ABC radio announcer Mary-Lou Stephens
ABC radio announcer Mary-Lou Stephens

Sex, Drugs and Meditation from the heart of Mary-Lou

WHEN ABC Coast FM music programmer Mary-Lou Stephens started toying around with the idea of writing a book she sought advice from a serious literary agent who told her simply to "get honest".

So she did.

The result, Sex, Drugs and Meditation, couldn't be any more revealing than if she had stripped bare on Maroochydore's Aerodrome Rd and started flaunting her bits.

However, it is not an excruciatingly painful dissection.

What emerges from the story of her life is that the author is brutally honest, can genuinely write - the book is seeded throughout with clever word combinations that immediately make sense - and that whatever situation you may find yourself in it will pass, if you let it.

Sex, Drugs and Meditation - A Memoir is more than a clever title, it lists accurately the key elements of a story that could only be told, Mary-Lou says, because it has a happy ending.

There is no masking the painful journey the former Tasmanian singing, song-writing, bass guitar-playing thief, binge drinker and heroin user took to get there.

Before the Sunshine Coast launch at Annie's Books at Peregian, Mary-Lou said people who had read it told her they could relate to the story but would not have been brave enough to expose themselves.

They were grateful that she was.

"It's a story of transformation that can give people hope that whatever they've done, or gone through, they don't have to be stuck in it,'' she said.

"I've moved beyond so much of the stuff in that book.

"When I got the deal (with publisher Pan Macmillan) I was terrified for a while that I would have to deal with whatever judgments people made.

"But I figured those would not be about me but about what they were going through."

The day after she signed the deal she was not so certain.

"I wailed,'' she recalled. "People are going to know I stole from a charity.''

Her husband's reminder that she had given it all back calmed her nerves.

Mary-Lou had always dreamt of becoming a famous singer-songwriter.

That changed when she began writing a column for the Sunshine Coast Daily.

That led to a blog and drafts for a failed novel before the chaos of her own past life led her to meditation and a structure around which she could tell a story worth telling.

"I used to read self-help books and would go straight to the case studies,'' she said.

They fascinated her. When it became apparent to Mary-Lou her life had been changed by meditation, she realised she had her own pretty decent case study.

She pitched the story, which exists in and outside a 10-day meditation "sit" at Dhamma Rasmi Vipassana Centre at Pomona, to Pan Macmillan through its open submission "Manuscript Monday".

Mary-Lou immediately found favour and support from a publisher convinced that meditation was becoming a more mainstream activity.

A portion of the royalties will go to the centre.

Mary-Lou has completed seven, 10-day meditation sits.

She keeps going back, she says, because she gains so much benefit from the process. She admits some can be totally boring, others absolutely wonderful.

That wasn't the case the first time she ventured to Pomona in search of change.

"It is unbearable,'' she writes of day six of that first visit.

"Tears make it worse. They slip down my hot cheeks and when they dry my skin is left tight and itchy.

"My eyes open of their own volition. The straight-backed girl is as cool and as still as ever.

"The assistant teacher sits lightly in her seat. Her cotton clothes drape around her slim form in folds of white and her shawl of thin muslin falls softly around her shoulders.

"She is a calm, smiling totem. No sweat, no frowns and certainly no tears. I want to f**king kill her.''

She sees out the 10-day post Christmas course in almost total silence and returns to work transformed.

ABC Coast FM listeners may be able to identify some of the characters, but I doubt anyone would have guessed the true life story of the bubbly afternoon on-air regular who looks like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth.

"The things you don't know about people you've worked beside for years," colleague John Stokes told me in shocked wonder.

There's plenty more to come.

Pan Macmillan has signed on for a sequel after being re-assured Mary-Lou still meditates, is still married and still walks the walk clear of her past drug and food addictions.

It is the truth of that happy ending which took more than a few twists and turns and a fair bit more pain to reach.

"There are things I would not have got through without meditation,'' she said.


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