Zac Clark is sharing his sobriety journey.
Zac, who has been sober since age 27, said he was offered his first drink when he was in eighth grade.
"Whether it was seventh and eighth grade or eighth and ninth grade or whatever it was, we'd go to this Christmas party every year," he recalled. "And it's kind of like the older kids take the younger kids out back and give them their first beer."
After it happened, Zac went back to his parents and cried. "I was offered a beer and I thought that meant I was a really bad person," he said. "And I didn't drink. But then I had a whole year to obsess over this moment coming again. And it did."
The following year, Zac went back to the holiday party and drank. "I know a lot of people describe that first drink as this white light experience. But for me, I think the only thing that changed is I learned that I could lie and get away with it," he told Elizabeth Vargas. "So I, like, went back to the party where my parents were at, and they asked me what I was doing and I lied about it. And then, you know, the next morning, Christmas carried on as usual. And so, for me, for the next 15 years, I knew I had this new thing, which was I could lie at any time and get away with it."
Zac continued to drink throughout high school and "partied hard" with his friends. In college, he also experimented with drugs.
"At some point, I think I was introduced to Adderall. And the Adderall eventually turned into some cocaine use here and there," he said. "I would not tell you that my drug use was so rampant during college. I mean, I was playing baseball, and I was trying to get out of there in four years, which I was able to do. And, you know, I started dating a girl my sophomore year that I would eventually marry. So, I had a lot of the outsides going on."
It was around this time that Zac realized "there was something wrong" with the way he was drinking. "I was having experiences that other people weren't having," he said, "just in terms of, you know, 10 o'clock, lights are out and then it's the next morning at 11."
Zac and his college sweetheart, Jennifer Stanley-George, tied the knot in June 2009 and he continued to battle addiction. At one point in the interview, he recalled having his gallbladder removed so he could get pain pills.
A few years prior to the surgery, Zac had a brain tumor and started taking painkillers. Eventually, he "got hooked." One day, after he "overdid it" at a Philadelphia Eagles game, he felt sick and decided to go to a hospital to "talk a doctor into" giving him medication.
"I didn't know what my plan was," he said. "And then I think dehydration or something kicked in and I felt my side. I was like, 'I think I can figure something out here.' I think I Googled, you know, whatever symptoms I had to Google. And I'll never forget—I probably owe this guy an apology, like we make apologies—but the doctor walked in. He was from my hometown. So I knew in that moment that I'm good because he's gonna believe me. I'm going to schmooze him. And sure enough, he was giving me Dilaudid within a half hour and I ended up going through with the surgery."
Zac still remembers that moment vividly. "I'll never forget right before—you know, they put you under, they knock you out for that surgery—the doctor looked at me in the eye and he goes, 'You know what we're doing today, right?' I said, 'Yeah, you're taking my gallbladder out.' He said, 'Before I put you under, I just want to make sure you want to go through with this.' And I was like, 'Yep.' And I did it. It was nuts."
In November 2010, Zac went to treatment for the first time in South Jersey and stayed for 28 days. During his time there, his now ex-wife had him sign a contract stating she'd kick him out if he tried to get high again. He did. According to Us Weekly, they separated in January 2011 and finalized their divorce in February 2012.
"About two weeks after getting out of treatment, I was trying to get high. She walked down, caught me, and then she kicked me out that night. And she was done," Zac recalled. "She kept her boundary; her dad drove down; that was the last night I slept in that house. I always tell her, like, she saved my life because she was the first person to really tell me that, like, the party's over. Just an amazing job by her of setting the boundary."
Zac said the next eight months "got pretty ugly and pretty dark."
"From January until August of 2011, it was pretty much anything and everything I could get my hands on," he said, confirming he did heroin at one point.
One day, Zac took blank checks from his dad and tried to cash them. "We were at the shore, the Jersey Shore, and I had driven back early. Yeah, I had taken checks, and I was trying to try to cash them, like you said, for drugs. And I walk into a PNC Bank in Camden, New Jersey. I had two drug dealers waiting outside the door for me. So, I was gonna cash this check and, you know, go do whatever we were gonna do."
Luckily, there was a woman, Rhonda Jackson, who "just knew" and called his dad, who Zac said was "really the guy that kind of hung in there and stayed on the ropes" with him amid his battle with addiction. Just a few days later, Zac checked into Caron Treatment Center in Pennsylvania, where he stayed for four months.
"That was the best day of my life," he recalled. "And that woman saved my life for sure."
Today, Zac is on the center's board, and he also works as an addiction specialist. Furthermore, he's a founder of Release Recovery, which offers transitional living, case management, consultation and coaching. He's also happily engaged to Tayshia Adams, who he met on season 15 of The Bachelorette.
During the interview, Zac recalled talking to the 30-year-old reality star about his sobriety. "She was attracted to it because of all the reasons you should be attracted to it," he said. "I know who I am. I know what I'm saying. I can show up."
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