Amber Smith, My Story
Addiction definitely runs in my family. My dad, a former San Diego Chargers football player, was an alcoholic and my mother, a model and English teacher, had an opiate addiction. So it was no surprise when I developed my own pill habit at the early age of 17, after I was sent to Paris to begin my career as a professional model.
In the 90s, the French offered an over-the-counter medicine called Prontalgine. I had stumbled upon it when I asked a pharmacist for a strong medicine for a headache. I hit pay dirt when, surprisingly, I got a small high off my first dose. I flipped over the pill box to see it indeed had an opiate in it – codeine.
Though the amount of codeine in each Prontalgine pill was low (one-third the amount of opiate than in the painkiller Vicodin), you don’t have to be a math whiz to figure out you just need to triple the amount you take and you are good to go.
Though I was a stubborn young girl who refused to learn French, I did memorize one French phrase that I used frequently: “Mai j'ai 4 boîtes de Prontalgine veuillez?” (“May I have 4 boxes of Prontalgine please?”)
In Paris there is a pharmacy every few blocks and as a new model you do about a dozen “castings” a day to visit magazines and photographers. Needless to say, as I walked around Paris I would amass at least 20 boxes of Prontalgine in a 24-hour period!
At 19 years old, I was now ready to take on New York (the mecca of modeling!) I returned to America with a full portfolio of European high-fashion images but I also brought back a hefty opiate addiction.
Since Codeine cannot be sold over-the counter in the US, I started to doctor shop, visit emergency rooms and eventually purchased medicine online (barbiturates, benzodiazepines and opiates).
I did well professionally in New York and landed in issues of Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition and even on the cover of Playboy Magazine. Although I barely remember the Playboy shoot.
My agency, fed up with my substance abuse, performed an intervention when I was 22. It didn’t work and I left the hospital against medical advice. However, I decided to do what we addicts call a “geographic” to “get away from the drugs” by leaving New York for Los Angeles.
In LA, I started my new acting career sober -- at least for a few months. I was seeing a therapist at the time to help me stay sober. Somehow, I convinced my therapist to write me a prescription for a few painkillers. Once I started again, my addiction was off and running.
Flash forward ten years and I was back in the hospital again. This time I almost died and it really scared me. Well, it scared me enough to get off the barbiturates and benzos, at least. The opiates stayed (after all, I needed something.)
I was proud of myself for eliminating two types of drugs out of my life but two years later, my opiate addiction had increased two-fold. It was kind of like cutting the head off a two-headed dragon -- another one grew back in its place!
I was never in denial that I was a drug addict – I was in denial as to what drug addiction had done to my life. I had now been in LA for 12 years, had no friends and a barely-there love life. The passion I had for acting had died down somewhere along the way. (I don’t even remember firing my agent.) I had stopped leaving the house for weeks and sometimes months at a time.
And worse, my father had died of alcoholism and my mom, who lived with me at the time, had an opiate addiction that rivaled mine.
Our drug bills were sky high – now I was mostly dealing off the internet where a bottle of 100 Norco would cost $400 and last us three or four days maximum.
Now my savings, mostly made in my early modeling days, was nearly gone. As everything was coming to a head, I had actually met someone online. When we met in person, he revealed he was a drug addict. After his confession, I told him I was too – it was the first time I had been honest with anyone besides my mother.
Just a few months later he decided to get sober. He left me because he said, “I was still using and needed to get sober.” I was devastated. The first time I was honest with someone and he used it against me (at least that is how I saw it at the time.)
The story didn’t end well and I lost everything. Financially bankrupt and now heartbroken to boot, I found myself living in a motel room with my mother for three months. It was a hellhole of a motel in the worst part of Hollywood Blvd.
The synchronistic events that got me out of that motel is beyond the scope of this article. All I know is my mom and I were given a place to live, and just enough cash to eat with. I was sober now whether I wanted to be or not. I was in shock over stopping the drugs so abruptly, but it actually felt good. I was grateful to be alive after such a steep spiral but I had no idea how to sober.
I had remembered that the guy who broke my heart said he’d gotten sober through 12-step meetings. I tried it and took to it right away. I even met an agent who said I should go on the reality show “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.” I declined. I didn’t want anyone to know about my addiction and what happened to me.
But as time went on, I stopped caring about damaging my reputation. The image I had created in modeling of the “always-smiling, retouched, sexed-up, cover girl” bothered me. That wasn’t me or my reality and I was ready to come clean!
For the next three years, I did three shows with Dr. Drew Pinksy, all based around addiction. They were enlightening!
I also stayed in my 12-step groups and read about the human psyche and how to heal. When I had extra money, I put it toward therapy. I also got deeply into metaphysics -- astro-theology, numerology, feng shui -- and have recently started to study Kabbalah.
It hasn’t been easy. In early recovery I had a few bad bouts with anxiety and depression but, overall, my life has vastly improved!
I now live in my own apartment which I just decorated. I had never had my own place and certainly not one in which I was coherent enough to decorate. I honestly didn’t even know myself enough to know what décor I liked!
My mother is also sober and now lives in her own place as well. I still have a foot in entertainment and have landed some meaty roles recently. I think I have been through enough now to be able to relate to most of the roles that are dished out to me!
But I am moving toward something I find even more fulfilling -- sharing my story. I have started to speak about my experiences to different colleges and I’m going to start to coach others on love addiction (an intimacy disorder that tends to run co-morbid with substance abuse) and I may write my memoirs soon.
I missed out on a lot of relationship years and I’m really only discovering myself now at the age of 40. It’s a little embarrassing to be excited about decorating your first apartment and wondering what direction to take your life and career in at this age -- for these are typically concerns that someone out of college has! But my life took a strange course and I feel like I woke up from a long sleep. Though I may be starting things a little later than most people, I am just so thrilled that I actually woke up!