Emmy Award-winning actress Patricia Heaton opens up about overcoming drinking, having faith and being a mother

    In this episode of Heart of the Matter, Elizabeth Vargas interviews Emmy Award winning actress Patricia Heaton. When Patricia was in the middle of it all  working all hours on wildly successful shows like Everybody Loves Raymond, while taking care of her four young children  she kept her drinking at bay. But when these shows ended and her children had left the house, she started looking forward to drinking in a way she hadn’t ever before.

    Join Patricia and Elizabeth as they connect over “self-medicating” through alcohol, feeling “unmoored” during the COVID-19 pandemic and working in a business that can be unkind to women as they get older.

    Listen now

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    Episode transcript

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Patricia Heaton, welcome to Heart of the Matter.

    Patricia Heaton

    Thank you!

    Elizabeth Vargas

    So great to have you.

    Patricia Heaton

    Thanks for having me.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Gosh.

    Patricia Heaton

    You remember when we sat next to each other on a plane?

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Yes.

    Patricia Heaton

    Yes.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Yeah. That was eons ago.

    Patricia Heaton

    Eons and epochs ago.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Yeah. Gosh knows how much has happened since then.

    Patricia Heaton

    Yes.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    How have you been? We were just talking, when we were saying hello to each other, about the pandemic, and surviving the pandemic, and how much you think people might’ve changed. I personally think that – I know that I feel like I’ve changed in the pandemic, and I think the world has certainly changed. What do you think? And as it changed for good? Or not so good?

    Patricia Heaton

    Yes. Well, there’s wonderful things that have happened, and then there’s this sense of instability too that I think we’re all grappling with. And I was thinking about – because we’re coming up to 9/11. And those are two major events, 9/11 and the pandemic, that have happened, that have kind of destabilized us. And for me, it’s interesting because I’m Catholic, raised Catholic, continue to be Catholic, and when I was…how I was raised in Catholicism was you were told you were going to suffer. That that’s what life was about. It wasn’t this you’re wonderful, and you could be anything you want to be. It was like you’re a sinner, and you’re going to suffer. And so, that is the best preparation for life ever, because I was in New York on 9/11 with the cast of Raymond. We flew in the night before.

    And when everything started going down, I had a huge sense of calm. Very calm, as if I- and I was a little surprised. I thought, “Oh, I didn’t think my life was going to end this way. This is a very interesting way to go,” because you didn’t know what was going to happen during the-

    Elizabeth Vargas

    No, at that point we didn’t. The island of Manhattan was sealed, bridges and tunnels were closed-

    Patricia Heaton

    Exactly.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    …we had military choppers and jets-

    Patricia Heaton

    Flyovers.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    …over. Yeah.

    Patricia Heaton

    That’s right.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    It was scary. I was here too, obviously. Yeah.

    Patricia Heaton

    Right. So, I was very calm. And then even when the pandemic happened I had thought to myself, “I was wondering when the next thing was…” It’s kind of I’m always looking over my shoulder, like things are going too well. Something’s got to be coming. So, my mindset is always to expect these kinds of things, and it weirdly calms me. I get really settled. But, there’s a combination of things.

    So, the pandemic, I had had a show on at CBS that didn’t get picked up, and then as a result my deal at CBS didn’t get renewed. And then we have this pandemic, and we don’t know when we’re going to go back to work. And my kids are all out of the house. They’ve just graduated from college, the last one. And so, there’s all these things that define you that are gone. Completely gone. And I think this happens a lot with women, generally, and your anchor is unmoored, and you start floating.

    And it’s an interesting thing to deal with, psychologically and emotionally. And it can be trying, and I think the pandemic sort of made it even worse, because there’s things in your own life that you’re struggling with, and then the whole world becomes an unstable place. So, even if you’re trying to find a new way forward, the world isn’t the same world anymore. So, there’s a lot of things going on, but I find it to be a good thing. A good thing. You and I were just chatting about challenging ourselves, and getting outside of our comfort zone, and doing scary things. And there’s something about being in the entertainment industry that’s scary. You’re daily dealing with rejection and disappointment, and putting 110% into something and having it go nowhere. I was probably emotionally a little bit more prepared for all this stuff because my life is just like that on a daily basis.

    Even so, it was a lot to deal with at one time.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    You know, it’s funny when you were talking about you think it affects women more than men. First of all, and you and I are both in television, a business that is not kind to women once they reach a certain age.

    Patricia Heaton

    Right.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    And I think mothers often struggle more with the empty nest syndrome than fathers, maybe I will be accused of making sexist generalizations. I apologize if that’s true. So, women often find themselves struggling with that empty next syndrome, also all of a sudden I’m not getting callbacks, and I’m getting rejections because I’m “too old” or “past my prime,” or it goes to somebody younger. And it leads to a real difficult time for a lot of women in their 50s and 60s. I know from my work on Partnership to End Addiction there’s this statistic that I found pretty astonishing about alcohol use, which was that it steadily has increased in the population 60 and above for the past 20 years. And that women are much more impacted than men. So, older women are drinking more to self-medicate, or destructively than men.

    Patricia Heaton

    I was surprised to find that too, and when I stopped drinking and started reading more about all of it, I read that women who have been moderate drinkers in their 30s and 40s are becoming alcoholics in their 50s and 60s. And it makes sense, because I understand the feelings that I’ve been having of I just don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing anymore.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Yeah, where do I fit? Where do I fit?

    Patricia Heaton

    Where do I fit? And so, you combine that with pretty much a lifetime of alcohol. I’m from Cleveland, west side of Cleveland. A lot of Irish, Italian, Polish – heavy drinking is the norm. And I love alcohol. I love bourbon, I love vodka, I love Maker’s Mark. I mean, you can feel it. You have a drink, and you feel it from your head to your toes, just this thing that goes through your body. It’s fantastic. Until it’s not. And so, yeah, I can totally see how you would want to start drinking more to not think about what you’re struggling with, and not feel your feelings of insecurity, and lack of identity, and all that stuff. I totally get it.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    You said it’s totally fantastic, until it’s not. When was the point that you realized it was not any longer fantastic for you?

    Patricia Heaton

    You know, I don’t know if I would’ve been able to quit drinking any time other than when I did. I remember with the kids, I just felt stressed all the time because I was working, and I had these four young sons. So, by my third season of Raymond I had four kids under the age of five.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Oh my God.

    Patricia Heaton

    Yeah.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Oh my God. God bless you. I had two under the age of five and I thought I was … Yeah. I was not going to survive.

    Patricia Heaton

    Right. There was one night where I put them all to bed, and then I would go down and have my glass of wine. And my third son, Joe, called me back upstairs. And so, I came back up and I leaned down close to him, and I said, “What is it, Joe?” And he looked up at me and he said, “Mom, you smell like communion.”

    Elizabeth Vargas

    That’s so funny.

    Patricia Heaton

    I said, “Yeah, honey. I have a little service downstairs, a prayer service after you guys go to bed, with my wine. I’m praying for all of you.” But the thing that really, I think helped me, was that, especially when I was shooting the show The Middle, which is a single camera show, so we were shooting every day, 12 hours, from 6:00 AM to about 6:00 or 7:00 PM-

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Just for our audience, a single camera show means that they do the same scene over, and over, and over, the first three times with the camera on Patricia. The next three times with the camera on her co-star. The next three times with the camera on two of them. So, you’re doing the same scene dozens of times.

    Patricia Heaton

    Yes, to cover all the different angles, and you’re shooting it out of order, and there’s no audience. And you’re shooting every day.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    It’s very challenging.

    Patricia Heaton

    Yeah, very challenging. And so, I simply would never drink during the week, because I could not. I had to be on camera at 7:00 AM, which means you were in makeup at 6:00 AM, and you can’t have puffy eyes, and you got to…and you have to memorize all this stuff. So, that was very helpful for me that I would never, ever do, ever, have anything that would interfere with my work. My work has been this sacrosanct thing that I would not let anything interfere with the quality of it. So, that’s really helpful for me. That kept over-drinking at bay. But then once everything, as I said, everything was sort of gone, my show, and my deal, and my kids were out of the house, I just noticed that if it was 5:00 and I don’t have anything to do the next day, I would start drinking automatically.

    Then I would be waiting for it to be 5:00. And then I would go to lunch with friends, and then I would have a drink at lunch, which I never, ever did before. And it kind of ruins your day, because you get sleepy, and … But it was this thing. And so, I really started looking forward to drinking, and thinking about it in a way that I hadn’t before, when everything else was taken away. If we went out to dinner, I would have two cocktails before the meal, and then at least two glasses of wine, and then maybe an aperitif. And if I was with really good friends that I knew well, I would have three cocktails before dinner-

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Wow.

    Patricia Heaton

    …friends who I didn’t…they know me, I don’t care if they see me have three cocktails and two glasses of wine, and then…and so, that was kind of happening more, and I noticed it. I just noticed that I was thinking about drinking. And looking forward to it. And then I have quite a few sober friends, and I never had a problem drinking in front of them because they were alcoholics and I was not, and I’m not an alcoholic, but I could see it down the road. I could see it flipping over into that. And so, I’ll tell you the experience I had, which was I was in Nashville visiting my son, with two other sons. And couple of my sober friends were there a lot, and we were going out to lunch, and hanging out, and taking walks a lot. And I just decided, I thought, “You know, I think I want to stop drinking.” And there were a couple factors. Like my boys are in their 20s, it’s going to be at least probably 10 years before there’s a possibility of grandchildren, God willing.

    That would make me around 73. So, I just thought, I need to have my brain…it’s going anyway, I don’t want to add to it with the alcohol. So, I need to have my brain clean so I can be present if, God willing, I should get grandchildren in my seventies. And I also just felt like I am just drinking too much. And I just had this weird little … As I said, I’m Catholic, and there’s never a moment in my life where I’m not talking to God. I have always known God exists, I belong to him, and he sees everything I do. That’s always been the lens through which I view life. So, I was just puttering around the house in Nashville, and I said to God, “I would like to quit drinking. There is no way I’m going to be able to, so you need to take it away from me because I can’t do it.” I tried before, it lasted…the time I tried lasted exactly like eight hours until I went out to dinner that night. And then I was like, “Screw it.”

    So, and that was it. And I let it go. And my son had invited me to come over to his house to have dinner with his friends the next night, great. I bought a couple bottles of wine, brought them over to his house. We drank while we were making dinner. We drank while we were eating dinner. We drank while we cleaned up. And then we were drinking while we were all playing this board game. There were like 10 of us there: three of my sons, and then their friends. And I was just filling my glass with red wine throughout the five or six hours that we were together. I don’t know how many glasses it was, and I felt completely sober and fine. I was making a joke to the table, and I started saying, “You know, in our family it’s a tradition…” And I could not pronounce the word “tradition.” And I tried three times, and I couldn’t say the word. And I can’t even mispronounce it for you the way that I was mispronouncing it. I can’t remember.

    And my son at the end of the table says, “Oh great, mom. You can’t even talk.” And I was so humiliated in front of my sons, and their friends. And God knows that that’s all it takes for me – for that kind of sense of their mom looking drunk in front of them. But also, I thought, “I feel fine. What is happening in my brain? what is the alcohol doing to my brain where the synapsis are misfiring to the point where I can’t say this word? And I’m trying to say it and I can’t say it.” It’s almost like having a stroke or something. And it shook me up. And I thought, “That’s it. That’s it.” This was literally within 24 hours of me saying, “God, you need to take this away from me.” And it was kind of this perfect way that he did it. It had every element that I needed. It had a logical element, and had this oh my gosh, my sons have seen me drink too much.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Yeah, the strong emotional-

    Patricia Heaton

    Strong emotional component.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    … sort of horror at yourself.

    Patricia Heaton

    Yes. Yes. And I happened to be having breakfast the next day with one of these sober friends. And I said, “Well, you’re the first person I’m telling this too, but I’m…this is my first day of never drinking again.” And she was so shocked. She said, “What happened? I was just at lunch with you when you were downing Prosecco.” I told her the incident, and we both kind of laughed, and she told me all these of her own stories. And that’s three years ago July. Three years ago. And I haven’t-

    Elizabeth Vargas

    So, once you made that decision to stop drinking, you did it. That’s amazing, Patricia.

    Patricia Heaton

    Well, I also remember Peter Boyle, who played Frank in Everybody Loves Raymond, my father-in-law, he was sober. And we used to all go out after a tape night on Thursday nights, and have drinks at this bar near the studio. And he would go, but he would never drink. And I said, “How do you do it? I mean, you’re pumped up from the show, you just want to have a drink with everybody, and you want to celebrate, you want to kind of have your adrenaline come down. How do you keep yourself from drinking?” And he said, “You know, I just think about the first drink, and then I think about it leading to the second one, and then to the third one, and I just walk through it in my brain. And by the time I think about that, I know I don’t want to be in that position, and then the moment has passed. I’ve spent a few minutes thinking about it, so then the moment has passed.”

    I’ve never forgotten that. That was like 20-some years ago. And so, when I stopped, there’s a Pavlovian response you have to going out with your friends, where the waiter comes up, and says, “Can I get you all something to drink?” And you just want to order something to drink. And I just remember Peter talking about that. And so, I would just think about it, and just think how I would feel at the end of the meal where I would’ve eaten too much, and then wouldn’t sleep well that night because of the alcohol. I would wake up sweating. And if I gave myself that 30 seconds, or 60 seconds to think about it, the urge would subside. And then I could get through the meal. And it was uncomfortable at first. And I just felt like things aren’t going to be as fun, and going out … And also, I realized I’m a pretty social, gregarious person, but I think there…everybody has a sense of a social tension when you get ready to go out.

    There’s a tension, it’s hard to describe. I don’t have-

    Elizabeth Vargas

    No, it’s like a buzz. Like you’re vibrating with nerves, or-

    Patricia Heaton

    Yes. Yes. And I don’t have social anxiety, but there’s always a little something there that you kind of want to just medicate a little bit. And I didn’t realize I had that until I stopped drinking, and then I had to feel it. And I just decided I’ve just got to feel my feelings. I just have to feel my feelings. And that’s much more of an adventure. It’s much more of an adventure to feel your feelings. And in feeling them, you can make friends with them, you get control over them, you get to know yourself better, you get to know what triggers you, and then you can do something about it if you want to. So, I feel so … That God gave me this huge gift. And at this point, I can’t … It’s this weird thing. I can’t imagine ever taking a drink again. I can’t even imagine it. However, if my son orders a cocktail I have to smell it. I’m like, “Just let me smell it,” because I love the-

    Elizabeth Vargas

    That’s so funny.

    Patricia Heaton

    Yes. And I have a wistful feeling something. Like on a Sunday afternoon, if it’s a beautiful day, and you’re at a restaurant, like here in L.A. by the beach, you just want to have a mimosa or something.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Yeah, I still sometimes on a beautiful summer night in Manhattan, or in Santa Monica, will walk down a street and see all those outdoor tables, and all those people sipping chardonnay, and I’ll think, “I’m missing out.” Or I’ll feel envious. Like, “Oh. I remember that. I used to love that.”

    Patricia Heaton

    Yes. Yes. And it is wonderful. It’s a wonderful thing, and…but it’s okay, it’s totally fine.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Well, your friend, Peter Boyle, was doing something that people in recovery learn to do. I learned that when I was in rehab. It’s called playing the tape forward. That that drink looks so good, or you’re in a group with people who are all…and sometimes you feel jealous. How come you get to do this and you’re okay, and I can’t do it because I’m not okay when I do that? And then what you have to do is play the tape forward. Like, “Okay, if I have that drink, who will I feel about myself tomorrow morning? How will I confess to my friends and loved ones that I drink when I promised I wouldn’t? And how will I feel physically in the morning?” I mean, when you were describing how you used to drink, I’m thinking, “You must’ve felt awful the next morning.” And I remember when you just said that, how you sleep horribly. You wake up every three hours, you’re jittery, and just this awful-

    Patricia Heaton

    Yes. And you come home…alcohol expands your ability to eat stuff at dinner, which is part of why they want you to drink, because you’ll eat more.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Yeah, that’s why they push it at the restaurants. “Please have a cocktail. Please.”

    Patricia Heaton

    But also, what I also learned in reading, after going through this, is that women were a demographic that the alcohol industry had not really targeted. And so, when they saturated the industry with men, they were like, “Oh, look at this group we haven’t even thought about,” which is why-

    Elizabeth Vargas

    No, they’re certainly targeting them now.

    Patricia Heaton

    Oh my goodness. Do you remember no person with any dignity would ever drink rose. That was what college girls drink. And suddenly rose is like rose all day, and rose is the thing. It’s because they’re targeting women specifically. And Skinny Vodka, and all this kind of … It’s 5:00 somewhere on aprons, and book club is about drinking. And Bill Maher did a wonderful rant about it. Did you see his rant about alcohol?

    Elizabeth Vargas

    No, what did he say?

    Patricia Heaton

    Oh my gosh. He says, “Everything now is just an excuse to drink.” He said, “Bowling is just drinking in rented shoes.”

    Elizabeth Vargas

    That’s perfect.

    Patricia Heaton

    And he said, “It’s a fact that Americans are drinking a lot more,” and-

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Well, we know it, especially during the pandemic. And we know that we had a record number of opioid overdoses. I mean, we have a mental health crisis in the pandemic and people are continuing to self medicate. What you and I were both just discussing, how…I mean, that’s what led me to drink. I was very anxious, I was very nervous, I was very…and I couldn’t imagine going to a cocktail party without having had a couple glasses of wine to steel myself, and liquid courage to have a conversation and not feel, “Oh God, I said something stupid.” You know, people are self medicating those negative feelings that in sobriety you have to just surf your way through, and endure, and get out the other side.

    Patricia Heaton

    Yeah. And you know what? It’s just so much better, because getting older, and especially as a woman, there’s a lot of negative feelings you have to look at. And it is much easier just to drink, and laugh, and make jokes about it, and whatever. But the irony is drinking makes all those things that’s difficult about getting older worse. The sugar in the alcohol, for your eyesight as you get older, is terrible. Sugar is terrible generally speaking, but really if you’re having trouble with your eyes, I mean, sugar just helps to deteriorate everything in your body. And we all know it’s hard to lose weight as you get older, and your metabolism changes. Alcohol just makes all of that more difficult. So, just on a purely pragmatic level, as you get older you … Sleep is harder as you get older. Alcohol makes that worse. Your vision goes, alcohol makes that worse. Your weight gain, alcohol makes that worse.

    So, there’s a whole bunch of just truly pragmatic things about alcohol that just don’t work as you get older, especially as a woman.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Yeah, no, it’s true. I still can look back at pictures of myself back when I was drinking, and I feel like…maybe I’m imagining it, but I feel like I can see the puffiness in my face. Just a little bit around my eyes, or…you know what I mean? I’ll think, “Oh, what year was that picture taken? Ah, I hadn’t gotten sober yet.” Because I definitely self medicated. I drank to not feel certain things. And people ask me all the time, since I wrote my book about this, like, “Well, how do I know if I have a problem?” Women mostly. And I said, “Examine why you’re having that drink. If you’re having that drink not to feel something, that’s a red warning light. It doesn’t mean you’re an alcoholic, but just it means your relationship with alcohol isn’t healthy.” Other people just drink because, “I want to feel good, and I want to feel this,” but they stop.

    I mean, I’m very lucky I can be out with people who drink. And I can be with them at a table, and they’re drinking my beverage of choice, and I’m not tempted, thank God. And on the one or two occasions in all of these years when I’ve had that lightning bolt of temptation, I literally pray. Right there. “Please take this from me.” And it passes within seconds. But it’s almost a gift for me to be at that restaurant table watching other people drink, because I can see they don’t drink the way I drink. Like, “How long are you going to make that glass of wine last?”

    Patricia Heaton

    I know.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Mine was done before the menus were there, and I was like-

    Patricia Heaton

    Oh, me too.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    …”How can I get a second?”

    Patricia Heaton

    Me too. As I said, I really love alcohol. I just love the taste of it, I love the feeling of it. It’s almost like being at the gym when you’re with people who are drinking, and you don’t. You’re exercising a muscle of not drinking, which is just great. It’s a great thing to do. Yeah. And I think, too, physiologically I don’t have an addictive body. So, when I moved to New York in the ’80s, that’s back when cocaine…there were no bad side effects from cocaine, or so you were told. It was just a fun party drug. And I happened to have moved next to a studio musician’s bar, so these studio musicians would do their sessions, and then they’d come to this bar, and it would stay open…well, it would officially close at 2:00, and then it would stay open until 6:00 for all the regulars. And I was a regular because I lived next door, got to know everybody.

    And the cocaine was flowing like crazy. And I remember being there, and drinking, and doing cocaine till 6:00 in the morning. That next day I was fine, but the day after the depression I felt was so intense…I thought, “I am never going to do this again, because I feel like I’m going to kill myself.” And I didn’t, because I was connected to my body, I had struggled with depression anyway because my mother had died when I was young, and I never actually resolved that. I’m 63, I’m still thinking about, “Maybe I should see a therapist about that.” So, my mom died of an aneurysm of the carotid artery when I was in the seventh grade, so I was 12.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Wow.

    Patricia Heaton

    But she didn’t go right away. So, there was this couple days of unknowing, where myself and my…there’s five kids, five of us. Myself and younger sister were kind of kept in the dark. Mom was getting a checkup. Everybody else knew she was almost dying. They did a little surgery on her, which worked for a minute. And then it didn’t, and then they just pulled the plug. And I never got to see her, I was never really told that there was anything serious. And then I walked home from school one day, like the fourth day after she was gone, and the street was lined with cars. A street that was normally empty was lined with cars. And my mother was one of 15 kids. So, all of her brothers and sisters were at our house. And I walked into this house full of people, talking and just chatting, and I still didn’t know what was going on.

    And then I was called upstairs, and my dad told me that my mom had died. And then I started screaming and crying, and then one of my sisters came up and said, “Be quiet, everybody can hear you downstairs.”

    Elizabeth Vargas

    My God.

    Patricia Heaton

    I know. I mean, I laugh at it now. Some of that is so useful in my life that I can’t say it wasn’t the worst thing ever. But so, ever since then I think there’s been this festering wound that has kind of healed over on the surface, but you just have to poke it a little and it opens up. Which is extremely useful as an actor, because it’s really such a great well of emotion there, that I can use when I need it. I don’t even know that the drinking is related to that, actually. But it’s something that one of my nieces said, “Here is a guy who deals specifically with grief. I think you should talk to him.” So, I’m still considering whether I even want to go there or not, because I think the fear in that is it seems so deep that if you open it up it will never end. The grief will just [crosstalk 00:32:07]

    Elizabeth Vargas

    No, I know exactly what you’re talking about.

    Patricia Heaton

    There’s no bottom. You’re not going to touch bottom. Like you’re drowning in a pool and your foot never touches the bottom so that you can push yourself back up. So, that’s something to look forward to. It’s a challenge in my life that I’m actually…I will probably do it. There is a little bit of fear, and I know actors have this, that it will somehow undermine my ability to be a good actor if I actually get some resolve about that grief, because you rely on it-

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Because right now it’s something you can use. Yeah, you can use. No, it’s interesting. I think I have felt the same way when it’s come to certain therapeutic processes. And I remember telling a friend of mine, who’s also an actress, and she’s very able to access her grief, and her trauma, and process it, and sob hysterically over it. And I’m like, I said, “I can’t. It’s so siloed off, I couldn’t open it if I wanted to, and I’m not sure I do.” I feel like it would overwhelm me, I would drown in it, as you just said. I totally get that.

    Patricia Heaton

    And especially if your life is kind of going along, and it’s fine, and you’re happy-

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Yeah, I figured out a way. Yeah.

    Patricia Heaton

    Yeah. Like what’s the point of opening that Pandora’s box? But I’m sure it’s better to explore that. Here’s the other thing, as a Catholic I know I’m going to see my mother again. So, it’s not like it’s she’s gone forever. Nobody’s gone forever. So, there’s some comfort. It’s kind of like I’ll see her. I’ll see her soon. Why go back there? I’m going to see her soon.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Yeah, that’s a lovely thing.

    Patricia Heaton

    Death is around the corner, so…

    Elizabeth Vargas

    No it’s not. Please.

    Patricia Heaton

    It’s okay. As I said, at this age I hopefully, God willing, have let’s say 25 good functioning years left. Maybe more. I hope I die on stage. So, you want to take stock. That’s another thing about do you really want to spend any of this precious time we have left recovering from the night before?

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Or buzzed, or drunk.

    Patricia Heaton

    Or buzzed, or not in…let’s really just feel everything, regardless of what those feelings are. As I said, it makes everything an adventure, and I’m an adventurous person so it makes it exciting, actually.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Yeah. I love, in this book that you’ve written, about your second act. Which, by the way, I don’t know, maybe I’m at the right demographic, and I’m in my 50s, I’m in the same business, not exactly but we’re both in television. And experiencing all sorts of things that women in television experience when they reach their 50s. So, I love this book, and I love the concept of this book, that your life isn’t over. That creating, finding, experiencing a second act. But the very first line of the very first chapter is, “Bread, booze, and Burrata. If anyone would’ve told me a few years ago that I would be giving up my three most favorite things on the planet, my hubby and my sons excluded of course, I would’ve taken you straight to the nearest psych ward, because that’s pure craziness.”

    Patricia Heaton

    Right. Yeah. And I feel now that I can do anything if I can get rid of alcohol. Alcohol’s the hardest thing in my life. And so, not eating dairy, it’s not a big deal. I mean, it’s interesting because food is another thing in this country that people obsess over. And it’s fun, and it’s wonderful, and cooking is wonderful. But I’ve gotten to the point in my life where I just want meals to fuel my body. I’m not that interested in exotic this, and all that. And I look on Instagram, it’s a lot of accounts where there’s a whole thing, it’s almost a weird gluttonous thing of you have a milkshake, but it’s not just a milkshake. They coat the glass with chocolate and sprinkles, and then they put a piece of cake on top of the milkshake, and then they pour syrup over it, and more sprinkles, and a fudge bar, and a…

    It’s like, what the heck is going on here with the food stuff? It’s like and over the top kind of thing. And this is also just me, you just pair down. You just pair down as you get older. I used to love fashion magazines, and clothes, and I think the pandemic sort of made this even worse for me. But it’s like to put on underwear is an achievement for me.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Yeah.

    Patricia Heaton

    And jewelry, and getting all the stuff-

    Elizabeth Vargas

    None of it. I don’t wear of any of it.

    Patricia Heaton

    I mean, look at both of us. We are in like-

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Tee shirts.

    Patricia Heaton

    …tee shirts, and-

    Elizabeth Vargas

    And cut-off shorts.

    Patricia Heaton

    …no jewelry. Yes, exactly.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    So, tell me, this whole book is about your second act. I mean, you’ve spent a lot of time talking about your second act you’re sober, your second act you’re moving to Nashville. Your second act is you’re doing this charity, that’s an amazing thing. Talk a little bit about that, and what’s happening with work.

    Patricia Heaton

    So, World Vision is the charity I work for, since about 2015, and they’re the largest provider of water, clean water, in the world. And the largest NGO in the world, which is non-governmental organization, which is the fancy word for way to say charity. And they just have huge transparency, accountability, and 86 cents of every dollar goes directly to programs. They stay in an area, for 12 to 15 years, so that the programs are sustainable and run by people in the community. It’s just very, very effective. And it doesn’t matter what the religion is, or the race is. It’s a Christian organization, but I was in Jordan in Syrian refugee camps where they had built…World Vision had built a kindergarten. The women were Muslim women wearing their World Vision vests, and teaching the Muslim kids.

    So, it’s just a great organization. So, if you’re looking for a place to put your hard-earned money into, and you want to make sure it’s having a profound and long lasting effect, World Vision is a great place to do that.

    And then, as far as work goes, I mean, I am trying to develop another comedy for FOX. We’ll see if that works out. Comedy is very hard. It’s very hard to do, so we’re working on that. But my husband and I just produced, and my husband directed, a movie, a dramedy, called “Unexpected,” which we’ve just entered into film festivals. Starring Anna Camp and Joe Mazzello. And I absolutely loved producing. I love-

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Really.

    Patricia Heaton

    …being behind the camera, I love sitting, and watching, and looking at that monitor. And I loved not being an actor. I mean, to watch those actors have to go through what they go through, I was just so happy I wasn’t doing it. And it’s not that I don’t like acting, I do. But there’s something about producing where you have control, and you’re creating a world, and it doesn’t matter what you look like, or how old you are. You sit behind that monitor and you can make things happen. I mean, my husband was the one directing, David Hunt, but I was sort of his assistant. And it was also just fun. We shot it in Oklahoma, and I just loved being in a state I’d never been in, and getting to know the people there, and as I said I’m kind of an adventurous soul. I love traveling with World Vision, I’ve been to many different countries with them.

    And then I loved with this movie making, you go all over the place. And I think it’s a good time in my life for that. I’m blessed that the shows I did when the kids were young, were right by my home, and I was home every night. And I was off all summer. And now that they’re gone I have the opportunity to get out and about, and start shooting in different places. And we’ve had these scripts we’ve been developing for years, and we’re just now at a point where it’s kind of the timing is right to go out and make all these projects come to life. So, that’s really something very exciting for me. And I hope to be able to do some more work, and I love theater, and I would love to continue doing stage work. And hopefully get another comedy on the air.

    But I absolutely love producing. And even though-

    Elizabeth Vargas

    That’s so great.

    Patricia Heaton

    Yeah. We were looking for this location in Oklahoma, and I’m sitting in this hotel room, and we couldn’t find this…we needed this main location. And I thought to myself, I think I talk about it in the book, “Why am I sitting here in this hotel in Oklahoma, and driving out to these rural places, and looking for…I could be home by a swimming pool, reading a book, having a nice time, getting massage, and I’m sitting here worried about trying to find this old farmhouse that we need. We need it in like two weeks, and there doesn’t seem to be one in sight.” I’m Catholic, so I guess I love to suffer. Maybe that’s it. Maybe I love to suffer. But I think I just like to challenge myself, and I think maybe here’s where my mother’s death comes into a lot of this, is that I know…I learned at an early age that nothing is guaranteed to you.

    I can say, “Oh, I have another 30 years.” I don’t know that, nobody knows. And so, I just want to make the most of every opportunity that’s presented here to me, to be creative, and hopefully produce some content that is sort of life-giving, and life-affirming for audiences. I like very dark stuff, I like to watch dark stuff, but I also think there’s a real need, especially since the pandemic – and with a tone of things in the country right now – we just need content that brings us together, and talks about our shared humanity. And that’s what a lot of our projects are about.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Yeah. Well, our shared humanity is something…you’re right, I wish we could all focus, as a nation, a little bit more on…there is so much division. But Patricia Heaton, it’s been such an amazing pleasure talking to you. Thank you so much.

    Patricia Heaton

    Well, thanks for having me. This is really delightful, and I’m just so glad that you guys reached out, and this is really fun.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    All right. Take care.

    Patricia Heaton

    Okay, you too.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Thank you so much for listening today to Heart of the Matter. You can find this podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and on our website at drugfree.org/podcast. And as a reminder, if you need help with a loved one who is struggling with substance use, you can text 55753, or visit drugfree.org. We’ll talk to you soon.

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    Heart of the Matter with Elizabeth Vargas gives guests the opportunity to share their personal, candid stories about addiction. Find all episodes and learn more.

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    Published

    September 2021