Allow me to introduce you to an incredibly inspiring person and to preface one of the most influential interviews you will ever read. Lisa is a lawyer, an author, a daughter, a wife, a friend and a recovering alcoholic. She has been clean and sober for more than 10 years and so passionately strives to break the stigma related to drug and alcohol addiction, particularly for corporate professional women – where the typical attitude is work-hard-play-hard. She has recently published her incredible memoir: A Girl Walks Out Of A Bar in which she bravely shares her experience, her journey and her recovery from alcohol and drug addiction in the most raw-honest-and-lay-all-cards-on-the-table-kinda way. She shares the highest of highs and the devastating lows, the struggles and the victories. Her candid memoir is truly as heartbreaking as it is inspiring and whether you’ve been there or not, you will be able to relate, empathise and connect with Lisa. You will be inspired by her courage, as she so frankly shares her story. It will touch you and impact you. I mean, there’s a reason why this book has garnered so much attention, has been featured in The New York Times and is on the Amazon Best Seller list. And this incredible woman deserves all of the accolades and every single ounce of success she receives, because she is such a good human. It’s as plain and simple as that.
Full disclaimer: prior to purchasing maybe cancel all plans because you won’t want to put it down once you start.
Lisa is leading by example and one of those women we all need to learn from. Seriously. The word role model comes to mind. She is kind, she is brave, she is honest, she genuinely loves (and is so passionate about) helping others and she’s simply just doing the best she can, every day she shows up as her best self. And as she takes her recovery one day at a time, she is a magnificent advocate for mental health and for looking after your mind and body. She is all about just being honest: honest with yourself, honest with those around you and honest with life. She knows what it is like to feel isolated, alone and like you must struggle on your own which is why she is the ultimate embodiment of community, she is so generous with her time and she encourages others to do the same. Just by being her, she inspires people to be better humans. And on top of that, she is captain of the cheer squad when it comes to supporting, helping and being kind to the women around you. She is passionate about rooting for each other and rising together. I can tell you this first hand.
I am in awe of this incredible woman, I am inspired by her and I am so thankful for her kindness and support which has effected me in ways she doesn’t even know. Lisa is one of the sweetest, most genuinely kind people on this planet. You know those people that are so innately kind, so inherently sweet and so pure of heart that they can’t be anything but…well this is Lisa. I am sure she belongs in a special club with that title because I truly feel like she is one of those people that would give you the shirt off her back if you needed it – even in an NYC winter, she is THAT kind. And, as I mentioned, Lisa is so beautifully encouraging of anything to do with women supporting women and knows that together, #wegotthis.
No matter what you’re going through, where you’re at and whether you’re currently on an expected or (the oh-so-common-comes-out-of-nowhere-but-trust-it’s-exactly-where-you’re-meant-to-be) unexpected path… there is most definitely something in this interview for you. There are SO many takeaways from Lisa’s wisdom, experience and outlook on life that I quite seriously don’t even know where to start. This is honestly one of my favorite parts of this website because I get so inspired by the incredible women featured, and Lisa is without a shadow of a doubt, no exception. I honestly can’t even tell you what an impact this interview will have on you and once you’ve read this, it will leave you jumping on amazon.com and ordering a copy of her book, because it will leave you wanting more: to know more, to feel more and to be even more inspired. Lisa’s interview is harrowingly honest, incredibly wise and filled with so much inspiration that you will quite possibly need to re-read it multiple times to allow it all to soak in – I can’t even count how many times I have read it and I still find so many takeaways. A reminder to be gentle with ourselves and talk to ourselves with love and positivity. A reminder that life is there to be lived, wholly and vibrantly and that isn’t exclusive to certain people, we are ALL deserving of a full life. A lesson that fear is an emotion (which we so often forget and allow to control us). A reminder to be proud, of who we are and all that we achieve – and to celebrate those achievements. Above all else, it is a beautiful reminder of kindness and community: to look out for one another, to check in with those around us and ask how they’re doing, to ask how we can help, to be kind because you never know what battle someone is facing and to always lead with love. Ultimately, to remember that you are not alone.
And, I haven’t even scratched the surface of all of the pearls of wisdom you are about to discover via Lisa.
Thank you Lisa. Thank you for being brave enough to share a part of you that in turn is helping so many others, thank you for erasing some of the stigma associated with mental health and continuing the conversation, thank you for being passionate about helping others, thank you for shining your light, thank you for being kind and supportive and sweet. This world is most definitely a better place with you in it and thank you, for inspiring me (and all the readers who cast their eyes over your interview). You are an inspiration. Period.
LISA F. SMITH // AUTHOR, LAWYER
How would you describe yourself in one word?
Reaching out… #sheisreachingout
What would you tell your 28-year old self?
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help!” At 28, if I had asked for help and gotten sober, I could have spared myself ten years of a dark spiral into addiction that I wasn’t guaranteed to survive. I would say to my 28-year old self, “You have no idea how incredible life can be if you are present to live it. There are huge possibilities if you work to get healthy.” A big hope I have for the book is that some readers might identify signs of a worsening problem, and hopefully get help at an earlier stage of addiction than I did.
What is your philosophy on life?
This is not a dress rehearsal. It’s my life and I need to do all I can, within my power, to make it what I want it to be. The tricky part is accepting what is “within my power” and what is not.
‘Imagine what the world could look like if each woman making a difference in the world held out her hand to bring the next group of women along with her. The possibilities are endless. But if we tear each other down, no one rises. That’s a nonstarter to me.’
The single best piece of advice you have ever received and how has it shaped you?
“Get up. Get dressed. Get with the program.” This was posted at the detox unit where I got sober. My life was such a mess and I was so sick at that point, I couldn’t imagine doing those three things. But it made sense just to try for them each day in order to reclaim my life. For me, it comes down to just taking the next right action on any given day, showing up for my life and for other people, and keeping things simple. If I do my part as best I can, the rest will take of itself.
In your opinion, what is true strength of character?
Staying true to the things that are important to you and finding a way to help others.
What is the biggest lesson you have learnt from your journey with addiction and how has it impacted you?
Humility. When I was in the throes of addiction, I thought I was the center of the universe, while hating myself the entire time. I thought I was this unique and wildly complex character, all alone in my head and my addiction. Confronting addiction has taught me that I am not unique. I am special and important in my own way (we all are), but I’m no better or worse than anyone else. I learned to love the aspiration of being “a worker among workers and a friend among friends.”
Do you believe in positive self talk and if so, why?
Absolutely. Only I can set my state of mind at any given time, so if I want positivity, I have to remind myself of all the good that can happen if I believe in myself.
Once, when I was on the brink of doing something important, but felt terrified and inadequate, one of my cousins grabbed my shoulders, looked me straight in the eye and firmly told me, “You’ve got this.” And she was right. Basically, she was saying I needed to believe in myself. So, whenever I’m about to do something that I find scary or challenging, I tell myself, “I’ve got this.” It sounds simple, but it’s worked every time.
What was your rock bottom moment?
If my rock bottom is the thing that triggered me finally to ask for help with my addiction and check into a hospital to detox, then it was the Monday morning when I was on my way to work, drunk and high, and thought I was having a heart attack or overdose. It turned out to be an anxiety attack. But if my bottom is the low point emotionally that I think back on, it was the day that I couldn’t get out of New York City to see my family when my niece was born. I had been drinking and taking drugs for two days straight and could not put myself together to be there. I was both physically sick and emotionally bankrupt, and I knew it. I couldn’t stand myself. Yet, that wasn’t the day I got sober. A saying I love is, “Your bottom is when you stop digging.”
‘Fear is a four-letter word. It’s not a real thing. It’s an emotion.’
How has your life changed since being in recovery?
It’s changed almost completely, both physically and emotionally. But I’d say the biggest change is that I am no longer filled with the self-doubt, fear and self-loathing that made me believe I didn’t deserve a happy and healthy life. Now I know that we all deserve that. It has inspired me to want to help others to recover and find health and peace in their lives.
Why is self care such a crucial part in living with mental health?
There are certain aspects to living with mental health challenges for which I have to take ultimate responsibility. The world offers so much support and love, but I have to take a decision each day to ask for and accept the help I need. For example, I have to be committed to taking my medication and showing up for a program of recovery. I’m also the only who can tell myself to go to bed at night or eat the right thing because sleep and a healthy diet are two of the things that make me feel better and keep me sober.
Your all-time-hands-down-favorite self love ritual?
Giant naps on the weekends. I’m an early morning person and during the week I spend long days in the office. So, on the weekends, I’ll climb back in bed for big chunks of the late morning and afternoon, reading and sleeping. I do it for hours. I’ve learned not to feel guilty about it, even if it’s a sunny, gorgeous day outside and there are other things to be done. Sleep is critical to my health and sobriety, so I take care of myself as best I can.
Something you don’t tell yourself enough?
That I’m proud of what I have accomplished. Like many women, when someone says something nice to me about my book or the fact that I’m speaking up publicly about it, I’ll answer, “I’ve been lucky.” Yes, I have been lucky, but I’ve also worked really hard for more than 10 years to make this book happen. I have heard that studies show when women are complimented that way, they tend to say something like, “I got lucky,” or “it was nothing,” as if we don’t deserve recognition or didn’t achieve anything important. Men, on the other hand, say, “thank you,” and take the compliment, believing they deserve it. We need to act more like them in that circumstance. We do deserve it.
‘What other people think of me is none of my business. I realized that so much of my self-doubt and fear came from comparing myself to other people. I thought everyone else was prettier, smarter, stronger, and most importantly, more deserving of a good life than me. But really, why? ‘
What characteristics and values do you admire in the women that you surround yourself with or are inspired by?
Passion, curiosity and a commitment to living the best and fullest lives they can. A desire to help the next person who suffers. A desire to remain teachable and continue to learn.
Your thoughts on fear and failure….
I am prone to anxiety attacks, so attempting to do anything difficult will trigger fear in me. I fear that I’ll fail and leave myself in a worse position than I would have been in if I never tried at all. It’s normal. So many people feel it. We learn in recovery that fear is a four-letter word. It’s not a real thing. It’s an emotion. So, with the help of meditation, I have learned to breathe through fear, look at it for what it is, note it and move on in my head, mostly by turning back to my breath. That doesn’t mean it always works, though! I still have periodic anxiety attacks. When I have one, I try to remember that it will pass, just like it has every other time.
When putting together your memoir, were you faced with fear or limitations and how did you overcome them?
Yes! I was terrified. I was writing about the worst version of myself. At that time in life, I was hurting others, and myself, thinking that I had a right to do that. Someone suggested that I “write as if no one is ever going to read my words.” That was an enormous help. And the truth is that I didn’t expect my book to be published. I hoped it would, but I didn’t expect it to be, so it really freed me up to lay bare the facts of my addiction and recovery to the reader. I could write as if you were sitting on the couch next to me and I was telling you my story. Then, when the book was coming out, I got past the fear of people reading about that ugliness by telling myself that the good it could do for the next person suffering made it worth exposing myself. And it has been.
‘You are not alone.’
The best piece of real advice you have for believing in yourself…
“What other people think of me is none of my business.” I realized that so much of my self-doubt and fear came from comparing myself to other people. I thought everyone else was prettier, smarter, stronger, and most importantly, more deserving of a good life than me. But really, why? We all deserve health and happiness. We all are capable of working toward our dreams and loving that journey, even if it ends up somewhere unexpected. If I stop comparing myself to others and worrying about what they will think of me or what I do, I can trust that I am just as worthy of good things as the next person. We all are.
How do you define kindness and how can we, as a collective, make the world a kinder place?
I think of kindness as a sort of selflessness or willingness to help someone who struggles. My friends and I have a saying to live by at a minimum: “Just don’t be a jerk.” If we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and consider how our words or actions might affect them, we can help, or at least not hurt, other people. If, as a collective, we took our mission past “Just don’t be a jerk,” to “How can I help?” the world could be a much kinder place.
Have you ever been shown an act of kindness you will never forget?
So many I can’t count. I always think of the day I checked into the hospital for detox. None of my friends had known how badly addicted I was when I confessed it to them that day. Three of them left work to come sit with me and talk it through that Monday morning and later five of them were with me at the hospital to help me check in. One of my friends brought me a small stuffed tiger for protection in what did in fact turn out to be a scary detox unit. I still have him. I never would have thought to do that for someone else. There were both big and small acts of kindness that day.
‘Only I can set my state of mind at any given time, so if I want positivity, I have to remind myself of all the good that can happen if I believe in myself.’
Why is it important to check in with one another?
Because there is strength and comfort in knowing that we are not doing this alone. None of us are the first, or unfortunately the last, to struggle with addiction and mental health challenges. The power of talking to someone else who shares your experience and way of thinking is something I never expected.
What advice can you share for anyone suffering in any way, but afraid to ask for help?
You can ask for help that is confidential and judgment-free. There are all kinds of resources out there, including online, where there are people who want to help. And asking for help doesn’t mean you suddenly have to quit drinking forever or become perfect. I’ve been sober for more than 13 years and I have never once said, “I will never drink again.” I just say, “Today, I am choosing not to drink.” If you think of it that way, it’s far less daunting and just as effective.
You are an incredible example of talking about feelings and issues that often have a stigma attached to them. Why is transparency crucial in reducing so many of the stigmas society attaches?
Until the stigma around addiction and mental health issues is broken, there will be many people who suffer silently and don’t get the help they need because of fear that they will be judged. The consequences of that stigma are tragic, both in terms of those who don’t make it out of addiction alive and those who end up living lives so far below their hopes and dreams.
For me, transparency feels in my gut like the right thing and something I have to do. What drives me in life is working to speak up about these issues. That doesn’t mean that’s the case for everyone. The stigma is real and many people prefer to maintain anonymity in recovery for any number of good reasons. But I feel like I need to be public and say, “I’m a recovering addict. You can be high functioning, have what looks a ‘great’ life and still be in the midst of a painful addiction.” I think the best way to break the stigma is to talk about addiction and mental health issues and raise awareness of both the problem and the help available. The people I’ve met along this journey have certainly proved to me that everyone – family, friends and the communities of those who live with these issues – are impacted in a huge way. I hope to make it easier for the next person to feel comfortable owning their story.
‘Whenever I’m about to do something that I find scary or challenging, I tell myself, “I’ve got this.” It sounds simple, but it’s worked every time.’
As a collective, why is it integral for girls and women to champion, support and build each other up rather than tearing one another down? (And in what ways can we do so?)
I think there are so many good reasons for this! On a purely selfish level, I like the way helping someone else makes me feel. I find that doing something good for someone else is the same as doing something good for myself. I also feel enormous gratitude for somehow having had the opportunity to survive dozens of situations that should have killed me in my addiction. I feel like I have to give something back to the universe that has been so kind to me today.
Girls and women in particular need to champion and support each other because we still have an enormous way to go in achieving equality to men in so many areas. Not just that, but we understand each other in a distinctly different way. There are incredible women out there forging new paths in all kinds of areas – business, politics, science, social justice and the arts, just to name a few. Imagine what the world could look like if each woman making a difference in the world held out her hand to bring the next group of women along with her. The possibilities are endless. But if we tear each other down, no one rises. That’s a nonstarter to me.
Your ultimate message to young girls and women?
You are not alone. Whatever you’re experiencing, there are people out there who have been through it as well. They want to help you. We do this together.
Your favorite quote that always inspires you?
My favorite quote is, “The more I see, the less I know, the more I like to let it go.” It’s from the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ song, “Snow (Hey Oh).” Anthony Kiedis, their lead singer is what I like to call my “sober shaman.” He has an amazing story of addiction and recovery. Hence my motto, “If Anthony Kiedis can stay sober, I can stay sober!”