When Caty Davis, Miss Tennessee, takes part in the 2018 Miss America competition on Sept. 10, she’ll be doing so for her dad — a man who took his own life four years ago after a long battle with alcoholism and opioid addiction.
“I know I’m honoring him today, being able to share the message that he tried to [share] for so, so long and just couldn’t, unfortunately,” Davis, 22, tells Yahoo Beauty. “The disease was the problem. His intentions were good.”
Miss America is a platform competition, after all, and mixed in with a lineup of other important issues — military families, mental illness, diabetes, disabilities, STEM for girls — is Davis’s passionate personalized platform: “Attacking addiction: Prevention, recovery, and restoring families.”
It’s the culmination of dealing with the effects of multigenerational addictions, including but not limited to her father, grandfather, uncle, and stepbrother, who took his own life five years ago, when he was just 23.
“It’s an emotional ride a lot of the time, but it’s nothing that I’m not capable of doing,” Davis, of Knoxville, says about speaking so publicly about her pain. “I think that what I’ve been through, and the loss, technically allowed me to become stronger and handle things differently than others. But I think it has allowed me to heal too. By sharing my story, I’m kind of sharing what I was ashamed of for a really long time, and it doesn’t have power over me anymore.”
Davis adds that she is always “very aware” of her hereditary risk of addiction. “Honestly, just knowing that I’m predisposed to it has helped me make decisions in my life and even handle peer pressure very differently than my peers,” she says.
Davis first got involved with pageants when she was a teenager, joining local competitions as a way to showcase her singing talent. She won her first title as a junior in high school and moved into the Miss America Outstanding Teen pageant, placing second runner-up. Competing for the title of Miss America, she says, is “an absolute dream come true.”
Still, Davis is haunted with memories of the night, just after finishing her freshman year of college, when she learned her father had hanged himself in his garage and was found by her stepmother.
“There was an undercover-looking squad car in my driveway when I returned home from dinner,” Davis shares with Yahoo Beauty. “They were like, ‘We have to alert you as the next of kin,’ and she repeated the story, and I had to specifically ask how he had taken his own life. Then we had to wait for my sister [in high school at the time] to come home and relay the message to her, going through it all again. It was just absolutely horrific.”
Her father had gone through rehab four times. “I honestly knew he had taken a turn for the worse,” she says. “He had bounced back multiple times, he’d gone to recovery and treatment centers before, so, this is horrible, but I was like, ‘I hope he hits rock bottom and comes back up.’ And that didn’t happen.”
Davis hadn’t been in contact with her dad during her freshman year of college but had seen through someone else’s Twitter feed that he’d been arrested for public intoxication. “I was so ashamed but so worried the whole time that I wasn’t speaking to him,” she shares. “But he was such a charismatic and fantastic, full-of-heart guy.”
She didn’t know much about her dad’s demons as a kid, as he did his best to protect Davis from them, she says.
“He saw his own father battle with addiction and alcoholism, and he died in a drunk driving accident when my dad was 14. I realize now that when he wasn’t there he was protecting us. Unfortunately, to us, it just felt like he was choosing drugs or alcohol over us,” Davis explains. “I realized he had an addiction, and I was a very intuitive child. The first time he relapsed was when I was in sixth grade, and we were actually at Myrtle Beach by ourselves. That was the first time I’d ever seen my dad like that.”
She says that competing in pageants was a way to make sense out of the chaos she grew up with.
“I’m a perfectionist to the tee. And with the pageants, I feel like I have control over things — things I couldn’t control in my life,” says Davis, who just received her degree in psychology from the University of Tennessee and hopes someday to work with kids and families who are struggling with addiction. “I almost wanted to grab my dad’s attention, so pageants were a way. I know he is proud of me.”
The 2018 Miss America Competition airs Sunday, Sept. 10, at 9 p.m. EDT on ABC.
Read more from Yahoo Style + Beauty:
- Is Miss America relevant or offensive? I attended the pageant to find out.
- Miss USA wore her hair natural — and social media is loving it
- Miss America and Miss USA: What’s the diff?