An Instagram model who began abusing drugs and alcohol when she was just 15 years old has opened up about her journey to sobriety and how she finally got clean.
Holly Valentine, 26, from Los Angeles, California, is no stranger to sharing details and photos from her life to 1.5 million followers on Instagram – but she has now opened up for the first time about her harrowing experience with drug and alcohol abuse that started when she was in her teens.
The model turned to substance abuse to combat feelings of ‘vulnerability’ and ‘loneliness’, having started hanging out with the ‘wrong’ crown, many of whom were much older than her, and according to Holly, took advantage of her innocence.
Then and now: Instagram model Holly Valentine is speaking out about how she overcame a lengthy battle with drug and alcohol addiction that started when she was just 15
Bright future: The 26-year-old, from Los Angeles, began using drugs as a teenager to help her overcome feelings of ‘loneliness’ after she fell in with the ‘wrong’ crowd
Holly spent six years battling her addictions, during which time she put herself in a number of highly dangerous situations – including confrontations with violent gang members, jail time, and even a near-fatal overdose.
The influencer began working to get sober in 2012, but it has been a long road to recovery – and she is only now sharing her story in the hopes of helping anyone else who is struggling with substance abuse.
‘I started using drugs at 15,’ Holly told Jam Press. ‘I have a really amazing and irritatingly stable family [and] I just wanted to see some s***.
‘I used to be drug friends with this girl who would consistently try to pimp me out or just basically use me as an offering to get whatever she wanted.
‘I was just a teenager who thought a bunch of cool older people wanted to be my friends, and I was vulnerable and lonely.
‘Thankfully nothing unfixable happened but that girl for sure would have trafficked or kidnapped me if I didn’t get sober.’
Holly says her addictions further escalated due to her need to fit in and be accepted by her peers.
She would use a variety of drugs, including cocaine, MDMA and pills, as well as drink alcohol on a regular basis.
The model added: ‘I was always really uncomfortable in my own skin and very easily overwhelmed when I was younger.
‘I was using cocaine, molly, drinking and using pills in high school which I’m embarrassed to admit – but at the time I thought that’s what everyone was doing.
‘Then when I was 17 I tried speed – thinking it was cocaine – and I went home and stayed up all night cleaning and getting ahead in all of my classwork.
‘I was already taking ADD meds that had been prescribed to me and it honestly just felt like the same feeling but at a higher dose.
Upset: Holly (pictured during her addiction) spent years abusing all manner of drugs, and ended up suffering a near-fatal overdose when she was 19
Heartbreaking: The influencer (pictured as a teen addict) spent 12 hours in a coma after her overdose – from which ER doctors had to resuscitate her
New beginnings: In 2012, Holly started a 12-step rehab program that helped her to turn her life around, and she has since forged a new career as an influencer, with 1.5 million fans
‘I liked the feeling of having 24 usable hours in the day and I didn’t realize how high I was actually getting.
‘Even after high school and in university I was holding onto this narrative that I had my life together and I was somehow not going to turn into a tweaker.
‘I wasn’t as good-looking then as I am now but I was definitely a decent looking young girl who wanted to hang out with 30-somethings.
‘My presence validated them because I was still more “together” than the rest of them and they paid me in drugs and protection for that validation.’
Holly continued using various drugs such as cocaine, speed and weed for six years – but says she drew the line at crack and heroin.
The model said: ‘If it was drinkable, poppable or smokable I was all over it.
‘I didn’t use everything every day but I don’t think a day went by that I wasn’t on something.
‘I was also extremely malnourished and wasn’t getting sleep which adds an extreme edge to whatever drug you’re doing.’
At the height of her addiction, when she was 19, Holly overdosed on what she thought was GHB but was actually GBL – a drug that is similar to GHB, but can be lethal if stored in the wrong way.
She said: ‘They both give similar highs but if you store GBL in the refrigerator like you would with GHB, it separates the formula and makes it lethal.
‘I was walking to my car with my friends. I was going to drive us to a party and I felt extremely disoriented and was stumbling.
‘I tripped on a step – and the next thing I remember was waking up in the ER.
‘The doctors had been forced to resuscitate me and pump my stomach – I’d been in a coma for 12 hours.
‘At this point, picking me up from the hospital, my mom knew something was wrong.
‘She tried taking away my privileges and keeping me at home but wasn’t sure if I was just a troublemaker or if I had a substance abuse problem and needed help.
Trouble: The model began her journey to sobriety after being arrested in 2011, when she spent a week in jail and was ordered to undergo six months of rehabilitation
Danger: Prior to that, Holly put herself at serious risk while doing drugs – including a confrontation with dangerous gang members
‘When I first started drinking and doing drugs, I was still in high school – but even though I was irritable and distracted a lot, I still passed all my classes, held jobs and participated in multiple varsity sports.
‘On the surface, my behavior and habits didn’t look suspicious until after I got out of high school.
‘That’s when I started slowly distancing myself from people who weren’t supportive of my drug use and recklessness.
‘My family have always been there for me – even at the worst of it – and although some friends couldn’t cope with it, I don’t blame them.
‘It was pretty obvious that there was a problem but no one really knew what to do.
I didn’t have a formal intervention like they do on TV but a lot of people tried to get me to stop.’
On a different occasion, Holly found herself alone in a room full of ‘gang members’, while attempting to pick up drugs.
She said: ‘I was a 17-year-old girl surrounded by five very big scary gang members at a trap house in a spot that is now known for kidnapping and human trafficking.
‘I tried to leave and two of them stood between me and the door and I just started screaming as loud as I could.
‘Eventually, they jumped away from the door because they were probably scared someone would hear as it was a small thin-walled apartment complex and I didn’t stop screaming until I got in my car alone.
‘I don’t know exactly what their plan was for me that night but I can guarantee it wouldn’t have gone well for me if I didn’t listen to my gut and just stayed there.’
In the fall of 2011, Holly was arrested following a night out in Southern California.
When police were called, the model was found carrying drugs and was subsequently held in jail for a week before being sentenced to six months of rehabilitation.
She said: ‘My mom, dad and my lawyer basically decided for me that I was going the treatment route and at the time I was very upset but now I’m grateful.
‘I have probably the most innocent family in the world and they didn’t see the signs of drug addiction, just erratic behavior.
‘They definitely caught on once I escalated to more serious drugs but thankfully my parents and family did a lot of work on their end in therapy to understand what addiction actually is and today they are my biggest support.’
The jail time was the wake-up call the model needed and helped her get on the right track again.
The following year, on June 8, 2012, Holly went sober – going through the 12-step rehab program.
Under cover: Holly says she managed to hide the true extent of her drug abuse from her family for years – until she suffered her overdose and was arrested
Sharing: She hopes that by opening up about her own recovery story, she can inspire other addicts to turn their lives around
Now, after a long journey to recovery, she has gone years without touching a drop of alcohol or any drugs, barring weed – which she has been smoking for the past eight months, but only to help with medication side effects.
She said: ‘During my treatment, I was put on a seizure medication to help with my withdrawal symptoms.
‘Getting off of that particular medication has proven to be very difficult and one of the side effects are seizure-like effects such as shivers, a rapid heartbeat, and even vertigo.
‘I’ve had days where I couldn’t open my eyes for four hours because the room was spinning and that’s just from the medication withdrawals.
‘THC is honestly the only thing that has worked with it but I don’t think I’ll always want to smoke weed and now that I’m in the ending stages of getting off of it, I don’t see myself wanting to continue to smoke.’
Holly also tackled her mental demons and while she contemplated calling out the people who had taken advantage of her in the past, decided to focus on her happiness instead.
She said: ‘After sober living, I realized I could no longer enjoy doing drugs or spent time with the people I thought I missed so much in rehab.
‘I’d always been nothing to them but now they were nothing to me. I got sober and started my journey on discovering how to validate myself. Happiness and success is the best revenge.
‘At the beginning I was angry and wanted to have a word with anyone who ever hurt me but I quickly realized there are millions of other things I can do with my life and that was that.’
Despite her personal struggles, Holly went to university and started a marketing career, in addition to her modelling. She now looks back on her addiction as something that has helped make her successful.
The model said: ‘I saw how bad life can get and nothing motivates success more than fear and spite. I will never let anyone else tell me who I am or what I’m capable of.
‘My addiction also prepared me as a businesswoman and as an artist, and nothing bad that happens in my life today remotely compares to my old life. As a result, nothing surprises or scares me, or feels unsolvable.’
Holly also makes sure to keep a regular routine and maintains a healthier perspective on life.
She added: ‘Nowadays I’ve learned that staying really objective and getting outside yourself through helping others makes you feel instantly better if you’re going through a hard time.
‘I’m also aware that I need to make sure I have a way to ground myself quickly, if I have a panic attack.
‘Keeping a regular daily routine and having things that keep me accountable also keeps me on track.’