Zac Clark is speaking out about what it means to reach a major milestone in his sobriety journey in honor of National Recovery Month this September.
Clark, who met his now-fiancée, Tayshia Adams, on the 16th season of "The Bachelorette," says he celebrated his 10-year sobriety milestone on Monday.
The New Jersey native is no stranger to speaking publicly about how he got to this point. During the week-8 episode of the ABC reality show, which aired in December 2020, Clark opened up to Adams about his struggles for the first time. He spoke about everything from being diagnosed with a brain tumor while he was in his 20s to how he says the introduction of pain medication post-surgery led to his battle with addiction. During their honest conversation, Clark admitted he was "hopeless" and there were moments where he wasn't sure if he was going to "make it to tomorrow."
In the past 10 years, Clark has helped countless others recover through his addiction services organization, Release Recovery, and his non-profit, Release Recovery Foundation.
In this personal essay for "GMA," Clark reflects on the life-changing moment he welcomed sobriety into his life, the support he's received along the way and what he would like to say to those currently struggling with addiction.
10 years in recovery.
For a guy that rarely took a sober breath from ages 15 to 27, this is truly a miracle and the proudest moment of my life.
To put it all in perspective, let me take you back to August 2011. Hurricane Irene was ripping up the East Coast and my family was taking our annual vacation to Avalon, a small beach town in southern New Jersey. By this point in my life I was 27 years old, I had already been to rehab once and my family was pretty much done with me.
I knew if the hurricane hit land that I might get stuck, which would mean I couldn't get my fix and I would run the risk of going into withdrawal. Everything in my life revolved around how I was going to get my next high, so I had no choice but to leave the place where I might get stranded and rip up to the streets of Camden, New Jersey, where I knew for certain I could cop more drugs.
I could not stop shooting heroin, I could not stop smoking crack, I could not stop drinking, and I could not stop hating myself.
It was an existence I would not have wished on my worst enemy. The next several nights were a blur, but eventually my moment of clarity would find me.
After sleeping on the street for several nights, I broke into my dad's office and stole one of his checks. The next day, I went to the local PNC Bank with grand plans to get more cash and continue what was sure to be a run that would end in overdose or death.
Luckily, the universe had other plans for me. The bank teller, Rhonda Jackson (my angel), knew something was wrong and instead of giving me the money, she gave me back my life.
She called my dad, who rushed down to rescue me. When he burst through the doors of the bank, I knew it was over. White as a ghost, he calmly walked up to me, put his hand on my shoulder and said, "Son, we're going home."
At that moment, I felt something lift and I surrendered; it is a feeling I will never forget.
The next day, Aug. 30, 2011, I would check into Caron Treatment Centers in Wernersville, Pennsylvania, where I would spend the next four months. It was the most significant event to take place in my life. I was reborn.
Fast forward to today and I can honestly say that I live a life beyond my wildest expectation.
If you asked me 10 years ago to write down my most ambitious plans for what I wanted my life to look like, I would have sold myself short.
I have done more in the past 10 years than I thought I would do in an entire lifetime. I have made new friends, traveled the world to see my favorite band, Pearl Jam, started a business (Release Recovery) that helps individuals who are suffering from addiction, played some of the greatest golf courses on the planet, watched my Philadelphia Eagles win a Super Bowl in person with my dad and brother, run six NYC Marathons, watched countless others recover, and even went on "The Bachelorette," where I met my beautiful fiancé, Tayshia. My life is very full.
When people ask me how I got to where I am today, I do not hesitate in telling them that all of these blessings are a direct result of keeping my recovery front and center. Without my recovery, I have nothing -- it is my super power. So as I sit here and reflect on the last 10 years, what do I really want to say and who am I speaking to? I want say that if I can do it, anyone can, recovery is absolutely possible.
I am writing to the person reading this who is currently struggling. You are worth it. I am also speaking to the person out there who by some miracle has not been personally affected by this affliction, to understand the damage that addiction and mental illness are doing to our country.
I believe addiction and mental illness are at the core of a lot of our nation's issues and we have to recognize that 93,000 people died last year from overdose and many of them were young people. This was a nearly 30% increase from the around 72,000 drug overdose deaths in 2019.
Too many lives are being lost and that is why I am so open about my story and the drugs I used. A word like "heroin" is often seen as scary or dirty, but I use it when I tell my story because "heroin" is killing thousands of people a day and it is important to talk about it. If one person reads this and decides to get help, it is all worth it.
Lastly, I want to talk about family. Addiction rips families apart, including mine, but my family never gave up. They continued to love me and hung on the ropes with me until I could get the help I needed. My mom and dad are heroes and my siblings are saints.
If you are someone that is close to an individual who is struggling, please take some hope away from my story. Call that person right now and tell them that you love them -- you might just save their life.
I am eternally grateful to the life I have been given. I am grateful that I get to see people work hard each and every day in an effort to be better and to change. This lifestyle is nothing to be ashamed of -- in fact, it is quite the opposite. I believe that the way me and my fellows get to live is the next-level existence that I was searching for every time I got high.
Thank you to everyone who believed in me. You know who you are.
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, call SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). SAMHSA's National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service.