Recover out loud | Tara Conner | TEDxUniversityofNevada

Recover out loud | Tara Conner | TEDxUniversityofNevada


Translator: Ellen Maloney
Reviewer: Mile Živković If you would have told me, back in 2006, that my boss would become
the President of the United States, I probably would have told you
you were crazy. (Laughter) Most people came to know me in 2006
when I won “Miss USA,” and even more people
got to know me later that year when I tested positive for cocaine. But what they didn’t know was that I had been silently suffering
from a nasty addiction from the age of 14. I want to share with you
a bit about my journey with addiction. My life was the perfect storm
for addiction to manifest. I survived incest at three,
my parents had a rocky relationship, and alcoholism and mental health issues
were very present in my family. I grew up in a really small town
in Kentucky with a church on every corner, like the type of town
where you could throw a Bible, and probably hit a pastor on the head, and what was impressed upon me was that
if I drank, smoked, or had premarital sex, I was going straight to hell. And I remember thinking
how unfair that seemed, because my uncle didn’t give me
a choice in the matter. So, fast forward to 14, my parents
are going through a nasty divorce, my papa, my protector, and the only person that ever
showed me unconditional love, dies. And the pain and loneliness
that I experienced were truly unbearable. So, when I am on a cheer leading trip –
an away trip to Gatlinburg, Tennessee – and the juniors and seniors score a gallon
of vodka from some nearby college boys, I was elated when they offered me some because I desperately needed
to feel a part of something. So, I mixed my first drink. And it was 75 per cent vodka,
25 per cent orange juice, and I chugged it
like I’d seen my family do. Then I went back to the counter and I mixed 75 per cent vodka,
25 per cent orange juice, and I chugged that because I wanted
to seem like, “I’ve done this before.” Right? My next memory is of me coming too,
making a deposit to the porcelain gods, (Laughter) and I’m in the middle of this room
and the room looked like this: There were two girls
fighting in the corner, some sexual acts going on on the bed, and there was this poor girl
in the bathroom and she was crying, and she was cutting herself,
and I was just like, “Woah! I have found my people.” (Laughter) Because the chaos in that room
looked just like the chaos in my mind. Until the next day when I woke up
with the worst hangover of my life, and I was sweating vodka from my pores. And I was a little nugget
they would throw up in the air that would do back-flips,
and I was terrified that I was going to Exorcism-style spew
all over the audience. And my cheer leading coach
was the president of the Fellowship of Christian
Athletes, so God was there. (Laughter) And I was so afraid that I was going
to get caught so I prayed to this God, that I truly believed wanted
nothing to do with me, and I said, “Hey big guy. If you can get me out of this one,
I swear, I will never do it again.” And I meant it. I made a firm resolution that day
to never touch another drop of alcohol. And by the end of that year.
I was hooked on morphine. See, I didn’t know that by me
having my first drink at 14 was making me close to 40 per cent
more likely to become dependent. I didn’t know that my brain
was going through rapid development, so when my parents would look at me
and say, “What were you thinking?” “I wasn’t!” My brain wasn’t fully developed yet. Right? And they would bring officers
into school and try to scare us straight, with eggs on frying pans,
and that wasn’t scary. That looked like a good time to me. (Laughter) The average age that kids
are drinking these days is 11. They’re playing Russian Roulette with
their lives and they don’t even know it. And there’s no effective government-funded
prevention program, nation run. So, now I want to paint a picture for you. If an old man is strung out
on heroin, living on Skid Row, people assume that he made that choice. When Charlie Sheen
is cracked out of his mind, “There goes an entitled celebrity!” Right? When Miss USA fails
a drug test for cocaine, what a bad role model she is, right? But when a 14 year old
dies of an overdose? Now, that’s a tragedy. So, now I want to talk about
how we stigmatize this disease, When I failed a drug test for cocaine
and Donald Trump chucked me into rehab, I faced the stigma head on. People were calling me,
“Disgraced Miss USA.” TMZ coined “Mess USA” which is very witty, and I’m going to use that
as the title of my first book. (Laughter) Thank you. (Applause) Side note: It is also
my gamer tag for Call of Duty for all the gamers in the room. (Laughter) And when I left treatment, I had to do
a media tour because that’s normal, and I had this man ask me,
“Do you think you tarnish the crown?” (Gasps) And all I could see was that
14-year-old version of myself, who was molested by her uncle,
whose parents were divorcing, who just lost the only
example that she has of love, who sought refuge in drugs and alcohol, have a muzzle put on her mouth, because she just saw Miss USA be shamed
on national television for being sick. I wasn’t a bad person, trying to act good; I was a sick person
that needed to get well. And that was the fire that started
my journey to advocacy. I knew there were so many people out there
that were suffering just like me. And I suffered for most of my life because I had no idea
what it was I was suffering from. I was so excited to get out there
and share my experience with what I had learned in treatment, because I really felt like I’d found
the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Right? Addiction is one of the top
healthcare issues in this country, and it kills more people than diabetes,
heart disease, and cancer combined. There’s an airplane full of people
dropping from the sky every single day, and it’s the most under-funded
healthcare issue. People are being
incarcerated for being sick; 80 per cent of inmates suffer
from substance use disorders, and almost half of them have been
locked up for drug-related offences. They don’t need to be held captive;
they need long-term recovery. (Applause) Thank you. In schools, where our children
spend the majority of their time, there’s no government-funded effective
prevention program out there. And addiction starts in adolescence. Science tells us that prevention
and treatment work. It’s estimated that substance use
costs our society around 442 billion dollars a year. If more people had access to treatment, and if there were better
prevention programs, mandatory, that were in place, we could take a chunk
out of our national debt. We don’t need to lock
people up or build a wall; the drugs are already here. (Laughter) I found mine in my parents’
medicine cabinets. (Laughter) In November of last year,
the US Surgeon General made an unprecedented report
on drugs, alcohol, and health. And he issued a new call to action. There are currently 20 million Americans
that are struggling with addiction, far more than those diagnosed with cancer, and only ten per cent of them
will receive treatment. We all have just
sensationalized the problem. I’ve been guilty of it, right? But rarely do we hear that Miss USA
just celebrated ten years of sobriety. (Cheers) (Applause) Thank you Dr. Vivek H. Murthy said that
how we respond to the addiction crisis is a moral test for America. There are over 20 million people
in long-term recovery. That’s a lot. I mean, I will share my dirty laundry,
to whoever will listen. But I challenge those
who are in long-term recovery and all of the families whose lives
have been recreated because of recovery to join together and recover out loud. Then maybe, we can take the shame away
from those who are in the shadows, and encourage them to step into the light. I know I will. Thank you. (Applause)

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