The former Hollywood burglar and reality TV star tells The Fix about the heroin addiction that led her to her bottom—and how she began a new life.
Between October 2008 and August 2009, a group of mostly Southern California teenagers—who eventually became known as the “Bling Ring”—burglarized the homes of numerous celebrities, including Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan and Orlando Bloom, and stole roughly $3 million in cash and merchandise. One of the seven members, Alexis Neiers, initially denied any wrongdoing—but later pled “no contest” to residential burglary and was sentenced to six months in jail (she only served 30 days).
She next became the subject of a reality TV show, Pretty Wild, along with her two fellow-socialite sisters. But after being arrested in December 2010, this time for possession of heroin, she was sentenced to inpatient rehab for a year. She’s been sober ever since. Now married and a new mom to daughter Harper, Neiers had plenty to tell The Fixabout how her addiction led to becoming involved with the Bling Ring, as well as the movie of the same name—directed by Sofia Coppola and featuring Emma Watson as Neiers—that hit theaters on June 21.
Your mom has said that you were upset about your portrayal and factual inaccuracies in The Bling Ring. What’s your take on the movie?
I actually haven’t seen it yet, so I don’t want to be that person who criticizes a movie without seeing it first. Having said that, from the looks of the trailer and a lot of the reviews I’ve read, the characters are supposedly quite one-dimensional. I’m obviously not a screenwriter and am not trying to tell Ms. Coppola how to do her thing, but I do know that character and story and theme is hard to get “right.” Maybe those aren’t important things for Sofia, who I know goes for more of a “feel.” All I know is that if they made a movie about her and the only thing that she does is ruin the Godfather franchise, she probably wouldn’t think that was fair and the audience would find it kind of boring. Where is the arc?
The problems with the facts are hard to talk about since I haven’t seen the movie and know that facts have to be overly simplified in order to fit into a film format, as opposed to a book. This truly is a case where truth is stranger than fiction. I’m looking forward to a more nuanced and accurate account of how the events unfolded, at least from the perspective of where I was involved in them. Instead, the movie was based on interviews with the detective who, as everyone now knows or will be finding out more about soon, lied about the facts of my involvement in the case. I gladly share my deepest and darkest secrets to the world in the hopes of helping others with my story. Why wouldn’t I admit to stealing to support my drug habit? But people will hear what they want, I guess. It fits with their version of reality.
When did your drug use start and when did it escalate into heroin use?
My first drugs were prescribed to me by a well-meaning doctor when I was in the fifth grade. Teachers were noticing that I was anxious and depressed and not mixing well with others. It was recommended to my mother that I see a doctor, who put me on anti-depressants, anti-anxiety pills, and ADHD medications. No one knew the root of my anxiety and depression and ADHD, which was the result of growing up in a fairly dysfunctional family. My parents were divorced, my father was an alcoholic, my mother slipped into a depression after her mother died, and I was sexually abused by a family member from a very young age. I’m happy to share openly about these things because, unfortunately, they are all very commonplace. For me, they were where my self-medication began in order to cope with the pain. Soon enough, I was smoking Oxys by age 16, smoking black tar [heroin] by age 17, and shooting it by 18.
I now understand the traumatic events of my past not as a way to blame my parents or feel sorry for myself, but to understand myself compassionately. I’ve been freed from the shame, anger, and fear that plagued me for years, so there is nothing I love more now than having opportunities to help other young people be freed from theirs.
Were you or the other Bling Ring members under the influence while these robberies took place or did addiction play a role in any way?
Drugs were the only reason I personally had anything to do with that whole thing. Tess [Taylor] had become good friends with Nick Prugo, and I knew that if I was going to get to keep hanging out with her, I’d better make friends with Nick. I was totally loaded with him one night in Hollywood and he told me that he had to go pick up some clothes for a photo shoot he was doing that week. The next thing I knew, we were parked up in the Hollywood Hills. I never stepped foot in that house.
It’s almost funny now that I’m pegged as being such a key player. The truth is that I was the one who called the police on multiple occasions to tell them what I witnessed. When the cops showed up at my house to search for stolen goods, I mistakenly thought they were there to take a statement from me. I told them everything.
I won’t speak for the others, but my addiction is the only reason I was ever involved with the so-called Bling Ring and I take full responsibility for that. I don’t blame anyone else or identify myself as a victim. Getting caught up in that craziness, going to jail, going to rehab for a year—this was the best thing that ever happened to me. It was truly divinely orchestrated.
Most people who followed the Bling Ring know that you were arrested, but many people don’t know that you were panhandling in the street. Was that the worst point of your heroin addiction?
I had been making a bunch of money during Pretty Wild [which aired on E! for one season in 2010], but that money went pretty fast with a $10,000 per week habit. After the show, I was panhandling at gas stations in Reseda. I was that girl who gives you the whole long story about how her boyfriend left her stranded, her car was broken, that she needed a few bucks towards getting it fixed… that was definitely the low point in my addiction. I’m sure it could have gotten much worse, but I wound up in jail not too long after that.
What was the moment that convinced you to get clean?
There were many moments where I knew I needed help, but didn’t know where to turn. I had told myself so many times “this was it” and “I will never use again,” but I decided to really dive into the work after I hit an emotional bottom at three months of sobriety. I kicked from heroin, benzos, alcohol, and cocaine while in jail. I was in treatment and I needed more than therapy. The solution to my problems was gone and hearing myself say the same story over and over again to a therapist was making it worse. So I finally put my ego aside, found a sponsor, and started working the Steps. I’ve been sober for over two and a half years now.
You met your husband at an AA meeting. People often recommend going a full year sober before jumping back into the dating pool, so did you encounter any difficulty or negative opinions from others when your relationship first began?
There’s a lot of people in AA who want to be the relationship police. It’s true that they suggest not to get into a relationship for the first year and I’m sure it’s a very good idea, but for us and many others, it’s not how it worked out. In my personal opinion, there is a trend in AA where sponsors seem to kind of get off on controlling and managing the lives of their sponsees. This wasn’t my experience, but I see a lot of it. I think it’s a disservice to the program as a whole and turns a ton of people off who would otherwise be exposed to the more loving, non-judgmental spirit of AA. With that said, I love AA with all my heart and truly believe it saved my life. And the haters are gonna hate, and the bleeding deacons are going to pass judgment, so I just let them be.
How has being a new mom strengthened your resolve to stay sober?
I love my baby girl more than anything in the whole world, but I know that there are so many women who feel the same way and can’t stay sober. This isn’t due to a moral failure, but it’s simply what addiction looks like for many women and I’m no better than them. All I know is that to keep my family intact, keep my career going, and experience the quiet mind and loving heart that recovery has given me, I must be a full participant in my recovery. I must never forget what my first priority is: to stay sober, and help others.
What else are you hoping to accomplish in the next few years?
I’m planning to do everything I can to translate my visibility into ways to help young people get sober. I’m hoping my story will hopefully help enable me to bring other young people to the light, so to speak, but I want to have some fun in the process. A lot of recovery work has lost its heart. Life, I believe, is meant to be a joyous thing, even with the sorrow and pains.
I’m currently writing a memoir and perhaps have a new reality show in the works, but the most important thing I’m doing now is treatment work. I’m currently helping at my husband’s sober living [house] called Acadia Malibu and we have something very special going on there. There’s a lot of healing going on and we believe we’re creating the beginnings of a little revolution in the way drug and alcohol treatment is done. Under the tutelage of people like Bob Forrest, we are trying to move away from the old compliance-based models and make a shift into a totally new paradigm. I truly believe you’ve only heard the beginning of this! Article Link “the fix”…
McCarton Ackerman is a frequent contributor to The Fix. He recently wrote about 10 politicians who’ve run into trouble with drugs.