, when we’ve got a really good drawbridge operator in ourselves.
GD: That’s right.
BB: Do you know what I mean? Because when we’re getting pushed around, then we’re actually not okay, we’re just talking about being okay. I love this chapter.
GD: Yeah. Yeah, I felt like for me… I remember saying to my sister, because we started this island metaphor really early, Abby and I did. And I remember saying, “I’m sick of being a missionary for my island. I’m not going to leave my island anymore to tell everybody how okay we are. I love it on my island, I’m just going to stay here.” And one thing we figured out early, and Brené, I think this is a tricky thing that I learned about boundaries from this particular situation in my life, is I think we think of boundaries as things we’re going to put up with certain people. For me, I figured out that my non-negotiables couldn’t be people, my non-negotiables in that time had to be ideas. So, what I mean by that is, when we were very new and our relationship was very new and our children were still adjusting, and there was a lot going on and my children were in deep grief because divorce is always traumatic for kids, it was a lot.
GD: And we had this saying that Abby would say to me over and over again, “No fear in. No fear in.” Like, “No fear is allowed on our island.” And what happened to me is, in that moment with my mother, my mother, the person who I love the most… Brené, my mother and my sister and Abby are my best friends. We talk 20 times a day. My mother is my person. And to have the person that you love be the one that’s carrying the fear is when I realized in this situation where my family needs my leadership more than ever, my non-negotiables aren’t people, they’re fear. So, I had to look at my mother and say, “Oh, you’re carrying fear, you can’t come. Because no fear on our island regardless of who is carrying it.” I think that…
BB: That’s really, really helpful.
GD: Yeah. Because I think women especially, we think that… We’re taught to be accommodating, we’re taught to be kind and accepting and all the things. So, we think, “Well, no matter what, I have to let my mom. If I have these certain people on my island… ” We think that it is our job to convince all the people on our island to love and accept us. But what I figured out is, “Oh, no, no, no, it’s my job to only let people on my island, no matter who they are, who already accept and celebrate us.”
BB: I remember this moment when I read this line about, “A woman becomes a responsible parent when she stops being an obedient daughter.” Ellen’s 20 now, she’s a junior in college. But when she was maybe 18 months, we were visiting my dad and I said, “I’m super excited, Ellen’s starting Montessori next week.” And he goes, “Whoa, she’s too young for school, sis.” And I said, “She’s had a caregiver at home while I’ve been working, but now we’re going to put her in school.” “Well, no, I think what you don’t understand, sis, is that time flies and this is the time where you need to be focused on her and you need to… ” And this is from my dad who was gone all the time, and my mom who gave up her career because of her messaging about martyrdom. And I was like, “Huh.” I started thinking about it and he goes, “I know you want to be a good mother.” And I just was like, “Jesus.”
BB: And I said, “I’m going to go put Ellen down and let’s talk about this a minute.” And he said, “Okay.” And so I went and put Ellen down upstairs at his house and came back down, and I said… I didn’t know what I was doing because I didn’t have the language from this book, but I said… It was my island. And what you can’t bring to my island is shame about not being good, because that’s my stuff. And so I just said, “Look, I really appreciate how much you love Ellen and how much you love me, and I get the fear. But unless you can support me wholeheartedly about how I’m going to parent Ellen, then any conversations about parenting are off the table.”
BB: “If we can’t keep the parenting conversations off the table, then me visiting you with my kids will be off the table.” And he did this whole, “Goddamn, sis, I didn’t mean for things to get sideways here.” And then about 30 minutes later, he walked back into the study and I stayed in the living room and I was on my laptop, he came back and he said, “You know, I think good parenting might just be hoping your kids get it better than you did and getting out of their damn way.” In that moment… It was the last time he ever said anything to me except, “Way to go, sis.” But in that moment, I just remember thinking, “I have to disobey my dad here for Ellen and for myself. And what if this is the end of something?” But it was the beginning of something so beautiful, and it takes me back to “Liberation is never one way.”
GD: That’s right.
BB: Okay, I’ve got one more thing we have to talk about because there’s so many things that took my breath away, but this one… I’m going to 89. You and I are both sober. I guess I’ll be 24 years this May.
GD: Wow. I’m 17 years. 17.
BB: 17 years. It’s a big deal.
GD: Yeah, it is.
BB: You write about pain a lot. Your mantra is, “I can feel everything and survive. I can use pain to become.” Here’s what you write in this paragraph: “Since I got sober, I have never been fine again, not for a single moment. I have been exhausted and terrified and angry. I have been overwhelmed and underwhelmed, depressed and anxious. I have been amazed and awed and delighted and overjoyed. I have been reminded constantly by the ache, ‘This will pass. Stay close.’ I have been alive.”
GD: It’s so fun to hear you read this, Brené.
BB: I can think of some words to describe reading it, but “fun” is not the top of mind. I haven’t been fine again since I’ve been sober. I haven’t been fine… I haven’t been fine for 24 years.
GD: Yeah, I think fine just means half dead. We’re just…
GD: We’re just taught that… I don’t know. Really, I think that most of the messages we get from everywhere are this message that we don’t need our pain. We don’t need our pain, we can buy our way out of it, we can distract our way out of it, we can scroll our way out of it. I think it’s interesting, when I think about every great spiritual teacher who’s ever walked the earth always has the opposite message about pain. It’s this idea that, “No, you actually do need your pain. You do need your pain, and you can survive it. And not only can you survive it, but your kids can survive it. And you just walk through enough fires and you figure out that you’re fireproof.”
GD: If there’s any lesson that I’ve learned from my sobriety, it’s that. It’s that no matter how the hot loneliness, Pema Chödrön calls it, that bubbles up, it’s just the pain of being human, that it’s always survivable. And that if we don’t transport ourselves out of that pain, that we transform ourselves. It’s just one or the other. Transport or transform. But if you stay, you become the version of yourself that you were meant to become next. But I will tell you this, Brené, I will never choose suffering again. I no longer believe what I was taught to believe my whole life as a woman, as my mother’s daughter, as a Catholic. I do not believe that pain is to be worshipped anymore.
GD: I remember having a conversation with a dear friend, telling her I was going to give Abby up, that it was going to be more painful than anything I can imagine, but that I’ve always been able to learn from pain, so I will be okay. And she said, “Yes, Glennon, you can learn from pain, you have proven that for decades. But what if you can also learn from joy?” So, I think for me, I figured out there’s a few different kinds of pain. There is the pain of just being human, there’s the pain of living what you would call a wholehearted life. It’s the pain of loss, it’s the pain of losing people and animals and relationships and situations we thought we couldn’t live without. It’s the pain of love, it’s the price of love. And that’s fine, I will pay that for the rest of my life. But there is another kind of pain, and that is a pain that is chosen. That is the pain of a woman who has slowly abandoned herself. And that is the kind of pain that, as a 44-year-old woman, I will never choose again. When I can choose between pain and joy, I will choose joy.
BB: You know what’s so true in my experience, so profoundly true in my experience? Is that learning to become from pain and stay in the pain and feel everything is actually… It’s the prerequisite for being able to discern different types of pain.
GD: Exactly. Yes.
BB: Do you know what I mean?
GD: I know exactly what you mean.
BB: This is not becoming pain that I’m in. This is self-betrayal pain that I’m in.
BB: But you have to be intimate with pain to understand what you have to sit in and what you have to pull out of with different choices, but that requires an intimacy with pain.
GD: Brené, that’s why I don’t know how to put this into words to… That’s why everything that I know comes to me from sobriety. Nothing happens to me. I have nothing in my life right now if I don’t go to that first meeting. And I think it was my fifth meeting that I spoke for the first time and just said a bunch of words and I just said… I was pissed. I was pissed when I got sober because I felt like everyone was trying to tell me that life would be better if I got sober. And the thing about getting sober is it’s not better at first, it’s worse. It’s way worse. It’s terrible, it’s horrible. Because you’re defrosting. It’s just so hard. And I remember sitting at that first meeting and saying, “Hi, I’m Glennon and I’m an addict, and I just feel like I’m doing life wrong. I just feel like everyone else knows something that I don’t know because everything hurts. And it just feels like this is harder for me than other people, and I just want to know what everyone else knows.” And then I stopped talking. And this woman came up to me after the meeting and she said, “I just want you to know that it’s not hard because you’re doing it wrong, it’s just it’s really hard because you’re finally doing it right.”
GD: That feelings are just for feeling, all of them. That all feelings are for feeling. And Brené, I know that sounds like the most simple thing on Earth, but it was world-shifting for me. And I come to sobriety with this idea that feeling at all is really, really hard. But there is one thing that would be worse than feeling at all, and that is missing it all. That the feeling it all is how we don’t miss this being human thing, how we don’t miss this becoming thing, this being alive, this love thing that we’re doing here. And it all starts with just being still and letting being human happen to you.
BB: Thank you for walking us through being human.
GD: Thank you for doing the same.
BB: Untamed. I’m holding it in my hands right now. The cover’s untamed, the structure’s untamed, you’re freaking untamed. Yeah, it’s amazing. I have a lightning round 10 questions, but before we get to those, I want to ask some questions. So Untamed, it’s out right now. You can get it anywhere where you get books. Where can people find you who want to learn more about you and your work?
GD: Well, they could go to Glennon Doyle on Twitter, even though I’m terrible at Twitter, but hey, say hi. Instagram is my favorite, I’m @GlennonDoyle on Instagram, and I’m @GlennonDoyle on Facebook. And also they could come to Together Rising, which is really my baby and my life and my greatest pride, which is the all-women non-profit that you sister us with, Brené, so beautifully, and that has raised $25 million for hurting women and children around the globe.
BB: Let’s take a minute… I was like, “I wonder if we’re allowed to take a minute and just go a little bit long.” But I’m like, “It’s my podcast. Watch.” Talk to me a minute about Together Rising.
GD: You know what? I think that Together Rising… Well, it’s our non-profit. I think it’s just the inevitable outcome of women who have stopped believing that they don’t get to be outraged and heartbroken, and that their outrage and heartbreak might actually not mean that there’s something wrong with them, that it might actually mean that there’s just something wrong in the world that they have the power to change. So it’s all tied together, Brené. It’s like when I figured out that I was not broken.
BB: It’s all tied together.
GD: Yeah. I think about myself as a child and the high sensitivity and the anger and the rage that made me hide inside of addiction is the same anger and rage and passion that I use to be a really good activist with Together Rising. So I think every word that I write or read is really about Together Rising. It’s just women banded together to use their heartbreak to make a difference.
BB: And I love it, and I try to participate and rally my troops as often as possible, because you know what I love the most about the work you lead us through and when we all join hands? Is I love that we raise millions and millions of dollars with a gazillion $5 and $10 donations. I love that women all over the world are climbing, they’re hoisting up their dress coats and climbing to the top of their pantry and pulling down the Folgers can and saying, “Here’s my five bucks.” And we get so many people doing that. You send millions of dollars, and so I’m a huge fan of Together Rising. You can find a lot about it on our website, podcast page. Alright, you ready for the quick 10?
GD: I’m so ready. These make me sweat, but I’m going to do my best, Brené.
BB: I’m already sweating because the podcasting thing is super new and I’m in pajamas and I don’t know how anything works. So I’m like, “Screw it. Let’s just do it.” Alright, ready? Number one. Fill in the blank for me. Vulnerability is…
BB: Number two. You are called to be brave, but your fear is real and it’s right there in your throat. What’s the very first thing you do?
GD: Tell the truth.
BB: Something that people often get wrong about you.
GD: Oh, God. Babe, what do people… Abby’s here. What do people get wrong about me?
AW: That you like people.
GD: She said, “That you like people.” I love humanity.
BB: That’s two of us.
GD: I love deeply humanity, but actual humans are tricky for me. So yes, I will accept that, that I like people.
AW: Hi, Brené.
BB: Is that Abby?
GD: It is. She’s been here the whole time, Brené.
BB: Hey, Abby.
GD: She never comes to my podcasts, but she would not miss you speaking. She’s here. She adores you and respects you so much and she didn’t want to miss it.
BB: I adore her back. Okay, number four. Last show that you binged and loved.
GD: I’m just so afraid to admit that it is Love is Blind. I’ve been watching Love is Blind with Abby. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
BB: Perfect. Favorite movie?
GD: Almost Famous.
BB: Did you say Almost Famous?
GD: I did. Do you like it too, or do you hate it?
BB: Yes, no. “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what we say to someone when we’re being uncool.” I love it.
GD: Brené Brown. Hold on, Dr. Brené Brown, that is one of my favorite quotes in the entire freaking world. And in the chapter about being uncool and untamed, I had that quote. We took it out, but I can’t believe you just said that to me. Okay, go ahead.
BB: I think it’s in Dare to Lead. It’s in one of my books, I don’t remember which, but I use it all the time. It’s incredible. And sometimes I show the whole clip, which is just the most amazing. Okay. A concert you’ll never forget.
GD: Bon Jovi.
BB: Oh my God. Okay, what’s on your nightstand right now?
GD: What am I… Oh, Native by Kaitlin Curtice.
BB: Okay. A snapshot of an ordinary moment in your life that brings you true joy.
GD: On the couch, me and Abby, the kids, the TV, the food, the tea.
BB: Is Honey there?
GD: Oh gosh, Honey’s there. I’m so sorry. How could I forget Honey? Honey’s always there. Yes.
BB: Geez, for all you dog lovers. Okay, last question. What’s something you are deeply grateful for right now?
BB: We’ll just leave with an “Amen”. Glennon Doyle, you are untamed and beautiful, and I can speak for a whole lot of us when we say grateful for your truth telling, it sets us all free.
GD: Brené, thank you for always showing up for the world. Thank you.
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What’s Not Okay
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