Co-founder of Sober Mom Squad Jessica Landon: On second chances, family and laughter

    As an actress, comedian and Playboy model, Jessica Landon appeared to have the perfect life. But deep down, she was silently suffering from unresolved childhood trauma. Jessica began drinking as a pre-teen and didn’t stop. She became so reliant on alcohol that it became “the only way I could survive in the world,” as she describes it. After experiencing a 16-day stay in the ICU involving multiple organ failures resulting from her drinking, Jessica finally made the decision to start her recovery journey.

    This week on Heart of the Matter, Jessica joins Elizabeth Vargas to discuss how her parents’ support helped her heal, how laughter played a significant part in her recovery and her role as a co-founder of the Sober Mom Squad.

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    Episode transcript

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Jessica Landon, welcome to Heart of the Matter. I am so excited to have you on this podcast.

    Jessica Landon:

    Oh, thank you. I’m honored to be here. Thank you so much for having me.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    I read something recently that somebody in recovery wrote, and she said nothing is more bewildering to me than harming myself against my own will, and that really resonated with me, because I remember thinking I didn’t want to do this to myself. I’m in recovery now for many years from alcohol addiction, you’re in recovery for many years as well, also from alcohol addiction. And when I read your story, that quote came back to me because it is a story of harming yourself against your own will.

    Jessica Landon:

    Oh my God.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    And utter bafflement at doing so.

    Jessica Landon:

    Exactly. And I think that is the irony about addiction is that we’re actually in survival mode getting to that next drink, oh my God, my heart’s going to explode if I don’t get that next drink. So we’re trying to survive while simultaneously killing ourselves. It is the most bizarre state of mind.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    How long did you drink? And was it just alcohol for you?

    Jessica Landon:

    That was the answer. I didn’t need anything else. That was everything, finally I found what would help me survive in the world. I started really young because I had some trauma when I was really young, sexual abuse, and I think it really, it formed my perception of myself, but also it made me feel really unsafe in the world. And I didn’t know how people could just live, just be in the world without, and raw and just exist without something to curb that, it was just too callous to my nervous system. I couldn’t sit in my own skin. And so at a young age I started drinking from my dad’s liquor cabinet. I would secretly sneak it. Because it just finally let me just live normal and could just be, exist.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    You have said that you were sexually abused when you were four and five years old by a babysitter. You told nobody because you thought it was your fault. Something I think probably a lot of children have done.

    Jessica Landon:

    That’s the internal dialogue is, oh my God, I’ve brought this on. What did I do, I’m flawed, I’m responsible for this. I caused it. This is what children, that’s how they perceive this event. And it’s so traumatizing. And then you start to believe that your body is your value. That’s what you have to offer the world. And that was my biggest lesson in recovery was, oh my God, I’m not my body. I’m not my thoughts. I’m not my fear-based thinking, that’s not what I have to offer the world, that’s not me. I’m encased in flesh, but that’s not who I am. It’s like losing yourself to find yourself, losing the ego to find your authentic self it’s like I over-identified with my body because that was my experience. That’s what I felt like all that mattered. And so early on after high school, I went to LA and kind of fell into the entertainment industry. But first it was the magazines and the Playboy scene and Hef, and just doing-

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    You were a model. Let’s give people the background. You were a model and a comedian and an actress.

    Jessica Landon:

    Right. But it kind of happened. So the modeling first, because of course that’s what I thought I could come and offer the world and it was empty. And I was just in so much pain, looked okay on the outside, maybe even glamorous on the outside, but internally I was dying. And I could smell the emptiness in other people that were also in this scene. I felt like, wow, this is a real, Hollywood, there’s a soul sickness here. There’s an emptiness that we’re all trying to fill in the same way. Then I switched gears and I kind of fell into entertainment industry. And I mean I drank. This is when around 23, 24 is when I got vodka, kind of brought me to my knees. When I got the shakes, and I know you’ve talked about this in here, but when it started turning into physical dependency, I couldn’t take it. That rebound effect. I could not handle that.

    So I had to start getting the get well drink and do that before auditions and sometimes get a little too, get well drink would overshoot the mark so they say. Get a little obliterated. But I was able to function. I mean, I was in a comedy troupe, performing bimonthly at The Comedy Store and I was drunk on Drake and Josh, I remember the makeup artist said, and I had a bottle of vodka in a water bottle in my purse. I always did. And she was like, “Wow, you had a late night. I can smell the booze.” And I’m like, “Yeah, I was out late last night.” No, I’m just drinking in the bathroom because I can’t even function without my liquor. So uncannily, I could perform in the world and act like everything was fine, but I was dying, and I was getting sicker and sicker. Of course there’s that bell curve of you get high, high tolerance. And then all of a sudden that get well drink is making you just sleep all day. And I know you talked about that too, where you just would go to sleep.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Right. No, I was sleeping a lot at the end of my drinking, for sure.

    Jessica Landon:

    Your body is just so saturated. It just can’t-

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    And you really put your finger, you really nail it when you describe that drinking, that get well drink. At the end when you’re getting so sick from the alcohol. And the only thing that will make you feel better is more alcohol, you’re in the death spiral at that point.

    Jessica Landon:

    That’s it. You are in hell because you can’t live with it, you can’t live without it. That was the point of really being terrified. I was so terrified when I knew two hours into sleeping, my heart would be pounding and I needed to reach for the drink and I’m shaking so bad. I need a straw. I mean, that’s when it was like, oh my God, there’s nowhere to turn now. Alcohol has betrayed me and I can’t get sober on my own. I will die. And I can’t tell anyone. And that went on for a while.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Like how long?

    Jessica Landon:

    God that terrifying space of knowing there was no way out probably lasted maybe a year. Towards the end when I just started blacking out, I would just go shopping and not even remember what I bought. And that lasted probably a year of knowing that I couldn’t live with it or without it. And then finally I knew towards the end, I’m vomiting blood. I’m getting so skinny, bruised everywhere. I knew I had to tell my parents, and I knew they were the only ones that would help me. And so I packed some water bottles of vodka, went to my mom’s house and they thought I was struggling with mono or some illness because I had gotten so skinny and ill-looking, but I was still sort of functioning. I wouldn’t slur my words, but I was sleeping a lot. And so I told my mom and I detoxed for a couple weeks. I mean, it took a long time to get off of the alcohol. Because it had been so many years. I was so saturated.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    By the way, it’s important to interject here for our listeners. You can die from alcohol withdrawal.

    Jessica Landon:

    Yes.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Alcohol withdrawal, it kills you. That’s what Amy Winehouse died from is alcohol withdrawal. It is a serious thing and nobody should try and do this by themselves. When you talk about that waking up after only being asleep for two hours, because your body was starting to desperately need more alcohol and having your heart racing and shaking, we’re talking extreme physiological symptoms that can be deadly. Don’t try and do this by yourself.

    Jessica Landon:

    Exactly, exactly. And I knew that. When you are struggling with someone you read up on everything about it. I mean I knew everything about alcoholism because I knew at a very young age, I was using it to medicate. I was using it in the wrong way. And I knew that at 11 years old, 12 years old, I knew that it was wrong to do. And I knew something was wrong with me, but I knew it was the only answer. It’s the only way I could survive in the world. So that was the beginning of, from years of in and out of psych wards because my BAC would get so high to think I was trying to drink myself to death.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Your BAC, your blood alcohol content.

    Jessica Landon:

    Yes. In the end it was a 0.533.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    How did you survive that?

    Jessica Landon:

    Oh my gosh, I know. I really do not know, it was unbelievable, but it was also where the magic happened. It was also the blessing, getting that low. Because it’s almost like my tolerance to pain was so high, I had to go there for the switch, for the shift to happen in my brain, the pain associated with alcohol had to become greater than the pleasure associated with alcohol. And that took a lot of pain for me. And it was the blessing that it took me so long to be able to walk, because I was in ICU and just two months before that bottom, I had a brain hemorrhage from falling over a railing drunk, I had emergency brain surgery. They had to detox me from alcohol for a few days. Then I had emergency brain surgery, had half of a shaved head, went back to LA and I did it all over again.

    And you talk about some of the relapses in your book that just, oh, they deeply resonate because that’s exactly, and when people would try to analyze it, when I’d get back in treatment. And so I’m like, you keep relapsing when you know, you have the knowledge and you know you’re going to die. Why do you pick up? And for me it was like, it’s so deep-seated and instinctive that it’s trying to analyze a wild animal taking a bite to the first weak buffalo. It’s like, it’s my survival skill. That’s my only way I can cope with the feelings. And it took a long time to realize feelings can’t kill me, but a drink probably will. That pain had to happen to get to that realization. And I wanted to live a little bit, that’s all it took was 1% more. I wanted to live just 1% more than I wanted to drink in the end.

    And that’s all it took. That’s all it took was just wanting life a little bit more than a drink. Because I remember the doctor, they were working so hard, all my organs were failing. I had a specialist, they’re working so hard to get me back to functioning, my body. And he came in and he said, because I had been in and out of detox in hospitals and he said, “Do you want to be sober?” And I just remember thinking, “Do you think I would be in this position if I wanted to be sober? I want to function, but be drunk 24/7. I want to be able to manage my life, but still be drunk. That’s what I want. But I can’t, obviously, and I want to live. I want to live.” So I had to just learn, and oh my God, there’s just so many lessons when you finally crack open your psyche, you really just get into a space of acceptance and you become so teachable and open to all paths and programs and religions.

    And there’s all these universal themes and you start connecting dots and you realize, oh my God, I’m not my body. I’m so much more. And that thing that I’m connected to now is not separate from anything or anyone else. And having that revelation is just… it’s everything. It’s the only reason I was able to stay sober, that spiritual, that awakening, that resonation, that deep tapping into the source consciousness, the Christ consciousness, whatever you want, tapping into that. And knowing that we all have that. And I think that’s what aha moments are. I don’t think it’s something we just heard. I think it’s almost like a reminder to our soul. Something we already know is true with a capital T.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    How long do you think you were in that death spiral as we call it? Because I’m struck by your story that you not only survived, but that you were in that death spiral a long time.

    Jessica Landon:

    A long time. Yeah.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Longer than most I think, most people die or somehow find it.

    Jessica Landon:

    And women, it’s a lot harder on their bodies. We don’t break it down as well as men, and so there’s a lot of liver failure. And when women, I mean, it’s sad that alcoholism, excessive drinking in women has gone up since 2013. I think it’s just the modern motherhood, the load of motherhood. And reading your book, I’m like, oh my God, what was on your shoulders and breastfeeding and showing up to work, doing all these things.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    And being the breadwinner. I mean, I was the person who supported the family and it was a lot, and it’s only when I looked back at that while writing the book that I thought a little bit of the same thing. Like, oh, okay. Well there really was a lot. I wasn’t imagining it. I was really stressed out.

    Jessica Landon:

    I was in shock at how much was on your shoulders. It is no wonder. But motherhood in general, it’s just so much. But you said, how long were you in your, gosh, a long time, I think it definitely progressed. I was very functioning. In the beginning it was my medication. I used it for anxiety. In fact, it was so much medication that one time I had a panic attack going over Coldwater Canyon. It was something about the hills and feeling like I was going to fly off or feeling stuck up there. And I started having a panic attack and I could never go over that, if I ever had to go over that hill, I stopped at, on Coldwater and Ventura, there was a Ralph’s. I would stop and have to get alcohol and just touch it with my hand while driving over the hill, just touching it-

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    And not even drinking it, just touching it.

    Jessica Landon:

    Not drinking it. This was before I had yeah, crossed over into 24-hour a day drinking. This was literally when I used it like medication. It’s there if I need it. I think you talked about that with anxiety, for plane, better knowing you had it.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    I would drink to make my panic attacks subside.

    Jessica Landon:

    And then there’s a rebound and you’re like, oh my gosh.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Well, I didn’t find out about the rebound anxiety and the rebound panic until after I got sober. And I interviewed somebody from the NIAA and she was like, “Yeah, you don’t understand. It’s like a boomerang. It comes right back at you. But this time with your anxiety and panic supercharged.” And then of course you have to drink more because the panic is bigger and the anxiety’s bigger.

    Jessica Landon:

    Exactly. Oh my gosh. And trips. Oh, I just remember being so humiliated when… I remember going to Hawaii and drinking on the plane because I was having so much anxiety and then I got there and this is towards the end when I was really saturated. We went on a cruise with my family for my parents’ anniversary and I was drinking 24/7 and my brother kept saying, “Where’s all the alcohol going?” But nobody really knew it was me because we had brought a bunch of bottles of vodka. But anyway, I remember getting there before we got on the cruise and the next morning I was having a full blown perpetual panic attack. I had to get downstairs to a bar. Something had to be open, and the guy poured me, I said a double shot of vodka please. I was the only one, everyone’s having breakfast at the bar. And I was the only one at the bar, and he poured me, and I couldn’t pick it up because my hand was like this…

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Shaking.

    Jessica Landon:

    I couldn’t pick it up. And he looked at me with these eyes that just, it tore my soul apart. I knew he knew and he handed me a straw and it was like, “Oh my gosh, I can’t live like this.” And that was towards the end. I think a month after that cruise, I went to treatment. It was a wonderful experience, so much connection and nature and I loved it and I finally felt free. But of course I was still in denial a little bit. I thought I just needed to get it out of my system and go back to white wine. I think vodka brought me to my knees, but I think I just need to go back to white wine.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Okay, I’ve heard that one before.

    Jessica Landon:

    The insanity.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Yeah.

    Jessica Landon:

    And that’s the thing is you have to get to a place of really deciding you’re done. And it doesn’t matter how many rehabs, doesn’t matter how many stories you hear, even though it is important to tell our stories, it is so important to tell our stories because it can really change, you don’t have to go through the pain. You can catch it. So many moms, I’m part of this community, Sober Mom Squad. And I do some leading some meetings there and these moms are catchy, it starts to get a grip and they cut it off. You know what I mean?

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    No, no, I’ve met a lot of people in recovery and most of them women because the men usually have stories like ours, but I’ve met a lot of women, sober women who found sobriety and gave up drinking after one bad night, and then were like, oh my God, I can’t do that anymore. I need to get sober. I’m going to go to rehab. I’m going to go to AA. I’m going to go do whatever it is, but they get it.

    Jessica Landon:

    Isn’t that fascinating? Isn’t that fascinating? And we took it to the ground. And I think bottom is subjective obviously. Some people feel pain just by getting a DUI or having a divorce or nothing, just having an emotional bottom. It’s a subjective thing. We experience bottoms differently, and ours just happened, we just took it further and had a higher tolerance for pain or something. I don’t know, crazy.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Your last hurrah, so to speak with alcohol was harrowing. There was just no other way to describe it. It was harrowing. As you just said, you had a blood alcohol level of 0.5, which is beyond fatal. It’s unbelievable you survived that. Tell me what happened and why that one finally got you to turn that corner.

    Jessica Landon:

    It was kind of the trend of the experiences leading up to that too. I had been on the streets. People kind of pulled away from me, they didn’t want me to die on their clock. It was like friends were like disappear, family had cut me off. Finally they were just like, there’s nothing we can do. She’s got to hit bottom or die. They didn’t know what to do anymore. And so I was in and out of just strangers’ places. And I had gotten lice from a girl in AA, her daughters, I got lice, I was on the streets and I was stealing vodka from stores. I didn’t have anything. I was stealing vodka from stores, I went to Lynnwood County Jail. Let me just tell you that was the most traumatic experience in and of itself.

    And then I got out, and that’s when I met this ex-veteran who would sing with his guitar to make money outside of Ross. And he was helping me and he got me vodka and I don’t think he really understood what was going on. I just sort of convinced him that I needed to drink 24/7 and I laid on this apartment, I don’t even think it was his it was just like this hoarder’s apartment. I laid on the ground and drank… for over a month I didn’t move and literally urinated and defecated on myself for a month. I got down to 78 pounds when I went into ICU, I got a blood staph infection because the acid from my urine had burned holes in the bony parts of my skin where I was laying. So it infected my blood. I’m familiar with the feeling of dying from alcoholism. But this felt different. This felt like my organs were shutting down and I was so weak. I couldn’t get up because I had atrophied.

    So I called an ex, and he could hear in my voice that it was an emergency and he called 911 and they came and man, it was the nick of time because I was, the doctor said within 24 hours, I would’ve been dead because of the blood staph infection and all my organs were failing and I needed two blood transfusions. I was so anemic. So I was just bleeding out, blood coming out of my eyes, nose. Because you just start hemorrhaging when you live on alcohol, you just hemorrhage. I mean, I hadn’t eaten in, it’s just crazy how I survived that battle, that war. But I came to about 16 days in, I remember-

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    You were in the ICU for 16 days.

    Jessica Landon:

    Yes. That’s how long it took to get all my organs, they thought I had endocarditis. So I had a stint in my heart to put antibiotics in my heart. I had all of these things going to help my organs start to function again. And I remember overhearing when I came to, overhearing my dad on the phone to my granddad say, “Well, it looks like she’s going to make it.” And that’s when reality seeped in. And I was like, “Oh my God, what have I done? Get me out of here.” But fortunately, I couldn’t walk, thank God. I couldn’t run to the vodka. I couldn’t get off the bed. My quads, my thighs were too atrophied. I literally couldn’t get off the side of the bed. So that was the blessing was that I was so weak. I was desperate enough, something cracked.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    When you got out of the hospital, how did you stay sober? All the other times you’d been to rehab, all the other times you’d been to the hospital, and you walked right out the door and walked straight to the liquor store. This time you didn’t.

    Jessica Landon:

    I begged my parents to take me in, because I didn’t trust myself to go to treatment. I didn’t trust that I would stay. I just didn’t trust myself at all. And I wanted to be safe and with my parents. I was scared. I was scared. Death really stared at me in the face. And so I was very frightened and weak and I needed to be nursed back to health still. So it took six months of just little slow walks. I couldn’t walk up the stairs. My ankles were still real swollen. So it took a while and my parents did take me in. And at first they were like, “No, you have to go to, no.” And I begged them and they let me stay with them for a year. They nursed me back to health. It was the most beautiful year because I only needed to focus on my healing and meetings and connection and finding the source and really discovering, exploring and being just introspective and getting a sponsor and doing all those things. And we would hike and it was a beautiful place to get sober.

    It was a year of just spiritual exploration and coming to again and coming back to life. So I have such wonderful memories from that year. And I had looked like Peter Pan. I mean, it was an identity crisis. I didn’t want to go anywhere. I didn’t want to come back to LA because I wasn’t myself. I looked literally, had no hair, and I was like, “I’m staying with you guys until my hair comes back a little bit.” And then I moved back to LA in 2015, and it was just a continuation of self-exploration and it wasn’t just AA. I started to seek other modalities and programs and I did “A Course in Miracles.” And that really cracked me open. And I just felt like I wanted more. I just was open to anything and everything.

    And I really felt like there were universal themes in everything. So I would take what I loved and lead the rest. And it was all connecting dots and really feeling like this is it. I’ve lost my ego and found my authentic self. And the ego still, oh, trust me, the isms and the ego, I had one sponsor say ego is edging God out. And it really does feel like that when I over-identify-

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    I like that.

    Jessica Landon:

    I over-identify with what I’m doing and my achievements and my Instagram. And I start to feel pulled that way. And the ego, Marianne Williamson always talks about the ego speaks loudest and it speaks first. And you have to just pause and try to tap into your authentic self, the self with the capital S that we all have.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    So we know that there are millions of people who suffer with substance use disorder. And therefore there are tens of millions of people who suffer through a loved one who is struggling with it. What advice would you give them? Because I’m struck by two things in your story. Yes, you were highly, highly functioning as an alcoholic. I’m wondering how nobody knew. In other words, why didn’t anybody notice or know what you were doing to yourself? So therefore the question, what should you look for for someone in your life? And then secondly, your parents didn’t want to take care, they wanted you to go to treatment that last time, and you begged and pleaded with them to let you come home. There’s a lot of stuff out there, the tough love stuff, you got them hit bottom. I can’t save this person. I can’t save her. She is the only person who can save her. And that is true. You’ve just said that, it had to be you making that decision, but having been through an incredibly harrowing experience, what advice would you give to people who are on the outside looking in?

    Jessica Landon:

    It is so emotionally injurious to those that have to live with someone, and I think people close to that addict, it makes me emotional thinking about, they do know something’s going on, but a lot of times they’re afraid to probe or ask where no, I think my parents knew for a while that it could be alcohol, but they were sort of in denial. But she’s always been able to control, no, I think there was…

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    And she’s got a job and no, she doesn’t ever get into a car crash or pass out in the middle of a party. Right.

    Jessica Landon:

    And I think what you mentioned, the tough love thing, here’s my opinion, everyone is different, that’s for sure. We all have a different path to the same place. You know what I mean? It’s very personal. So different things work for different people, different programs, maybe religion. It’s different for everyone. But I do think universally for the loved ones, never stop trying, never lose hope. Because that’s the one thing my parents did is they knew I was tenacious and could get to the other side. They never stopped trying. Once I got out of the hospital, once I was in treatment, they were there. They were ready to support me every single time, they never stopped.

    They never like, well first you have to prove yourself. Because that’s really hard on it. You can’t shame and blame, because that’s just going to create another cycle of destruction. They just went with their gut. They knew I’m not going to give up. She is capable of doing this and we’re going to be there every single time. And they kept trying and they kept trying and they were right. I got it. Just like your family, they were there when it got tough. They were there.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    My nuclear, my parents and my brother and sister were there.

    Jessica Landon:

    Yes, that’s what I mean, your blood. And that is it right there. I mean, that is so important that you have that, that alcoholics and addicts feel loved regardless of what they-

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    And by the way, even friends, I mean, I had girlfriends of mine who never gave up and got on airplanes when it-

    Jessica Landon:

    Got ugly.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Yeah. It was really something. We know it statistically. And what you’re saying is so important because we know statistically a third of all Americans believe that addiction is a moral failing. That you’re a bad person, or there’s something wrong with you. I really want to talk about, because you gave an amazing Ted Talk about this, about trauma and childhood and how it can affect, and we’re talking about all different kinds of trauma. I mean, your own trauma was sexual abuse at a very young age that you kept secret. My own trauma was abandonment. My father, going to Vietnam and feeling utterly abandoned and having terrible separation disorder, anxiety and daily panic attacks.

    Jessica Landon:

    Oh my God.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    But the point is you and I both went through, for very different traumas, childhoods where we felt deeply unsafe and pervasively afraid. I mean, I don’t think there was a day that I didn’t feel absolute abject fear.

    Jessica Landon:

    Exactly.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    As did you, because you felt so unsafe. So in all of your work in recovery, you’re also a recovery coach. You help people get sober and stay sober. Tell me what you’ve learned about childhood trauma and how that affects your brain, and why so many people who suffer with substance use disorder have experienced childhood trauma of some kind.

    Jessica Landon:

    I think that’s the thing. What I’d learned is that it lives in the body, trauma lives in our body, in our cells, and our nervous system has recorded it. We can’t just intellectualize our way out of it, it’s almost like an inverse PTSD. We have to have an experience that is tinged with positivity, with that recontextualized experience. It’s almost EMDR. I think you’ve done EMDR. There’s many different things you can do for trauma. But I think acknowledging that it is in our body, I think that’s why somatic healing is getting some attention is that your nervous system has recorded that. And so it’s almost like there’s more information, there really is more information going to the brain from the body than the other way around there. You’re taking information and then you send it to the brain and then you thought have thoughts about it.

    Trauma is a driving, and different things work for different people. I’ve worked with some people that trauma, it’s almost insurmountable to them and different things work for them. Some people don’t want to relive the experience, but I really feel like if you have undigested trauma, it’s going to manifest physically somewhere. You know what I mean?

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Yeah. You’ve said that the neurological impact, I mean, it’s not just your nervous system, it’s your brain. It rewires how you think and how you feel. And that the impact of childhood trauma often leads to addictive behavior because the child is in a perpetual state of survival. And that’s what resonated for me, because it did feel like every day, I just need to just survive. And to be in that set fight or flight state that we’ve heard scientists and doctors and neurologists talk about, that heightened state of fight or flight is exhausting. And I don’t know about you, but for me, a drink was the first thing that gave me relief from that perpetual state of readiness. I’m on alert, constantly looking for what might hurt me or endanger me because the world has felt so unsafe for so long.

    Jessica Landon:

    Exactly. And biologically, we’re not meant or capable of living in that survival state for very long. Illness will present itself. Whether it’s addiction, cancer, autoimmune disease, it will present somewhere if you maintain that survival mode, our bodies aren’t meant to stay in that. That’s just for, if there’s a tiger coming at us, not perpetual, is a killer.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    I was struck, for people who are still not sure they understand what that’s like and the relief that alcohol finally gives. You said once that when you first tried alcohol, quote, “It was like an elephant lifting off my chest and for the first time I could breathe.” That’s what all that trauma and traumatic stress had been like for you, your entire childhood and adolescence. And when you finally tried that first drink, that was the relief it gave you, and why it got its hooks in you.

    Jessica Landon:

    Off the bat it had its hooks in me. I mean, high school, trash bag, hidden of those little small, I had a fake ID and I would get those small vodka bottles. And I remember my mom finding it, “what are these?” And I just, “oh, it was from a party we had.” But I mean, I was hiding, I was in the closet drinker in high school drinking before going to school, drinking before a dance performance, or I was captain of the varsity, I was doing all these things, wanting to be kind of like you, showing up and wanting to be seen and perform and everything. But at the same time, I didn’t want any eyes on me. I was crippled with panic inside and I had to drink to be able to do all that. It was just crazy.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Talk a little bit about the disparity, the fact that the outsides not matching the insides, because one of the reasons why so many people didn’t think for the longest time that you had a problem with alcohol long after your drinking had become deeply problematic was because you looked good from the outside. And I had the same thing. I had a job and you’re not passing out. In other words, people can be deeply in trouble with self-medicating their own feelings and still, like you, you’re gorgeous, you’ve got this burgeoning career in the public eye. You’re a model. You’re an actress. You’re a comedian. Everything looks good from the outside looking in. She’s gorgeous. She can’t have any problems. And nothing could be further from the truth.

    Jessica Landon:

    Oh my gosh, isn’t that crazy that we can put on this mask that really successfully fools people. I mean, I really fooled people. The people close to me, the guy I was with, he knew I had a problem, but he kind of made light of it. And I hid a lot of it too. But the fact that I was able to keep this facade going, and eventually, obviously I couldn’t keep it going. I mean, I crashed and burned hard. I burned bridges. I was scared to ever go back to the entertainment industry because I associated that with panic and drinking, but I really did fool people. And there is that disparity.

    And so that’s why I think we see Instagram we see people’s social, most people struggle. We’re all human. I don’t think the compulsive comfort seeking with addiction is unique. I think everybody has a thing. And we all struggle and have that human condition. And just knowing that makes me feel better. That’s why I loved reading your book. It’s like, we’re all human. And we have the existential angst. So just knowing I’m not alone in that is so freeing. It’s liberating.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Yeah. The connection you get from sharing. I mean, that’s the power of, for me meetings, hearing other people’s stories and knowing, oh my God, I’m not the only one.

    Jessica Landon:

    I think that’s why it was first in the first years of recovery throughout going to meetings, speakers would be hysterical, turning all of this darkness into hilarity and light and shining a light on it and finding the humor in these really devastating, tragic things. And I found that to be so profound and healing and the whole room laughing together and instantly bonding over this humor, this connection of laughter. And so that I really caught onto, I latched onto that. Because I thought, oh my God, this was the belly laugh I had when I was 14 or 11, whenever. And I remembered it. I wanted more of it. And I thought, there’s something about this that’s really healing to the soul. And comedy always has been for me, even though I kind of used it to deflect a lot of the pain initially, it was always very healing to me to laugh, to find the humor in things and important to me.

    And it’s always been something that my family has done is humor, is very important to us. So I wanted to talk about that and talk about the neuroscience of laughter and how healing it is actually to our neurobiology, what it does, what surges when we laugh and how it facilitates connection immediately. It’s a survival thing actually, laughter is. We come into the world, I remember watching Callum when he was three months old, cracking up in his sleep and I thought, okay, this is reincarnation. Or this is just a survival thing, we know to laugh about things as a newborn, because it’s instinctive. That’s how we can release our nervous system and live in the world and find levity and light. And I just think it’s so fascinating.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Callum is your son?

    Jessica Landon:

    Callum is my son, yeah. He’s almost three.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Wow, amazing. Over the pandemic, you started the Sober Mom Squad because as you said a few minutes ago, the number of women drinking more and drinking dangerously over the last decade has escalated, but especially during the pandemic. How does the Sober Mom Squad work, and how did you guys get together and form it?

    Jessica Landon:

    First of all, it’s community. It is unbelievable how impactful just having a community of women that are going through similar situations can be to women that feel isolated, alone. Motherhood, as you know, can be very lonely. You lose yourself in your children and you’re doing and you’re caretaking and what you are doing, the breadwinner, everything, is crazy. And these women come together and they’re like, “oh my God, I’m not the only one. I’m not alone.” And we have meetings and we brought it together because we knew that women were suffering. Women were suffering during the pandemic. Kids were home. They had nowhere to turn. Everything was on the shoulders of mothers. And so just starting this community and having meetings, having access to, we call it a big sis, but it’s like a mentor or a sponsor. And there’s all these different webinars of experts that come on. And I think it’s just having the community. There’s single moms, there’s just all these different meetings for women that come from the same…

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    And everybody there is trying to stop drinking or cut back on drinking or just re-examine her relationship with drinking?

    Jessica Landon:

    Right. So really, it’s just exploring a life without alcohol. There’s no like, “oh, you can’t be here.” And there’s people that are still struggling that just are interested. And how do I do this? And they’re coming. But yeah. So it’s very inclusive. A lot of these women, they’ve gone to AA, and they don’t identify because they haven’t quite, they don’t feel like they relate. So they needed somewhere to go. There’s a whole gray area of drinking now.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Well, there’s a whole bunch of communities that have popped up in the last few years. I mean, this sober-curious movement, which is what some people call it, because it’s not like you must stop drinking or else, or you can’t be here. Although even AA doesn’t have that rule. You can go to AA every day and say, “I want to stop drinking, but I haven’t.”

    Jessica Landon:

    Exactly.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    It’s important to point that out. That AA, I think a lot of people have an impression that it’s a very black and white dogmatic thing, but it’s not. Anybody’s welcome who wants to examine. But it’s been interesting. And I think it’s a good thing because it isn’t one size fits all. Some people, different communities work for different people. But I think anytime you’re having people examine their relationship with alcohol, something, I think I wished I’d done in my 20s or 30s or even 40s. I got sober in my 50s, but long before I got into my own little death spiral, if I’d been in some group where people are, “Well, why do you drink? Why do you have to have had a glass of wine before you walk into that cocktail party? Why do you have to go home and have a drink after you’ve had a really tough day of work? Why?”

    Jessica Landon:

    And I think there, the main message is for people in that gray area, is it serving you? Is it serving you? Is it helping your life? Or do you think it’s harming you? Is it harming the family? You really take a microscope and look at it objectively and see that it’s not serving you. So a lot of people are realizing this way before they get in the grips. And so there needs to be a place for these women.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    It’s great. It’s really great. So what’s happening with you career-wise now?

    Jessica Landon:

    Oh my gosh. I have been entrenched in motherhood. I mean the first two years trying to remember your name and what you like, what color, what’s my style? You forget everything in motherhood. I had written a memoir and then probably around the same, maybe a little after you. And something made me kind of pause with it when I was done. And then I met Matthew, I got pregnant, everything changed, my perception of a lot of things that I had gone through changed through the lens of motherhood. So I had pressed pause on it and wanted to just revisit it and see it through a different lens and rewrite, obviously everything that happened after that.

    So yeah, that’s still on pause and in the works, but other than that, I have just been doing podcasts, momming, and writing, blogging, sharing my story, helping others. I work in recovery. So I do recovery coaching and facilitation and one-on-ones. It’s very fulfilling. It’s very fulfilling. I think I’m just sort of finding myself. To be honest, I have been so lost in motherhood that I am just finding myself again in what I want to do for me in these next… But it’s been the most meaningful thing ever, this is the most meaningful job I’ve ever had in my life, being a mom.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    You must sometimes look at Callum and think it’s a miracle. It’s a miracle he’s here, it’s a miracle I’m here.

    Jessica Landon:

    What’s crazy is I was working with this girl who unfortunately sadly passed later on that was struggling. And I went with her, she was Jewish and they had a house in Jerusalem across a view of the Wailing Wall. And I went with her there. She wanted to go for spiritual reasons. And I went to the Wailing Wall, and I just leaned my head up against it. And I felt every prayer uttered there, every cry, every scream, these notes tucked into the wall. I mean, I was just sobbing, and I just prayed. I prayed for a son that could hear the call of God. And I was just sitting there crying and unleashing everything that I’ve ever been through and absorbing everything from the Wailing Wall. And then three months later I was pregnant with Callum.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Wow.

    Jessica Landon:

    And I just felt like, oh, this is where I’m guided by the spirit to go. It was just a beautiful experience and just ineffable, inexplicable, the feelings you have.

    Elizabeth Vargas:

    Well, Jessica Landon, it was really an honor to have you on. Your story I think is going to help a lot of people, and you continue to pay it forward in so many ways. So thank you so much. We really appreciate it.

    Jessica Landon:

    Thank you. It was just such a lovely time chatting with you. It was a mom date.

    Published

    September 2022