Sex, drugs and the Ramones: CNN’s Camerota ties up ‘loose ends’ from high school

Books-Alisyn Camerota
CNN broadcast journalist Alisyn Camerota poses at the former CBGBs nightclub, now a high-end men’s clothing outlet, on March 29, 2024 in New York, to promote her memoir “Combat Love: A Story of Leaving, Longing, and Searching for Home.” (AP Photo/Dave Bauder)

Wandering the former site of New York’s famed CBGB nightclub, pointing to familiar names on band posters spread amid carefully preserved graffiti, is like being transported to a life that CNN’s Alisyn Camerota has long since left behind.

The high-end apparel store there now has kept some of those artifacts to appeal to rock ‘n’ roll pilgrims, one wearing a Ramones T-shirt who wanted to see where the quartet got its start. The room is far more polished than it was four decades ago.

So is Camerota. Her recent visit isn’t the only time-traveling she’s done lately.

The Jersey girl has written “Combat Love,” a memoir that focuses on sex, substance abuse, effective abandonment by her parents and even brief homelessness all before she graduated high school, and the family she found with followers of a local band, Shrapnel, to help cope.

Camerota, who poses for a picture under a street sign marking “Joey Ramone Way” outside the old club, even details a cringe-worthy backstage encounter with the punk pioneers.

“People would ask me about my high school life and I would tell them and they would sort of blanch,” she said. “I thought that everybody in the 1980s had my experiences … I guess not everybody was in a car surrounded by skinheads or in a lot of car accidents and had friends really wrestling with drug addiction and alcoholism.”


An only child, Camerota was 8 years old when her parents divorced. An already distant dad largely disappeared from her life, while her mom chased one failed relationship after another, moving her daughter cross-country to Washington for one. Both parents hid secrets that explained, if not excused, their behavior.

Her mom set out for Pittsburgh in her junior year, leaving Alisyn behind to stay out West with friends. She moved back to New Jersey for her senior year in high school at the home of another friend, then was kicked out and slept briefly in her car or on the beach before finding someone who would board her.

Despite her experiences, “I wasn’t really a wild child,” she said. “I was searching for belonging.”

She dreamed from age 15 of being in television news. She still went to school and did the work. When Camerota earned a scholarship at American University, she applied herself toward achieving her goals, getting serious at a time many peers were ready to party. She’d already been there.

Now a successful, 57-year-old newswoman with stops that included “America’s Most Wanted,” Fox News Channel and CNN, Camerota is married with three children and a comfortable home in a Connecticut suburb. But her high school experiences never left her.

“I had just a lot of loose ends emotionally,” she said. “I moved to six different houses in two years. I left sometimes before saying goodbye, and certainly left before having closure. Writing helped me put it in chronological order. Some of these stories kind of, not haunted me, but definitely followed me around begging for more attention.”

She wrote “Combat Love” when her children were teenagers and worried about what they might think.

“I sat them down a couple of times during the writing process and said, ‘Guys, you know the ’80s were different than it is now, right?’” she said. “’You know that Mom didn’t have a lot of supervision, right? You guys were helicopter-parented. I was the opposite.”

Now the kids — twin girls who just started college and a son still in high school — are so absorbed in their own lives, she says, that they haven’t expressed much interest in reading the book.


Others from her past weren’t so thrilled. She’s still friends with some of the people she knew from high school and, though Camerota disguised names for the narrative, people who know the stories know who she is talking about.

Camerota regrets how she treated old boyfriends, and contacting some of them again was tough. She felt she was in survivor mode those days and not attentive to the feelings of others. It took her longer to achieve a stable, lasting relationship than to become successful professionally.

Her father is dead, but Camerota’s mother is 84 and lives in a nearby Connecticut town. She struggled with the idea of the stories becoming public. Camerota had talked about her resentments at an earlier time, a difficult conversation that was recounted in the book.

“My mom asked me repeatedly over the past decade when I was writing this, ‘Can’t you wait until I’m dead?’” she said. “I needed her help and I wanted her blessing. I said to her, ‘You know, Mom, I’m entitled to tell my story. I lived it.’ And she said, ‘Of course you are. But it’s my story, too.’”

She hopes the book can be more than a personal therapy session.

“Everyone has a survival story of some kind, and that can be a bridge,” she said. “For a long time we’ve been divided in this country, and I always looked for a bridge. And I think if we share our individual stories we would find that we have a lot more in common.

“People can be inspired by survival stories,” she said. “I know I am.”