‘Real Housewives of New York’ Star Leah McSweeney Is Comfortable in Her ‘Chaos’
The reality TV star talks mental health, addiction and all the bad decisions that led to her personal peace.BooksEntertainment
If you’ve watched even a single episode of a recent season of The Real Housewives of New York, you know there are very few things Leah McSweeney won’t share. But as the born and bred New Yorker recorded the audio to her debut memoir, Chaos Theory: Finding Meaning in the Madness, One Bad Decision at a Time, she found herself questioning her own candor.
“I’m like, why am I saying all this? It was a lot to read everything out loud. There’s a lot of like, super sad and fucked up shit that’s in the book,” she told me over Zoom.
She’s not bluffing. In Chaos Theory, due out on April 5, the entrepreneur, mother and housewife is blunt about…well, everything. With scrupulous detail and a razor sharp sense of humor, she details grappling with addiction, navigating motherhood, and grieving her beloved grandmother Marie amid a global pandemic—all while on camera for a captive yet hypercritical audience. Despite the long-held desire to write a book about her life, McSweeney says making sense of the madness was anything but easy. When asked what part of the process she enjoyed the most, she quips: “Probably not writing it and shooting the cover.”
Thankfully, telecasting traumas and tough truths isn’t new for McSweeney. She came to Bravo fame on The Real Housewives of New York in 2020, just as the coronavirus pandemic drove the masses into lockdown, leaving many of us looking for new ways to cope. Between her streetwear collection “Married to the Mob,” which has been seen on the likes of Rihanna, and her personal brand as a no-nonsense, semi-reformed club-kid with her heart on her sleeve, McSweeney had all the right stuff to see her star rise among the bored and quarantined.
A stylish, sarcastic, and savvy single mother, McSweeney held her own among the RHONY veterans. She made sartorial statements (the instantly iconic Lil’ Kim mugshot dress) at priggish parties, tossed tiki torches in a Hampton’s backyard and raviolis across the table in a Rhode Island eatery, and spouted witticisms that would inevitably wind up on t-shirts and coffee mugs, like, “Don’t talk about my vagina and don’t talk about my mental health!” and “Bitch, I elevate this shit!”
While some deemed her an overnight fan-favorite, many pearl-clutched over her straight-to-the-point approach to conflict, admitted party-girl past, and drinking. As it turned out, reckoning with the latter wasn’t a simple plot point for the reality show. It was just one part of McSweeney’s decades-long struggle with substance abuse
— and she painstakingly parses through both relapse and recovery in Chaos Theory.
McSweeney writes that she began drinking and “doing any drug” anyone would give her when she was a teenager in the nineties. Furious that her parents moved their family from New York to suburban Connecticut, McSweeney made a habit of sneaking out, often returning to the city, frequenting clubs and sleeping on some very questionable couches. As her substance use escalated, she found herself kicked out of her parents’ house, in and out of treatment centers and doing two separate stints at a psych ward—experiences she remembers with equal parts sadness and fondness.
“I had a very positive experience. Not everybody does. I felt fortunate that I was able to get help and I asked for help, which isn’t always easy,” she said.
In her book, she details her personal and professional failures as she continued to commit to sobriety. By 2009, she’d become a mom to daughter Kier, fall in and out of love with Kier’s father Rob (another Housewives fan-favorite), create Married To The Mob, and embark on what would be a nine-year break from all substances. It wasn’t until McSweeney began filming the first season of Housewives that she’d pick up a drink again. Though, by the season premiere, she’d already stopped and has maintained sobriety since.
In a particularly moving chapter, McSweeney writes about losing her grandmother Marie during the pandemic and her second season of Housewives. Fans of the show know of McSweeney’s formerly fraught relationship with her mother Bunny, but she describes witnessing Bunny’s grief at losing her mother as a revelation. Upon saying goodbye to Marie, McSweeney recalled realizing her mother wasn’t just a parent, but a daughter losing her mother and the matriarch of the family.
As she recounts throughout the book, witnessing her mother’s full humanity hasn’t come without decades of difficulty, though it got far easier after she became a mother herself. “I have such a different relationship with my daughter than me and my mother did when I was younger—even though me and my mom are so close now,” McSweeney told me. “But my daughter knows that I’m an addict and an alcoholic. She knows I’m sober and that I’ve relapsed. She knows that I suffer from depression issues and that I am flawed. She sees me as my whole being, for who I fully am.”
Despite her sudden rise to fame and now robust following, allowing audiences to see her in such a raw way hasn’t always been positive for McSweeney. As Bravo kingpin Andy Cohen noted on his own show, there’s also been an influx of new backlash for McSweeney in her sophomore season. She’s received criticism on her political perspectives, her decision to convert to Judaism, one ugly tangle with SNL star Michael Che, and even her sobriety.
“When you’re on a reality show or in the public eye, you’re kind of signing up for this. But at the same time. I don’t think anybody signs up for that. I just think that it shows what a sad time we’re living through. You have to be in a bad place and a really unhappy person to go out of your way to leave a comment on a stranger’s Instagram,” she explained.
Even still, McSweeney remains focused on what’s to come. There’s the release of her book, a new podcast exploring mental health that she’ll co-host with her sister, Sarah, and an upcoming capsule collection for Married To The Mob. As for the next season of Housewives, which has recently seen low ratings and underwent an “internal investigation” following claims of racism, she says: “We’ll know more soon.”
“Soon” would ultimately be this week: In an interview with Variety, Cohen said that Bravo would be “rebooting and recasting” the RHONY series “most likely from scratch” and launching a second RHONY series that would feature the former stars.
“You know that we’re at a crossroads for ‘RHONY,’” Cohen said. “We’ve spent a lot of time figuring out where to go. And the plan that we’ve come up with, I think, is a real gift to the fans.” I suppose we’ll see.
This long-awaited announcement arrives several months after last season’s finale. Tensions between the series’ first Black Housewife, Eboni K. Williams, and longtime castmembers like Ramona Singer culminated in Williams calling for a formal probe after Singer allegedly made “racially insensitive” comments during filming. Not only was the show’s reunion taping ultimately scrapped, many fans also took issue with the season’s commentary on race.
McSweeney has weighed into the conversation publicly, writing on her Instagram during the season airing: “I see all you bravo fan accounts that were bashing bravo for not having a diverse NYC cast but now mad that race is being discussed. Hard conversations are being had and none of us are doing it perfectly. That includes ALL of us. But we are doing it.”
For now, McSweeney says she’s just happy to have time to focus on the release of Chaos Theory and hopes it’ll help readers feel a little more at peace with their own pandemonium. “I really just want people who are struggling with addiction and mental health, not to feel alone,” she said. “And maybe if someone’s feeling politically homeless, I want that person to not feel alone. I just want people to not feel judged by society.”