The Healing Place

From Miss USA to Advocate for Recovery

From Miss USA to Advocate for Recovery

Tara Conner is the 2006 Miss USA and Miss Kentucky. Eight months after winning the Miss USA crown, the Russell Springs, Kentucky native completed 30 days of treatment for drug and alcohol addiction. She has since celebrated eight years of sobriety and now tours the country sharing her experience, strength, and hope to raise awareness about the disease of addiction and show that long-term sobriety is possible. She will be the special guest speaker at Heroin: About Face presented by The Healing Place on Wednesday, October 28.

What is your History with addiction?

My life was a perfect storm for addiction to manifest. Alcoholism and mental illness run in my family on both sides. I started using at 14 after a series of life circumstances. My Grandfather passed away, my parents divorced, and I was under a lot of pressure as a student athlete. I had my first drink on a cheerleading trip to Tennessee and by the end of that year, I was hooked on opiates.

My use was frequent, and generally was supplied by medicine cabinets, and doctors. I was a high functioning addict, using pageants as my perfect mask. I had no idea I had a dependency issue!

Why is it important for you to share your story?

I got sober on such a public level that I feel I should show my recovery in the same way. It was so hard for me to come to terms with the word addict because of the stigma attached to addiction and alcoholism. I bought into that stigma and it kept me sick. Had I known that this disease did not discriminate and that anyone could be affected, I may have asked for help a lot sooner. There was so much shame attached to my story and I felt like I was the only person who felt the way I did. I felt very alone.

When I learned more about my disease and really started being honest, I felt a sense of freedom that I had yearned for my entire life. After a decent amount of public shaming, I got angry. Not because I felt as though I was being judged, but because I knew that there was a young girl out there who had the same story that I did and who had a shame muzzle slapped on her mouth by public perception. I found recovery and saw that it worked so I took it upon myself to be a reckless truth teller because if I could get better, anyone could get better! I never knew recovery existed and I felt like I found a pot of gold. So I throw my beautiful dirty laundry around to anyone who will listen. We see too much addiction and not enough recovery.

What do you think needs to be done to combat the heroin crisis?

There is so much that needs to be done to combat the heroin crisis. I feel like we need to focus more on effective prevention and education. Addiction generally starts in adolescence. We need to educate the families and make it safe for a real dialogue to take place. No more shame. Silence equals death. I think we need to stop criminalizing addicts, focus more on treatment, and we need to treat this disease for what it is -- an illness. Because of the shame attached, especially in small towns, people stay quiet about their addiction because they see it as a moral failing or a choice. Try telling that to a mother who just lost her 15-year-old child. I didn't make an informed choice to become an addict at 14 years old with a still developing brain. I also think that long-term treatment should be more accessible. We need to speak to our local politicians and let our voices be heard. People are dying, and it can be prevented.

What have you heard about The Healing Place?

I have heard so much about The Healing Place during my travels and I know of a familiar face from the Anonymous People! I'm grateful for The Healing Place! Kentucky needs more places like this!

Are you looking forward to returning to Kentucky?

YES! Kentucky will always be my home. I have spoken all over the country and I am so grateful that The Healing Place has given me the opportunity to share my story for the first time where it started. I have so many memories and in a way this feels like a homecoming. After I won Miss USA, my hometown of Russell Springs had a lovely homecoming for me with a parade and lots of celebrations! As proud as I am to be the first Miss USA to come from Kentucky, I am even prouder to share my recovery. It has been my greatest accomplishment! Everything happens for a reason and I feel like my life has been divinely inspired. I'm grateful for my roots. I'm grateful for the mess I created. It has opened so many doors for hope in recovery.