Tara Conner looks a lot different than her beauty queen days. Her long blonde hair is now short and dark, she’s had a lot of ink done and unlike back in 2006, she doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her. She walks into the women’s group here at Cumberland Heights and introduces herself.
“Hey guys, I’m Tara. I was Miss USA 2006 but that means nothing.”
She sets her 1-year old black Pomeranian, Gypsy on the ground and the women fawn over her, trying to get the puppy’s attention as it scampers around the room, sniffing different spots on the carpet. Gypsy is Tara’s emotional support dog. Because Tara suffers from depression, a panic disorder, and ADHD, her counselor suggested a furry companion might help.
“My psychiatrist wrote me a prescription for Gypsy,” Tara says lightheartedly.
The women are charmed by Tara and you can tell there is an instant connection in the room. She tells her own story and then opens it up for questions. “Nothing is off limits,” she says. They ask about working with Donald Trump, whether she’s relapsed, and tell her how beautiful she is. At one point she even gets up, grabs “The Big Book” and reads directly from one of her favorite pages. It’s as if Tara has known these women for years.
The next day Tara is scheduled to speak to a much different crowd — hundreds of women, and a few men at our annual Reaching New Heights Luncheon, an event benefiting our women’s programs. She’s no longer sitting among all addicts inside a small circle at a treatment center. She’s now front and center at a podium inside the beautiful and elegant Hillwood Country Club. But her rawness and honestly are the same.
She speaks about drinking and drugging to the point of sickness, going home with strangers and the shame of it all being broadcast when she almost lost her crown 12 years ago. She tells the crowd, “I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, but what you see is what you get.”
Tara was also open about the fact that while she’s been sober for 12 years, she hasn’t been in recovery as long. Simply not taking drugs or not drinking alcohol wasn’t making her any less sick – and she truly had to commit to the 12-steps and Alcoholics Anonymous for healing to begin.
“I quickly found out I could be crazier sober than I was on drugs,” said Tara.
And because, it was a women’s luncheon she talked about the importance of female support and being kind to one another. Through tears in her eyes Tara said, “We are the meanest to each other when we should be lifting each other up.”
She had women laughing, crying and maybe at times feeling a little uncomfortable. But unlike, 12 years ago she was not about to be judged. And if she was, she didn’t care. Tara was right about what she said when she first walked into the women’s group that afternoon. She was Miss USA 2006 but it didn’t matter. She’s just like many of us and those we love. Her story is the same.