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Ten years after leaving one of the most famous voicemails in reality TV history, Alexis Neiers is no longer disappointed in her story.
"What I found in my kind of later stages of my healing is that I need to reclaim my story," the former reality star tells ET's Ash Crossan in a recent sit-down. "And my story is one that's filled with a lot of heartache and almost every form of trauma possible. And so I just said, 'You know what? Screw it. I'm not gonna hold back and I'm gonna tell my truth.'"
For those not familiar, Neiers -- who now goes by her married name, Alexis Haines -- is instantly recognizable to anyone who watched the E! network at the start of the decade. Her tumultuous family life was documented on a reality series, Pretty Wild, which took a dramatic turn after Haines was arrested as a member of the "Bling Ring," a group of teens who were charged with breaking into celebrity homes and stealing jewelry, clothing and other valuables.
"The show took a 180 when I was arrested," she explains. "It was supposed to be just kind of like the hippy, crunchy version of the Kardashians, and then all of a sudden it made a 180 when I was arrested on the second day of filming."
Haines ultimately pleaded no contest to burglary charges in the Bling Ring case and served one month of her six-month sentence in Los Angeles county jail. But while Pretty Wild showed the glitzier party side of her life with sisters Gabby Neiers and Tess Taylor, as well as their relationship with their mother, Andrea Arlington-Dunn, Haines was dealing with a much darker secret that didn't make it on camera -- an all-consuming addiction to heroin.
"I had been on drugs pretty much consistently from around my middle school years until I got sober when I was 19," she confesses. "It began with just, you know, teenage stuff -- smoking pot, drinking warm beers out of my friends' fridges in the garage and going to parties. But by the time I was 15, I became addicted to Oxycontin, and from there my addiction progressed really quickly."
"The funds that I was getting from the show allowed basically for my addiction to explode, so by the time I was 17, I was using heroin every single day, all day long… I mean, I was loaded from the second we started filming to the second we stopped."
She sobered up during her first prison stint, going through a "brutal" withdrawal, and had "every intention" of staying clean once she was released, but as many addicts know, that's easier said than done.
"I was using alcohol and smoking weed and within two weeks [of my release] it was back off to the races," she recalls. "My addiction actually got worse even though I had less money and less access. I began shooting up intravenously, which is something I wasn't doing on a regular basis before and I was panhandling for money. I had nothing left."
Her show was also canceled -- something Haines now sees as a blessing in disguise. "I probably would have died [if we had gotten a second season]," she confesses. "That's the god honest truth. I don't think, had I not gotten sober in that moment and really taken a step back, that I would be sober today."
It took a second arrest, later on in 2010, for her to fully turn things around. "Judge Peter Espinoza saved my life," she remembers. "I ended up being arrested for possession of heroin and he saved me. He sentenced me to treatment instead of three to six years in prison."
It was in treatment that Haines began to get her life back on track, and she celebrates nine years clean of heroin this month. "All of these things ended up becoming one of the biggest blessings in my life, though, 'cause I would not be sitting here today had all of that not transpired."
And while she's grateful for where the road has led her -- Haines has built a "big, beautiful life" with husband Evan and their two daughters, 6-year-old Harper and 3-year-old Dakota -- the former reality star is getting candid about the more traumatic aspects of her upbringing and life in the spotlight in her new book, Recovering From Reality, and a podcast of the same name.
"I don't think that traumatized children should be in television," Haines explains, looking back on her short-lived reality stardom -- she made a conscious decision to stay away from the limelight after getting sober. "This industry is known for having people in it that have a lot of substance abuse issues. And so that trauma and that pressure is, like, amplified when you're on TV, right? It drove me to a bottom, fast. And so while nobody is responsible for that except for me, it amplified that. I'm just grateful that I was given a second chance."
Her book tackles everything from early childhood sexual abuse and family trauma to her own legal and substance issues -- but thankfully, it has a happy ending. "I'm just here to show you that if I can do it, anybody can do it," she says. "If I can publicly burn my life down and have everybody ridicule me for it and have a very public addiction and go to jail multiple times and heal, then you can too."
She's also working to pass that message of recovery along in real life, through her work at Alo House Recovery Centers, which her husband co-founded.
"So many people think their lives are over when they get sober, that everything is gonna be boring, that they're not gonna have friends, that they're not gonna be the same person that they were," she explains. "And I'm just here to say, you can have a big, beautiful, fulfilled life that's not easier by any means -- it's actually, I'd argue, harder in a lot of ways -- but it's so worth it."
"I'm just as funny and silly and have just as much energy as I did before. I'm a little bit more tired because I'm a mom."
And her bonds with the rest of her family have also evolved. Once thick as thieves, Haines says she and sister Tess now have the "most challenging relationship" in her family, after working through her issues with drugs and codependency.
"She lives in Wisconsin now, she has a beautiful family. I'm so happy for her, like, the fact that she made it out too… that's a miracle," she gushes. "It's just, sometimes, you have to realize that these relationships, dumping all my time is not serving either of us anymore… [But] I'll always consider her family. And I'll always love her very much."
Her relationship with younger sister Gabby has also had its "highs and lows," Haines says, but they're stronger for going to therapy together. "She got married a little over a year ago. I adore her husband, I'm so happy for them," she shares.
"We had two different childhoods under the same roof," Haines adds. "Which is common in chaotic families, everyone plays their role, right? And so, she was, like, the perfectionist, never gonna get in trouble, and I very much so was the wild child who's gonna rebel and scream from the rooftops… Overall, she's remained a really level-headed person, which is incredible."
Perhaps her most-healed relationship is with her mother, Andrea -- something that viewers of the infamous voicemail clip (or The Soup'srepeated mockery of it) might have a hard time believing.
"About two years into my recovery, she finally realized that she made a lot of mistakes as a parent," Haines says of her mom. "She jumped into therapy and coaching and now she actually helps other families not go down the same path we did. She developed a program called Families United for Recovery, she has groups in Malibu every Wednesday night and is doing great things. I'm really proud of her."
Most importantly of all, it seems, Haines' relationship with herself has recovered -- so much so that she's even able to laugh at some of the more meme-able moments of her brief stint in the spotlight.
"'Nancy Jo' is sent to me almost on a daily basis on Instagram," she laughs. "And now I actually find it really funny! I can laugh at those parts of myself, because it is kind of comical, right? I mean, it's sad and there was heartbreak and there's definitely stages of healing. Now I'm at the point where I can laugh at myself and say, 'OK, this is completely absurd.'"