Leah McSweeney 'Healed Some Wounds' on 'RHONY' and Now She's Ready for Her Next Chapter (Exclusive)

'The Real Housewives of New York City's Leah McSweeney reflects on her time on the show and life before Bravo in her new memoir.

Leah McSweeney calls her experience on The Real Housewives of New York City "karmic destiny." 

"I mean, I was so triggered so much of the time," she tells ET of her two seasons on the Bravo hit. "I'm like, 'I'm 13 years old again on the Upper East Side, feeling weird.' That's what it was like."

"I think I did get to heal some wounds there, I really did," she adds, reflecting on the parallels between her time with the women of RHONY and her childhood spent in Manhattan's private schools. An independent misfit, Leah's spent much of her life seeking out (and often struggling to find) community in the strangest of places. It's the subconscious reason why she likely said "yes" to Housewives in the first place; the show was another "why not?" moment for the 39-year-old unconventional entrepreneur, many of which she unpacks in her new memoir, Chaos Theory.

"[The book] opened me up," she says. "Having to relive my expulsion from [my school] Sacred Heart, my drug addled years in Connecticut, torturing my poor family and having them throw me out, and having to make my way on my own to then creating [my brand, Married to the Mob], having [my daughter] Kiki, still struggling with alcohol... I forgot how much I had been through, and it broke me down writing the book. I've had to build myself back up, but it's great because once you break, you can build yourself back more beautifully."

"The book helped break me, in a good way," she adds. "I think that I often take for granted that I didn't die during those years. I think I also took for granted the love of my parents, them throwing me out of the house. Some people might think it's cruel. It was what they were doing to save my life. Had they not thrown me out, had I not ended up at that therapeutic community run by nuns, had I not ended up living in the halfway house, maybe I wouldn't have met [Kiki's father, Rob Cristofaro]. Maybe I wouldn't have had Kiki. That was the flap of the butterfly wing, that one decision changed everything. When I look at my life, I really am like, God has been taking care of me. That's how I feel."

Leah says she's just now unpacking the "shame" she's unwittingly carried around with her since her teen years, when her parents moved her from the city to Connecticut, where she drifted into drug abuse and began her back-and-forth journey with sobriety. It's a topic that informed her story on RHONY, but was never fully explored on the show.

"I just didn't talk about it," Leah admits. "First of all, it's my story to tell. I don't want it to be edited in a certain way. I remember actually my first reunion -- well, my only reunion -- Andy [Cohen], one of the questions was, 'Leah, you say that you used to do drugs and your parents kicked you out. What drugs were you doing?' I said, 'I'm going to respectfully not answer that.'"

"It was a really dark time, so I don't think anyone really knew," she continues. "I mean, my close friends know and stuff, but I don't think anyone who would see me on the show, whatever, [would] be like, 'Oh yeah, she was definitely smoking angel dust at age 16...' or whatever I was doing, it was pretty bad."

Harper Wave

Leah unloads all the gritty details in Chaos Theory. It's the first time she's been able to properly explore her own story in her own words. "Everything is a work in progress," she reflects. "It's still like, 'Oh my God, crystal meth?!' That's really bad.' I'm still like, 'What the f**k?!'"

"I turned my life around," she says. "I really turned it the f**k around. A lot of people I know from back then did not get the chance to do that. I also turned a lot of negative things into positive things for myself... I made a lot of bad choices, but then I made a lot of really right choices for myself."

Housewives viewers met Leah at a different point in her life, though she had begun using substances again just before signing onto the show after a nearly decade-long sober stint. She opted to get sober again as her debut season on RHONY started to air, at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. Somewhat ironically, Leah's drunken moments during season 12 turned her into an instant fan-favorite. Then, in her sophomore season, the tides turned. While she really hadn't changed much (outside of stopping drinking), the audience's reception of her did.

"It was upsetting," Leah shares. "I mean, look, I had someone in person be like, 'Oh my God, the way you were edited so annoying last season, but Luann [de Lesseps] told me you're cool.' I wanted to be like, 'What? F you. I'm a human. I'm not a character.' You know what I mean? I'm not a character that's on a show."

"I think that season 13 was doomed in so many ways," she adds. "I'm standing by, we all did our best. I'm sorry if people were not entertained, we had important conversations that we needed to have. There were five of us, there was nothing open in New York City. My grandmother died and I did not want to be filming. I was suffering from depression and anxiety. I was literally having panic attacks during that whole [season]."

Viewer's perception started to shift during an ill-fated trip to the Hamptons, during which the women stayed at Ramona Singer's estate. What was just a three-day trip stretched out over a month of episodes, amplifying smaller moments into drawn-out storylines.

Heidi Gutman / Bravo

"I was only in the Hamptons for three days. It went on the show for four or five weeks," Leah reiterates. "So, I understand by the end of it, you're like, 'Leah, shut the F up and just go home to your grandmother.' But it's like, I was only there for a few days, it just seemed very long, but I think people were vile. People were vile to all of us and it was like, you were either on one team or the other, but all of us got s**t and it was ugly. I think it showed the kind of mental state that people were in, in our country."

The season ended in shambles, becoming the first of Bravo's Housewives shows to not wrap things up with a cast reunion. Then, there were leaks of behind-the-scenes issues, reports of investigations into potentially racist behavior by Ramona (she was seemingly cleared of any wrongdoing) and tabloid reports about the cast wanting to freeze out newbie Eboni K. Williams, who brought those "important conversations" Leah mentioned to the screen as the show's first Black Housewife.

Now, seven months since RHONY last aired, Leah hopes fans can look back on the season that was as being better than they remember.

"A lot of ugliness obviously happened after we were done filming for one reason or the other, but in my heart, I'm going to remember season 13 for that last episode, because I want to keep it positive," she shares. The last episode saw the women return to Ramona's Hamptons house for a dinner where they each dressed up as one another.

Leah continues that positive thread in Chaos Theory, sharing the lessons she learned from each of her castmates during her tenure on the show. For example, she thanks Luann for showing her the beauty of conversation and Dorinda Medley for the shrewd business advice of not letting the show become your everything. 

"Listen, I gave everyone from the show their flowers in my book," she says. "I could also write a paragraph on why they're s**ty sometimes, but we're all human... [The viewers] need to humanize us a little more, I really think, because we all have good and we all have bad. We're on TV, opening our lives to you."

"I don't know what's happening with the show going forward, but I know that I just want to keep everybody in my mind and know all the good things and all the good qualities about them, because not everybody's a f**king monster, not everyone's a hero and that's just life," she notes.

Sophy Holland / Bravo

Just ahead of her press tour for Chaos Theory, Bravo shocked Leah (and viewers) with the news that RHONY would be coming back... with an all-new cast. The legacy stars will appear on a spinoff of sorts, tentatively called RHONY: Throwback

"I was like, 'That's weird timing guys, OK? Can I just have my moment please?' No, I was like, 'I think it's a super cool idea. I love it,'" she shares. "I obviously don't know if I'm being asked back. I don't know if I'm going to be on one show or the other. I have no idea and I'm also just cool with it."

"I mean, look, the old crew, do I love fighting with Ramona sometimes? Yeah, but do I also think that I know a lot of bada** chicks in New York that maybe would be on the new one? Yeah," she reveals. "So, I don't know."

For now, Leah's focused on her personal growth. She recently completed her conversion to Judaism after a nearly two-year process.

"Today, I feel grounded," she shares. "I had played around with that idea [of converting] since my early 20s. It took me 20 years to do something that I wanted to do, that is part of reclaiming my life. Making my life what I want it to be, taking action and doing the right thing."

"I also feel just super spiritually connected more than I have in a very long time," she adds. "Look, the last couple years have been difficult. I mean, there's been a pandemic. I ended up on national television right before a pandemic started. I relapsed after 10 years of sobriety. The last few months especially, I have realized that I can't ever ignore myself again. I cannot ever ignore who I am and I cannot ever internalize other people's perceptions of who I am ever again."

Leah turns 40 later this year, and while she's not one to plan for the future, she is reflecting a bit on what she'd like to accomplish (at least short-term) in her next decade.

"Honestly, I just want to spend time with my daughter," she says. "She's going to be a sophomore next year. I want to spend as much time with my family as possible. We have a lot of years that we're making up for -- that's the other thing! I realized how much I missed out on when I wrote this book, so I'm spending a lot more time with my family, a lot. My grandmother's passing really made me rethink my relationship with my parents and stuff, too. But you know what? I just want to continue to be fearless. I want to continue to go out of my comfort zone, say yes to everything, and just live life like I may die tomorrow because we have no idea. We're all so lucky when we wake up in the morning."

Chaos Theory is available now wherever books are sold. To see if Leah is coming to a city near you on her book tour, follow her on Instagram for updates.


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