It’s been almost 11 years since Miss USA 2006 Tara Conner was nearly stripped of her crown amid scandalous reports of underage drinking and a positive test for cocaine.
But 11 years later, the Kentucky beauty queen is sober and engaged to be married. In an exclusive interview with Fox News, Conner, 31, opened up about how President Trump helped her get on the path to recovery, her passionate advocacy for mental health and substance abuse awareness, and her engagement to actor Dan Sanders-Joyce.
FOX NEWS: You credit President Trump with saving your life. Do you still stay in touch? What words of advice did he give you that have stuck with you?
CONNER: I credit President Trump for giving me the opportunity of treatment. Ultimately, I feel as though every American should be afforded the same opportunity that I was given. Addiction is a progressive disease, and substance misuse is the leading cause of death for those 50 and under. I believe he saw the good in me and had a deeper understanding of what I was dealing with, having lost a brother to alcoholism. We have stayed in touch over the years and have also raised money together for the Caron Treatment Centers. I was given the gift of recovery, which saved my life. At this stage of the game, he could save millions more.
FOX NEWS: You have become an advocate for sobriety and mental health awareness. Why are these missions so important to you?
CONNER: I am passionate about sobriety and mental health because I have been so deeply affected by both. I spent my entire life feeling different from people, and completely unmanageable emotionally. I had to push myself so hard to achieve things. Many days, brushing my teeth in the morning felt like an accomplishment. These issues are so important to me because when I got sober, I faced the stigma of addiction and mental illness head-on. I was a walking target, and even now, over a decade sober, I still get shamed on a daily basis.
I've said this many times before, but I wasn't a bad person that needed to be good. I was a sick person that needed to get well. My addiction was in full force at 14 years old. My brain wasn't fully developed, yet people were claiming that I chose that life.
Suffering from addiction, ADHD, a panic disorder and severe depression feels like living in a prison. I liken it to being in solitary confinement with no hope of release. No one chooses that life. Thank God for my divine intervention, though. In recovery, I found a way out, and everyone should be afforded that opportunity.
FOX NEWS: Congratulations on your engagement. There have been reports the yellow diamond center stone of your ring represents a brighter day as you and your fiancé both overcame substance abuse in the past. Please explain the symbolism of your ring.
CONNER: Thank you. Dan worked alongside Peter Young, a jewelry designer at INTA Gems and Diamonds, and he chose a very rare, unheated yellow sapphire for the center stone. If it stays in the dark for too long, it will lose its vibrant yellow shade, so in a way it encourages us both to stand in the light. In recovery, we call it the sunlight of the spirit. It's perfect for both of us.
FOX NEWS: What’s next for your career? What is your ultimate career goal?
CONNER: As a result of my recovery, I have lived out many of my dreams, and I'm only 31. My goal at this point is to save as many lives as possible and show everyone that there is a way up and out of the disease of addiction. I have had the opportunity to work with amazing trailblazers, focusing on long-term care, as opposed to short-term treatment, and have witnessed really incredible results.
For the past two-plus years, I have worked as an ambassador for Transforming Youth Recovery. They give grants to colleges for collegiate recovery programs. My hope is that sometime soon, we can create a nationwide K-12 prevention program, because addiction starts with adolescents and even kids as young as 11.
I also work with the SOBA organization, and they have treatment facilities with an amazing year-long program, and together we are working on a television show that examines the true nature of addiction and recovery, and we hope to launch it nationally in the near future.
And I'm currently writing my first book. My hope is to make as much noise as I possibly can to normalize addiction and recovery and to shed as much light as possible for those who are still suffering. I will continue to tell my truth and be transparent about my journey. I will lobby, knock on doors and write blogs. Whatever it takes.