Supermodel and actress Amber Valletta recently gave an intimate, 15-minute account of her lifelong struggle with addiction to drugs and alcohol.
Valletta, who is 40, has appeared in campaigns for Gucci, Versace, and Prada, been on the covers of Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, and Allure, and starred in feature films like Hitch, among others, in her over 20-year career.
She is also a self-identified addict and recently "came out" as one to an audience in a video on the healthy living site MindBodyGreen.com.
"My hope is that someone somewhere in this room, out of this room will hear something that will help them and perhaps get them out of the shadows and the darkness of addiction and bring them into the light," she said.
Valletta said she realized she was an addict from an early age, and believes she was genetically predisposed to be one.
"I think once you kind of feed the monster, there's a switch and it takes hold," she said. "When I was, I think, about 8, I started trying to get outside of myself. I sniffed markers, I sniffed glue, finger nail polish. Anything that could give me a buzz. Then I started hyper ventilating. Then I found drugs that were around the culture of my family and I started trying to sneak those. Marijuana, there was joints, things like that. By 10, I think I had been high."
Yet she also took ownership of her disease, admitting she'd have likely been an addict regardless of her environment.
"I know for certain that I'm an addict, through and through, and even if I had this blessed, amazing, childhood, I'd still want to get higher. I'd still want to get out of myself. Because I'm uncomfortable. I'm uncomfortable being a human being."
Her addiction was exacerbated when, at 18, she moved from Oklahoma to Europe to be a model and had access to cocaine and alcohol.
"I didn't have any tools. I was kind of this socially inept kid and I was thrown into this world that was very sophisticated and I didn't have that kind of upbringing. I didn't even know which fork to use...not that that any of that matters, what matters is what I felt."
Valletta went on to describe how, despite that she was at "the top of my game" by her early 20s, she risked everything for addiction. "I had a multimillion dollar deal and I showed up the first day to shoot this campaign high on drugs," she said. "I didn't care."
She eventually got sober because she had no other choice.
"I got sober at 25, not because I had the willpower, but because I didn't want to die and I really believed that there had to be something more than what I was doing."
Now, she self-reflects constantly in order to understand what she needs to live a healthy life and keep from using.
"My disease is always an arms length away form me. From here to here," she said. "And when I dive into dark places in myself that scare me or I feel ugly about, that is where the real growth comes. From pausing, from being willing to look within. Opening up and turning all of it inside out. Asking you for help and showing all of you my underbelly."