by Natalie Baret
Barely six months into her sobriety, London Rebecca Reber received an unforeseen opportunity to become Miss Venice Beach.
“It was shocking to me,” said the now former Miss California, United States 2012. “I’d always been an athlete, so this was really far out of my comfort zone. With no pageant experience, newly sober, and trying to find my way, I certainly didn’t feel worthy or capable of being crowned a queen.”
After wrestling with the idea for two weeks, plagued with the fear of never feeling good enough, the Oakland-born, Californian native surrendered. “This wasn’t my plan for my life, but for reasons I couldn’t predict, I was being led to do this thing and I just knew I needed to stop denying what had come to me so effortlessly. I thought, ‘Maybe this is God’s will for my life and it’s time for me to get out of my own way.’”
Then, at twenty-eight years old, Reber received a healthy dollop of praise and support after accepting her title as Miss Venice Beach and felt encouraged to try out for Miss California, United States.
On finals night at the Miss California pageant, she stood behind the curtain waiting for her name to be called, about to walk the stage in her bikini. She had made it to the final three contestants and now it was down to the live-session interview round. Suddenly, flooded with mixed emotions, she heard her fear creep in, saying, “I don’t want to let my sponsors down. I need to make my family proud. But still, every other girl here probably wants those same things.” So, I challenged those doubts, “What makes me different? Why pick me?”
Reber recalled, “A voice in my head gently whispered, ‘I’ve done everything I possibly could to prepare myself to get to this point. There’s nothing I can do now to change who I am in this moment, I might as well enjoy it!’ I accepted that if the judges didn’t pick me, I’m okay—that just means they want something other than me, which I can’t be.” So behind the curtains, she decided her purpose was to be of service. “If they did choose me, I would use the crown as a microphone to spread an inspirational message of hope to young women: that no matter what you’re struggling with, you can change. It mattered because, before I got sober, on the outside everything looked fine—I still had a job, a car, an apartment—but inside I wanted to die. I was suicidal, I was hopeless.”
Reber attributes this clarity to three things. “I give my God, my sobriety, and my program the credit to even come up with that thought.”
As Reber heard her name called, she took to the stage. Instead of being questioned about her goals or political beliefs, she was asked about who or what inspires her the most. “It couldn’t have been a more perfect question because my sister Elizabeth McCurry was in the audience. And, besides having Downs Syndrome, she has undergone three open-heart surgeries, as well as leukemia which put her through two years of chemotherapy, and she also survived heart failure in 2010. My sister has been a huge inspiration, and sparked my desire to get sober. I watched her fight literally every day, for every breath. While I was using drugs and alcohol to kill myself, she was trying so hard to live.”
Rebers won the pageant and also won Miss Congeniality, United States that same year. She spent her reign traveling the country, practicing philanthropy. “I made speeches at school assemblies about body image and how that can drive us to bully others, based on how we feel about ourselves. I started taking my sister to all the charity events and fundraisers—she began inspiring the public in such a unique way that she was crowned Honorary Miss California and walked onto the stage with me to pass my title on to the 2013 winner!”
Since choosing sobriety in 2011, Reber has helped countless women in twelve-step fellowships get their lives back. Currently, London is the National Outreach representative for Connections in Recovery, an international addiction and mental health treatment consulting and referral resource company.
Nathalie Baret is the Director of Public Relations at Win-Win Publicity House.