In her book Highlight Real, Emily Paulson gives women a page-turning and honest account of her life as an “everything is picture-perfect” mom and influencer with a secret struggle with sobriety. In this raw memoir, Emily shares what happens when the so-called perfect mom and businesswomen is forced to confront the truth and rebuild her highlight “real.”
We chatted with Emily about building her community of sober moms and the importance of support for moms, now more than ever. We also asked the Sober Mom Squad for their book pick, see them here.
As you meet with other moms in your virtual Zoom meetings, what are some of the common struggles you’re seeing?
The common struggles are lack of support, burnout, stress, feelings of hopelessness, and feelings of being “trapped.” COVID seems to have brought out struggles that were already underlying.
Lack of support when you don’t really need it isn’t a problem. Lack of support when you’re suddenly homeschooling and trying to work from home is a HUGE problem.
Whether or not systems were in place before, ultimately, women have found that they were always doing more than their fair share, and now, they are suffering burnout.
Alcohol comes into play in cases when drinking may not have been THAT big of an issue (pre-COVID). When you have a typical to moderate stress level, and a few glasses of wine a week seem to “help”, then you are thrust into a stressful situation (like a pandemic!) and bring your coping mechanism (drinking booze) up to match your stress level…all of a sudden you find that you are teetering on substance use disorder.
It happens for most women just like that. We have women saying, “I didn’t think I had a problem and all of a sudden I was drinking at noon or craving a glass in the morning or waking up hungover every day. It snuck up on me!” And yet, they haven’t had the typical “consequences” they think they should have had to declare that their drinking is a problem. It’s a very confusing place to be, which is why the meetups have been so magical, because women are hearing their stories reflected back to them over and over.
What do you hope other women learn from your story in Highlight Real?
I hope people learn that you can never judge someone’s life from an Instagram grid. You truly never know what is going on behind the surface. Also, no matter what anyone decides their relationship with alcohol is going to be like, we need to remember that it is a drug, and we need to be mindful of how we use, promote, or display this drug. You may not currently have an “issue” with drinking, but are many, many human beings walking this earth who are struggling. They are among your loved ones and friends. Your own child or nephew or godchild may end up being one of them. Tread lightly, and don’t discount the example you set through your own actions and words.
What made you decide it was time to come clean with your story and write your book?
I knew that keeping secrets didn’t work; I tried that my entire life! I also knew that other women’s stories carried me though my first years of sobriety. I wanted mine to be among those stories. It was important for me to pay it forward, and to walk through life with one honest version of myself.
More about Highlight Real
A music prodigy, head of her class, and well-liked in school, Emily Paulson decided early that embellishment paved the road to success. As she grew up, she figured out how to make the picture look even better – with a successful husband, five beautiful children, and all the required accompanying accoutrements.
Then along came social media, where those pictures of the perfect life grew her a following of women who believed that everything about Emily was blessed and inspiring. But behind the filtered façade was a reality filled with trauma, addiction, and dysfunctional behavior.
From disordered eating to breaking the law and nearly destroying her marriage, Emily had been running from her own trauma for years. Living a life shot through with more self-destruction than she could track, Emily knew things had to change when she woke up one morning and realized that she was barely participating in the picture she had so carefully crafted.
Highlight Real: Finding Honesty and Recovery Behind the Filtered Life is the true story of what happens when a so-called perfect mother and businesswoman is forced to find reckoning with her past and build a future based on the authenticity she has always sought. Searingly honest, heartbreaking and packed with uncountable did-she-actually-just-say-that moments, Highlight Real is a memoir of healing as well as a fully modern look at what happens when the filters fall off and real life emerges into the light.