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Laura Cathcart Robbins’ ‘Stash: My Life In Hiding’ Made Me More Empathetic Towards My Mom’s Addiction

Laura Cathcart Robbins’ ‘Stash: My Life In Hiding’ Made Me More Empathetic Towards My Mom’s Addiction

Stash is an addiction memoir, a survival memoir, and a magnificent book. Laura is a Black woman, a chameleon, a Hollywood wife, a mother of two, and an addict who was hiding in plain sight in a world she felt she didn’t belong in. I found myself pausing a lot throughout the book. A LOT!  I had to process the most intimate moments of Laura’s life – while also admitting that the way she meticulously described cold floors, annoying PTA moms, painstaking insomnia and how she meticulously avoided withdrawals was spellbinding. 

For a few chapters, you’re wondering just how Laura’s addiction to sleeping pills started. She recounts experimenting with freebase cocaine with an ex-boyfriend/drug-dealer in her early twenties but she was able to kick that habit without an issue years prior. In the chapter titled ‘Babies’, Laura was prescribed a mild sleep aid called Ambien shortly after her second son was born. She was experiencing sleep deprivation and not feeling like herself after two back to back pregnancies – which her OBGYN dismissed and said was normal for new moms. 

We learn about Laura’s experiences of fear, hypervigilance and anxiety that stemmed back to her childhood that seemed to lie dormant for years and then reappeared during her journey into new motherhood. Feeling disappointed by her OBGYN, she went to her regular Doctor with the same complaints, and his quick remedy was to get her sleeping back on track and he prescribed her one Ambien to take once a day at bedtime. 

“Those pills were the gateway to a world where the pains of perpetuating this double life didn’t exist. Where I had no responsiblities,  no one to impress, no one to deceive or please. I could just sink into these squishy, gorgeous technicolor Ambien dreams and wake up feeling ready for the world.” 

This frustrated and confused me because there was no probing of postpartum depression or suggestions of therapy, just straight to Ambien. I am not completely blaming her Doctor (although if you’ve dealt with addiction close-up or firsthand, we often look for someone/something to blame) for kickstarting her chemical dependence on the drug. However, I am a 30-year-old Black woman who has navigated American healthcare quite a bit and have experienced first hand how prescription-first Doctors in the U.S. are. After all, many medications can be life altering/saving when patients are listened to, issues are properly assessed and diagnoses are confirmed. The way the Doctors treated her is super reflective of how Black women are mistreated and dismissed in the healthcare system, regardless of class, which often leads to misdiagnosis, complications and even death. 

If anyone else is wondering what Ambien is, WebMD classifies Zolpidem (the active ingredient) as a sleep aid in the drug class called sedative-hypnotics. It has a myriad of side-effects and warnings, one of which is that the drug may be habit forming.

Laura goes from taking Ambien as a “good Mom deserving of sleep” reward to taking as many as many as she could get her hands on by the time her kids were 6 and 8 years old. The entire story had me on pins and needles, in the best way, because while I was praying for Laura’s recovery and safety I was also stuck wondering how she’s abusing 10 or more Ambien a day and how she’s going to keep it a secret for any longer. 

“The other fucked-up thing is that I’ve found that the combination of the drugs, booze, and fear power-washes my consciousness clean, so I have to keep a clear cheat sheet of the dilluted bottles in my trusty filofax. My notes have become my most precious possession, my notes are an answer key. My notes are my memory.”

Aside from her tantalizing writing, I really enjoyed the ways Laura also analyzed her privilege(s) within the world(s) she existed. While being a Black woman, she also addressed her palatability and being “the right kind of Black”. There isn’t an in-depth conversation about that realization of hers in the book, but she nods to it as a realization of her extreme desire to fit in (and being successful at it was just another mask that pulled her down into the spiral that ensued).

Personally, this book gave me even more empathy, respect and admiration for my Mom and her addiction. My mom got clean when I was 3 years old and my brother was 6. Much like Laura, when she went to treatment, she separated her mess from the others because she wasn’t on “hard drugs”, she was employed, she was married and was an involved Mother. I grew up a “NA kid”, which was a term of endearment for the kids who grew up going to meetings, conventions and fundraisers with their parents who were in Narcotic Anonymous. It was lovely and my brother and I were truly raised by a real village. My Mom served on NA convention committees, built real lifelong friendships and bonds, and even started her own spiritual retreat for women in recovery in 2015. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been lucky enough to have difficult conversations with my Mom regarding her history of substance abuse before she got clean. Plus I didn’t witness her in active addiction since she got clean when I was a toddler. But Laura’s confessions of motherhood, not feeling worthy and her childhood made me wonder more about my mom’s earlier battles and struggles as a young Black girl from East Orange, NJ.

Although the 12-step route isn’t for everyone, I am incredibly lucky to have grown up knowing that a sober and clean life is possible, no matter the route you choose to get there. I found myself texting my Mom random messages of admiration while I was reading Laura’s story because I was just taken aback by how much parts of Laura’s battle mirrored my own Mom! 

Lastly, this book came out at such a great time. A lot of Black and Brown folks are reevaluating their relationship to substances. Whether it’s a personal look at their relationship with consuming and using substances, many people aren’t just waiting until they’re the drunk Auntie/Uncle at the functions.

We’re actually more open to talking about substance abuse than ever before because of stories like this and more of a culture of help/care around addiction publicly with the help of social platforms/collectives ran for Black girls, by Black girls like @soberblackgirlsclub, @the.soberbutterfly and @blackgirlssmile. Many of the platforms and collectives mentioned include informative graphics, testimonials, resources, opportunities to create chapters in other states and countries and have woven mental health into their conversation about addiction and recovery that’s relative to us. 

Consider this book GROWN approved. You can support the author and her work on Instagram at @lauracathcartrobbins and listen to her on her podcast, The Only One In The Room wherever you get your podcasts. 

Here’s an exclusive chat with Stash: My Life in Hiding author Laura Cathcart Robbins:

Laura Cathcart Robbins photographed by Cooper Urlich

Q: Your boys, your boys, your boys! I know they’re grown now obviously but what have your conversations been like? I’m asking because you talk so candidly about what you despised about motherhood and your robotic life – but never spoke poorly of THEM! They were your lighthouse in many ways after several pages of destruction or complicated conversations. However, your boys running through the doors were vivid as day. Have they read the book? 

Laura: Yes, my boys are my whole heart, and were my motivation to get sober and get happy.  They are still my daily motivation.  They are extremely proud of their mom now with all of the book stuff (especially MSNBC!), but they have yet to read it.


Q: Help me work through this hate and love I have for your divorce attorney, Nancy. The right half of my brain is saying she’s zero games, getting to the bag and doing her JOB. The left half of my brain was screaming, WHAT A RAGING B***H! When you plead to her about needing rehab now and being afraid you would die due to your addiction, she was more concerned with possible settlements and winning the case than your life! 

I was like Nancy does know Laura can’t fight for her kids or live in a lavish house if she overdoses and dies tomorrow or next week. Jeez. So, what did you want the reader to take away from your encounters with Nancy? Also, how do YOU feel about how Nancy treated you and your situation?

Laura: Lol! I tried to write about Nancy with as much perspective as possible so that the reader could have their own experience with her and come to their own conclusions.  Reflecting back, I can see what a brilliant, capable attorney she is, but I can also see now that it wasn’t a good fit. 

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Our definitions of a “win” or a successful outcome were vastly different. I did not want a trial.  I didn’t think I’d survive it and I didn’t want my kids to go through that.  She was more, “Show Me The Money!” The only win was a win.


Q: The book cover is really pretty, bright and eye-catching! Was the design an intentional analogy to your life and the time period as an addict? 

Laura: I love my book cover. I think it perfectly tells you everything you need to want to know more about the story inside.  The pills, the “Foxy Brown” font, the Black woman’s hand with the big rock reaching for the scattering of pills.  And I love the pink!


Q: You describe the privileges and outwardly perfect life that many would be envious of, but on the inside you were struggling. More than that – you were suffering. 

Laura: I don’t know if this was a question, but it is correct.  I was dying inside.  Once more I was unintentionally killing myself with what could have been lethal doses of pills and booze.  All in service of “showing up” for my family. Presenting the perfect wife, mom, friend, etc.


Q: Do you find yourself resisting the urge to mask yourself or play back into your chameleon trait you wrote so eloquently about? Not necessarily with substances or pills again, but just in conversation or in surroundings do you still feel the urge to assimilate so heavily like you felt you had to in the past? 

Laura: I’m wearing one of my favorite sweaters right now with the words unapologetically Black embroidered across the front. It took years, but I acted my way right thinking around being anything other than my authentic self.  Now I feel unapologetic about anything that I am authentically and I don’t care how anyone else feels about it.

Maybe that’s partly being in my fifties.  Maybe it’s being nearly fifteen years sober, but truly, I don’t feel any temptation to modulate my “voice” or myself no matter the circumstances.

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