Chiara de Blasio, the lovely, bubbly daughter of New York’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, likes to wear flowers in her hair. She’s one of the reasons New Yorkers elected de Blasio. The family is hugely appealing: unpretentious, comfortable, candid. They seem real. During the campaign her brother Dante got the attention for the afro, but she’s the one who charmingly bragged that her dad isn’t “some boring white guy.”
On Christmas Eve Chiara became a little more real and a little more candid, releasing a YouTube video about her struggles with substance abuse during her freshman year in college. She acknowledged wrestling with depression through her “entire adolescence,” and coming to depend on alcohol and marijuana to be more comfortable socially. She thought she could handle it, she says, until she went away to Santa Clara University in California (a college she chose, by the way, because she got a scholarship, she told New York magazine, and she wanted to avoid the “crazy loans” so many kids are depending on to finance college).
Chiara highlights one of the reasons freshman year is painful for so many students: She said she wasn’t prepared emotionally for the challenges of being in such a different place. And she thought starting over would allow her to leave her old struggles behind. “I thought all of my problems would go away,” she said, “if I just got on a plane and flew 3,000 miles away.”
That didn’t work—as it often doesn’t—and her substance use accelerated. She thanks her therapist for referring her to an outpatient treatment center, where she was able to work, in a group setting, with others her age who are dealing with depression and anxiety.
She doesn’t want to make it sound easy—”It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done”—but she’s very positive about the results of getting sober. “Removing substances from my life has opened so many doors for me,” she says. “I was actually able to participate in my dad’s campaign. Now I’m doing well in school and actually getting to explore things that aren’t just partying.”
She urges more open discussion about alcoholism and drug abuse, because “nobody can do sobriety on their own. You have to keep relying on those that have been there, finding people who have gone through it.”
Political commentators are railing about the slick handling of a potentially troubling issue for the mayor-elect who made his family the center of his campaign—getting it out of the way days before the move into Gracie Mansion. But for those of us who worry about the mental health of teenagers and college students, Chiara’s down-to-earth candor trumps political considerations. And as New Yorkers, it’s refreshing to have a first family that doesn’t pretend to be perfect.