“I would hope that Denver Women’s Recovery is my legacy, and it’s the best thing that I’ve ever been (able) to do to feel like I’m able to help people along their journey to find recovery.” ~ Holly Wilson, Founder of Women’s Recovery
Once upon a time, Holly Montag lived what seemed to be an enviable life. A decade ago, she was a famous face on such popular reality TV shows as The Hills and I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here!. But despite the glitz and the glamour, Holly also privately and publicly battled a serious drinking problem that threatened to destroy everything that she had achieved. After an intervention by her younger sister Heidi Montag and her brother-in-law Spencer Pratt, and after experiencing what she calls a personal “moment of clarity” Holly made the courageous and life-saving decision to seek professional help. Today, back home in Colorado, Holly Wilson is sober, happy, and healthier than she ever was in Hollywood. She is a respected professional in the field of addiction recovery, and personally, she’s the proud mother of a beautiful young son. Successful recovery has also given Holly a new, greater sense of purpose in life. Women’s Recovery provides drug and alcohol rehabilitation services to women facing the same struggles that she herself once endured. Let’s take a closer look at the inspiring story of how Holly Montag Wilson came back from alcohol addiction and is now giving back to others who are in what was once her same situation.
“We accept many health insurance plans. Get your life back in order, take a look at our outpatient program.”
An Unimaginable Family Tragedy
“My step-brother died in 2008 and I used alcohol as a coping mechanism, and just relied on that. And that for me is when the switch flipped, and it went from the point of being a binge drinker to being a daily drinker.” ~ Holly Montag Wilson
In early-2008, Holly and Heidi Montag’s stepbrother, Eric O’Hara, died after falling while removing snow from the sloped roof of the Colorado hotel where he was working. Ironically, Eric was a combat veteran who had survived multiple missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was just 24 years old. Through her representative, Heidi released a statement that read in part, “Losing my brother, at an early age, is such a tragedy. I just loved him more than anything. He was just so patriotic. He really wanted to go to Iraq and help and do all that he could for his country. He felt like it was his duty. I’ll really miss him.” Holly took Eric’s death particularly hard. They were best friends, in the same grade in school, and just five months apart in age. And so, like a lot of people, she tried using alcohol to cope with the emotional pain of her loss. But like too many people who “self-medicate” with alcohol or drugs, her use quickly went beyond her control.
The Hills Welcomes a Party Girl
“My sister, she got an invitation to go on to The Hills. And she said, “Why don’t you come out and do this?” The amount of money that everybody was making and the lifestyle…that sounded …appealing to me.” ~ Holly Montag Wilson
Heidi Montag had already been a main cast member of The Hills when she invited her older sister to join the show. Holly accepted, and she became part of the supporting cast. The Hills is about the personal and professional lives of young women in Los Angeles, but it is the dynamics of their interpersonal relationships that made the show such a popular guilty pleasure to watch. The addition of Holly made for compelling television, especially since there was friction when she moved in with Heidi and Spencer. But whether it was her own habits that inspired storylines, or whether it was the storylines that created situations, Holly was soon thrust into the role as the hard-partying girl who really liked her booze. Or as Stacie Hall, the bartender who eventually became Holly’s roommate said more bluntly, “They show her as being a drunk…”
The Wrong Environment?
“I was known as “Alco-Holly” on the show, and that was part of my role. One of the castmates actually had said to me at one point, ‘You know you don’t have to be who you think that they want you to be.’” ~ Holly Montag Wilson
Los Angeles is more than just a different environment than the tiny town of Crested Butte, Colorado (population: 1487) where Holly’s family owned a restaurant — it’s a different world. In retrospect, maybe it wasn’t the best place for a young woman unaccustomed to the bright lights of the LA nightlife and who was still mourning the loss of her stepbrother. Spencer Pratt has said, “(People are) giving you unlimited high-end alcohol, and Holly is from Colorado, and probably did not have fun (before), especially when your new BFF is Stacie the bartender.” The frequent partying affected the lives of multiple cast members. Kristin Cavallari has been dogged for years about her drug use. Stephanie Pratt, Spencer’s sister, was arrested and charged with a DUI, and has an extensive personal history. As Stacie Hall said, “If you’re gonna do a rehab thing then they should show everybody because everyone is pretty much crazy.”
Loved Ones Show Concern
“…if you’re out at a club every night having drinks, then you’re drinking every night of the week. First, it starts off, ‘Oh, I just love this dancing and having fun with friends.’ But it’s like, even though you’re just having a couple of cocktails, (it adds up). It took that moment [to realize we had] to step in here…we’re like, ‘Yo, it’s time to help Holly.‘ “ ~ Spencer Pratt
One episode of The Hills stands out more than the others, in terms of Holly appearing to be in crisis. She had had way too much to drink, and she was out on the dance floor oblivious and alone. As she awkwardly attempted to dance, it was painfully obvious to both viewers and her castmates that someone needed to step in. Significantly, it was Stephanie Pratt who went to Spencer and her new sister-in-law Heidi Montag, urging them to approach Holly about her drinking. The irony is, Stephanie had been arrested and charged with a DUI less than a week before. It was touching to see how Spencer was genuinely concerned for Holly, especially in light of their past differences. He was sympathetic and supportive, telling her, “I’m right there with you.” Together, he and Heidi staged an intervention to try to convince Holly to get help for her alcohol abuse. During the intervention, Holly ordered a huge margarita on the rocks.
Hitting Rock Bottom
“I was supposed to move from LA to New York for work, and was supposed to go out with a few drinks with friends, and that lasted about five days and hadn’t packed anything for the move. And suddenly, I realized that I wasn’t gonna stop and that things were just gonna continue to get worse. For me, that’s what I call my moment of clarity, where I decided that I wanted to do something else, and I reached out and asked for help.” ~ Holly Montag Wilson
In many ways, Holly Montag was extremely lucky. First of all, she had friends and family members who cared about her enough to confront her about her drinking. Most active alcoholics and drug addicts don’t have that level of personal support. Also, when she hit her own personal “ rock bottom”, it wasn’t because of something overwhelmingly dramatic. She wasn’t arrested, she had not hurt herself or someone else, she wasn’t homeless or unemployed, and she had not alienated everyone in her life. Far too many substance abusers have to almost lose it all before they get sick and tired of being tired and sick, so they only sober up when they are forced to… because they are in jail or in a hospital, for example. But between the intervention and her sudden realization that she had to make some immediate and drastic changes, Holly admitted to herself that she needed help. And that is the First Step of Recovery.
What was Alcohol Rehab Like for Holly Montag?
Everyone’s personal sober journey is unique, and Holly has not spoken extensively about exactly what was involved during her rehab process. The best treatment plans are highly individualized and typically include some combination of the following evidence-based services:
- A thorough intake and assessment
- Individual psychological counseling
- Education about the disease of addiction
- FDA-approved medications
- Treatment for any co-occurring mental illnesses
- Relapse prevention and response planning
- Positive coping skills
- Peer group therapy
- Grief and Trauma processing
- Trigger avoidance
- Stress reduction
- Nutritional guidance
- 12-Step fellowship groups
- Building strong support systems
- Service and support animals
- Art and/or poetry therapy
Finding a New Life’s Purpose
“The biggest comeback for me has been this opportunity to now open up my own substance abuse treatment center for women. Being given the responsibility by God and being trusted with that to help other women to get sober and find more meaning, and be empowered in their lives, is definitely the most important thing for me that’s come out of my comeback.” ~ Holly Montag Wilson
Not surprisingly, many people who have had a life-changing recovery experience choose to give back by entering the addiction field themselves. As counselors, therapists, and addiction specialists in recovery, they have unique insights into what is like to live an actively-addicted life, and they can use their firsthand knowledge to better relate to and serve their clients. After receiving her Master’s Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Adams State University, Holly Wilson is now a recognized expert in the addition recovery and mental health fields, having served in various roles for some of the top treatment programs in the United States. After gaining the necessary clinical experience, Holly founded and serves as the Chief Empowerment Officer for Women’s Recovery, an outpatient, gender-specific treatment that offers cutting-edge outpatient services to women in crisis due to addictive disorders, mental illness, or unresolved trauma.
A Lasting Legacy Beyond The Hills
“Another area of great importance to me is my sobriety… (I) feel that there are so many people out there who have shared my struggles in addiction (and sobriety) and I aim to foster a safe place where others can share their experience, strength, and hope.” ~ Holly Montag Wilson
Recently, it was announced that there will be an upcoming reboot of The Hills, and although sister Heidi and in-laws Spencer and Stephanie are all aboard, there are currently no plans for Holly to make an appearance. Like her former castmates Lauren Conrad and Kristin Cavallari, Holly has moved on to a different place in her life. She wishes them all well, but she has left Hollywood behind for her Colorado home. Holly Montag may have come to fame because of reality television, but Holly Wilson’s legacy will be the life-changing and life-saving work she does at Women’s Recovery.
What Can We Learn from Holly Wilson’s Comeback?
In the end, these are the biggest takeaways from her story. FIRST, the disease of addiction can affect ANYONE. It does not respect boundaries of age, gender, talent, income, sexuality, or education. SECOND, it doesn’t matter why someone makes the wonderful decision to get professional help for their substance abuse struggles. Acknowledging the problem and asking for help is the most important step of all. THIRD, and most important, recovery works. With timely intervention, evidence-based treatment strategies, dedicated lifestyle changes, and ongoing support, ANYONE can successfully regain their sobriety, their good mental health, and serenity and balance in their life. Holly Wilson and the women she helps are all living proof.