Mia St. John is determined to fight for others.
The former boxing champ, who has spent decades swinging back at the obstacles that have been thrown her way, has recently written a book titled “Fighting for My Life,” where she details her struggles with alcoholism and the tragedies she endured. Her 24-year-old son Julian, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, passed away in 2014. And in 2019, the 54-year-old lost her ex-husband, “Young and the Restless” star Kristoff St. John. The actor died at age 52 from heart disease with alcohol being a contributing factor.
St. John spoke to Fox News about losing the loves of her life, getting sober and how she wants to help others today.
Fox News: What inspired you to write this memoir now?
Mia St. John: This is a book that I’ve always wanted to write, but I never had the chance to do. After the death of my ex-husband, I got a call from my agent who asked me if I was interested in writing my memoirs. I thought it would be a good opportunity to tell my story. And I wanted to set the record straight on what we went through as a family.
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Fox News: You’ve been very candid about your journey. Looking back, what would you say drove you to drink?
St. John: I grew up with an alcoholic father so my family life was very dysfunctional… I was 10, 11 years old. I remember the night I broke into my dad’s liquor cabinet because I wanted to know, what is it about this stuff that made my dad so crazy? Why does he love this stuff so much?
It perplexed me. And I decided at that moment I was going to see for myself. I quickly saw it on my first drink. I was all of a sudden comfortable in my own skin. I felt confident. I felt good. I felt all the things that you tend to feel when you start drinking. You get this feeling of confidence and control. It was amazing, but it was also short-lived. And you had to continue to maintain that feeling.
Fox News: Could you recall the moment when you realized you needed help?
St. John: I was young. I was about 19 and had a boyfriend who was a lot older than me. He was in AA and I would party a lot. He noticed it and said, “I think you need AA. You’re an alcoholic.” I remember I told him, “No, you’re crazy. I just like to party.” I never really thought of myself as an alcoholic.
But every time I had a problem, I got extremely drunk. I remember I crashed my Toyota pickup truck, my little red truck, when I was 19, into a payphone. I called my father and I remember very vividly that I tore off the wall of like this 7-Eleven. I realized at that moment, “I’m going to die. I’m going to die eventually from this.” It was the next day that I walked into AA on my own. I just knew there was a problem here.
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Fox News: Your book described how sobriety is a work in progress.
St. John: I stayed sober for 30 years after that. It’s continually working on yourself, making amends and promptly admitting when you’re wrong. It’s not just leaving the alcohol behind. You have to fix your light. You have to work on your character defect. It’s a long road. It’s not an easy road, but it’s a worthwhile road.
Fox News: You lost your son, who was so young. What do you think kept you going?
St. John: I don’t know if I was so strong. Kristoff and I went into a deep, deep depression. I didn’t drink initially after my son died because I knew if I did, I would die 100%. I would drink myself to death. The depression and grief were that great… We lost our only son. You never recover from losing your child. You learn to live with it. You learn to go on. But the grief never goes away. And I didn’t lose my sobriety until his father lost his battle with alcoholism. He just couldn’t accept what had happened to our son.
Fox News: According to your book, Kristoff was bipolar. And yet, he struggled to make sense of your son’s mental illness. Why?
St. John: You have to understand that Kristoff was an actor. He had been acting since he was seven years old. That’s what he knew. I was educated in psychology. That was my major in school. That’s what I got a degree in. So I already knew about mental illness. I knew about schizophrenia. For uneducated people, it’s hard to understand how someone with schizophrenia hears voices, has hallucinations and delusions. My son had paranoid schizophrenia. He seemed like a very normal person with exception to the delusions and the voices.
When they tell you to F off, you think they’re talking to you when they’re not. They’re talking to someone who’s in their head or that they see. My ex-husband thought, “He’s just a spoiled child. He’s defiant.” He didn’t realize that this was a real thing. I was a professional boxer, but I also had a background in mental health. It can be very hard to understand when you’re not educated in it.
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Fox News: You vividly described your last conversation with Kristoff, who described seeing his son Julian before he died. How did you make sense of that?
St. John: Well, there were many moments when Kristoff would call and he was inebriated and crying about his son. But this particular day was different. It scared me. It scared me to the point that I knew something was wrong and this could be the end. I had a signing in Newport Beach for the troops. It was Super Bowl Sunday, which was his favorite day of the year. But I remember I got a call from him saying, “I can’t do this anymore. I just want to die. I want to die. I love you. Tell the girls, call them right now, and tell them that I love them.”
I was hysterical. I kept saying, “No, think of the girls. You cannot leave them. You just can’t. Kristoff, you don’t want to die.” And he said, “No, you’re right. I don’t. But it’s OK Mia. Julian’s here. He’s just going to take me for a walk. I’m going to be OK because Julian’s here.” That set it off because I knew when someone’s dying, they typically see a loved one while they’re going in and out of consciousness. I hung up the phone and called his friend who lived near him. I told him, “You’ve got to get there. Something’s wrong.”
His friend rushed to check on Kristoff, but he wouldn’t answer the door. I begged, “Break down the door.” He called Kristoff’s second ex-wife, who had a key to the place. She got there and they finally got that door open. But it was too late. He was already gone.
Fox News: You wrote how Kristoff was tough on his son. Do you think that weighed heavy on him?
St. John: Oh, I know it did. We put our son in a rehabilitation center for his meth addiction. I was a helicopter mom. Every time my son would call me and said, “Mom, I promise I’ll never do it again. I’ll never do meth again. Please get me.” And I would always say, “OK, honey.” And I would run and get him out. I always found something wrong with the place, which was accurate. There was always negligence going on.
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So I would always go and get my son. One time I called his father and said, “I’m gonna get him out.” He said, “No, you are not. You are enabling him. You cannot get him out.” I didn’t. And our son took his life. He felt that guilt. He felt extremely guilty because he was the one who would not let me get him out. He always blamed himself. He just wanted what was best for our son.
Fox News: You had your first drink in 30 years after losing Kristoff. How difficult was it for you to get sober again?
St. John: It has been an ongoing battle since I lost Kristoff. It’s tough. I have to admit that initially, I blamed Kristoff for the death of our son. But in the end, I told him that I didn’t blame him and that I loved him. Truthfully, he was not to blame because he was doing what he thought was best for our son, which was not enabling him. I get that. But I still struggle with the guilt of initially blaming Kristoff because I knew that played a part in his grief. It’s difficult. The road to recovery is a crooked one. It’s never a straight line.
Fox News: How are you doing today?
St. John: I still have my days. I still struggle. The holidays are always hard. November 23rd is always the hardest day because it’s the day I lost my son. It’s rough. I’ve accepted that I needed to move forward because that’s what my son and his father would want. So every day I have a grateful list. I write down what I am grateful for. I am always grateful for my daughter. I’m grateful for my boyfriend. I am grateful for all the things Kristoff has given me. I am grateful that I am here to tell my story. I am grateful that I can raise awareness of the neglect that exists in our mental health facilities.
I’m still fighting. For example, why do high-risk units still have plastic garbage liners in their rooms? That is what my son used. It wasn’t his first attempt. He had attempted before his death with a plastic bag. And this is a tool that’s used by kids when they’re attempting suicide. So why are these tools still allowed? I have to speak out on this. I have a voice and I want to make a difference in this world. I want to make a change and help other families.
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I’m a retired boxer. I retired at age 49. Kristoff made sure that before he died, that I would be taken care of. And that his girls would be OK. He made sure of that. So today, I have been able to host events with my son’s art. We’ve developed programs for people who are mentally ill, who have suffered from addiction or alcoholism. I’ve been speaking out. And that is a gift. Because we can continue to help so many children in need.
Fox News: What advice would you give to someone who is facing addiction?
St. John: Don’t feel shame. Reach out and get help. There are so many programs out there for every kind of addiction possible. The help is out there. Google it, reach out to someone. If you feel suicidal, tell someone. I know it can be hard, but there are people who love you and want you here. Don’t feel guilty.
And if you think a loved one is suffering, reach out for help. If they get mad, it’s OK. Let them get mad at you. After Kristoff died, I wanted to do what my ex-husband did. I wanted to drink myself to death. It was my boyfriend who called 911. I was held against my will twice. I remember I was so mad at him. I was like, “How dare you?”
But looking back, I’m so grateful. I now tell him, “Thank you.” I was on a path to destruction. I wanted to take my life. And he saved me. So I now tell him, “Thank you for having the guts.” Because he was scared to call 911. He thought, “Oh God, she’s gonna kill me. She’s gonna be so mad.” And I was. I was so mad at him. It ended the relationship. Now, we’re still together after nine years. Because of him reaching out, I am here. So don’t be afraid to reach out. You could be saving a life.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).