Luann de Lesseps began the holidays sobering up in a Palm Beach jail cell — and the experience changed her forever.
“It was the worst thing that ever happened to me,” de Lesseps tells PEOPLE in this week’ issue of her Dec. 23 arrest for disorderly intoxication, recalling that after an afternoon of drinking with a girlfriend, she went back to the Colony Hotel, where she was staying. There, met up with an ex-boyfriend and became disoriented as they tried to find her room, ending up in the wrong one.
Watch the full episode of People Features: Luann de Lesseps – My Battle with Addiction, streaming now on PeopleTV.com, or download the PeopleTV app on your favorite device.
After the hotel called the police, the Real Housewives of New York City star clashed with officers who arrived on the scene, and she was charged with disorderly intoxication, battery on an officer, resisting arrest with violence and threatening a public servant. Three months later, de Lesseps, 52, says the “embarrassing” and “shameful” incident was also the wake-up call she needed to finally face her demons and change her life for the better.
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2017 had been a difficult year for de Lesseps. After a New Years’ Eve wedding to Tom D’Agostino Jr., her marriage ended just seven months later when she realized he wouldn’t give up his “bachelor lifestyle.”
De Lesseps, who always drank alcohol socially, says she began drinking more heavily on a daily basis. As the holidays drew near, the reality star decided to celebrate in Palm Beach, a somewhat dubious choice given it was the location of her wedding just one year earlier.
“I couldn’t put my finger on why I was feeling so anxious, and why I was drinking more,” she says now of returning to the scene of her failed nuptials. “It makes sense now.”
After her arrest, de Lesseps knew that she needed a drastic change: “I couldn’t continue living the way that I was living. The only place where I felt like I was going to be okay was rehab.”
She cancelled her New Years Eve plans to vacation in South America and headed to an undisclosed facility to get help. “I needed to be surrounded by people who had the same issues I was having. Rehab was a godsend.”
For more on Luann, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE, on stands Friday
With her sold-out cabaret shows “#CountessAndFriends” and the return of RHONY, de Lesseps says she’s been too busy to dwell on her looming April 13 appearance in court, where she faces possible jail time if convicted. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges and says, “There were a lot of rumors about that night. I’m looking forward for the court case to finally come because I want the truth to come out.”
Yet she’s not upset the arrest happened.
“Unless I was humiliated publicly, I don’t think I would have done anything,” she says. “This was a warning. It was meant to happen so that I could take a step back and look at myself in a different way. I’m grateful to the universe for making me change my life.”
De Lesseps will appear on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen on Wednesday, and The Real Housewives of New York City airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on Bravo.