In this episode of the Forty Drinks Podcast, Gregory Halpen discusses his transformative journey from a tumultuous youth to finding stability and purpose in midlife. Gregory shares his struggles with substance misuse, the allure and challenges of life in New York City, and a life-altering battle with cancer at age 46, which led him to reevaluate his life, ultimately grounding himself and pursuing his passion for the arts more seriously. Gregory’s story is a vivid example of resilience and the power of personal rebirth, offering hope and inspiration to those navigating their own midlife transitions. Join Stephanie and Gregory as they explore the profound impact of life’s trials and the beauty of emerging with a renewed sense of direction and fulfillment.

Guest Bio 

Gregory has 30+ years’ experience as a gay men’s leadership coach, solo theater artist, stage & TV actor, and singer. Gregory teaches solo-theater artists how to get out of their head so they can openly create from the heart.

Turning 40, Conquering Cancer and Planting Roots

In this episode of the Forty Drinks Podcast, Stephanie McLaughlin sits down with Gregory Halpen, who shares his transformative midlife journey from a tumultuous youth and early adulthood marked by instability, trauma, and an ungrounded lifestyle. Gregory talks about the internal conflicts he faced, battling imposter syndrome and past traumas, and how these issues hindered his professional and personal growth. He also recounts a life-altering battle with Hodgkin’s lymphoma at age 46, which spurred a dramatic shift in his perspective and lifestyle.

From battling substance misuse and anxiety to overcoming a cancer diagnosis, Gregory’s narrative is a compelling tale of resilience, renewal, and the power of staying true to one’s passions despite life’s upheavals. He takes us from his time as a tumbleweed to a grounded performer. 

Episode Highlights:

Early Struggles: Gregory discusses his challenging upbringing in a family grappling with addiction and how it shaped his early years.

New York, New York: The allure of NYC and how it played a pivotal role in both the challenges and opportunities in his life, including his repeated moves to and from the city.

Facing Cancer: Gregory opens up about his diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma at 46, describing it as a major turning point that pushed him to truly confront his life’s direction.

Artistic Pursuits: Insights into Gregory’s evolving career in theater and music, highlighting his current projects and how he channels his experiences into his creative work.

Personal Growth: How therapy and personal development have helped him navigate through anxiety, build healthier relationships, and foster a more grounded existence.

Gregory’s story is a testament to resilience, illustrating how therapy, self-discovery, and a grounded approach led to personal and professional fulfillment. It is a vivid reminder that personal rebirth is possible, and sometimes, the most profound growth happens when we find ourselves rooted in our true passions. This episode offers insights and inspiration for those facing their own midlife transitions and seeking a path to a more intentional, grounded life.

If you enjoyed this episode, please consider rating, following, and reviewing the podcast. Your feedback not only helps us grow but also inspires us to bring more inspiring stories like Gregory’s to you. 

Guest Resources

Connect with Gregory on Facebook 

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Do you have the Midlife Ick? 

Download Stephanie’s guide to the Ick to diagnose whether you or someone you love is suffering from this insidious midlife malaise.  

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Gregory: Hi, Gregory. Welcome to the podcast.

Hi, Stephanie. So happy to be here.

Stephanie: And I am so happy to have you. I have to tell you a very, short and I think heartwarming, but also, cringy story. So you're coming to me from the Big Apple. That's right. Yes, New York City, NYC, the heart of it all. When I was 15 years old, my grandfather took my cousin and I to Ireland. All the time, we were growing up he'd go back and forth. He had family back there. We have family back there. And, the first night we got there, we were, we had dinner at this restaurant. We'd seen the Cliffs of Moher that, that morning. We were having dinner at this restaurant and you know, a piano player comes on. And the Irish thing to do is to sing songs, right? You always sing the songs. And so the song New York, New York came on and I thought, aha, that's one I knew a little piece of. And so I started singing along with the old folks. And my grandfather got up from the table, took me by the arm and dragged me up to the front of the room. I don't know, 50, 75 people in this, you know, sort of restaurant ballroom kind of place and put me with the, the piano player in front of a microphone to sing New York, New York. And of course, 15, I have a terrible voice. And as soon as I stood in front of the microphone, all the words evaporated from my brain.

Gregory: Wow. Wow. Oh.

Stephanie: So I have this beautiful, heartwarming, touching, a little bit cringey, connection with just the song, New York, New York. I just, I love it. I love it. The interesting sort of end to that story is that my grandfather had a heart attack and died that very night. And it was, uh, it was a crazy experience. Um, so we, we had to come home. We couldn't finish the trip. But my, two of my aunts took my cousin and I back about eight or nine months later to finish the trip. But, New York, New York, whenever I, you know, talk to somebody in New York, that always just bubbles up for me.

And I love if you can't, you know, if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. And I really think that's kind of a little bit of a, of a lead into your story. Cause you, uh, you have been in and out of New York. You told me you moved in and out of New York 25 times in 25 years.

Gregory: Yeah, I think about that. Right? Yep.

Stephanie: I can't even imagine moving that much.

Gregory: I can't even either sometimes. Even within the city itself, I moved a lot. So, I didn't even count that part. So, yeah.

Stephanie: Oh my goodness. Alright, well let's go back to the beginning. And why don't we start by, talking a little bit about who you were when we come to the beginning of the story. How did you become Adult 1. 0 Gregory? Tell me a little bit about your background.

Gregory: Well, starting from childhood or starting from that area. So I grew up in the, grew up in the seventies and, um, grew up in a standard typical, not typical, well, it's typical family of alcoholics, addiction and some violence and all of that, all of that stuff. And so, um, yeah, so I, I. As best as I could as a child, I navigated through that by, you know, learning different survival skills, coping mechanisms, things that I needed to do to survive certain situations.

And, but I always seemed to find this creative thread through all of that for some reason, because my mom was highly creative. Growing up, she would be doing so many different things. Like she would try to draw our portraits. She would paint the floor black and swirl orange paint over it. So it'd be really funky and cool because the tiles were chipping off. And she would draw Jabber Jaws. I don't know if you know who Jabber Jaws from the 70s and 80s the cartoon shark who

Stephanie: Oh yes. Yes. He just popped into my heart mind. As soon as you said the shark. Yep.

Gregory: Yeah, so she drew like a large version of him on the bathroom wall. So she would do stuff like that. And so I just I I had that I think that was one of one of mine and hers major coping skills, how she coped with stress. And So yeah, that's kind of my childhood in a nutshell.

Um, reached a lot of really cool milestones while I was, like, junior high is when I had my first kiss with a boy in my class. Um, Joey. So that was very important and very significant and something that I still carry with me. Every time I hear the song Suddenly by Billy Ocean, that kind of brings up, you know, Like, New York, New York for you. So, like, Billy Ocean's song Suddenly for me was that moment of when of when that first happened.

Stephanie: Oh, wow.

Gregory: So, that was kind of my childhood.

Stephanie: That's very sweet. Did you grow up outside of New York city? I mean, was New York accessible to you as a kid?

Gregory: It was, but I didn't have access to it. I mean, it was obviously, like, just, like, four or five miles away. but um, yeah, I went, grew up just right outside the city in the Syracuse area.

Stephanie: Okay. Okay. Alright, perfect. Because I, I'm thinking to myself, I grew up in New England and, you know, New York was it, it, it actually felt like worlds away, even though by car it's only about, you know, four and a half hours. But, Boston was an hour from us, so that was, that was sort of my, like the city.

So when you were a kid, did you always intend to go to New York? Were you always enamored of New York or when did that come up for you?

Gregory: Um, 11th grade is when I started to really get into theater and, you know, all of that, getting the lead in the musical and then training professionally, starting in 11th grade, doing summer stock in the 11th and 12th grade. And so that's when I got that taste and I'm like, Oh yeah, yeah, New York City. Cause all these people, all these pros from New York city are here doing summer stock plus or yeah, yeah, doing classes to teach us high schoolers about theater. So it started in 11th grade, I would say the bug for New york city,

Stephanie: And when did you first move down there?

Gregory: Right after high school, as soon as I graduated, maybe a minute, a minute after I was like, I'm out of this house. I'm going to New York In retrospect, I went to New York with all of my baggage, which, you know, which happens. So yeah, that's when I first... that's when I first moved to the city. 1991. 1990 and 91.

Stephanie: Oh my God. You got it. You and I are almost exactly the same age. I think I'm one year older than you. I get it cause I moved to Boston, you know, for college as soon as I graduated high school too. And I think, I think our parallels continue because tell me a little bit about what your twenties looked like.

Gregory: My 20s can be summed up as somewhat of, sort of a hot mess, but there were a lot of really fabulous moments in between. It was, it was about self discovery, coming out of the closet. You know, when I moved to New York City, I was accepted at a American Musical and Dramatic Academy, on Broadway. So I started that. And that's kind of when I came out of the closet. I was sort of out at the end of high school, but when I got to New York City, that's when it was, you know, that's when you feel a little safer and you're like, Ooh, I'm out. So it became such a big deal.

Stephanie: Well, and also, if we can remember back to the late 80s, in, in the smaller cities, it still wasn't very common. It still wasn't very, people weren't very aware and also weren't very always very kind. So I can only imagine that, you know, you might've been out to your friends or maybe to your family, but, but maybe not in a, in a, in a broader way.

Gregory: Yeah, yeah. I mean, even with family, I wasn't, Uh, it was, it couldn't happen because just hearing the stories of my parents and family talking about gay people in violent ways just like kind of added to the trauma. But yeah, so New York City, you're surrounded by theater people and there's just, it's very safe.

Stephanie: Yes. You found your people.

Gregory: I found my people.

Stephanie: Nice. You also told me though, you're, you're tiptoeing around the story. You told me you were a pretty big party boy in your twenties. The club scene was hopping.

Gregory: It was hoppin', the Limelight, the Tunnel, the Sound Factory, the Red Zone, Mars, Webster Hall, all of them during the 90s. Like, that was the epiphany, or just the center of nightlife in New York City. It's still around, but it's just not. It's so much changed after

Stephanie: It's not the same

Gregory: Giuliani became, um, whatever. Yeah, I was, I did. I got dressed up in different outfits and, you know, a lot of very outrageous hairstyles and outfits and, went clubbing. It was just amazing. And yes, sometimes drinking got involved. And that was, that was interesting too, just kind of a social lubricant.

Stephanie: Yeah, yeah for sure for sure. Did you ever end up tipping over into a place - you said your background your family background - there was addiction there. Did that ever touch you or in that in that realm.

Gregory: Well, it kind of like when I was in my 20s, I was full fledged in trauma, trauma response mode, just constantly because I didn't know any better. And so I did use alcohol in a sense, like not all the time, but I, I kind of, every time I went out, I would use alcohol as this social lubricant. And sometimes it would get me into situations that you know, just, going to after hours clubs or bars and just staying out all night, staying out until all hours of the morning and just being in those kinds of situations where I was like, okay, wait a minute, something's going on here. But down the road, I realized I didn't really have an issue. It was just more of needing to heal trauma and needing to heal that, that side of me, so, so yeah. So yeah, it did, it did become a little bit of a worry for myself.

Stephanie: Yeah, yeah. Me too. And I'll, I'll jump in here. Cause I'm not just going to make you tell your stories. Right. I, I was, I was a big party girl through my, my twenties and my thirties and, and drank a lot. The, the bar scene, the club scene in Boston, you know, in the nineties was just amazing.

It was so much fun. But I, I, I never, necessarily considered for myself that alcohol was a social lubricant because I'm so gregarious and extroverted anyway that I didn't need it necessarily as the lubrication. But I, um, and if I got, if I never even thought of this question until it just bubbled up in my head now, so why did I do so much drinking?

I think it was just the crowd I hung around with and the, the people I ran with. It's just what we all did. And there were definitely times where I thought to myself, is this a problem? Is this, do I have a problem? And very much like you thought, no, I don't, you know, I could stop for, you know, weeks at a time or a month at a time or, you know, whatever.

I could stop. It wasn't, it wasn't a need. It was not even a want, it was a like, I liked to do it. But I, much like you, there was lots of, drinking to,blacking out, drinking to, like you said, stay up all night and, go to bed when the sun comes up and, there were always great and fun things to do, but it certainly wasn't the healthiest lifestyle.

Gregory: Right. Because sometimes I would, you know, um, have, like, risky intimacy with another guy, when you meet somebody when you're in that place. So you, you sometimes put yourself in risky positions and Yeah, totally. Yeah.

Stephanie: There have been stories, international news stories, as we've seen, through the years of like, this girl, went over here and she, she went to Italy and next thing you know, she's missing and she's, nobody's ever heard from her again. I can't tell you the number of times that I've thought there, but for the grace of God, go I, because I did put myself in crazy situations and I wasn't normally alone. I was usually normally with a crowd of people and crowd of people who knew me and would look out for me. But still there, there were definitely risky situations that I, that I put myself in.

Gregory: How did I escape my twenties and how am I still here?

Stephanie: Yes. How did I survive my twenties We survived them pickled. That's

Gregory: Yes.

Stephanie: survived.

Gregory: Golden brines.

Stephanie: Exactly. Exactly. So, okay. Talk to me a little bit about. then you come to like the age of 30 and you start thinking a little bit about personal development. Tell me a little bit about that era.

Gregory: I think during the 30, during the beginning of my thirties is when I started to, uh, just speak, get more serious about theater, even though in my 20s, I was like, oh, I'm gonna move to the city to pursue that, but it was just really a struggle to do that. Not just because the industry is challenging in itself, but when you come from, you know, trauma and those kinds of experiences, you bring that with that with you. It's almost impossible to, to, succeed in anything unless, you know, you're that one, that small percent that does,

Stephanie: Right. You're the unicorn.

Gregory: Yeah. Yeah So my 30 is I started to take that a little more seriously. And, I met somebody, a friend of mine. Her name is Laurie, and she was going to get her, uh, master's in music therapy and she was going to a therapist and she was doing all this personal development work.

I was like, what's happening. What is, what is that? But the more I got closer with her and the more closer we became as friends, I started to really, um, I was like, wow, I want that. I feel like, like change happens, even though it took me another couple of decades to like, really let all of that sink in. But that's, I think that's the beginning of my personal development journey.

Stephanie: So you saw a friend going to therapy. Did that inspire you to do the same for yourself?

Gregory: Yeah. I started to see a therapist. It was her therapist. I was going, I was trying to see. So yeah, that, that, that was my first attempt at seeking therapy. I went a few times. It didn't take. I went a few times. A lot of resistance. A lot of like, you know just a battle of no, I don't need to do that. I could do it myself. But then you go back and you're like no. Again, so it was like back and forth

Stephanie: Right. And, and a lot of thinking that, you know, the things that the therapist wants to poke around in your background, you think it's fine, It's fine. It's not a problem. And so, so it's not only the resistance sort of on your own part, but also that resistance to like digging into the,whatever picture we have of, of that, that background

Gregory: Yeah, you say it's fine. Yeah, exactly. You say it's fine. But actually your life is kind of crumbling before your eyes, but you still are in that mindset. And maybe it's because definitely of it's avoidance. Or it's like you don't want other people to see it. You constantly tell people you're okay. It's fine. Yeah. Yeah.

Stephanie: Right. and so one of the other things that you had mentioned to me that you were during this period of your life was while you were high energy, you were also ungrounded.

Gregory: Yeah I mean even throughout all of that time. I still kept my eyes on theater. It's always a great gut reaction or an instinct saying don't stop, don't give up, regardless of anxiety, regardless of whatever, just keep going. I was like high energy, the, and even without partying or whatever, I was like the life of the party. I was bouncy. I was like made people laugh, but it was at the expense of, it was like too much. Like, when you're in your 20s, you get away with it being that way. But in retrospect, I was just very, I was very ungrounded. Very, um, just a lot of avoidance. It was all about avoiding intimacy. Yeah. But It was fun nonetheless,

Stephanie: Of course,

Gregory: was jokey. I was jokey. I made everybody laugh and just, it was it was fun.

Stephanie: So you said you couldn't really understand or internalize during this period of, of seeking growth and development, couldn't really understand what it meant to live your passion or to live in a healthy way. Can you remember what those felt like, or, or could you bring that to life a little more,

Gregory: Yeah. That was like, you just on one hand, you're, it's like speaking from both sides of your mouth. When you have, on one side, you're like, you want, you have these ideas, dreams, and you're like really good at something and you want to pursue it. And the other side, It's like, keep, it's like this, um, this, uh, inner critic and imposter syndrome saying, no, what are you doing? Stop it. Mess up that relationship. Alienate people. Isolate. So it's like this, this both energies fighting against each other just kept that, that, you know, kept me from like really moving forward as a performer or as an artist or somebody who wants a relationship with somebody. Or keep friendships,

Stephanie: Oh, talk to me about friendships.

Gregory: Friendships, I don't know. Like, literally talk to you about friendships? It's like, that's like, friendships? I don't know. I didn't know, what it meant to have a friendship, and to cultivate a friendship, and to nurture a friendship. I didn't, I took advantage of that. I took it, I exploited friendships in a way that just benefited me without taking other people's considerations

Stephanie: Hmm.

Gregory: into account. So, it just, it meant living, really, and it was a hard thing that I had to admit to myself. Maybe a few years ago was like, wow, I'm really lonely.

Well, my therapist actually pointed that out. And I just, I just had, I said, Oh my God, you're right. He was like, are you lonely? Um, In a very nurturing way. But, and I was like, yeah, I am lonely? Here I think that I have friendships or whatever, But, I don't.

Stephanie: Oh God. Let's let's yeah. Let's play around here for a little while. Did you also, burn through people?

Gregory: Yeah. Oh, all the time. And like, I, I kind of sabotaged friendships that could have been really lovely today and could have been really wonderful. People believed in me. And, but I, didn't didn't see that. So I took advantage of it.

Stephanie: So I, if I think back to like my photo albums through, I was always the person who had the camera, right? I have all of these like photo albums through the nineties and, and even the early two thousands before we all went real digital.

And, and it's funny to, because you can, you can sort of tell time by who's in the pictures. And for a, for a large sense, and for me, it was mostly women. I had a hard time maintaining friendships with. Men I had a very easy time maintaining friendships with. As a matter of fact, I thought I was much better at relating to men than relating to women. And, and so there was, you know, I don't know, a decade long period where, you know, there were a handful of guys that were sort of like my crew. Or I was part of their crew, however you want to frame that. But, but the women in my life would be a year, two years, by my thirties, I got it up to five years.

There was a woman who was a dear, dear friend for about five years. And, uh, and it just would always break my heart when, when, you know, things would end. And sometimes they just sort of meander off and it would be, you know, everybody's going in a different direction. Sometimes there would be a thing and, uh, you know, when I, uh, an explosion. But it, it always, it always left me really, you know, I don't know, wondering.

But it wasn't until a couple of years, maybe even a year ago, I saw a video from a, a comedian that I watch, Zoltan Katsas. I don't know. I don't, I don't know where I found him. I found him on Instagram. But anyway, he, he was telling this story about when you turn 35, you realize that like, it's the Taylor Swift song, like, oh, hi, it's me.

And he's like, you know, all these toxic friendships I had throughout all these years, you know, he's like, oh man, Dave, huh? And Yeah, I should go back and see Dave because it was me. And, uh, and I had some of that myself that like, yeah, I, I don't think I knew how to be a good friend beyond the social, the party, the fun, the festive, the out and about. I had a girlfriend who we were friends in the mid nineties and then, you know, we kind of, you know, broke up for a while. And fortunately for me, you know, we came back together, you know, I don't know, eight or 10 years later. And, and we were just talking last summer and, and, and sort of talking about that period where we didn't see each other and, and I, I had the courage to ask her, you know, why or what happened from her side.

And she said, I wanted more from you. And I, at that point in time, uh, you know, 28, 29 year old Steph. Just had no idea what more meant or how more would even happen. And even one of her friends said to her, what do you mean Steph's so much fun. She's the best. How could you not, you know? And, and she was like, yeah, but. And, and it, it, yeah, it was a long, long time before I knew how to open my heart up, I think, to friends.

That's I, I, I, I identify with that. You know, like, Oh, you're so funny. Oh, you're so this. And like we, I want more. I want something that's not just that, not just always on. Right.

Gregory: I can

Stephanie: Right. What's underneath it. Yeah.

And I think for me at that time, there wasn't anything underneath it. Like that is who I was. I actually didn't have any depth. There wasn't more.

Gregory: Yeah. Yeah. Oh, that's profound.

Stephanie: All that I was.

Gregory: Yeah. That's huge. I never really thought of it that way.

Stephanie: Actually, I've never said it that way before either. So, so is it really a failing? I don't know that it was a failing on my part as much as it just, I hadn't grown into any more of me.

Gregory: Yeah. sometimes I guess I internalize it as like I just screwed it up or I uh, sabotaged it and, um, But I guess it's just it's, it is what it is. You, you have the tools that you have at the moment and it's all you can, it's all you can do.

Stephanie: Yeah. Yeah.

Gregory: I think I have a regret sometimes, but I try not to live in regret. But I like, oh, there's this one friend who I, who was just through with me. We were friends for a long time. And I feel like I just kept, I don't know, like I kept, being really intense. And I think that's when, you know, it's like okay, that's, that's, too intense. I'm going to step away.

Stephanie: Right.

Gregory: But, sometimes there's regrets too, you

Stephanie: Yeah. Yeah. Oh, I definitely have regrets about women and even men that, you know, I adored and, and, you know, it is what it is.

Gregory: It is what it is. Absolutely.

Stephanie: You're in your thirties and you are working through professional development or personal development and it's not really taking. You're not really, you can't really capture these concepts and put them into work. Bring me up to date to your mid forties. Let's talk about what happens then.

Gregory: So my mid 40s, I think there was a lot more enlightenment, a lot more growth, but there was still a lot of the twenties and thirties to still hang it on for dear life. They, Just want to stay and like when a party, not party, but I didn't really do itthat much, but I just wanted to, they just wanted to continue with the same behaviors and the mindset.

So I think in my forties is when I really attached myself to therapy. It's when I really started to take it seriously and commit to it and really take this risk in unraveling who I am and get there, down deeper into my layers and, and understand the past in a sense.

Stephanie: And what did you start to learn about your past?

Gregory: I started to learn, and it was the biggest lesson of my life, is that I never owned my bullshit. I never, I always, something happened and it was always somebody else's fault, or I never saw myself in the equation. I think that's probably the biggest thing I ever have taken away from therapy so far is to be able to see that.

Stephanie: Mm hmm.Do you think that goes all the way back to childhood? Or like, where, where did that pattern come from?

Gregory: Oh, because I was, I was constantly battling being the target of something happening in my family, excuse me. So I've had to create this coping mechanism of avoidance. Like if I, something happened, which happened all the time, I would have to run to the bathroom, just cry my eyes out in a towel. But that was where I decided like, nope, nobody's gonna see me cry.

It's going to happen here in a towel. And then when I leave the bathroom with no signs of that happening. So that just turned into this whole, you know, not being able to get in. I was crying, but I was throughout all that stuff. I wasn't able to just connect with any kind of healthy emotion. So it was just all about avoidance, all about avoidance.

Stephanie: Interesting. I do a lot of avoiding of emotions as well.

Gregory: yeah, yeah, Yeah, it's like, okay. But it's a lot better today for sure and I feel feel the depth but it's some yeah, sometimes it does creep back

Stephanie: Yeah. Tell me about when you learned you had anxiety.

Gregory: I've always known that I that I have had anxiety and I thought depression was the culprit Maybe five years ago. It's when I realized that anxiety was the culprit, was the main squeeze of the relationship, was the main, the main, provoker. So I would say five years ago, I would say.

Stephanie: Yeah. Well, tell me how it how it, presented itself in your life. What, what was it that anxiety, did for you or did to you?

Gregory: It caused me to overreact. It caused me to be very intense, um, caused me to be as a kid, I was extremely defensive. I talked back all the time. I was very sassy and big mouth. And so I think that's how it manifested most, not just verbally, but just physically and everything. I was just very intense and defensive.

Stephanie: And how did it play into your decision making? Did it? I mean, how, how did anxiety weigh in or where did it place in when you made decisions in your, in your life?

Gregory: Because it would, um, I would react to certain situations in a way that was too intense. So it clouded my judgment and clouded anything that I could see. Or if I had moments of clarity where I made some really cool decisions and tried to pursue something, as soon as I got in there, let's say I started to go back into auditioning for shows and, or creating my own work. And so when I did that, started out great. As soon as I got really deeply into it, that's when anxiety would kick up. And that's when it would cause me to either quit, drop the ball, or just mess it up somehow. So yeah, the anxiety would just do that. It would, um, would force me to do something like that. Drop the ball, quit,

Stephanie: Yeah. Force you to fumble.

Gregory: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.

Stephanie: Do you remember your 40th birthday?

Gregory: You know what? I do not. Do you?

Stephanie: I do. I do. Uh, actually, uh, do I remember my actual 40th birthday? No, I remember that there were different celebrations around my 40th birthday. I knew I wanted to travel. So the spring before I turned 40, we went to Paris. It was me and my parents, two of my best friends and one of their mothers. So there was six of us. It was a multi generational trip. And we went for 10 days. That was just spectacular. So that was like in April and then I'm, uh, my birthday is August 1st and then there was my 40 Drinks Project, which started this whole, this whole process and led to the podcast. But, but my actual 40th birthday, I bet I, I had dinner with my, with my folks. But actually now that you say that I would literally have to go back and look and see what I did on, on eight one 2011. I'm not exactly sure, but I remember the celebrations at any rate.

Gregory: I just remembered actually, like just talking about it, uh, loosen that memory up and I basically threw myself a party

Stephanie: Oh,

Gregory: in Syracuse and a house that I was roommating with, you know, living with people and yeah, I wanted to make it a big deal. I wanted to make it all about cosmopolitans, drinking Cosmos. So made like tons of that. Cupcakes and yeah, there was a lot of drinking.

Stephanie: That sounds fabulous. Actually, it's dislodging for me too. No, my, uh, very dear friend, um, owned a restaurant, here in, in town, down on the main drag. And, uh, in downtown and there was a, an outdoor sort of patio area. And so me and a bunch of friends had gone and we sort of commandeered the patio area.

And I remember that Tom made me this drink that came in a vase, like a flower vase. Like it, it was, you know, there was like X, Y, and Z in it. And then he literally like turned over a bottle of Prosecco and like it, it, and it came with like a couple of like really long straws. And I was allegedly supposed to share it with friends.

Um, I think they might've taken a couple of sips, but yeah, it's, it's, It's dislodging now because I had, broken up with a not great boyfriend, a couple of months before, actually, I think even before we went to Paris. It was a bunch of months before and he, he would. You know, he was like, Oh, maybe I'll show up. I don't know. I was with a bunch of my friends at this, restaurant out on the patio, I'm drinking fabulous drinks. So yeah, there were drinks for me too.

Gregory: Yeah, like Oh God. Cosmos. Had to be about Cosmos.

Stephanie: I totally get it.

Gregory: And red velvet cupcakes,

Stephanie: I mean, it's perfect. It's absolutely perfect. I mean, that's a balanced meal as far as I'm concerned.

Gregory: Exactly

Stephanie: Okay. So by your early forties, your mid forties, you're, you're feeling a little bit more grounded. You're, you're sort of unlocking some of the clues to your background, to your life. Are you seeing a little bit more success, a little bit more traction and professionally and personally?

Gregory: Professionally, no. Personally, yes. Because as I shared

Stephanie: Yeah.

Gregory: bit about my lot of moving in and out of New York City, like many, many, many, many times over the years. One of the times they moved out of the city, I moved to Syracuse and that's where I lived for six years. That's the first time I stayed put somewhere and I didn't move. I just made that commitment to not keep moving. So that was the start of feeling grounded. That was the start of staying in one place as opposed to constantly needing to find something better somewhere else.

Stephanie: Yeah. Yeah. Wow. Yeah. I get that. The, the better. Yeah. And then, um, you turn 46.

Gregory: Yeah, 46, and then I got diagnosed with cancer, Hodgkin's lymphoma, um, while I was living in Utica, one of the many places in an upstate New York where I lived.

Stephanie: Um, I, I'm going to stop you right there for a moment because my dad growing up was, an electronic engineer, like salesman for very high tech equipment. And there was a bumper sticker on a file cabinet in our house that says Utica is gorgeous. G O R G E S,

Gregory: That makes sense. That makes

Stephanie: Which only those of you from Utica will understand.

Gregory: That makes sense. Yeah, it's kind of a gorge, one big gorge.

Stephanie: Right, It's too funny. I'll see if I can find it and post it with this episode. So you get diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Gregory: Yeah, Hodgkin's lymphoma. I got diagnosed with that, and that obviously just flipped my life upside down. And, yeah, it was like, I didn't know what to, you know, you just, you're, you're in shock, and you're numb, and then you start, you get thrown into chemotherapy, and I did that for like six months. And I think that, that chemotherapy is what I think traumatized me even more than having the diagnosis given to me. Um, yeah, so I spent six months just,struggling through that, through chemotherapy. That was, so that was, the, that was the turning point,

Stephanie: Right?

Gregory: Turning point, and a half in my life where it's like, okay, you got to get your shit together right this second. And do it. And after I healed, after a year or two, that's when I said I'm moving back to New York City and this time I'm going to make it all happen. And that's what I'm doing.

Stephanie: You said moving back to New York city though was completely and totally different,

Gregory: Completely and totally different because it was conscious. It was planned. I still moved to the city with hardly any money in my pocket. But I had some, and I had a plan. Before the other 50 million times that I did that, I just moved here on a whim, stayed at a friend's house or just showed up and showed up at someone's apartment and they're like, Oh, you're here and you might as well stay for now.

Um, but this time I had a plan. I knew where I was going to stay. I knew where, how I was going to progress from there. And then to the next step and to the next step and to the next step. That's how I, yeah, that's how I began, began my journey planting roots in New York City. I, this may not be the last stop on my journey, but for now it's been the longest I've ever lived in the city,

Stephanie: Wow. How long have you been there now?

Gregory: Think going out five years.

Stephanie: Wow. Wow. So cancer, chemo. I mean, even just the words, forget experiencing them. It's just so huge and life changing. What, how were you changed afterwards? Besides sort of the sick piece, how were you changed mentally, emotionally, attitudinally? What did that experience do to you?

Gregory: It just forced this resilience in me. Like the anxiety and all the, you know, the challenges I had in the past, they still show up and they will forever. But the difference is there's something different about it where if something comes up, if an anxiety comes up, I just automatically switch into this, this, mode where I'm being proactive. Where I'm moving my body, where I'm doing something creative, where I'm channeling that energy into some, some work that I'm doing. Yeah, essentially that's the biggest part of that.

Stephanie: So as I listened to your story, it feels like, and you said something about putting down roots. It feels like those years through your twenties and thirties, you were a bit of a tumbleweed, right? You were just being blown about, you were, you were at the mercy of wind, really ?

Gregory: You said it. Yeah.

Stephanie: Yeah. And, and now, after you survived cancer, much more intentional. Much more grounded. And you, and you talked about roots, right? So you can't be a tumbleweed if you've got roots.

Gregory: No, you can't be. And it's funny that you mention the wind because in my early 20s, I was dating somebody who owned a salon. I worked for him and I was, I did many things there, but I was very tumbleweedy and he would always make fun of me and say, oh, you live your life like a candle in the wind and you

Stephanie: Yeah.

Gregory: very sarcastically. And that's how it was. You're right. It was very tumbleweedy. And now the tumbleweed has found some ground and it's rooting itself and it's growing really, it's green now instead of brown.

Stephanie: Nice. Nice. That's amazing. So by the time you were in your early forties, you said you had found a little bit more success from a personal standpoint. At this point, do you feel like you're starting to gain some traction professionally?

Gregory: I am. Yes, definitely professionally and creatively, which I try to meld the two together.

Stephanie: What does that look like?

Gregory: Yeah, I've never been this far in everything before. Um, so, um, so always it's been about performing and so I'm just very much, very active in performing as an actor and a singer. I'm, you know, I pursued that aggressively.

As well as, like, I transitioned that into helping other creatives, you know, get out of their own way, you know, work through the stuff that I went through, maybe, a little faster. Maybe, maybe not too fast, because it just doesn't happen like that, it's not overnight, but, you know...,

Stephanie: Right. Right. right. And you have to go through some of it in order to get out of the other side. You can't just go around it. Otherwise, it's going to show up somewhere else. What kinds of things do you perform in?

Gregory: So I have like a night of singing in New York City, just me and the piano. So that type of thing that I'm doing more of. The intention is to keep doing those so I can build something bigger, like doing a concert or doing something just on a grander scale. Um, and coupled with that, I am developing a solo play that is autobiographical that I'm working on. I've been working on it for about a year, working with a coach and a special writing group. And so, yeah, and that's going to go to festivals and hopefully in Edinburgh, Scotland. So it's like, I never, I never, never gotten this far in my performing life at all. Ever. Until, like, over the past several years. It's been truly amazing.

Stephanie: Oh, that's wonderful. Would you consider yourself a late bloomer?

Gregory: Yes. Absolutely. Yep. I've been embracing that more lately. Just. Yeah. Absolutely.

Stephanie: I just finished a book. It's about being a late bloomer. It's a memoir. so I've been really rolling around with the term late bloomer, and there are some elements of my life in which I do believe I'm a late bloomer, but I was also so precocious as a child. So it's hard to, it's hard to sort of reconcile like how you can be so far ahead in some ways as a young person and so far behind as an adult.

Gregory: Right? I can identify with the precocious part. Absolutely. I remember being that way as a little boy. I was all over the place and creative and you're right, like, how is that. How does that go hand in hand? It's so bizarre.

Stephanie: Yeah, I was so good at school. School was easy for me. Reading and writing came so easily for me. I mean, math was always a struggle, but that's fine. Yeah, I mean, my mother loves to tell a story about how when I was in the 2nd grade we had moved to this small town, uh, rural town sort of outside the city we live now. And they, they literally created a gifted and talented program because I was so bored in class that I was getting up. I thought I was a teacher. I was getting up and I was helping all the other little kids with their homework and literally I would call them the little kids. So they created a gifted and talented program to, you know, get me reading and, you know, pulled a couple of the other kids in and, and so it's like, you know, how do you go from being so precocious to like, you know, drinking in your way, partying your way through your twenties and thirties and letting all of the adult decisions, for me, I was just letting all of the adult decisions just kind of like fly by on the freeway while I was kind of like here at the party.

Gregory: Right, we just wanted to maintain that precociousness. We wanted to still be that little kid, right?

Stephanie: Yeah. Oh yeah. That's an interesting, that's an interesting point. Yeah. Right. Cause that was where, where we were successful. Interesting.

So tell me how you feel today and what it feels like to have come out the other side of this particular ringer. Yeah.

Gregory: I will say I feel incredibly grateful. I feel, I feel wonderful. I feel wonderful with still all the stuff that's there, that's been in the past. That stuff is still there. It lives. I make space for it. But what's different is I have goals. I have dreams and those things are happening. That's all it's like those sometimes I have to pinch myself and be like what's happening.

Stephanie: Yeah.

Gregory: That's happening. I'm even dating somebody that where this relationship is going somewhere. It's actually gonna go somewhere. And that's a new thing for me, too. So, so yeah, it just looks like that. It looks like everything's happening and I am I don't know. Sometimes it's overwhelming I can get emotional about it. It's just so incredible

Stephanie: Tell me this though, when you were in your twenties and your thirties and you were, you know, in New York City and you know, live in the high life and the fast life and you know, you were still doing some of the, you know, you're, you're acting and you're, you know, you're performing. And even though you might not have been getting traction, right. You were still involved in it. Did it feel back then like things were happening? Like, did, You know what I mean? Like, cause you're saying now, like, it feels like things are happening. But to me, as I think back of my experience in those earlier adult decades, things were happening. So I'm just trying to figure out like, what's the difference between the things that were happening then and the how things are happening now.

Gregory: Oh my God, that's a good distinction to make. Absolutely. I guess it's just the, it's the receipts. I got receipts. I have like proof. I have like the, um, yeah, it's about the, follow through. It's about following through and no matter what kind of crap comes up, in my head, in my heart and my soul that I'm working through, that I'm staying with the discomfort of it and sitting with it. And I'm not letting that distract me. So five more years past pass by without really going anywhere with my stuff. Whereas in my twenties and thirties, it would just be a constant cycle of starting something, dropping it, starting something, stopping it because it just got too intense. Now, I get uncomfortable. I sit with it. I let it be there. And I navigate it and I put it into my work and I didn't know how to do that before. I had no idea how to inject all of that stuff into my work.

Stephanie: Okay. I want to tell you how profound that is when you said the receipts. So I, I reacted physically as people who are listening might not be able to see, but then your, your next couple of sentences. I had a massive deja vu experience. That's how profound you are.

Gregory: Ooh, let's hear

Stephanie: I was like, I've been here before.

Gregory: Let's hear it.

Stephanie: Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness. I love this because our paths there are so many similarities between our paths that it's when I hear you talking about it, right. And you've said the same thing about a couple of things I've said, like we can really help each other kind of understand that, that time and the change and the shifts.


Gregory: Yeah. I sensed that, too. Definitely a lot of parallels. A lot of parallels.

Stephanie: Yeah. Well, I'm so, just so thrilled to hear about what things look like today and the fact that you have got roots and the fact that you're grounded and the fact that you've got traction, that you're actually, you know, being able to invest in yourself personally, professionally. Um, it's, it's such a wonderful. .... It's an end to our story. It's not an end to your story, but this is where my purview on the40 Drinks Podcast really kind of ends. It is that sort of, you know, after you've come out of that midlife transition and life has set sail again, I'm just so thrilled to hear, how well, you're doing on the other side of it.

Gregory: Thank you. I love what you said about setting sail. That's, that's brilliant. I love that.

Stephanie: It is. It is. Ddoesn't mean you won't, you won't, run into other storms. It doesn't mean you won't run into other challenges, but you're, you're grounded and you just enunciated how you deal with them and able to use them and how you're able to work through them.

And that's that really is what I hope that, people will pick up from, from conversations like this on this podcast about, you know, how to make it through this, this early midlife kind of transition, transformation.

Gregory: Yeah. Awesome. Stephanie, it's been awesome.

Stephanie: Oh, Gregory, thank you so much for being with me.

Gregory: Yes.

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