Paula Deen on the Trouble With Leaving Home

Paula Deen. Melanie Dunea / CPI

The best mistake I ever made was not wanting to move from my hometown of Albany, Ga., to Savannah. It was 1986. My husband was in the car business, and he got a job with Southern Motors, so we had to move. I thought it was the worst thing that ever happened. I thought my life was over. I woke up every day feeling hopeless. I spent two months in bed, crying. I got up for two reasons: to eat and to go to the bathroom.

I suffered from agoraphobia. I didn’t know it had a name until I was into five years of it, when I happened to see a show on Phil Donahue about agoraphobics. I had been through some traumatic experiences, losing my mother and daddy at a young age. It just sent me on a 20-year ride. I remember the day when it started to feel better. I got out of bed and the Serenity Prayer came into my head, a prayer I’ve heard all my life. That particular morning, I understood what it was saying. I understood what I was supposed to be asking God for—it was the serenity to accept the things I couldn’t change and the courage to change the things that I could and the wisdom, dear Lord, to know the difference. I got up and I said, “I’ve got to make some changes.”

For one, I had to start standing on my own feet. I realized I was just as capable as the next fellow of making a living. I had always loved to cook. With only $200, I started a little business called The Bag Lady, where I made lunches and sent my children to sell them to people down the street. A year and a half later, I opened my own restaurant—my best dish was probably the fried chicken—and the rest is history. Random House discovered me and my ever-so-humble self-published cookbook. Now I have 14 cookbooks out, I have my own clothing line, my own furniture line. It’s just been incredible.

I made a lot of mistakes. But the only mistake that really turned into a happy mistake was moving to Savannah. That was more than 20 years ago. Look at everything that’s happened to me. I went from absolutely not having a penny to running a huge business. My life could not have taken this turn in Albany, Ga. My advice to other people would be, just keep your head high and your eyes open ’cause you never know what God’s got in store for you. You can’t limit yourself or your possibilities.

Interview by Ramin Setoodeh