From the moment she uttered the brave and honest words, “I am an alcoholic,” to interviewer George Stephanopoulos, Elizabeth Vargas began writing her story, as her experiences were still raw. Now, in BETWEEN BREATHS, Vargas discusses her accounts of growing up with anxiety-which began suddenly at the age of six when her father served in Vietnam-and how she dealt with this anxiety as she came of age, to her eventually turning to alcohol for relief. She tells of how she found herself living in denial, about the extent of her addiction and keeping her dependency a secret for so long. She addresses her time in rehab, her first year of sobriety, and the guilt she felt as a working mother who had never found the right balance.
Supermodel, actress, and fashion icon Amber Valletta opens up for the first time ever about the daily struggle of living with addiction.
AS TOLD TO JON SUFRIN
Special to The Globe and Mail
Published Friday, Jan. 01, 2016 1:59PM EST
Last updated Friday, Jan. 01, 2016 2:27PM EST
What does it take to vault a personal obstacle? This is part of a collection of stories in which five Canadians reflect on leaping over the barrier that was holding them back. Read the other stories here.
I have been a psychopath since forever, an all-or-nothing kind of guy. I remember going to concerts at an early age. I would sneak into bars at 16, and I got my first tattoo at 17. I got kicked out of high school for fighting. I beat up a kid pretty bad.
Me and my friends would drive around on the hoods of our cars. We were the kings of bush parties. We’d bring out drums and have big fires, and the after-party was always at my house.
Eventually, I got into culinary school at Humber. It was the only college I got accepted to. I had a natural ability, and I instantly loved it. After, I got a job at Le Sélect Bistro. That was where I learned to make classic French food, where I fell in love with everything.
Then I worked at La Palette, and that was debauchery. You want to talkKitchen Confidential? That was us drinking every night, doing drugs, partying. It was an actual pirate ship. I’ve never listened to more Tom Waits in my life.
When I opened Oddfellows, it was just an extension of that. All I had to do was cook good food, and I could party. You drink till 6 a.m., you sleep till 11. Then on your days off, you drink really hard.
When Parts and Labour hit, it got crazy. There were no rules. It was the craziest restaurant, the loudest restaurant in the city. I could party even harder, because I had a team, and I didn’t have to cook cook any more. I was doing drugs and alcohol every day. We had the perfect space for it. I’d do anything. I loved coke, I loved MDMA, ecstasy, K. I’d take any pill. Smash three Ms, do an eight-ball.
Then, when I was 29, I had a heart attack. Everything kind of caught up. I woke up with this crazy pain. It was like something was gripping my heart, and I couldn’t make it stop. It was something I’ve never felt.
Doctors said I was lucky to be alive. I was in the hospital for five days, back to work in 10. I was supposed to take time off, but restaurants don’t stop. I quit partying for about three months. Then I had a drink, and all of a sudden, I was back in the grips of partying.
My friends, my girlfriend, everyone was worried about me. I didn’t care that I’d had a heart attack, but everyone else did. I had drug dealers that wouldn’t sell me drugs. I started going to different bars, and I started getting different drug dealers.
I didn’t want the party to be over, but everyone was getting off the party. Everyone was growing up, and everyone was trying to make Parts and Labour a really good restaurant. And I kept on being the kid. Everyone was just tired of Matty fucking everything up.
I kind of had an intervention. It was three friends, and they just said, “You’re done.” And I said, “Okay, I’m done.” I haven’t had a drop in two years. It’s still an ordeal every day. I travel the world, and I can’t drink wine. I miss drinking really good wine and beer.
My identity was the party guy. Any chef that came from out of town would come and want to party. Chefs love living well, but there’s a fine line between living well and going past excess. Like why are you chugging champagne? I was the loudest, the craziest. I was the showboat.
Everything has changed in those two years. I’ve filled up with other shit. I oversee four restaurants. I’m working on an international show with Vice; I’m working on a cookbook. I’m about to have a kid. I can do everything, because I’m never hung over. I wake up in the morning, and I get a lot done before noon. I never used to wake up before noon.
This has given me everything I ever wanted. Now I’m at the beginning of who I actually am. The best version of me is this. It’s not the party guy, it’s not the drunk funny chef. It’s me.
Spend each day trying to be a little wiser than you were when you woke up. Discharge your duties faithfully and well. Step by step you get ahead, but not necessarily in fast spurts. But you build discipline by preparing for fast spurts. Slug it out one inch at a time, day by day. At the end of the day – if you live long enough – most people get what they deserve.
— Charlie Munger