Chrissy Teigen’s Headbands Helped Me Get Sober
And other notes from an unexpected year
Before I explain how a bestselling author-supermodel-host-producer’s Pilates workout headbands helped me stay sober, a bit of context seems necessary.
I am of the opinion that 2018 was in many ways vastly superior to 2017. The main reason, at least as far as the American public goes, is that while Trump’s first year had been like a plunge into a terrifying tub of hot shit, his second year was more like standing in a bucket of cold shit next to your friends: still gross, but not as surprising, because we were used to this shit by now and anyway, we knew we had each other to lean on.
Thank you for wading through my shit metaphor. If you voted for him, it’s your own fault, all of it — kids in cages included. He told us who he was years ago. You knew, or you should’ve. Make better choices in future.
I didn’t vote for him, obviously. I am, however, a deeply flawed human being in other ways, and in 2018 I decided to make better choices of my own. Chief among these was my decision to give up the sauce. Not marinara sauce or béchamel sauce or alfredo sauce or, God forbid, caramel sauce — I’m not a fucking psychopath. But I am an alcoholic, so I decided it was time to get rid of the booze.
The details of how I hit bottom and why I decided to quit drinking are as boring and as fascinating as any alcoholic’s reasons for getting sober: I did things I found distressing and upsetting, I kept doing them, I looked at this unfortunate series of events and found a common denominator and decided to remove it. That way, if I kept making those choices, I could at least keep the good name of Pappy van Winkle out of it (just kidding, I can’t afford that shit. It was just a better beat for the rhythm of the sentence than “Woodford Reserve.”)
I’d been thinking about it for awhile, as I’d noticed being drunk didn’t seem to add any particular value to my life. Nor did being tipsy, or simply sipping on one cocktail and calling it a night. None of it helped me write my books, or scripts, or marketing emails, or grocery lists. None of it helped me cut down on my credit card spending. None of it helped me feel better for more than a few hours.
When you are not a Known Boozebag™, people get confused when you say you’re an alcoholic. Alcoholism is not really about quantity, but about the quality of one’s experience when one drinks — and, of course, about one’s reasons for drinking in the first place. For a couple of years, I probably drank three nights a week and got drunk on two of those nights. Alcohol was enjoyable, but not enough to justify the cost in dollars and headaches and lost days of productivity. If I had two drinks, I was useless half the next day. If I had three drinks, I was useless for the entirety of the day. This didn’t sit right with me, as my main aim is to be of good use. I do not always succeed in this endeavor, but why should I maintain an uneasy alliance with something that constituted an obvious roadblock to my goal?
I have a limited amount of time on this earth — in this and many other ways, I am exactly like you. I have things to say and no idea how long I’ve got to say them. Plus, I live in California, so everything is always on fire or shaking or flooding or being buried under mud (it is the best state in the union but God doesn’t let us have the best things without charging some price.) I figured it was best to do as much as I could with however long I had before it all burned or blew or floated away.
I sent word of my decision to a very few people with whom I’d shared love and loss and victory and friendship and trust and fun. Most were drinkers themselves; a couple were sober. All but one of them, a friend of a couple decades, responded with kindness and encouragement. A few expressed surprise, as they’d never known me to wreck a car, get in a fistfight, get a DUI, get fired, or miss a birthday or important gathering due to drunkenness. And indeed I hadn’t. The truth is, I don’t have many wildly entertaining or unusually dramatic stories from what I like to call “mah drinkin’ days” with a bizarre accent reminiscent of a wizened old prospector. But I knew how I often used alcohol, and why, and how it became a kind of thick, undulating liquid wall between me and the better angels of my nature.
That friend of twenty years, someone I’d once considered a best friend, did not respond to the short message in which I explained that I’d made this choice and that I wanted this person to know because I loved them and appreciated them and was thankful for our years of friendship. I was surprised by the lack of response. No self-professed addict should reasonably expect anyone to greet that admission with “Oh my God, you’re so brave, here’s a fucking parade!” It was just odd that there was no response at all, not even “Good luck!” It didn’t track with what I expected from this person. But getting sober will teach you swiftly that your old expectations were often built on nothing but fantasy.
I worried something might have happened to this old friend. Then I figured maybe they were just busy. Then I figured maybe they needed a few days to digest this information. Maybe I should’ve called. Maybe I should’ve asked them to tea. A text, though our primary mode of communication, may have seemed too brusque.
A few weeks later, I followed up with another text: “Hi, are you doing okay?” Again, nothing.
I’m not a total sucker. I got the message, which was: Stop contacting me. Maybe it was I don’t care or I don’t even like you or I’m still mad at you about something from years ago or This is deeper than I wish to go.
Weeks passed, slowly and lightning-fast. Wistfully, with some tiny bit of hope, I sent an invitation to my birthday party, something to which I’d invited this person every year since we were teens. Nothing.
Quitting drinking can feel like being exposed to the elements without a coat. You are a baby chick forming inside a shell, and just a little bit too early, some shitty dumb kid peels your shell away. The sun hits your eyes, and it hurts. Your eyes aren’t ready. You’re a baby bird who isn’t fucking ready. But of course you’re also the child, and you did this on purpose. You did this to yourself, and it turns out you actually had a good reason.
I cried a lot in those first few months, as my vision developed and I learned how to eat and drink and move in this new world. I was sad. It wasn’t just that this important figure in my life had vanished. It was that memories started to come back, not just of things that had happened when I was drunk, but other things I simply hadn’t considered in awhile.
I realized many things, and some of them were about this person in particular. I realized that we had grown apart long ago, and that other friends had been kinder and more attentive for years, as I had been to them. I realized I no longer had much in common with this individual I had once so admired. Maybe sometimes I hadn’t been such a great friend, either. Perhaps the friendship began to die when I found I could no longer perform the worshipful dance that had once felt so natural and had been key to the pattern of our relationship. Perhaps my friend’s taste in people changed. Perhaps mine did, too. It doesn’t make either of us a bad person. We evolved, separately.
Four and a half months passed, and I was ready to let it go.
I was raised Catholic, and ritual will always be a powerful act in my life. It’s why I enjoy my daily routines of nurturing skincare and light witchcraft. One day I said a long prayer to release my friend, to say I was sorry for the ways in which I hadn’t been there for them, and I was sad for the ways they hadn’t been there for me, and to say I understood that we wouldn’t be close anymore, and that this was ultimately a very good thing. I had reason to believe that maybe they would start a family in future, and it could be sad to not know their baby, but I knew the kid would be in good hands. I knew this person would be okay, and so would I.
I had turned my phone off before the prayer, during which I cried. When I was done praying, I felt a release and knew things were different now.
I turned the phone back on, and there was the text.
Of course they sent the text. This is how the universe works. God is a prankster and a real scamp.
It was a superficial text, very nice and friendly, and totally unrelated to alcoholism, silence, or errors forced or unforced. I responded. I was polite and warm. You can wish someone well and know they aren’t your person anymore, and that perhaps they hadn’t been for a long, long time. If I’d still been drinking, I might’ve blotted away the sadness of missing this person. Because I was done with all that, I felt the feelings as they arrived, and I had sent the ashes of our friendship out to sea. That final voyage had been a long time coming.
People had told me you lose people when you get sober. I believed them, but that’s the last person I would’ve thought could be The One. However, the universe delivers what you need right when you need it. As I’ve often said to my actual friend Sabrina this year, “God is fucking hilarious.”
If you lose people, you gain time. I gained time. I needed time. Don’t we all? I am an artist with a day job and side gigs. I am fortunate to get paid to write, and some of it is creative and artsy and arrives in book or script form; some of it is straightforward, unromantic and entirely designed to psychologically manipulate you to do a particular good thing. The power of my nonprofit digital marketing campaign compels you! That’s the idea, anyway.
I had more time to focus on my day job, which I enjoy. I like it for many reasons, but a very important one is the health insurance! When I sell something to Hollywood for enough dough, I get the fancy Writers Guild of America union insurance for the next year. When I don’t, I have my day job insurance, which permits me to afford to pay the same stylish woman to poke her fingers around my undercarriage once a year. (She’s a doctor, not a sex worker. That was clear, right? I mean, no shame in the sex work game, but why would I only go to see her once a year in that case?)
Thankfully, with either insurance scheme, I get to use a health center that’s lavishly decorated with life-size black and white photos of old movie stars. Los Angeles is weird, and I’m not complaining. Getting medically fingered in front of an image of Young Lauren Bacall is at least more entertaining than, say, gazing at an inspirational quote poster during one’s Pap smear.
But I didn’t just fill my newfound time with work. I filled it with other stuff too: first, continuing to procrastinate on a novel that I was afraid to write because it was about an alcoholic; second, listening to audiobooks like the biography of my number one celebrity crush, dead landscape architect and bipolar genius Frederick Law Olmsted; third, meditating a lot — which is to say, focusing on my breathing approximately 10% of the allotted meditation time. The rest of the meditation time was generally filled with thinking about popular culture, moments from my personal history, and self-improvement plans I’d never actually enact.
I also brainstormed and then launched a podcast, “Where Ya From?” in which I interview people about their literal and metaphorical origin stories. By way of example, I talked to Ben Stiller about Star Trek and Michael Arceneaux about Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen and I feel this is at least as important to understanding their respective development as artists as, like, knowing where they grew up. If you are curious as to my dream future podcast guests, they are as follows: the ghost of Frederick Law Olmsted, Michelle Obama, Michelle Obama’s husband, Jonathan Van Ness, my nephew once he starts saying anything other than “Bye!” and “Dada” (his favorite song is “Psycho Killer” by the Talking Heads so I feel like he’s going to be interesting), Leslie Jones, and obviously Chrissy Teigen.
I filled my time in other ways, too. I bought a lot of overpriced candles with crystals inside them. I prayed. I began baking cinnamon rolls and other treats, including some XYZ-free things for the people in my life who can’t or won’t consume XYZ. I had a recurring dream that I drank alcohol without realizing it and thus had to reset my sobriety app, which counts the days for you. Apparently, this is a common dream for newly sober people.
Getting rid of the booze can throw you off in ways big and small, although it also sets you right on a better course. Your sleep may increase, or decrease. I found that my ability to easily fall asleep took a hike for a minute, but at the same time the lack of alcohol allowed my Prozac to work better. So I couldn’t sleep, but I didn’t want to kill myself. And thankfully Instagram was there to amuse me to death, or life.
This is where we get to the headbands.
Christine Diane Teigen is a bestselling cookbook author, the co-host of a delightful program called Lip Sync Battle, an entrepreneur with her own line of kitchenware at Target and her own line of cosmetics, a supermodel with multiple Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue appearances, an actress — though the role she most often plays is “heightened version of herself” and she plays it very well — and a really funny writer. She is also a reliably hilarious presence on Twitter and has a stunning mother as well as a dad who just got a tattoo of her on his arm, which plenty of guys in my neighborhood also do with their babies. But it is on her Instagram where I feel her Internet work really shines, as it combines her ability to give the greatest reaction faces in the game with her talent for one liners, quips, zingers and amusing bon mots.
Last summer, around the time I got sober, Chrissy Teigen had her second baby with her husband, the musician John Legend. The first baby, Luna, is an extremely beautiful toddler who closely resembles her mother and has the most perfect posture I have ever seen on a human. The second baby, Miles, is an extremely beautiful infant who looks exactly like John Legend and wears excellent pajamas that I suspect he does not pick out himself. I hope that they both have health and happiness and wealth and kindness forevermore, but it is creepy to dwell on the children of strangers, and anyway this is a story about their mom’s headbands.
Chrissy Teigen and John Legend and their extremely beautiful children took off for Bali for a month so that she could do post-giving-birth Pilates and he could work out, maybe also with Pilates, and they could eat interesting things. At least I assume this was the rationale. Maybe he was recording his Christmas album there, or they were starting a secret revolutionary cult sect that will one day overthrow our government and install Luna and Miles as co-presidents-for-life. I hope that day is tomorrow.
Anyway, social media allows famous humans to do what we unfamous humans do: express ourselves and display what parts of our life we wish to expose to the public. For a month last summer, Chrissy Teigen gave us Pilates and food and babies and Bali. And she gave us headbands.
What headbands did she give us? The headbands of the motherfucking day.
Every day, she wore a different headband to do post-having-another-enchanting-baby Pilates and maybe spinning or whatever; I’m not sure, I just know I saw a Pilates reformer in the background of several videos. I should really say “episodes” because her Headband of the Day Instagram stories became a highlight of my early weeks of sobriety.
That’s right, I said “highlight.” ’Twas not a reliably easy time. If you’ll recall, I’d been shut out by a onetime best friend, given up the social lubricant that allowed me to blame various nefarious dick-hopping maneuvers on an outside agent (Agent Bourbon, Ho Division, Federal Bureau of Gross), plus I was single and couldn’t distract myself by talking to some dude or lady or gender nonconforming hot person (my sexuality, for the record, is “hot people.”)
Also, my beloved grandma was about to die and Trump was president, so it wasn’t the most cheerful time. I did finish revising a pilot called “Codependent As Fuck,” so that was nice. The funny thing was, I was happy. I cried, sure, but I laughed too. And Chrissy Teigen’s headband stories were one of the reasons I laughed.
Thanks in part to Chrissy Teigen’s headband-focused shortform anthology series, I began to consider that Pilates might be a good idea even if you hadn’t just had a baby with John Legend and announced your second cookbook. For one thing, it apparently meant you got to wear headbands of various colors and patterns all the time.
I was hardly the only one to find the headbands fascinating. Chrissy Teigen’s Instastories spawned a hashtag (#HBOTD) and various articles and celebrity news segments on the finest informational programs.
Part of the appeal of Headband Of The Day, my favorite sitcom, was due to the simplicity of the structure. Every episode was 15 seconds or less, featuring John Legend in the background singing the HBOTD theme song with a slow pan from Chrissy’s reaction face to her headband. (She has so many headbands, you guys.) The setup was simple, the payoff predictably satisfying. Exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, denouement. Freytag’s Pyramid as fuck.
The lyrics of the Headband of the Day theme song, by the way, go like this:
Headband of the day
It’s the headband of the day
Push your locks away
With the headband of the day.
The theme song wasn’t nominated for a Grammy, which is fucking bullshit. And the series has not as yet received any Emmy, Oscar, Obie, BAFTA, Drama Desk or Pulitzer nominations. But as for its place in my personal canon of favorite art, well, it’s up there with Picasso’s Guernica and, obviously, episode 10 of series 5 of the Doctor Who reboot. Duh.
Along with funny astrology memes and funny feminist memes and funny feminist astrology memes, Headband of the Day: The Series made me smile every single day. It also inspired me to move around a little bit more, although I certainly didn’t devote myself to any kind of impressive exercise regimen.
I got up, I did my Headspace meditation (10% meditation, 90% wondering if I should finally start watching the Real Housewives franchise), I started work at 7 a.m. (East Coast schedule, remote gig, I wore pajamas), I drank a lot of water, I took my Prozac, I took my vitamins, I listened to the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous on audiobook, I saw friends here and there, I drank more water, I listened to more audiobooks about things like Greek myths and our national sugar addiction and the writings of Marcus Aurelius and how you should pretend your car broke down in order to get a guy to take care of you (look, these books weren’t all winners), and at some point every day I watched my stories like a grandma, except my stories were Instastories from a few chosen favorites (thank you for existing, Jonathan Van Ness, your ice-skating lessons continue to rock me) and not unlike my childhood approach to ABC’s ’90s TGIF lineup, I had my fave.
What I’m saying is that for one brief shining month and change in 2018, Chrissy Teigen’s headband videos were my Family Matters.
Things got better. Marvel flew me to New York Comic Con to do a panel, and I extended the trip for nearly two weeks in order to see family and friends. It was great! Things got worse — I returned to find a pregnant mama rat and her boyfriend had moved into my first-floor studio in Silverlake and given birth to creatures who ate my underpants, shit in my bed, and crawled out of my wall heater while I tried not to scream. It was gross!
But even that was a good thing — I‘d needed to leave that apartment for awhile, and this was the push I needed. I moved — to a one bedroom apartment! Granted, I also oversaw the murder of two generations of a rat family, but my exterminator was a lovable gentleman and talked to me about philosophy. One of his clients was a Buddhist community center. LA, man.
Sometimes we make the choices we need all of our own accord. We wake up one day and say, “Hey. It’s time for me to do this good thing.” Other times, we need a push. Throughout the process of getting better, it helps to focus on things big and small, serious and silly.
I’m not on Instagram as much these days, except to kick it on my very important angry lady fashion account Excellent Coats On Irritated Women, but my absorption of the limited streaming series Headband Of The Day during a vulnerable time in my life left a lasting impression. The equipment in the background of those videos made me remember I’d done Pilates a few times before and liked it. I bought a Pilates lesson pack and I started doing Pilates with extreme irregularity. I feel great every random time I do it!
Oddly enough, I didn’t buy any headbands. God and Instagram content work in mysterious ways. So do search engine algorithims.
I was searching for an essay I wrote for Glamour in order to prove to a friend it had indeed featured an image of two brains dry-humping (found it!) and happened upon a cover essay Chrissy Teigen had written for Glamour. It was published in the ancient era B.H.B.O.T.D, in a particularly boozy and workaholic month of my life (March 2017, ahh, the blurred memories) so I suppose that’s why I hadn’t ever heard about it, though it got a lot of pickup throughout the media. Turned out she’d written quite movingly about her experience with postpartum depression. And while I’ve never had a baby, I could certainly relate to some of it.
I wanted to write an open letter to friends and employers to explain why I had been so unhappy. The mental pain of knowing I let so many people down at once was worse than the physical pain.
To have people that you respect, who are the best in the business, witness you at your worst is tough.
Even though this was something I shouldn’t have to apologize for, I did want to apologize. Because on a set, people depend on you. A lot of people are coming together and all you have to do, Christine, is put on a unicorn head and shoot a money gun.
Okay, have never had that specific experience, but I relate. Check.
Editors are wondering what the f-ck happened to the girl they gave a book deal to.
Later, she wrote,
Plenty of people around the world in my situation have no help, no family, no access to medical care…I’m speaking up now because I want people to know it can happen to anybody and I don’t want people who have it to feel embarrassed or to feel alone. I also don’t want to pretend like I know everything about postpartum depression…But one thing I do know is that — for me — just merely being open about it helps. This has become my open letter.
I sat with that for a good long moment. And then I bought both her cookbooks.
Here are a few things I have that I didn’t have before I got sober: a bedroom with a door; a Kitchen Aid hand mixer; an uncomfortable but attractive sofa; a handmade coffee table; a smaller, better group of funny, weird and kind friends; renters’ insurance; three plants that aren’t dead (okay, they’re succulents, I’m cheating); and a commitment to a 2019 aesthetic I’m calling Slutty Elaine Benes.
I also have six months, three weeks, four days and 17 hours sober.
Life is never perfect but it gets better if you try new things. And laugh at goofy shit when you can — videos of baby ducks, actual baby ducks, Instagram stories about headbands, the way your butt looks in really stupid patterned sweatpants you try on at Target for not reason, your friend doing extremely dramatic Jodeci karaoke.
I don’t know if prayer will help you. I don’t know if AA will help you. I don’t know if Refuge Recovery will help you. I don’t know if cognitive behavioral therapy will help you. I don’t know if medication will help you. I don’t know if meditation will help you. I don’t know if Pilates will help you. I don’t know you. I’m working on my own shit, and I’m no expert on getting better.
The laughing, though — it helps. That much I promise you.