Laura Cathcart Robbins, STASH: My Life In Hiding

Laura Cathcart Robbins, STASH: My Life In Hiding

Zibby is joined by debut author, speaker, and host of the popular podcast The Only One in the Room, Laura Cathcart Robbins, to discuss her propulsive and emotionally riveting new memoir Stash: My Life in Hiding, which details her drug and alcohol addiction, divorce, and journey to sobriety. Laura talks about her relationship with her ex-husband and how she ensured his privacy was respected in writing this book. She also shares the details of her childhood, touching on her stepfather’s abuse; her complex relationship with her powerhouse lawyer; the pressures she felt to embody Black excellence while hiding her demons; and the inspiration behind her incredible book cover.

You can meet Laura at Zibby’s Bookshop in Santa Monica (3/19) or Zibby’s Charleston Retreat (4/28 – 4/30)!


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Laura. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Stash: My Life in Hiding.

Laura Cathcart Robbins: Yay. Thank you, Zibby. Thank you for having me. I’m so excited to be here.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, it’s my pleasure to have you. Thank you, by the way, for having me on your wonderful podcast, “The Only One in the Room Podcast.” It was great.

Laura: My pleasure.

Zibby: I know you listeners can’t see this right now, but Laura is wearing this very cool black sweater with embroidered Stash written on it with some very fun little — I don’t even know how to describe — embellishments. Really awesome. Best swag wear I’ve ever seen of a book. Laura, I was starting to say I peeked into this book, which I had read in an earlier draft, thinking I would remember everything. I got so drawn in. I read all through the night. It’s so good. The final draft is so good. It just blew my mind. I could not put it down. The final scene, oh, my god. I was like, . It was so good. It was just so good.

Laura: Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate that.

Zibby: Tell listeners about the story now that I’ve raved.

Laura: Stash: My Life in Hiding is about a ten-month period in my life in 2008 when I filed for divorce. I was spiraling down into a pill addiction. I was also at the same time, Parent Association president. I had just been asked to join the board of my kids’ school. I was in a high-profile marriage. I had all these stakes where I felt like I needed to show up exactly the same way I had been showing up before the addiction took me down. At the same time, I felt like I needed the pills in order to show up. It wasn’t an option to stop taking the pills and continue to show up for my life or my family. At that point, I had two young kids. Two grown boys now. The journey is, I file for divorce. I spiral down into addiction. I get to a rock bottom where I know that I have to get help. I go to treatment to get help at a place called The Meadows in Arizona. The hour after I check in, I meet this guy who is optimistic, kind of feckless, very curious about me. I am not interested in a relationship at all. Obviously, I’m dealing with a lot. He becomes my rock in treatment. We end up staying connected afterward. He lived in another state. I live in Los Angeles.

Zibby: Wait, don’t give it away. Stop.

Laura: All right, all right. Basically, it’s about that ten-month period in my life. I filed for divorce. I check into treatment for a drug and alcohol addiction. I get sober.

Zibby: How many days sober are you now?

Laura: I don’t know how many days. I’ve been sober since August 14, 2008, so fourteen-plus years.

Zibby: We should do the days, though.

Laura: I have an app. I’ll look it up while we’re talking. It’ll tell me exactly how many days I’ve been sober. It is 5,270 days so far.

Zibby: That’s amazing. That’s such an accomplishment. I feel like I’m still with you as the newbie when you hit sixty days. That’s such an accomplishment to fast-forward from there to here.

Laura: Thank you.

Zibby: There’s so much to discuss. First of all, your love for your boys is so clear on every page. I don’t know if they’ve read it or not. Every move you made, everything was just radiating love and respect for them. I felt like it was one big hug to those boys. I hope that they know and they feel it and that they’ve read it, if they’ve read it. I don’t know. Are they going to read it?

Laura: My older one, severely dyslexic, does not read, will wait for the audiobook to come out. It’s a possibility that he’ll listen to it. It’s certainly not his genre. It’s not anything he would ever read.

Zibby: I’m assuming.

Laura: The younger one has started to read the galley.

Zibby: Wouldn’t it be funny, though, if you’re like, “My son’s great. He mostly likes to read memoirs about middle-aged women”? Oh, yeah? Okay.

Laura: That would be really funny.

Zibby: It would.

Laura: My younger one is actually a screenwriter. He reads a lot. He sees it so far — he’s just started it — as being very cinematic. He’s excited about that part of it.

Zibby: It is cinematic. The July 4th scene in particular was just so — all of it was so vivid. It was told in such scenes, so visual. You said in the introduction to the book that your ex — thanked him for letting you tell the story. Memoirs, by nature of the genre, are so revealing about your own life, but also those around you. Tell me about how he came to be okay with it or how you dealt with that situation and all of that.

Laura: You and I actually had a conversation about this a while ago. This is my life. This is my life story. This is a story that I felt that was really important to tell for a variety of reasons, not just for addiction, but also for the divorce element and the hanging onto my marriage element when it wasn’t serving anyone anymore and how terrifying that was to let that go even with all of the — there were so many good elements to my marriage as well. There was still so much love there. It was really difficult to make the decision and to not be a family anymore. We are still a family, but to not be the family that we were. I felt like that was important to write about. Especially, I was forty-three in the time period I’m writing about. So many of my friends, my peers were starting to look at their marriages the same way that I was. They were starting to consult with divorce attorneys. They were looking at the two houses, the two Thanksgivings, the two birthdays. I also wrote this book for them, for anybody that’s coming up on that precipice wondering what they should do.

The way that my ex and I are now is we’re really friendly. I’m patting myself on the back because I think we did an amazing job coparenting our boys. We continue to do so. It was just during COVID that I stopped going to his house for Thanksgiving with him and his wife. They just didn’t do a big dinner because of COVID, which I completely understood. Now they’re moving out of the city where I live. People come to me and want to know how it’s so good. How was the marriage so admirable? How was your divorce also so admirable? Writing about it was tricky because I had to reveal some things, nothing, I don’t think, that anybody would look at it and go, “Oh, it’s your fault. Oh, it’s his fault,” but intimate details about my life and about our life together. He’s a very private person. Believe it or not, I am too. It doesn’t make sense because I’ve written this very revealing, vulnerable memoir. I’m not someone who talks about my relationships in detail with my friends. I give them broad strokes.

There are just certain things I keep private. I really respect his privacy. My idea was to make sure that he wasn’t blindsided by anything, that he didn’t hear that I was thinking about writing this book from anyone else, that he didn’t hear that I’d procured an agent, that he didn’t hear that I’d sold it to Simon & Schuster. All of that was to come from me. I got to tell you, he’s just been so supportive along the way, and some great conversations about my story and his understanding that it is my story to tell. There were a few parameters that we both discussed before it went to first pass. I think we were both really okay with what stories I wouldn’t tell and what stories I would. I think that my story didn’t suffer from the editing of those parts out. Actually, I didn’t edit them out. I just didn’t put them down on paper. Our journey was that.

Zibby: You touched on your relationship with your stepfather. You gave it some time, but I feel like that could’ve been its own book if you had really gone there and told us about your childhood. I feel like it must have been an intentional choice you made, how much to tell about that as well when some other areas were so revealing. As the reader already does, you help connect the dots. Perhaps I am this way because of this. Maybe you could shed a little more light on that abusive relationship in your own childhood.

Laura: That was one of the hardest parts for me to write, which is probably why there’s not as much of it. I really didn’t want to write about him. Like you said, it was necessary because there is a dynamic in my life that was created between he and I that carries over into my teenage years and adult life. The reader needed to know where that dynamic began and how it started. I really took a long time. At that time in my life when I got sober, he and I had not reconciled. He had passed by the time I got sober. We hadn’t reconciled before then. I hadn’t forgiven him. Just to be clear, the abuse was emotional. It wasn’t physical. It wasn’t sexual. I don’t want to diminish any of those. For me, the impact of that was horrific. It was impossible to be myself during my childhood when he was around. I know how it impacted me. I know how it felt then, but I didn’t realize how much it impacted me as an adult. My editor was very gentle but asked me to go back and look at that some more, and so I did. It’s just hard to write about him. I think I’ve forgiven him now, but I won’t ever really know because he’s not here. I forgive people in my head all the time. Then I see them, and I’m like, . It all comes back up again. I may not ever really know, but it doesn’t weigh heavy on me now. It doesn’t occupy space in my head the way that it used to. Hopefully, it’s done.

Zibby: Have you ever really sat down and talked to your mom about it?

Laura: I have. Without telling too much of her story, she sees things that she could’ve done differently now, things that she would’ve done differently now. At the time, she was unable to do those things.

Zibby: This divorce lawyer you had, just to go on a completely different direction, Nancy — I don’t know if that’s her real name or not.

Laura: No.

Zibby: There was a lot in here about — she’s a main character, essentially, in how she led you through your divorce and the lens that she so desperately wanted you to put on and see things through. I’ll leave the reader to find out what ends up happening. When you look back on this whole relationship and with other people getting divorced and turning to lawyers, what’s your hindsight twenty/twenty view of the situation?

Laura: Just like Ambien is a really good drug for most people and it’s very effective — that’s what I was addicted to — I think she’s an incredible lawyer, but she probably wasn’t the right fit for me. I was too far in, honestly, to switch. I could’ve switched, but I was too messed up. Her assessment of my situation was very clear. There’s this that’s available. Here’s the path so that we get as much of it as we can. That was really it. My goal was very clear, which was, I need to stay in my kids’ lives. At times, our goals, Nancy’s and mine, were at odds. It’s something to have someone fighting for you. She was the only one fighting for me at times. I’m so grateful to her. Then there were times where I was fighting her so that she could fight for me the way that I wanted her to fight for me or fight for the things that were my priorities. Knowing what I know now, I don’t know that I would’ve survived going to court with my sobriety intact. I really don’t think I would have. If we had gone further, I would’ve had to. I think I made the right decisions while I was with her, but it was very difficult. I call her a shark. She is. She’s still around. I got a magazine delivered to my house that’s a local magazine here. She was on the cover of it three weeks ago. I haven’t seen her since then. It’s so funny. She’s definitely still doing her thing. If my priorities had been different, we would’ve been more aligned and probably had a better experience.

Zibby: You touch in your introduction but also all throughout the book about this intersection between race and privilege and you and where you fit into this whole sphere. Tell me more about that.

Laura: The race thing is really interesting because if you think about the role models we have for recovery as women, I can’t think of any Black ones, honestly. There’s Brené Brown, who is amazing and this model of recovery. There’s Elizabeth Vargas, who was the newscaster who got sober. I can’t think of any other ones right now, but none of them are Black. If I were to think of more, they wouldn’t be Black. Then there are white men as well, like Rich Roll, the podcaster; and Dax Shepard, who’s also a podcaster and an actor; and then Matthew Perry. These are our role models for recovery. Being in the situation where I was where I was in this leadership position in my community — I was in, like I said, this high-profile marriage. There was a certain status that I enjoyed very much, but it came at a cost, which was that I felt like I needed to maintain that status at all costs. The cost for me, as people will read, is very dear, but I wanted to maintain it all costs. There was an extra layer, I thought, for me for being one of the only Black parents in the school, for being one of the only Black moms in my community. If I failed, if I was the one, then I would be the example for recovery and for what happens when Black people try to get sober. It’s like, oh, she didn’t make it. She’s failed. I had this huge — probably still have it — fear of failure. I don’t think it’s acute now. At that time, I thought I would die if I was exposed. Obviously, imposter syndrome. Race, for me, was a huge part of it because I wanted to be the example of Black excellence. I felt like I needed to be for all the other Black moms to come, for all the other Black people in my community. I could not fail.

Zibby: Yet you have moments like that and then all these scenes where you’re hiding out from your housekeeper.

Laura: And the gardener.

Zibby: Is she still your housekeeper?

Laura: No. She was the worst, oh, my goodness. You’ll see in the book. She was on me. She actually was probably great because she knew what was going on, or she suspected. If anybody knew, it was her because she’s in everywhere. She and I were at odds the whole time. As soon as I could, I got rid of her.

Zibby: You said it was hard writing the part about your stepfather. How about the rest of it? Did it all just come out? Did you know you wanted to write this book? Was it hard or easy?

Laura: Never sat in front of a blank page. It was always pouring out of me. There is a couple of scenes with my kids that I was crying through like Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give crying over her keyboard. That’s what I was doing. I definitely had to take breaks, but it wasn’t because I didn’t know what to write next. It was because the emotional toll it was taking on me was too great. I needed a break where I would watch The Mary Tyler Moore Show or I Love Lucy or something and just kind of erase that feeling in me and distract myself from it and then go back to the keyboard.

Zibby: The result is so good. Tell me about the cover. I love the cover. The cover is hot pink with a couple pills and a hand reaching in to grab one. Cool font. I love it. It’s so cool.

Laura: Thank you. The font is the same font that they used for Blaxploitation films back in the seventies, Foxy Brown and Coffy and those types of movies. That was a deliberate choice so that there was some culture brought into it. It’s also the font for Valley of the Dolls, which looks a lot like this cover. I guess my cover looks a lot like that. It is covered with pills, which I like. The hand was an interesting touch. There was no hand at first. I really thought it was important that you could tell this was written by a woman of color. We didn’t know how to do that with the cover. It was fabulous with all the pills. The hand reaching for a pill was the publisher’s idea. It looks exactly like my hand. It’s wearing a nice big rock, so it shows that . There’s privilege there. The hand tells a story in itself. I think the cover does as well.

Zibby: Totally. Got the French manicure going. For someone who hasn’t read your story, who do you desperately want to reach with your book?

Laura: I want, really desperately, anyone who is afraid to be themselves in whatever circumstance they’re in to see how painful my journey was to live authentically. Hopefully, people who are afraid to be themselves don’t have to go through what I went through in order to find that freedom to be themselves. I don’t want to be a cautionary tale, but I certainly don’t mind being one if it helps anybody. It is about addiction, but it is really about living authentically and how I was afraid to do that for so long, starting with my stepfather because I had to change who I was in order for the house to be okay. I started stashing away pieces of myself, which ended up with me stashing drugs and alcohol all over the house, and reclaiming that after I got sober, and not just because I got sober, but because there was this moment of clarity that I had that led to action that I didn’t want to take, which led to me discovering that the fear was, as they say, a mile wide, a mile high, and paper thin. I could walk right through it.

Zibby: It’s amazing. Coming into your authentic self, you talked so much about dissociating and how you used to dissociate from everything, and now you’re the opposite of that. I don’t know if it’s associating or just being so present, but you get that from you right away. It’s just so great. Here you are in your element giving your all to the world. It’s just so cool to watch.

Laura: Thank you, Zibby.

Zibby: Thank you for coming on. For anybody still listening, Laura is coming to our retreat — I’ll say this again at the beginning — in Charleston. There are still, at this recording at least, some tickets left, if you want to come meet her in person. She’ll be at Zibby’s Bookshop at some point. I got to get the date. When is it? March?

Laura: March 23rd.

Zibby: March 23rd at Zibby’s Bookshop in Santa Monia. You can go meet her in person.

Laura: I can’t wait.

Zibby: Laura, thank you. I’m so impressed. I couldn’t put it down. It was so good. Congratulations. Really awesome.

Laura Cathcart Robbins, STASH: My Life In Hiding

STASH: My Life In Hiding by Laura Cathcart Robbins

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