When Jane Velez-Mitchell got sober in 1995, she went a lot further than 12 steps.
For the longtime broadcast journalist, recovering from alcoholism was just the first phase of changing almost everything in her life: how she ate, shopped, worked and loved.
"It's an ongoing process, totally," Velez-Mitchell, 53, said in a recent phone interview. "I just had a revelation last night in a meeting. It's a way to uncover who you really are."
Now the host of Issues With Jane Velez-Mitchell at 7 every evening on HLN, she has chronicled those changes in her new book, iWant: My Journey From Addiction and Overconsumption to a Simpler, Honest Life.
Velez-Mitchell will be a featured author today at the Times Festival of Reading at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.
Alcoholism was something of a family tradition. Throughout her childhood in Manhattan, Velez-Mitchell assumed everyone drank as much as her dad, an advertising executive, and she was finishing off the leftovers in highball glasses after her parents' parties while she was still in grade school.
She drank her way through high school, college and into a career in television journalism. She functioned at work, but a marriage failed, as did other relationships, because of her drinking.
She not only tried therapy, she spent a decade in a relationship with a man from a whole family of therapists. "I imagined the prospect of round-the-clock analysis. It was very enticing," she writes in iWant.
None of it helped. "Therapy does not get you sober," Velez-Mitchell says. "It's really important for therapists to tell their patients who are addicts about 12-step programs. It's irresponsible not to."
What finally propelled Velez-Mitchell into sobriety wasn't a catastrophic event. "I never crashed my car and killed somebody. I thought I was so bad, but once I started talking to other addicts, I realized I was kind of a piker."
She simply blacked out at a party and woke up the next day feeling ashamed. But that was nothing new. "I had been through all those situations before, and it didn't all come together."
The difference: "I had a person to call.
"I had a best friend from college who had gotten sober and had been bugging me to do it. I was finally, as we say, sick and tired of being sick and tired."
And, she says, it was a matter of attraction, of seeing her friend and saying, "I want what he has."
Hence the title of her book, and its chapters detailing all the things she found she wanted. Once she stopped drinking — on April Fool's Day, as she notes — and smoking, she started to gain weight.
"Lots of recovering addicts and alcoholics get fat," she writes. "That's because addictions jump! You give up one thing and something else pops up to take its place. The reason for this is obvious. Addicts will use whatever substance is available to escape and self-medicate.
"In my case, I couldn't afford to get fat. I'm on television."
Velez-Mitchell had already become a vegan, but she had to learn that going on an eating binge — even if the candy was organic and fat-free — was still a compulsive behavior.
Using the constant personal inventories that are a foundation of 12-step programs, she learned to control her eating, then turned to dealing with addiction to shopping. ("Me, I had gadget lust.") She also came to terms with her own sexuality and came out as a lesbian, a change that she says has had only positive effects.
Velez-Mitchell also realized that being a workaholic was an addiction, and a dangerous one.
Having put off medical checkups because of a demanding work schedule while covering Michael Jackson's trial on child molestation charges, she finally had a mammogram after Celebrity Justice, the show she was working for, was canceled.
"I better go get all my medical checkups before my insurance runs out," she told her girlfriend.
She had breast cancer.
Learning of the diagnosis became another life changing moment, she writes. "My everyday worries suddenly seemed trifling."
Surgery and radiation left her cancer free, but awareness of the disease became another cause, like veganism, environmentalism and animal rights, that she often deals with on her television show.
Velez-Mitchell says that, although recovery depends upon the addict taking responsibility for his or her own behavior, her personal journey has taught her that she's not alone.
"I think we're addicted to overconsumption" of all kinds, she says, and that's what prompted her to write the book: helping other people.
Part of the ongoing process of changing her life is thinking about others, she says, both living and dead. "I'm sober for myself, but I'm also sober for my dad, and sober for my cousin Billy, a Vietnam vet who died at 45 of cirrhosis of the liver.
"Whenever I'm tempted, I think, 'Billy can't even have a cup of coffee.' "
Colette Bancroft can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8435. She blogs on Critics Circle at blogs. tampabay.com/arts.