By Laurie Green
Originally published on Advocate.com September 14 2009 8:00 AM ET
Jane Velez-Mitchell got the call from CNN’s newly renamed sister network HLN (formerly Headline News) about the same time she sat down to write her memoir. Rather than leisurely penning the book last fall in her beach-adjacent condo in Los Angeles’s Venice neighborhood, she would have to churn it out while moving to New York and starting a job as host of the weeknight current affairs program Issues With Jane Velez-Mitchell.
Due to the looming deadline, “there was not a lot of time to obsess about it,” Velez-Mitchell, 53, recalls before taking a seat in the anchor chair for her evening news-and-views panel show, which leads into Nancy Grace. “I put it all on the page, and when I was reading it back, I said to myself, Ooh. Ouch. I said that?”
Velez-Mitchell casts her father as a social-climbing alcoholic who dabbled in Scientology, and she recalls colleagues who called it a calculated career move when she added her Puerto Rican mother’s maiden name, Velez, to her sign-off. Her harshest words, though, are for herself in iWant: My Journey From Addiction and Overconsumption to a Simpler, Honest Life (HCI, $24.95). “I was a blackout drinker who did many bizarre things while under the influence,” she writes. One can’t help but laugh at the time she delivered the news in a bikini and a T-shirt after getting bombed (she had been drinking on a boat before heading to work but nonetheless delivered the goods), but her tales of growing up gay and confused aren’t the chucklefest of, say, Simon Doonan’s musings; iWant is a cautionary tale.
Although nothing dramatic led Velez-Mitchell toa 12-step program in 1995 -- no car crash, no reprimands by bosses in her nicely progressing career -- the road to sobriety was nevertheless full of land mines. In therapy and a the program, she discovered she was not just an alcoholic but also a workaholic, an overeater, a compulsive shopper, and a codependent drama queen.
Velez-Mitchell juggled so many addictions that, she says, her sexual orientation was lost in the shuffle. Her last longtime boyfriend referred to her as a lesbian well before she herself did (they split in 2002). But this woman who made a living uncovering and articulating information couldn’t pinpoint what had made her so uncomfortable around other women all her life. “I never got to the point of ever using the word gay in my head,” she says. “Maybe it was all self-generated fear. I didn’t feel I had the freedom of choice that young people today have.”
If coming out at 51 is downplayed in the book relative to other issues, it’s because Velez-Mitchell believes that getting sober and becoming a vegan were the two best things she ever did. “Coming out was definitely right up there,” she says in a broadcast voice that’s as signature as her shag haircut. “Maybe I should have included it as a triad, but those two things allowed me to be compassionate with myself enough to recognize being gay.”
Today, she’s one of a breed of eco-nut who totes around reusable containers in a backpack. Even her choice of living with her 93-year-old mother is an opportunity for enlightenment: “We have to stop thinking in closed-structure thought processes, like the idea that you can’t live with your parents, or a businessman is not an artist, or that a waiter doesn’t have a Ph.D.”
The New York move means she must commute to Los Angeles to see “a very fabulous woman” (Velez-Mitchell wouldn’t divulge the details). Between those visits she instead wakes up with a pack of rescue dogs. “If Angelina Jolie can have all those children,” she says, “I can have three Chihuahuas.”