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Colton Haynes says writing his new memoir "nearly killed me."
After an overdose and suicide attempt, recovering from alcoholism, addiction and an eating disorder, and then overcoming childhood sexual abuse, the 33-year-old Arrow and Teen Wolf actor has earned the right to speak about facing death.
But these days, Haynes is more about facing the truth — his own — as he tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week's issue: "I know today I'm only as sick as my secrets."
With the publication of Miss Memory Lane, he doesn't have any left.
"I needed to rid myself of the things I've held onto for so long," he acknowledges.
Courtesy Colton Haynes Haynes with his mom and brother Clinton in 1992
Raised in poverty outside Wichita, Kansas, by a single mom with substance abuse issues, a combustible father who would return now and then, and alongside an athletic older brother with whom he'd fight over food stamps, Haynes had dreams of being the male Kate Moss.
"Delusion was my first drug," he says.
In high school, he attended class during the day and at night danced as a go-go boy at a gay bar (a job secured with a fake ID).
"Once I knew something was going to get me the attention that I wanted, there was nothing holding me back from using my body, or doing whatever I could to help me get that love I needed," he says.
Courtesy Colton Haynes Colton Haynes
After submitting photos to a New York City modeling agency, he began getting work. He never walked the runways in Paris, but he did appear in four Abercrombie & Fitch catalogs.
To sign with his modeling agency, he pretended to be taller. "I duct-taped underwear into little rolls and stuffed them into boots too big for me," he remembers. "I just wanted to be what everyone else wanted me to be."
Haynes' first job in Hollywood was as a phone sex operator. "It was great money," he laughs, then jokes, "I might do it again!"
Turning his attention to acting, he had a turn on the MTV reality show The Hills as a model in a Teen Vogue shoot.
After taking acting classes, Haynes began auditioning and quickly hit a roadblock.
"I was told, 'Gosh. His looks, you know, he looks like a star, but his mannerisms and the way he sounds, too gay.'" He had to fix his lisp: "I put a Post-It under my tongue." He went to a movement class "to straighten-up my mannerisms" and reentered the closet.
Here's the thing — it all worked.
Haynes was soon cast in Teen Wolf and became one of those young stars mobbed at malls and MTV events. He left that show over contract negotiations (he's currently filming a movie reboot) and was then cast on Arrow.
Several times, he says he tried to come out, but agents and managers encouraged him not to.
Haynes came out publicly in 2016. He says the parts suddenly dried up: "I am offered only roles like the 'gay best friend' today."
What also dried up: his branded content endorsements, which he relied on. "The only thing I was offered after I came out was to be the face of [the queer hookup app] Grindr," he says.
In 2018, Haynes overdosed. A bottle of Oxycontin, a bottle of Xanax, a bottle of tequila. He woke up in a Los Angeles hospital.
"I had tubes coming out of every hole in my body," he recalls. "I couldn't see out of my left eye."
Tearing up, he acknowledges it was a suicide attempt. "My mother had died [earlier that year] from alcoholism." Haynes says they had become very close. "My dad had killed himself with Oxycontin. I had set out not to be anything like my parents."
courtesy Colton Haynes
Haynes is now sober. He's also armed with a fresh perspective, a memoir and a part in the Teen Wolf reboot movie as he returns to Hollywood and steps back into public life.
Of course, he notes, some things haven't improved: "Name one lead out leading actor, male romantic lead who's openly gay? I don't think Hollywood has changed."
One thing hasn't changed about Haynes either — he shows me the lifts in the shoes he's wearing and quips, "Today I'm six-foot-two."