In the late '90s, no-nonsense relationship expert Iyanla Vanzant dished out tough love to Oprah Show guests every other Tuesday. But, after more than a year of regular appearances, Oprah and Iyanla's relationship came to an abrupt end.
What caused their rift? Eleven years ago, Iyanla told Oprah and Harpo executives she was ready to host her own talk show, but Oprah felt she needed more time to grow. After that fateful meeting, Iyanla and Harpo parted ways, and Iyanla signed on to host The Iyanla Show, which was canceled after just one season.
In February 2011, Oprah and Iyanla met face-to-face for the first time in more than a decade to begin the healing process. "I hope you saw that conversation because it was a doozy," Oprah says.
After that show, Iyanla says she had a revelation. "You said, 'I heard you,' [and] I want you to know, I heard you too," Iyanla says. "I didn't think you wanted me for me. I thought that what I did was what you wanted and I, the person, didn't matter. ... I love you, my sister. Always have, always will."
Now, Iyanla is back and ready to open up about losing everything...and finding peace in the process.
Iyanla says her life completely fell apart after her talk show was canceled in 2002. She lost everything, including her home, her marriage, her multimillion-dollar book deals, her fortune and her daughter, Gemmia, who died after battling cancer.
Iyanla writes candidly about her downfall in her book, Peace from Broken Pieces. At first, Iyanla says she didn't want to write about her pain and struggles. "I've always been very transparent—exposed a lot and stuff—but this just got real," she says. "I mean, this was DNA-level, core level stuff for me."
"That you thought you'd worked through?" Oprah asks.
"I thought I had worked it through, but I also knew that I was at another level of it," Iyanla says. "It has roots and causes."
Iyanla says her marriage began to unravel while she was still doling out relationship advice on TheOprah Show. Though her every-woman appeal made her the go-to girl for matters of the heart, she says she crossed the line when she brought her own relationship into the spotlight.
During an Oprah Show taping, Iyanla says she made an off-the-cuff comment that seriously damaged her relationship. After a man in the audience said, "Women don't choose a man because he looks good. He's got to have some money because if not, he's going to be by himself," Iyanla responded, "My man ain't got no money. I love him. He ain't got no money."
Iyanla says her husband at the time swears the remark didn't bother him, but she knows it was the nail in the coffin of their relationship.
After that show, Iyanla says other marital problems came into focus. "I'm speaking about my experience, not about him at all," she says. "But my experience was that he became very depressed."
Oprah says she understands how a comment like that could cause relationship trouble. "It's very hard," Oprah says. "The reason my relationship has lasted all these years is because Stedman had his own path and was happy with his path, proud of his path, and wanted me to be everything I could be."
Iyanla and Yemi divorced in 2007, and for years, this relationship expert says she felt like a fraud because she wasn't able to save her marriage. "All things are lessons that God would have us learn," Iyanla says. "When we got married, we had a no-out clause. ... But he changed his mind."
Looking back, Iyanla says she needed to experience this pain to eventually find peace. "He was just a character in God's divine play," she says. "[For] 40 years, I loved this man. I love him today. I love him. I don't choose to be married to him, but I love him. I needed to play it out that way. He was just the leading man."
Iyanla's heartbreak deepened when her daughter, Gemmia, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer on September 11, 2002.
Doctors weren't sure how long Gemmia would live, but Iyanla says she knew her daughter would fight the illness head-on and "affirm life." When Iyanla turned to Gemmia's doctor for guidance and asked if her child would live, the answer gave her hope. "[The doctor said,] 'With God, all things are possible,'" Iyanla says.
Sadly, Gemmia, whose name means "precious jewel," lost her battle on Christmas morning in 2003. Iyanla remembers her daughter's final days with sadness. "She had a disease in her body," Iyanla says. "She had a diseased mind."
Gemmia may be gone, but Iyanla says she's always with her. "She's here," Iyanla says, gesturing to her heart.
In Peace from Broken Pieces, Iyanla writes about zipping her deceased daughter into a body bag. "What a blessing that God allows a life to come through your body, and then allows you to place that body in a body bag and take it out," she says. "I had to say that there's a magnificent something that God has for me to do, to give me that level of completion. That level of experience. It's unspeakable."
When times get tough, Iyanla says she thinks back to the day she buried her daughter. "When I start whining about stuff, I say, 'Wait a minute, Iyanla. You put your baby in a box. You can do anything. Shut your mouth. Get over there,'" she says.
The days, weeks and months after Gemmia's funeral was the darkest period in Iyanla's life. For five months, Iyanla says she stayed in bed. "There was one day when I couldn't breathe. I couldn't sit. I couldn't think. I couldn't eat. I couldn't do anything," she says.
Iyanla's friend Lydia moved in to help care for her. "She fed me. She clothed [me]," Iyanla says. "Then I said, 'Okay, I'm done. I'm complete.'" This was the moment Iyanla says she began to contemplate suicide.
One day, Iyanla says she went into Gemmia's room and grabbed her daughter's leftover prescription drugs. "She was a cancer patient, so she had some pretty juicy stuff in her little medical bag," Iyanla says. "I took the pills and then I went, and I got this pink pearl-handled pistol that I had."
With the medication and gun in hand, Iyanla says she started weighing the consequences of her actions: She worried that if she swallowed the pills and her grandson found her, he'd be devastated. "[I thought,] 'He'll grow up to be a drug addict. He'll be homeless in the projects,'" Iyanla says. Then, she decided not to shoot herself because she didn't want to make a mess.
"So you were at least that rational," Oprah says.
"I think a lot of people who commit suicide just want to end the pain. They don't really want to die," Iyanla says. "I wanted to end the pain."
At her lowest moment, Iyanla says she heard a voice, loud and clear, that said, "Stop being dramatic." "[I said,] 'Was that you, Holy Spirit?'" Iyanla says. "Then I said [to myself], 'You really are being dramatic. Just shut up. Go somewhere and lay down. Go on.'"
Soon after, Iyanla says she awoke from her depression. "I was asleep," she says. "I was awake now, and it hurt."
Iyanla says two life events helped her begin the healing process. First, she was asked to be on a television series called Starting Over, which pairs women experiencing difficulties with life coaches. "Michael Beckwith told me that when you're in grief like that, just do something in the name of that other person," Iyanla says. "Gemmia had dedicated the last 12 years of her life to working with me and working with women. So I knew I'm going to do Starting Over in Gemmia's name."
The second life-changing event happened in the produce aisle of a grocery store. Iyanla calls this her "broccoli breakdown." "Gemmia's favorite vegetable was broccoli. ... I walked into the supermarket, saw the broccoli and I literally had a psychotic break," she says. "I laid on the broccoli and just began to weep."
Iyanla says a produce manager rushed over and asked if she was hurt. "[I responded,] 'Yes, I'm hurt all over my body,'" she says. "When I was finished, I got up, picked those [broccoli] spurs out my nose and walked right out the store."
In addition to grief and heartache, Iyanla also experienced financial ruin. At one time in her life, Iyanla was receiving million-dollar checks from publishers, but over the years, she lost it all. "I didn't really have a clear understanding of the value of money other than you need it, you get it, you spend it," Iyanla says. "I had six bank accounts, and I didn't know what they were for, where the money was."
Iyanla was so used to living paycheck to paycheck, she says she was a millionaire with a welfare mentality. "The pathology, the pattern for me was that, in order for me to get money, all money had to be gone," she says. "The day before payday, you're looking for pennies and borrowing money. That's how I was. All money had to be gone before more money could come in."
When Iyanla was a 21-year-old single mother of three, she says the extent of her financial education was a banker teaching her how to write a check and fill out a deposit slip. "I thought I was doing something good having an accountant," Iyanla says. "I didn't know it wasn't the kind of accountant I needed to have."
Once the money started coming in, Iyanla remodeled the modest home she bought before she started appearing on The Oprah Show. But, she says she was forced out of her dream home when her mortgage payments ballooned. "I didn't know anything about buying a mortgage," she says.
Iyanla says she also bought a building that needed to be renovated, but she didn't get advice from her accountant and ended up owing taxes she couldn't afford. "I made so much money on [Oprah's] show in an hour," Iyanla says. "I didn't have the right kind of support. I didn't know."
Then, Iyanla's talk show was canceled, and she says she had no way to dig out of debt. "When The Iyanla Show went down, they tell you Friday, you're out of work on Monday, and you can't go to the unemployment office trying to get a check on that," she says. "Friday you're making a million, and Monday you're making nothing."
One year after losing her show, Iyanla's publisher ended her contract, and she was sued for the money she received as an advance on her book. Between the lawsuit and the owed taxes, Iyanla's new accountant advised her to file for bankruptcy. "My mind was like, 'I owe people money, and I'm not going to pay them and I didn't want to do it,'" Iyanla says. "But there was no way I could pay back."
At the time, Iyanla says she had a staff of 21 employees and a mortgage payment. She also owed the IRS $30,000 a month. "I would wake up on the first of the month owing about $84,000 a month, every month," Iyanla says.
Iyanla knew it was time to start over.
How did Iyanla begin to move forward? "I rent instead of own. I shop at Wal-Mart. I do a lot more of my own cooking," she says. "I have a new normal. I have a lot fewer needs. I have absolutely no savings. I wouldn't say that I'm broke. I would say that I'm working class poor. I don't look like I'm dying of starvation."
Iyanla now fills her life with things she says are more fulfilling, like scrapbooking and making her own soaps, which she sells locally. "It's something that I do not do to become rich and famous but simply for the joy and the peace of it," Iyanla says.
These days, Iyanla says she has "peace on the inside and the outside." "Before I think I had it on the outside, but there were rumblings on the inside," she says. "So I learned what to do to keep myself peaceful." Instead of living from check to check, she's living prayer to prayer.
"I don't need a check," she says. "I got a God, and that is the peace that allows me to be okay right here right where I am."
Iyanla believes she had to write Peace from Broken Pieces to get her started on the next leg of the journey. "People are suffering all over the world and in our country and like me, I think many of us have to learn that it's not about things and it's not about money. It's not about your doingness," Iyanla says. "It's about your beingness."
Now, Iyanla is ready to start living the rest of her life and would like to help families dealing with problems that get passed down from generation to generation. "What God has for me, it is for me. As it unfolds, I'll accept it," she says. "That's what it's about for me. I now know how to receive."