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Inspiring Success on the Road to Recovery

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Celebrating Recovery in the Light

This month marks the 25th year of National Recovery Month Celebrations and the 9th annual Art of Recovery Expo. Tara Conner, this years Keynote Speaker may be best known as Miss USA 2006, but she is also an advocate for recovery. We invite you to hear Tara’s inspiring story of hope at 12:30 p.m. For more information visit artofrecoveryexpo.com.  Saturday, September 20th, Phoenix Convention Center. 

Tell us a little bit about your background and where you come from.

I am a small town girl from Russell Springs, KY. My family is a loving family that has been deeply affected by the disease of alcoholism. I come from a town of 2300 people. It was a dry county and you had to drive 45 minutes to buy alcohol, so drugs were very present. I was a very active child, and from an early age I discovered the idea of perfectionism. Because I was sexually abused at 3 years old, I identified with feeling of shame, guilt, and being damaged goods. I soon realized that if I performed well in academics, dance, gymnastics, or any other sport for that matter, I would receive praise for being a good girl. I held on to the idea that if I can make everything look good on the outside, maybe one day my insides would catch up.

You went through the rigorous process of the Miss USA contest; what was that like?

Being a contestant for Miss USA was a rigorous process. My pageant was held in Baltimore, Maryland, and we were competing for 3 weeks before the live telecast on NBC. Everyday was filled with press, photo shoots, and rehearsals. To be honest, I wasn’t very present during those three weeks because I was using the whole time. It was a time where all my efforts were being judged and documented, and I felt like a fraud amongst all of these beautiful, talented women. Everyday would start as early as 4 am and end as late as 1 am. I had to be “on” which was a skill that I mastered during my pageant days. What people didn’t know was that I was masking an ugly addiction. It was a tough experience, but one that ultimately changed my life forever.

Had you had problems with drugs or alcohol before the scandal?

A lot of people think that I moved from a small town to NYC, and lost my marbles, but I started using at 14 years old.

What factors contributed to your ultimate turn to drugs and alcohol? Was it the excitement of NYC? The fame? The pressure?
I don’t think anyone wakes up one day and decides that turning to drugs and alcohol to fix their problems is a good idea. For me, I had a lot of trauma and family dysfunction that was suppressed and never addressed, so when I started using, I felt the temporary release it gave me, but after a while, it was no longer a choice. My life was a perfect storm for addiction to manifest. Alcoholism runs in my family, I am a product of divorce, slap some trauma and misdiagnosed depression, and BOOM, I was addicted to anything that made me feel better.

What was it like to have accomplished something so great and respectable, only for it to suddenly be on the brink of being taken away?

Honestly, when I was on the brink of losing everything, a huge part of me was grateful that I didn’t have to hide who I was anymore. I was mortified to have all of my skeletons out there, but there was a freedom that came along with being revealed in that way. I could finally just say, “this is me…what you see is what you get, and my way isn’t working anymore.”

What do you think it was that Mr. Trump saw in you that allowed you to keep your title?

Mr. Trump has had experience with alcoholism in his family, so I think he could see past the sensationalism, and see that what I was dealing with was a much bigger issue then just underage partying.

How did you cope with every step of your recovery being broadcast in the public eye?

I have always said that my God has a very funny sense of humor. Having my journey to recovery under a microscope may have saved my life. I won’t say that I was happy about that. Most people getting into recovery have the option of anonymity, but for me I think it was such a wonderful way of keeping me accountable during the most vulnerable phase of my development. I was able to build a strong foundation because of my experience, and I’m grateful for that.

How did you deal with the criticism? Yet, what positive support did you also receive from fans and speculators?

In the beginning dealing with the criticism was tough. I was able to get into acceptance that I made certain choices and decisions, and that I wasn’t going to leave a great taste in everyone’s mouth. I expected the judgment of others, and the backlash that I received. I have been guilty of being a human being and judging others based on what I hear in the media, and it was a great lesson for me. You never know what is truly going on with someone. I also received a huge amount of support. I received messages and well wishes from all over, especially from the recovery community. I also realized at that time how my story could benefit others. I had so many people open up to me who related to my story. It made me feel a part of. They helped me more than they know. I was able to see that there would be a light at the end of the tunnel, and that there was a bigger reason for all of it. I found purpose in my dysfunction. 

You are such a role model for young women going through a similar situation today; what is the best advice you can give to them?

You are not alone, and we are all perfectly imperfect. I remember how dark and sad my world got, and how isolated and alone I felt. I lost my voice, and just wanted to die. But when I finally opened up and got honest and reached out, help was there. We are all dealing with life on life’s terms, and it isn’t always an easy road, but we all have a story that can benefit someone else. 

What do you do today to maintain your sobriety? 

My sobriety is my number one priority. I always put my recovery before everything else, because I wouldn’t have anything worth having without it. I attend a 12-step program. I am very active in the recovery community. I try to be of service whenever I can, and I stay brutally honest. My goal is to try and remain teachable. I find that when I feel like I have it all figured out, that’s when I get in my own way. The gift of desperation did a lot of good for me, so I always try to keep an open mind, and an open heart. 

On the subject of pageants, what is your reaction to the display of such young kids on TV shows like Toddlers and Tiaras? 

I think we live in a society where we all strive for perfection. I can relate to being put on a pedestal at such a young age, and it was a lot of pressure. I only felt good about myself, or worthy if I was being praised on a high level. I think kids should be able to be kids. 
I feel like I was put in adult situations too young, and my childhood struggled because of it. I feel sad for some of these young girls because I don’t feel like they are being taught that as they are they are enough.

How were you chosen to be a voice in the movie Anonymous People? 

Greg Williams is a friend of mine through the Caron Treatment Center.I have known him for years, and have a lot of respect for his optimism for recovery. He asked me to do an interview, and I was extremely grateful to be a part of such a powerful movement. 

Why do you think so many people still associate alcohol and drug problems to being flawed of character? 

I think most people think that it’s a choice. There isn’t a lot of education and true understanding about the disease of alcoholism and addiction. The media focuses so closely on the negative aspects of the disease that a lot of people don’t see great examples of long-term recovery. The mostly see relapse, arrest, suicide, etc. It is rare that you see a story of someone celebrating milestones in their sobriety because it isn’t a sexy story. I think if more people can be more open about their journey in recovery, we may be able to breakdown the stigma attached to this disease and shed some light and hope.

What are your plans for the future? Personally and professionally?
My life has been an incredible roller coaster. I feel like I have accomplished so much, and realized most of my dreams, and I have my recovery, and the Big Guy to thank for that. My personal plans are to remain teachable everyday, and also live in the moment. I want to be a light in the lives of those that I am close to, and I want to inspire them as they inspire me. I feel like I have attained the ability to dream big again, so I am currently throwing myself into acting and theatre. I am also in the process of writing a book about my journey. This has been an interesting process, because I learn something new about myself, and my recovery everyday. At the end of the day, I just want to be happy, and healthy, and present, and motivated. I love the life that I have been given, and I feel like it’s only going to get better and better.


Art of Recovery Expo
Phoenix Convention Center
SATURDAY, Sept. 20 2014
HALL G - Doors open 10 am

12:30 p.m. 
Tara Conner from the 
Main Stage


FREE ADMISSION 
TO THE PUBLIC