AP NEWS

Anchor tackles anxiety, alcoholism at Tapestry

May 4, 2019

Award-winning news anchor and reporter Elizabeth Vargas discussed her struggles Friday with anxiety and alcoholism that are detailed in her book, “Between Breaths: A Memoir of Panic and Addiction.”

During her remarks at the 18th annual Tapestry at Memorial Coliseum, Vargas described believing that panic and anxiety were shameful things that needed to be hidden. And she did that through use of alcohol. Of women who are alcoholics, 60% also suffer from anxiety, Vargas said.

Vargas currently hosts “A&E Investigates.”

“I literally white-knuckled my way through childhood and adolescence,” Vargas said. “I had no words for what I was feeling. I was just deeply ashamed of my fear. It seemed to be something I needed to endure alone.”

Vargas, 56, said she didn’t drink much in high school or college but eventually fell into a routine of nightly drinks that grew slowly from one or two glasses of wine to a full bottle a night.

“We would all troop to a local bar to toast our successes or commiserate our failures,” Vargas said. “And as we sipped and laughed, the cares of the day would melt away from me.

“That glass of wine had a profound effect on my anxiety and my grating insecurity that I wasn’t talented enough or good enough to be working there. Suddenly, I could relax and the world seemed gentler and rosier.”

Over time, Vargas said she found that she needed more wine to relax. By the time she landed a position on national news, she was drinking wine every night.

“I never gave a thought to it,” she said. “I drank to feel like other people looked.”

Vargas said she became adept at hiding her problem from her family, friends and colleagues. Until one day.

After an interview one June day, Vargas drank a bottle of wine and blacked out. She awoke seven hours later in a hospital emergency room. Soon after, she checked herself into rehab. It would be a long, difficult process of sobriety and relapse.

“I wish I could say that first trip to rehab cured me, that I learned everything I needed to learn to stay sober : that life is precious and fragile and there are no do-overs,” Vargas said. “But I didn’t. It would take a second, longer stay in rehab and then two very rocky years of sobriety for it to finally all stick.”

But stick it did, culminating in her book and opportunities to speak to groups like Tapestry.

“It’s important we talk about these issues,” Vargas said. “Only by talking about them, I think, do we bleed them of their power.”

A total of $72,000 in scholarships were awarded to Purdue University Fort Wayne and Indiana University Fort Wayne students Friday at Tapestry, sponsored by PFW and Parkview Health. For more information, go to www.pfw.edu/tapestry.

dgong@jg.net