This post was originally published on July 14, 2014.
Anyone with the actual birth name of Amber Evangeline Valletta is destined to be drop dead gorgeous. But as it turns out, the famed supermodel was also destined to be an addict. In her must-watch “coming out” speech for MindBodyGreen last week, Valletta opened up about the struggles with drugs and alcohol that finally drove her to get sober 15 years ago at the age of 25.
What It Was Like for Valletta
From sniffing glue at age eight and sneaking joints at 10 to showing up loaded to photo shoots and her uncle’s deathbed, Valletta ended up desperate for help. And she eventually found it in other people, in prayer and meditation and in helping others. It’s not too hard to read between the lines on this one. Anyone who’s been through 12-step will hear the sprinklings of Programese throughout her narrative, yet the earnestness behind her words makes them feel fresh. Though it’s a story that could be heard in any church basement on a Wednesday night, the way she frames it is quite simply one of the best addict manifestoes I’ve heard in a while.
For me, the heart of her speech is the message that addicts use drugs because they’re desperate to get outside of themselves. When I heard Valletta talk about her inability to manage her emotions and the challenge of facing the vulnerability that comes from just being still with herself, I felt like a supermodel for the first time in my life. Ever since I uttered my second word, more (my first was kitty, obviously), the desire to escape being myself and to control my feelings with an iron fist has defined my experience on planet Earth.
To me, this is the simplest, truest and maybe most accessible description of what addiction is all about. That’s why Valletta mentions cell phones, porn food and even iced tea as objects of addiction. All of us—addicts and normies alike— know the experience of turning to something outside of ourselves to control how we feel. It’s just that addicts can’t stop doing it.
Visible and Invisible Sober Role Models
The other part of Valletta’s speech that had me fist-pumping in my desk chair was her call for us to celebrate recovery rather than hide it. At AfterPartyChat, our whole mission is to change the public perception of what getting sober is all about. The trouble with the tradition of 12-step anonymity is that when the successful recovery stories are kept mum, outsiders see only the trainwrecks of people who are still using. For normies, the question “who is an addict” conjures up images of Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan, but addicts are everywhere among us, recovering and thriving in silence. That’s why we cast a spotlight on all the sober folks doing amazing things—not just in the treatment world, but in the whole world.
If addicts walked in broad daylight, we’d all know more of them than we’d ever realized. Is it too idealistic to imagine that waving our white flags proudly would pave the way for deeper public understanding, for more accommodating healthcare and justice systems, for better scientific research? When Valetta asks why we don’t celebrate sobriety, why we can’t walk with a crowd of 10,000 and wear a ribbon (like survivors of the other disease toward which she’s predisposed), it’s hard to justify an answer. Sometimes anonymity casts too long a shadow, and we’re proud of Valetta for showing what true beauty is by stepping out.
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