Unhealed wounds, a thirst for unavailable men, and years of seeking salvation in temporary homes found 21-year-old Kristin on the doorstep of a decade’s older sugar daddy. She thought her life was finally about to begin but dating Bradley was not the fairy tale she expected. 

When Kristin’s dangerous binge of sex, substances, and scandal landed her in a detective’s office, she didn’t suspect that the toughest questions would be the honest ones she had to start asking herself. Kristin Birdwell’s new book, Sex, Drugs, & Soul, is the true story of one woman’s healing quest to discover grace within the shadow side of her psyche and behaviors.

Forced to come face-to-face with her tendency towards people-pleasing and self-abandonment amidst grief and abuse, Kristin finally realized what she truly had been missing: Herself. 

Hey Listeners, my name is Drew Appelbaum and I’m excited to be here today with Kristin Birdwell, author of Sex, Drugs and Soul: Finding Grace in the Shadow. Kristin, thank you for joining, welcome to The Author Hour Podcast.

Kristin Birdwell: Oh my god, thank you, I’m already tearing up.

Drew Appelbaum: Well, why don’t you kick it off for us and maybe just tell us a little bit about yourself and maybe where you’re at right now in life. 

Kristin Birdwell: That’s a big one. I’m really at this place of self-love and really coming into my own story ownership, and this has all been part of the journey. A little bit about myself and the book and journey: There came a time where I experienced so much loss, pain, and chaos that I felt like they had to be teaching me something. So, I started looking for the lessons, and it’s just been always this calling, to want to write a book too. And finally showing up and honoring that.

So much so that now, it’s come full circle and I help guide other people through this beautiful memoir, vulnerable, healing process. And I absolutely love it. So that’s where I’m at here, today.

Drew Appelbaum: So, why was now the time to share your story? Was there something really inspiring out there for you? Did you have an ‘aha’ moment?

Kristin Birdwell: I think that I really just felt as if I came home to myself, and that my story could be a lighthouse for others experiencing darkness. I think that COVID was a big chrysalis in a sense, or it could be. Mental health is coming more to the light or how important that is. So yeah, that’s been a huge factor as well.

Making the Pivot

Drew Appelbaum: Now, the book is just a part of your life story, so you know it well. But sometimes, when you really dig in to try to retell your story, authors will come to hone and have some major breakthroughs and learnings. Did you have any breakthroughs, learnings or pivots or mindset changes during your writing journey?

Kristin Birdwell: For sure. I’m going to say, chaos was the catalyst, I think that the part of my trials—there was a moment where I was being interviewed by detectives and that was like, “Okay, I’ve got to make some different choices here. I need to get a little bit more conscious about this and approach it with a little bit more curiosity, too.” 

Like, “Why am I acting this way, why am I attracted to this certain behavior or person?” And bringing that to the light and surface. That was definitely the all is lost, dark night of the soul moment that forced me to recon with myself and get honest with my answers, honestly. With the questions that I was asking.

Drew Appelbaum: When you said, “Okay, I’m going to write this book, I’m going to put it out there.” Who in your mind were you writing this book for? 

Kristin Birdwell: A younger version of myself. Yeah, or anyone in that wheelhouse. If I could whisper to her…

Drew Appelbaum: Now, some of the topics in the book would be considered taboo by some. So, was there any hesitation to be completely honest and vulnerable while telling your story, did you have hesitation in telling some of the stories in the book or anything along the line?

Kristin Birdwell: Absolutely. I could kind of sense how, especially coming from me, a super uber conservative, religious upbringings, in the Bible Belt. I felt like, “Okay, this might press some buttons of some people that I grew up with.” Talking about the great sugar daddies or talking about anything in the sex-substance scandal realm. But I also think that if it’s polarized, it can be effective in bringing someone to an edge that they may need to cross or analyze for themselves, too.

Drew Appelbaum: So, let’s dig in to Kristin. Start us in the early days, what was childhood like for you?

Kristin Birdwell: Always adventurous, exploring, wanted to know the inner workings of things, definitely a tomboy, you would say. Getting dirty, running around with friends about in the pasture, living in my imagination, honestly. Jumping from hay bale to hay bale or being on the couch — and I know my mom didn’t like this — and jumping from furniture to furniture and imagining that the floor is lava or sharks.

So, living in my imagination a lot because we didn’t have a lot, but that didn’t limit us. So I think that that helped foster our imagination.

Drew Appelbaum: What was your relationship with your parents like?

Kristin Birdwell: I love my parents so much. Yeah, I would definitely say I was a daddy’s girl. I’m sorry, so emotional. My mom is my best friend and that’s — we had some rocky years, definitely through the teenage years, but such a rock and so supportive. I probably needed something different at that time from my dad as far as communication or physical touch, just to reiterate that now. 

But I also see that it led to those points of discovery. But I also do know that they were doing the best that they could at that time. Definitely a loving relationship, and caring, even if it wasn’t always verbalized.

Drew Appelbaum: The book begins with a short evolution to you ending up at the doorstep of a sugar daddy named Bradley. So, set the baseline for us. What is a sugar daddy for those who don’t know, and then, maybe talk us to what brought you to that doorstep?

Kristin Birdwell: “Sugar Daddy” is typically someone that’s going to be older, wealthier, and could take on a mentor role too. In the book, I think I say something like, “They build a gap with, money, cars, condos, trips, whatever.” I saw this Dr. Phil episode of warning about the dangers of having a sugar daddy and I was like, “Ooh, I like older men anyway! Let me just explore this.” 

I’d ultimately say that a call for adventure led me to the doorstep, wanting to explore, to have my own stories to tell. I didn’t come from financially, so I was like, “Oh, let me just—this sounds like someone that can sponsor adventure.” And if I liked older guys anyway, it just kind of seems like it’s a fit.

Bradley

Drew Appelbaum: So what were the early days like with Bradley?

Kristin Birdwell: I would say, it was a little bit tumultuous from the start and there was definitely that element of sex, drugs, rock and roll, that whole vibe too that was definitely a factor. But then it was also like, fairytale and whimsical. A week or so after meeting, he invited my best friend and I down to Mexico, with him on his dad’s private jet. I don’t even know if I really, really knew that private planes existed then.

I mean, probably, but yeah. Then we’re on the rooftop in Mexico and he’s reciting Shakespeare poetry as the ocean crashes in below, and I’m just like, “Wow. Who is this and is this my life?” Like, “What did I sign up for?” I just fell head over heels in that moment. Also, with now looking back, I’m like, okay, with the life he could provide and the conditioning of someone comes in and rescues you like Disney princess style. So there’s an element of that too.

Drew Appelbaum: You know, you weren’t with Bradley all the time and this relationship went on for a number of years. What was it like when you ventured into the dating world, with Bradley still lingering in the background?

Kristin Birdwell: Yeah. Initially, whenever I first met someone — I was like, so head over heels for Bradley. I think I wasn’t the only one, so I was like, “Oh, so you didn’t want me to see other people. Well, that hurts that you’re going to see other people.” So, I met someone, kind of like star-crossed lovers. And I didn’t think — at the time, I was like, “How do I have feelings for two people at the same time? How is this even possible?” 

Again, probably conditioning and thinking. Because now I feel like it is definitely possible to have love for more than one person in your heart. Initially, I hid it. I was very deceptive, I was scared to be open and honest whenever I met that person because I’m like, “Oh, if I am open and honest then, hey, I am going to let go of this person over here and that someone is going to get hurt,” and I love both of them. 

Eventually, like it always does, it comes to light.  And that person was accepting but I didn’t really know how to gauge or interact with that. So yeah, just a little bit of a rollercoaster. Then leave or depart, Bradley, in some senses, and focus on someone at a time. And hope that Bradley would always come back around, in some sense. Be that full dedicated lover that I wanted him to be. 

I felt like I could see his capacity of who he could be if he really tried, that I have fallen in love with who he was. I had an idea of love, for his greatness. 

Drew Appelbaum: So were there other sugar daddies at any point or was Bradley the first and last? 

Kristin Birdwell: Yeah, there was. This has just been the one that has been the most pivotal. I mean, he showed up for me in so many different ways. I like to say that this book is about the relationship with my three fathers: My biological dad, my stepfather and then the sugar daddy, and just weaving it. He was the one that I think, subconsciously, was trying to repair childhood wounds by my attraction and relationship with him. 

There are other sugar daddies that I dated that I didn’t have as much as an emotional attachment or longing to, if that makes sense, yeah. 

Drew Appelbaum: Years later, ended up in California, but your dad ends up getting a cancer diagnosis and you end up moving back closer to home. How tough was that decision, and did that diagnosis change you in any way? Did it change him in anyway? 

Kristin Birdwell: I immediately was like, “I’ve got to go back home and be back with my dad.” I felt like time was fleeting and that I really needed to soak that up, and I didn’t know if I would forgive myself if I didn’t honor that. I was packed up within two weeks and I’ve got to go home. I kind of felt like California will always be there. Now, with this cancer diagnosis, I don’t know if my dad is always going to be there. 

Self-Healing and Grace

Drew Appelbaum: We’ve gone over sex, we’ve gone over drugs, we’ve gone over family and disease. How do you start to turn the page and heal yourself after everything that you have been through at that point? 

Kristin Birdwell: Yeah. Well, when my dad died, that was a huge, catalyst or a slingshot into this spiritual reckoning or journey. Combined with — I remember going to Paris with Bradley and he didn’t leave the hotel room. He was stuck inside drinking and it wasn’t this love story that I thought it was going to be. I remember coming home from that and sliding my suitcase into my closet and collapsing against the wall and sliding down and looking at all of the external, materialistic items that I thought would present this story to the world, or present that I was enough to everyone.  

And I thought of it in a different light, and I was like, “This doesn’t mean anything, not a single item in here.” Obviously this money that I thought was so important — and it is, to some degree — but whenever you see someone of such stature have such depression, the richest person in the world that I knew was also the most depressed, and I was taught to believe that that would bring my happiness. 

So I’m like, “Okay, so let’s rethink some things here.” I really, at that time, also wanted to honor my creative longings, and I wasn’t doing that, and that’s what shifted too. It’s like, “Okay, I’ve got to be — I need to follow that inner longing to write and act and do that. I need to analyze my choices.” Basically, grow awareness around it. So, yeah, then I started doing — reading a bunch.  

I hibernated a lot. I became a hermit to heal. I think part of that was a response to not let everyone think that I was not okay, and to be that vulnerable. But also, in that hermiting time, I did do a lot of self-reflection and journaling and writing and reading and finding my way back to myself. I started like, “Okay, I need to honor this. I’ll take an acting class” and step out and then I would meet someone.  

I started making gratitude lists and journals, even if it was like, “Okay, I was able to get outside of my apartment today, that’s a win.” I was able to go on that walk with my dad and talk to him, that’s a win. Hearing something funny, that’s a win. I am grateful I heard that, it made me chuckle. So, that was some of the key first steps. And then, eventually, yoga and plant medicines, which is the opposite — I feel — of the drugs, but it kind of like plays into it too. 

Drew Appelbaum: What impact do you hope the book and your story will have on our reader, and are there any steps that you’ll hope that they’ll take in their own life, either during reading the book or after they finished? 

Kristin Birdwell: If anything, I would love to inspire grace for their journey. There was one lesson that they could walk away with, it would be grace. I see grace as compassion towards one’s self, and forgiveness, and really looking at your past actions through the reflective lens. Having that compassion and unconditional love and acceptance for yourself, and bringing that to the light. 

Then I feel like once you do that to yourself, you can also do that to other people. Look at them with the compassionate lens; you never know what someone else is going through. As far as steps, sit with yourself. Be curious I would say is a step, ask yourself questions. I think that there is a huge power and story ownership and taking ownership of every step that led to where you are today because you’re taking this personal responsibility.

Then, from that point of personal responsibility, you can make different decisions. You can grow your awareness and reflect on why did you, what was the origination of these wounds or actions or decisions? And shift and pivot. That is easier to say though, than put into action. 

Drew Appelbaum: Now, you also have your own website and what can listeners/readers find there? 

Kristin Birdwell: Definitely. If you sign up for my email list, I have some bonus chapters and some insights and revelations that were after the ending of the book. So, if you sign up for the email list, you get the bonus chapters. Then, there is some different blog posts and all of that, where talk about how memo writing is brave and how it’s a warrior’s path and there’s some tips as far as defining your key message in writing a memoir, your “why”. 

I’d get clear on your “why”, there is a few different tools on there. And then if you — I mean, just give me a shout. I have this memoir mapping tool, I call it, like the story Atlas where you can — I give you guide posts of defining the key turning points in your life and getting your “why”, which is kind of like the North Star. 

Drew Appelbaum: I like it, hitting the keywords. And what is the address of the site? 

Kristin Birdwell: Oh, kristinbirdwell.com, that is a good one to throw in there, kristinbirdwell.com. 

Drew Appelbaum: Well Kristin, we just touched on the surface of the book here. I didn’t want to give too much away, but your story is incredible. I just want to say thank you for being so open and vulnerable in putting this book out there in the world, to help others by telling your story, and that’s no small feat. So, congratulations on having your book published.

Kristin Birdwell: Thank you.  

Drew Appelbaum: Kristin, this has been a pleasure and I’m excited for people to check out the book. Everyone, the book is called, Sex, Drugs and Soul, and you could find it on Amazon. Kristin, besides checking out the book, besides your website, is there anyway else where people can connect with you? 

Kristin Birdwell: Oh yeah, you know you can find me on Instagram, @kristinbirdwell and then I’ve tried to ramp up my TikTok creativity but mainly Instagram and my website. 

Drew Appelbaum: Awesome. Well Kristin, thank you for giving us some of your time today and best of luck with your new book.