The Bachelorette’s Zac Clark Discusses Faking Illnesses for Narcotics and Finding True Love

    Before Zac Clark was introduced to television viewers on The Bachelorette, he was considered the “life of the party” and willing to go to great lengths to achieve his “next high.” In his twenties, his addiction escalated to the point where his marriage crumbled and his friendships dissipated. His relationship with his parents was holding on by a thread. But they never gave up on him, and Zac found recovery.

    Zac won back his health and went on to win the heart of not only Tayshia Adams, but also viewers across the country with his candor, compassion and commitment to a substance-free life. Zac joins Heart of the Matter host Elizabeth Vargas to revisit his journey from faking illnesses to gain access to prescription medications to finding happiness in real life, making a career out of helping others with addiction, and even falling in love on reality TV.

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    If you’re unable to listen, check out the transcript of Zac’s conversation with Elizabeth below.

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    Episode transcript

    Elizabeth Vargas 00:00

    Hello, everyone. Welcome to Heart of the Matter. I am your host, Elizabeth Vargas, and Bachelor and Bachelorette fans do we have a treat for you today.

    Our guest is Zac Clark, who recently got engaged to Tayshia Adams on The Bachelorette. And he got a lot of attention because he was a candidate on this show who talked very openly about the fact that he’s in recovery. That he used to have a drug and alcohol addiction, and was very honest and candid about that.

    And we talk a lot on this podcast about the stigma around the disease of addiction, about the fact that fewer than 20% who suffer from this disease get treatment, in large part because of the stigma around it. Can you imagine any other disease where fewer than 20% of the people who need treatment get it?

    At any rate, part of the way we shatter the stigma, reduce the stigma around the disease of addiction, is by talking about it openly. And something that our guest today has really dedicated his life to. Not only to talking out about addiction, but actually opening up and running centers – several sober houses that he’s offered to people who are coming out of treatment as a way to transition to life in the real world. And staying sober and staying supported and staying connected to a community of people in recovery. So it was really fantastic to talk to Zac. I have great admiration for him because of his outspokenness about his recovery, especially on a show that sort of celebrates drinking. They encourage contestants to drink a lot. There are all those champagne toasts with the roses. How did he navigate all that? We’ll hear as you join us now to listen to Zac Clark.

    And lastly, please take a second to subscribe and radar podcast if you enjoyed the show. Because only with your support, can we continue to transform the way our country addresses addiction.

    Zac, great to talk to you today. And I guess I should congratulate you, right, on being engaged?

    Zac Clark 02:26

    Yeah, of course you can congratulate me! People are so funny. I’m like, It’s a real thing. I’m pretty sure it happened.

    Elizabeth Vargas 02:33

    Yeah, you’re pretty sure it happened. I guess you know, people watching always wonder, “How real is this?” “I mean, are you guys really in love?” “Are you really going to get married?” “Is it, you know, really happily ever after?”

    Zac Clark 02:45

    Yeah.

    Elizabeth Vargas 02:47

    I’m curious how you got involved in the show, especially because you are sort of an open book when you agreed to be part of a cast like this. And you knew I’m sure that you would have to talk about your sobriety and your recovery. How did you get involved in The Bachelor? How did you get signed up?

    Zac Clark 03:09

    Yeah, it’s funny. My sister and mom have been on the hunt for me for many years now. You know, like, it’s been their life’s mission to find me a partner. And they’ve been fans of the show for a while now. So my sister was actually carrying twins. And she lost one of the pregnancies. So she was in this deep dark depression. She was sitting on her couch back in like March or April. And she tells the story so great. She was just watching television, and it kind of flashed up on the screen, “Casting!” because they’d gone through COVID and the season had been pushed. And she texts me that day and asked me a few questions, my height, my weight. She basically said, “I’m gonna submit you for this show.” I said, “Okay, have fun,” like, whatever. And then, sure enough, a couple months later, I got a phone call on a Friday night at like, eight o’clock eastern. And, like we do, I just took the next right action and ended up in the desert.

    Elizabeth Vargas 04:06

    I’ve interviewed producers at these shows, and they have talked about the fact that they encourage people on the show to drink because it helps people loosen up and creates more moments, you know, viral moments for TV. Did you get any pushback or any reaction when you said I don’t drink, and that’s not going to be part of my plan?

    Zac Clark 04:30

    Yeah, I mean, I think I had a pretty similar experience to when I tell anyone I don’t drink. There’s usually like a little bit of curiosity, and then you kind of keep hanging out. And if you start to trust the person a little bit and you start to develop that relationship, it can get a little bit more into your story, but for the most part, I think everyone there was so – they’re all thinking about themselves. I’ll put it this way.

    Elizabeth Vargas 04:50

    Why am I not surprised? So not none of the other guys asked you, like, “Hey, dude, why aren’t you having a drink?”

    Zac Clark 05:00

    No. I think, again, it’s just like a lot of times in life, I think half the guys there probably had someone in their life that had been affected by alcoholism or drug addiction. So they kind of picked up on the cue. And then the other half, I think they were maybe like dude, “why aren’t you drinking,” and I’m like “I don’t drink,” and on to the next one or whatever, like that. I mean, I think, initially, maybe like the first night I was there, there’s a little bit of feeling like an outcast because there is a lot of that socialization going on. And for me, it was late at night and I was very sober, and like, what am I doing here?

    Elizabeth Vargas 05:34

    Right, right. People in recovery talk about that. About being the only sober person at the party, and how surreal it can sometimes be to watch everybody sort of slip into that hazy buzz, or even worse, drunken behavior. And you’re sort of there taking it all in.

    Zac Clark 05:52

    Usually I don’t mind it, honestly. I mean, like my family – we still throw a good party. And I’ve been around long enough in sobriety to know kind of what it feels like. But I know there are people in my life that are sober that cannot deal with it.

    Elizabeth Vargas 06:04

    What about Tayshia? When did you tell her and that you don’t drink? And the entire story about why you don’t drink.

    Zac Clark 06:15

    Yeah, I mean, it was interesting. You know, for example, if I was dating in New York City, that’s something that would come out on the first date. One, because it’s my livelihood, right? I work in addiction recovery. And that I don’t drink. It’s like, “Oh, this is all making sense.” So it’s – I don’t really have anything to hide behind.

    But in that scenario, it took a little bit. I was given the opportunity to do one of these one-on-one dates. It was probably like the third or fourth real conversation I’d had with her. And then there was a night portion of that, where I was really given the time to let her know who I was. And there was a lot of build up to that moment. But for me, at this point in my life, if someone’s gonna not accept me or not like me because I’m sober, then it’s probably better off I find out early than late.

    Elizabeth Vargas 07:01

    Right. So no nerves about telling that part of your story.

    Zac Clark 07:05

    Not at this point. I mean, at one point in my life, yeah. But it’s just so a part of who I am now. It’s like, alright, make fun of me for not drinking or don’t like me because I don’t drink. And I think one of the things I really appreciated about her – she’s a total sweetheart. And she was attracted to it because of all the reasons you should be attracted to it. I know who I am. I know what I’m saying. I can show up. All those kinds of things.

    Elizabeth Vargas 07:33

    Right. Tell me a little bit about your backstory. How old were you when you first had a drink as a kid?

    Zac Clark 07:40

    I think it was eighth grade. We’d go to this Christmas party every year. And the older kids take the younger kids out back and give them their first beer. So I know the first time I was invited, I went back to the party to my parents crying becauseI was offered a beer. And I thought that meant that I was a really bad person. And I didn’t drink. But then I had a whole year to obsess over this moment coming again. And it did. And 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. So I like went back to the party where my parents were. They asked me what I was doing. I lied about it. And then, the next morning, Christmas carried on as usual. 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.

    Elizabeth Vargas 08:39

    Did you also have this thing where you wanted another?

    Zac Clark 08:43

    Yeah, I mean, I more felt like I had this secret that I was going to take back to the hallways in high school. We all want to drink because I had so much fun. And I felt like it was my rite of passage to introduce everyone else to drinking. And then definitely later on in high school. There was that, you know, kind of hanging out in the parking lot. Getting your booze for the weekend. And I remember I would get my 12 pack of Natural Light and flask of Captain Morgan. That sense of ease and comfort came, even though I hadn’t drank yet. I knew I was good. And I knew I was going to get drunk. So yeah, it was interesting.

    Elizabeth Vargas 09:20

    In high school, was it just alcohol?

    Zac Clark 09:23

    For the most part. Yeah. I always describe my high school as kind of a Dazed and Confused high school experience. We would drink in the woods and have the bonfires, and there was definitely some pot smoking here and there, but I just loved to drink.

    Elizabeth Vargas 09:38

    It doesn’t sound like it was off the charts. I mean, you were an athlete. You were playing three different sports. I remember I was an athlete in school and our coaches had really strict rules. If you were caught drinking ever we couldn’t compete. So those of us who are athletes who are really careful to drink carefully, or really moderately, it sounds like it was not out of the ordinary in high school for you.

    Zac Clark 10:04

    I don’t know. I mean, I know we partied hard. And those guys that I partied with in high school are still my best friends today. I mean, you could have thrown any of us into rehab during high school, if we were to get caught – if people really knew the extent to which we were drinking. But, you know, I was one of the few that needed to actually end up going to treatment. A lot of them ended up just fine. So I don’t know. I mean, what’s normal? Yeah, we partied. We drank. Tthere was some weeknight drinking. Some blackouts. That kind of thing.

    Elizabeth Vargas 10:32

    How old were you when you first went to treatment?

    Zac Clark 10:36

    Good question. I got sober at 27. So the first time I went to treatment it was Thanksgiving 2010. And then I got out, and I drank pretty quickly after that. My wife left me. And I kind of ran for eight months, ended up back in treatment August of ‘11. For four and a half months at Caron in Pennsylvania. And then from there I moved to New York City, and I’ve been here since.

    Elizabeth Vargas 11:04

    So after high school, what happened in college? Because I know that you did start to use drugs.

    Zac Clark 11:10

    Yeah.

    Elizabeth Vargas 11:11

    How did that begin?

    Zac Clark 11:12

    So let me think about this. So yeah, I went to a small school in Pennsylvania, York College. You know, I would say like, yeah, I was drinking like a normal college kid, or what I thought to be a normal college kid. There were definitely some nights on the weekends where I was blacking out. And then at some point, I think I was introduced to Adderall. And the Adderall eventually turned into some cocaine use here and there. I would not tell you that my drug use was so rampant during college. 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. But I knew at the end of the day that there was something wrong with the way I drank, because I was having experiences that other people weren’t having, just in terms of, you know, 10 o’clock, lights are out. And then it’s the next morning at 11.

    Elizabeth Vargas 12:15

    Did anybody in your life know what was going on? Did your parents did your brother? Friends? Anybody see what was happening?

    Zac Clark 12:23

    You know, no. And I think that was part of the problem. I think part of the problem was, it kind of became my identity. Like in high school, my superlative was Life of the Party. And then in college, I really took it upon myself to try to throw the biggest and best parties and, you know, always be available for whoever wanted to go to the bar, whatever like that. So I can tell you that any of the fights I got into with my ex wife were around drinking, that was a common thread. But it didn’t get to the point of really being called out until that first time I went to treatment, which was years later.

    Elizabeth Vargas 12:59

    I was astonished to read this, you actually, at one point, started to really get hooked on some of the pills, and you went to a doctor to convince them that you needed gallbladder surgery.

    Zac Clark 13:15

    Who’s doing your research? This is impressive.

    Elizabeth Vargas 13:21

    Tell me that story. It’s amazing.

    Zac Clark 13:24

    You’ve heard these stories before. We’re crazy. I’ll speak for myself. I’m out of my mind. And when this thing is on me, I will go to any lengths for the next high.

    It was in between the time I had gotten married and going to treatment for the first time. I’d had a brain tumor a couple years earlier. So that’s when I started really experimenting with the painkillers. And they remained around and in my life, and then eventually I got hooked in there at some point.

    I’ll never forget, I went to an Eagles game on a Sunday and overdid it, which basically means I did all my drugs. So I woke up Monday morning with nothing left and I was sick. … I had this crazy thought.

    Because I was feeling sick, I was going to go to the hospital and talk a doctor into giving me some medication. I didn’t know what my plan was. 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 whatever symptoms I had to google.

    I’ll never forget – I probably owe this guy an apology – but the doctor walked in. He’s 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.

    Elizabeth Vargas 14:55

    You had the surgery! You had your gallbladder removed just so you can get pain pills?

    Zac Clark 15:01

    That is correct. Yeah.

    Elizabeth Vargas

    Wow.

    Zac Clark

    I’ll never forget right before [they put me under]… 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.

    I remember I was getting paid that Thursday, I went in on a Monday. So that kind of bridged the gap to Thursday. And then when I got out, I had the paycheck in hand and I was back to ripping and running.

    Elizabeth Vargas 15:39

    Yeah, I don’t think people really, really understand the depths that people will go in the grips of the disease of addiction to get what they need. I mean, that’s an incredible story, but it’s not sadly very unique. I mean, people will do crazy, crazy things to get the drugs that they need.

    Zac Clark 16:03

    Eventually, look, you learn about the street game, and that’s a whole nother – man, you don’t need drug dealers. And I grew up right up right outside of Camden, New Jersey. And once I learned about that, it was game over. You know, I didn’t just drive into the neighborhood. You know where to go and you know who to talk to and that’s when it gets pretty dark.

    Elizabeth Vargas 16:27

    At the darkest point you were doing heroin?

    Zac Clark 16:30

    Yeah. Yeah. I went to treatment, in November of ‘10. Right. And then I got out, and so from January until August of 2011, it was pretty much anything and everything I could get my hands on.

    Elizabeth Vargas 16:51

    What were your parents doing during this time? What was your wife doing?

    Zac Clark 16:56

    Well, thank God for the first treatment experience I had. Thank God for Lois Wilson and the founders of family support, family love, and Al-Anon. And it’s accelerated, obviously, today. There’s so many great ways that families can get support.

    But me and my wife had signed a contract my first time in treatment. And I thought the thing was [expletive], right? I was like, yeah, I’ll sign this contract. “If you get high again, I’m going to kick you out.” And sure enough, about two weeks after getting out of treatment, I was trying to get high. She walked down, caught me, and she kicked me out that night. She was done. She kept her boundary, her dad drove down. That was the last night I slept in that house. So I always tell her, like, she saved my life because she was the first person to really tell me that like, you know, the party’s over. Just an amazing job by her of just setting the boundary.

    From that point – for the next eight months, it got pretty ugly and pretty dark. I mean, most of my friends weren’t talking to me. My parents are the best. They’re my heroes. My mom got to a point where it was just hard for her to even communicate with me. And so my dad was really the guy that kind of hung in there and stayed on the ropes with me until the very end. I don’t know where he got his training. It was like a little bit of motivational interviewing a little bit of CRAFT. Like it was a little bit of everything that he kind of brought, it was just enough to finally get some help. But he hung in there with me.

    Elizabeth Vargas 18:33

    You finally had a day where you had taken some blank checks from your dad, and you took them to a bank, where you attempted to forge some checks and cash them for some money for drugs.

    Zac Clark 18:45

    Yeah.

    Elizabeth Vargas 18:45

    What happened?

    Zac Clark 18:48

    Best day of my life is what happened. We were at the shore, the Jersey Shore, and I had driven back early. 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 go do whatever we were gonna do.

    And the lady just knew. Rhonda Jackson, she’s my angel on this planet. I actually got to meet up with her recently, as a result of going on the show and all this other crazy [expletive] that’s happened in my life. But she knew. She knew. And she called my dad, who I mean, you want to question God, or you know, higher power, whatever it is for you. But my father – it was a Saturday morning. He was at his office. He doesn’t work on Saturdays. His office phone rang from an unknown number. And he picked it up. He was just there. I don’t know why he was at the office, but he picked it up and it was this woman, Rhonda, and she said, “I have your son here. I think you want to get down here as soon as possible. Something’s not right.”

    So the way he tells the story, he jumped in his car and he sped down to the bank and he ripped through the doors white as a ghost, and I’m kind of sitting there like I’m 250 pounds. And I’m just kind of like waiting for my check. And all of a sudden I see my dad and I’m like, “Whoa, this is this is odd.” And he put his arm on my arm. And he said, “Son, we’re going home.” And that must have been like August 27, August 28, around there, and I was at treatment on August 30. So that was it. That was the best day of my life. And that woman saved my life for sure.

    Elizabeth Vargas 20:29

    Why do you think that moment something happened? Why do you think you had your moment of clarity, your moment of grace? You’d already had your wife that you loved set a firm boundary and kick you out. You’d already been to treatment and didn’t manage to stay sober afterward. Why do you think that day in that bank with that bank teller, who called your dad – what cracked open?

    Zac Clark 20:58

    I don’t know, if I had the answer that question I’d probably tell you, you know, I don’t think it’s anything other than just the universe working in my favor. I don’t know. I don’t know how to explain it. But you know, I’m around this thing a lot. And everyone kind of has those moments where they look back and say that was the moment everything changed. And for me, it was just, I think seeing my dad and knowing where I was physically and knowing how I was feeling. Emotionally, everything kind of just came together. And yeah, it is my moment of clarity. But I don’t I don’t have that answer. If I did. I don’t know. I’d be God.

    Elizabeth Vargas 21:36

    So you went to treatment a second time? Did you go to a different place or the same place?

    Zac Clark 21:41

    Yeah, the first place I went to was a place in South Jersey that does good work. And I was there for 28 days. And then the second time around, I went to Caron which is out in Wernersville, Pennsylvania. And I stayed there for four and a half months. I always joke that I did everything they possibly could have offered me. I did their breakthrough. I did their extended care. I mean, I was like, you know…

    Elizabeth Vargas

    You wanted it.

    Zac Clark

    I mean, I wanted it and I was also so sick that they – I think they were just looking for reasons to keep me there as long as they could, you know. However many years later, I’m on the board of that treatment center. So that’s how these things go in recovery, you know?

    Elizabeth Vargas 22:19

    Yeah, it’s amazing. Such a success story. Caron is one of the really good places, and I know you’re in the recovery field now. What is it for people in our audience who have somebody that they’re trying to get help? I mean, sometimes it’s a crisis moment. You often only have a very brief window of time to get somebody into treatment when they’re willing to go. And the tragedy, of course, is we know that fewer than 20% of people who need help get it in this country, and even of that number, some of them are going to treatment centers that aren’t so great. So how do you pick a place that can really help – a place that uses science-based treatment?

    Zac Clark 23:04

    It’s a tough question. I mean, look, I know some people that were pretty sick that got sober on a couple bucks and a book, and you know, going to meetings. I know people that have been to rehab 40 times and some of the best treatment centers in the country and haven’t been able to get it. And I wish I had the answer. I mean, I think there’s some things and some questions you can ask when you call a treatment center, just in terms of, you know, staff-to-patient ratio. How many full-time addiction psychiatrists do they have on staff? Is it for profit? Or is it a nonprofit? How long have you been around? What’s your what’s your approach to medication assisted treatment?

    Elizabeth Vargas 23:49

    How often do you meet with a therapist? Some of these have you meeting with a therapist, maybe half an hour a week, which is ridiculous,

    Zac Clark 23:57

    Right. But that’s why I’m so passionate about getting that call, though. That front-end call, because one: How the hell is a family supposed to know that? Right? Like, how the hell is a family supposed to know these questions to ask? And two: They’re gonna believe anyone that’s willing to talk to them. So they get on the phone with a treatment center that’s not so reputable. And next thing you know, they’re sending their loved one to this place that’s running some type of insurance scam or whatever it is. So it’s really tough. Because like you said, sometimes we only have a couple hours or one day where there’s that willingness. So, you know, when you know someone who works in the field – it’s always good to talk to professionals, right. In anything we do.

    Elizabeth Vargas 24:38

    Right. Because I know that right now, like if you go out and google treatment centers – I couldn’t remember the name of The Meadows in Arizona. And so I googled, you know, treatment centers in Arizona, to remind myself of the name of Meadows, and up pops, you know, all these other treatment centers that are all advertising. None of which are, you know, reputable. It took it took an enormous amount of work for me to find what I knew what I was looking for, which was the really good one, you know what I mean? Yeah, it’s very, very difficult. That’s why Partnership has this helpline so that people can get that information and know what questions to ask once they get on the phone with somebody.

    Zac Clark 25:23

    It’s so amazing. And, you know, one of the things that has happened as a result of being on this show, which was just this crazy experience, and, you know, I have been given a little bit more of a platform and people have been reaching out in totally bizarre ways. I don’t even know how they find me. But you know, we’re getting everyone, everything from people that are dependent upon Medicare, Medicaid for treatment, and up to people that can pay whatever it is for treatment, so and everything in between. So private insurance, and you call it but it’s just so hard, because good treatment works. We know that but good treatment can also be expensive.

    Elizabeth Vargas 26:03

    It’s not even possible for some people. So once you got out of Caron that second time, after the four and a half months, how did you stay sober? Because it can be hard, you know, to be back out in the real world. You’d already had one experience of going to treatment. And I did that. I went to treatment, one of my treatments, and I drank in the airport on my way home. Like literally it lasted three hours, right? The drive to the airport. It’s you know, it’s a very tough, vulnerable time.

    Zac Clark 26:34

    Well, look, I mean, look, I had I had therapists that I was working with, and they gave me a piece of paper, that was my discharge summary. And it had some suggestions on there, all of which were things I did, and a big part for me, without going too far into my personal recovery, and what I do on a daily basis, but a big part for me, it was just feeling connected to a community, right? Specifically men.

    So I had a guy that was kind of looking after me very early on in my sobriety. And he said, you know, you can go out and make three friends, and find three guys, you can really trust, start there. Because that’s gonna mean a lot. And I was able to do that. And those three guys are still some of my best friends today, you know, and I can literally tell them anything.

    And for me, it was just about practicing being honest, and, you know, doing some service work and get getting outside of myself. And learning that, I know a lot of things about a lot of things. But I don’t know anything about getting sober and staying sober. And really having the humility to ask for help. And continuing to do that today. To this day, I mean, I still make a [expletive] of mistakes, and, you know, having people in my life that are gonna call me out – it’s just invaluable.

    And the other thing you mentioned at the out front is this whole thing was stigma, right? In my head, sobriety meant I was moving to New York, or wherever I was going. And I was resigned to go into these meetings in some dark basement with guys that were three times my age for the rest of my life. You know, and that has not been my experience. My experience has been that recovery is badass, and it’s a next-level existence and, and allows me to do, literally whatever I want, including go on some television show in the middle of a pandemic, and, you know, let it ride. So I don’t know. That word stigma bothers me. Because I feel like in order to get rid of the word stigma, we got to kind of normalize it and stop using the word stigma. But that’s just a whole nother soapbox.

    Elizabeth Vargas 28:39

    But normalizing it, though, is talking about it, which is, you know, you’ve actually, whether you meant to or not, you have a big platform through the show, The Bachelor, and talking openly on the show to all those millions of viewers, and showing them what recovery looks like, what sobriety looks like that, you know, you could be, you could come from where you were, which was a dark place on the streets of Camden, as you said yourself, doing heroin to where you are today. And I think that people seeing that it helps reinforce the fact that we can’t just write people off that this is a disease just like any other and you can get better.

    Zac Clark 29:24

    Yeah, no, there’s no doubt about that. And I think, you know, like, I’ve met some of the coolest people through this journey, and people that I would have never even given a shot to, if I’m being completely honest, and part of that’s being in New York City and just opening my eyes. I mean, I grew up in this waspy little town in South Jersey. I thought I was destined for that existence. But recovery has really opened my eyes to an entire world of human beings that I never thought I would even have the ability to connect with.

    Elizabeth Vargas 29:57

    You said something on the show to your Mom that was really moving. You said, “You saved my life.” You know, that you wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for your strength is what you said to your mom. Is that true?

    Zac Clark 30:09

    100% – it just it sucks. Because I see this all the time in my work with the families, and specifically the parents. Well, there’s two things. One, I realized how good I had it. Like my parents are a total badasses. They’re really healthy, they’re up there. Because they just got it for whatever reason. But there’s no playbook for parents doing this thing. You know, something like cancer or heart disease, or whatever it is, you go to a doctor and they tell you what to do. And the patient does it. And hopefully they, you know, recover from that. But with this thing, there’s just no playbook. So for my mom, she just she hung in there with me, she loved me. And not really believing that I wouldn’t be alive wasn’t for her.

    Elizabeth Vargas 30:57

    What advice would you give to parents who may be in similar situations right now? We have a lot of parents in our community, obviously, we serve them and help them get, you know, help for their kids or, you know, adolescent children. What would you tell them to do?

    Zac Clark 31:16

    Yeah. I mean, look, I have a lot of thoughts on this. One is obviously, talk to a professional, call your helpline, talk to people that have been there before, right? That can really guide you. I think, for me, you know, I’m in a position in my life today where I do quite a bit of kind of consultation work. And even I don’t like the word intervention even. But that’s essentially what they are. Where you bring people together, and you kind of have open and honest conversations about what’s going on. And sometimes for those conversations – families are just so nervous to have them. So just creating an environment where you can talk openly and honestly, with, you know, whether it’s your husband, or your son or your daughter, whatever it is. And then if that fails, they kind of move to the next step. But I think, you know, it’s like, if you see something, say something. And most of the times based on the reaction, you can tell which way it’s gonna go. But the other thing I always just tell parents is trust your gut, you know, like, parents’ guts are always – especially the mom, the moms know. So you have that gut. Now, that’s when it’s probably time to reach out for help and get the ball in motion.

    Elizabeth Vargas 32:31

    That’s the hardest part because I’m a mom of two teenage boys, you’re constantly wondering, am I misreading this, and especially if you’re dealing with somebody who’s in the in the throes of addiction, they lie, as you did, as I did, when you’re in the grip of the disease, you lie about what you’re doing to yourself, you’re ashamed of what you’re doing to yourself. You don’t want anybody to know what you’re doing to yourself. So you got kids who are lying to their parents or spouses lying to their spouse about what they’re doing. And it’s hard to know when to trust your gut.

    Zac Clark 33:07

    Yeah, and I think even furthermore, today, you know, I think – you said your kids are teenagers. I mean, like, I think the toughest job in America right now is being a parent to teenagers, because the crap that is out there with the vaping, and I mean, they’re certainly not smoking the weed that I was smoking back in the day. They got all these juices, dabs, and I don’t even know what the hell it is. But the THC potency is so much higher than anything I’ve ever been taught. So, you know, treatment centers are seeing so many cases of marijuana-induced psychosis. Our society is normalizing the use of marijuana. So kids are starting to smoke marijuana, and then they’re frying their brains, and they’re ending up in treatment in a psychosis. So it’s this vicious cycle. And you know, I laughed with some of my friends that still smoke pot here and there. I said you better be careful with your kids because you guys normalize this thing and make it all socially accepted. You could be in for a fight.

    Elizabeth Vargas 34:08

    So tell me about your work. Now in the recovery field, you’ve got sober houses. How many of them do you have?

    Zac Clark 34:14

    So we started Release Recovery four years ago, me and my co-founder Justin Gurland, we have a 17 bed property for men up in Westchester, which was a beautifully annoying experience. So we had the NIMBY, and they didn’t want us there. And we fought that and learned more about small town politics and I care to ever talk about but we finally got to a place there where the town accepted us. And then we have two properties here in New York City, one for men and one for women. So we have three properties, 40 beds total. Transitional living, and then like I said, we do a lot of case management and consultation and coaching work and you know, if we’re not the right place for someone we’ll certainly point them in the right direction.

    Elizabeth Vargas 34:57

    And this is for people who are coming out of treatment?

    Zac Clark 35:01

    Yeah, I mean, the transitional living, that’s the focus, right people coming in and reintegrating back into the world.

    Elizabeth Vargas 35:07

    Because remember, in treatment, you’re, you know, while you’re getting sober or getting clean, you’re not, you don’t have access to any of those substances, it can be a really rude awakening to jump from that very sheltered treatment environment to the wide open world where anything goes.

    Zac Clark 35:24

    Yeah, well, especially right now, right? If you’re talking about COVID, I mean, you know, smart recovery, refuge recovery, 12 step recovery, all these meetings have gone online. So people that are leaving treatment now have never, you know, unless it’s their second, third, fourth time, they’ve never had the experience of going to an in-person meeting, you know, and learning to connect with people. So for us, we’ve taken on a great responsibility of that human connection within our homes and, you know, teaching people that you’re going to need each other to kind of get through this.

    Elizabeth Vargas 35:55

    I’m curious, did you ever dream that this would be your life?

    Zac Clark 36:01

    Oh, no.

    Elizabeth Vargas 36:02

    That you’d be operating recovery houses. That you would be a contestant on The Bachelorette. That you would win. That she would be your next wife!

    Zac Clark 36:11

    Oh, no. They say a life beyond your wildest dreams. Right? I’ve heard that one a couple of times. I don’t know if I got that or not. But it’s crazy [expletive] I’ll tell you that much.

    Elizabeth Vargas 36:22

    Have you guys set a date to get married?

    Zac Clark 36:24

    Now we’re taking it easy now. I mean, we landed back in New York on Christmas Eve. And it was an experience, I can say that. I mean, I just I never thought I would ever have that type of experience. Just the phone alone at times was actually like physically hot, from all the text messaging and phone calls. And I mean, forget about it, social media. So we got back. And she’s here now. I’ve been trying to show her the best parts of the city that I can, with COVID in mind. There will probably be some travel east to west, and for the next year we’re going to kind of take it easy. Have some fun.

    Elizabeth Vargas 37:02

    Well, Zac, it’s been a pleasure talking to you. Congratulations on your engagement. And congratulations on your sobriety. And thank you for all of your work you do in the field of recovery. It’s fantastic. And you’re an eloquent voice for living sober and clean.

    Zac Clark 37:22

    Thanks, you too. I’ve seen you speak many times, and I know a good deal about your story. So we’re in this thing together. And I appreciate all the work you guys are doing. And if I can ever be of assistance to anyone just holler at me, I’m here.

    Elizabeth Vargas 37:35

    You got it. Thanks so much, Zac. Thanks again to Zac Clark. To follow his journey and recovery and with his fiancée Tayshia Adams, you can follow him on Instagram @zwclark. And to learn more about Zac’s recovery work, visit releaserecovery.com You can also learn more about his foundation at releaserecoveryfoundation.org and you can find this podcast on Apple podcasts, Spotify and our website at drugfree.org/podcast. And as a reminder, if you need help with a loved one who is struggling with substance use, you can text 55753 or visit drug free.org. Talk to you soon.

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    Heart of the Matter with Elizabeth Vargas, gives guests the opportunity to share their personal, candid stories about addiction. Find all episodes and learn more.

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    Published

    February 2021