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May Wilkerson May Wilkerson

Supermodel Amber Valletta “Comes Out” as an Addict

In a 15-minute video, the supermodel and actress shares her experience in long-term recovery, in order to help fight stigma and shame attached to addiction.

7 Substance

“I’m coming out to you today,” says supermodel and actress Amber Valletta, “and I’m not coming out to you in the way you think” [laughs]. In a TED talk-esque video, “What It Feels Like To Live With Addiction,” the supermodel and actress talks with humor and candor about her struggles with drugs and alcohol ,and her 15 years in recovery. In choosing to “come out as an addict,” her 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 in to the light.” She adds that she hopes the video will help educate people who know someone with addiction, but don’t fully understand or empathize.

Valletta, 40, says she first fell heavily in to drugs and booze at the start of her career in the fashion industry during her late teens and early 20′s. But she doesn’t blame her profession, or her childhood, for her substance use. A firm believer in the disease model, she says she’s “genetically predisposed” to addiction, just as she is predisposed to breast cancer—because both run in her family. In the video, Valletta talks about first getting high huffing markers at 10, and attributes her “lifelong” addiction to a state of being rather than circumstance: “I’m uncomfortable being a human being.”

Though she doesn’t explicitly identify herself as a member of a 12-step program (one of AA’s “traditions” is “anonymity at the level of press, radio and film”), it’s implied. She mentions meetings, and working with other people in order to maintain her sobriety.

“I need help from other people. And so that’s the way I stay sober is I go inward to find out what I need to do to be a better person so that I don’t go out and use again, so that I don’t go out and find new things to use, because I’m bound to do that. If you told me if I licked the carpet it would work, I would do it,” she says, laughing.

She continues: “I do believe that by me telling the truth to you today to you all, I get another day sober. Because I’m allowing you to see who I am. I’m not hiding in my shame. There’s a lot of shame in addiction. That’s kind of how it thrives—darkness, secrecy.”

She urges viewers to show compassion for people who may be struggling with addiction and to reconsider casting judgment on their behavior. “It doesn’t mean you let them off the hook, but if you could start seeing them in a different way, perhaps our health care system would change, and we would offer more resources for people who are addicts.”

Kudos to Amber for her honesty in opening up about her story! There are an estimated 23.5 million Americans in the US living in long-term recovery, and countless more who are coping with addiction in some form. More and more people—high profile and otherwise—are choosing to “come out” as people in recovery from addiction (there’s even a film about it: The Anonymous People). It does feel like an important step in fighting stigma and ultimately changing the systems currently in place for dealing with addiction and drug use.