Always frank, the comedian gets real about putting in the emotional work to deal with old traumas and find more joy.

By Bethany Heitman
February 11, 2020
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Ask Chelsea Handler to define happiness, and here’s what she’ll say: “It’s to be anxiety-free, ready for anything, and to have an optimistic outlook about what happens in your day. No matter what, you have to find the positive.” If you’ve kept up with Chelsea over the past year or so, this answer makes perfect sense.

Last April, the 45-year-old published Life Will Be the Death of Me... and you too! It’s her sixth book and by far the most personal. In it, the comedian confronts the trauma of losing her oldest brother when she was 9 years old and chronicles her experience of taking therapy seriously for the first time ever. It’s filled with plenty of Chelsea’s signature acerbic wit, but it’s also emotional and touching.

Fodder for yet another best-selling book isn’t the only thing all that soul-searching gave Chelsea. It seems to have had a major impact on her life—both personally and professionally. In terms of her career, she’s returning to stand-up, where she’s hoping to infuse her act with some of the meaningful topics she touched on in her book. She’s also working on releasing her own line of marijuana, something she says has helped her immensely—more on that later. When it comes to her personal life, Chelsea says she feels more grounded and content than she ever has before. Read on as she opens up about everything from her biggest fears to finally being ready for lasting love.

So, are you happy?

Yes, I am happy now. Like anybody, I struggle with insecurities and self-doubt. A lot of people tell me that I’m fearless. I don’t feel fearless, but when I look back at the things I’ve done, I see what they’re talking about. In those moments, I’m just driven by something that is inside of me—it doesn’t feel fearless to follow and pursue your instincts. I have a lot of fear about certain things; that’s one of the ways I know the things I need to do.

What were some of those fears?

I had a fear about going back to stand-up. I had taken such a long break from it. I didn’t think I ever would want to do it again. Then I thought, “If I do go back to it, is anyone going to want to see me perform?” I also have fear about being in a long, serious relationship. Now I am able to recognize fear as an incentive rather than as a roadblock.

You ultimately decided to go back to stand-up.

I was on my last book tour for about four months, and I was being interviewed by people in different cities. I was telling stories from the book, and they were really funny. Some of them were very moving and really resonated with the audiences. I thought, “Oh, this is a one-woman show.” And then I thought, “No, this is a stand-up show. This is what you’ve done your whole career. This is exactly what you should be doing with such serious material.” The book is about death, grief, and loss. I think the thing that people struggle with the most is not understanding that if you’re going through something, there are a million other people going through the same thing. So you’re never alone.

Ari Michelson

Have you always been good at eliminating the things in your life that don’t make you happy?

No. It took me a long time to figure that out. Sometimes I cut people off too soon, and sometimes I wait too long. I’ve had to find a middle ground. For me, it was about finding moderation with everything in my life. I was always going 110 miles an hour. Then I slowed down, went to therapy, and actually listened to what the person sitting across from me was saying—which was, “Slow the f--- down.” I had to learn to sit with my feelings, not run from them.

What made you see a therapist?

The thing that helped me understand how important it was to go talk through my grief and pain from my childhood was [when] my psychiatrist explained [that] until you clean out your own injuries, you’re of no use to anyone. You can’t go around the world trying to be this great person if you’re not even being compassionate with yourself. For me, that was incentive enough to get healthy.

In the beginning, was therapy difficult?

It was uncomfortable. I tried very hard in therapy to not cry. And then [my therapist] caught me off guard one day, and I cried. After that, it became easier. I understand now that vulnerability is not weakness—that vulnerability is strength.

If you were to sum up what therapy has done for you, what would you say?

I’m calm—and that leads to being more decent and being kinder. That calm is what I needed. I was always at a 10. Initially, with therapy, I overcorrected. I went to a zero. But eventually your personality creeps back in. Now with all the tools I have, I understand how to be myself without being over-the-top, overbearing, or in people’s faces all the time. I’m much more thoughtful now, I think.

You dedicated your most recent book to your future husband. What’s it going to take to find that person?

I have to be more open and less judgmental. My thing is, like, if I see a belt that I don’t like, you’re out. If I see him wearing the wrong kind of shoes or if he has a weird walk—see you later. I’ve always been judging people by things that are not reasonable to be judging them for. So my goal in finding somebody is just to be more open-minded.

Ari Michelson

You’re launching a line of weed. Why?

Weed has had such a positive impact on me. Therapy, meditation, and weed—those are the three things that really changed me. I used to drink all the time. I thought I could handle my alcohol, but I didn’t realize how much your body and your life changes when it’s not in your life every day. Now I’m not giving up drinking...I would never do that to people—or to alcohol. But it’s nice to wake up with clarity and to take a break from the bloat. I didn’t think I was bloated until I didn’t drink for a few weeks. Then I was like, “Whoa, look at my cheekbones and my abs.”

Was there a turning point that inspired you to tone down the drinking?

Well, I like to get up early. Now I get up at 5 a.m. every single day. I think the cycle of drinking excessively for me was, like, drinking leads to more drinking the next day because you feel like s---. Then you eat like s--- because your cravings are bad and you want french fries and cheeseburgers. I don’t want to live like that. I’m in my 40s now, so I have to give a s--- about the way I look and actually take care of my health from the inside out.

So it’s about taking better care of yourself?

I’m doing everything I can in my power just to remain youthful. I want to be strong and vibrant. I want to be a force of nature. Vanity has a lot to do with it. I mean, let’s be honest. But when you get past that part, there are so many benefits that come your way from living a healthier lifestyle. Obviously, I am not the first person in the world to discover this. But I feel much better all around. I feel balanced and grounded now.

What turned you on to weed?

With the legalization of cannabis came all of these educational components that were missing for so many years. Before, I’d eat a weed cookie, and I’d be on a plane thinking I was at the movie theater. When the movie ended, I’d get up to leave only to find out that I’m actually on a plane. Now you can microdose. Microdosing is taking minimal amounts so you’re not overdosing on that THC feeling. Everybody’s coming out with different versions to treat people. I take a gummy every night to sleep.

Ari Michelson

How often do you work out?

Pretty much every day. I just like to feel strong, and now it’s part of my mental strength. Sometimes when I work out, I take a THC capsule to get in the zone. I also meditate every day.

What inspired you to get into meditation?

Meditation always annoyed me, and people talking about meditating annoyed me. I tried with my psychiatrist several times. He made me short recordings and long recordings, and then I’d meditate. Sometimes I’d just masturbate. They both start with m, and your brain lets you relax after each one, so who cares? Anyhow, one day he told me to commit to three months of meditation. It’s been over a year now. I like it first thing in the morning because it sets you up for the day. Like, it sets your intention. Be kind, be patient, and don’t react to everything. Nothing is really that important.

Do you have a healthy relationship with food?

No. I’ve had a terrible relationship with food. I eat chocolate in the middle of the night. I’m awful. I stand in my kitchen at my refrigerator and eat out of the fridge. I had terrible examples of eating growing up. My mom always had an Almond Joy in her purse or nightstand. She always made a huge pot of macaroni and cheese as an afternoon snack. So I was all out of sorts when I moved to Los Angeles. I’ve basically experimented with every eating disorder there is. I never stuck to anything, which is the good thing about me not sticking to anything— I never see anything through. It’s tough being a woman. I try to set a good example, but sometimes I’m not being a good example.

How so?

I took water pills for, like, 20 years. The pills kind of drain your fluids, so you [look] thinner and leaner. That was a problem for a long time. I took them way longer than I should have. Luckily, I didn’t do any major damage. Now I’m the healthiest I’ve ever been.

Where would you like to see yourself in five years?

I’ve never been a planner, but I’ve started to be more thought-oriented with what I’m doing in my professional life—what I’m putting out into the world. I don’t want to do things for paychecks. I want to do things because they’re powerful and they’re going to inspire others.

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