05/22/2013 at 08:15 PM EDT
Sitting down for an interview on a sunny afternoon in L.A., Meredith Phillips can't help but complain about those last 10 lbs. she'd like to lose. As a former model and, most notably, the star of The Bachelorette
in 2004, she'll admit she's a little hard on herself.
"I need to get back in the gym. I should really be taking better care of myself," she says. "But I really can only focus on one thing at a time right now."
Her primary focus has been far more challenging than logging time on a treadmill. Until six months ago, Phillips, 39, was in the throes of alcoholism. Now, she's more than 150 days sober and still struggling to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
"For years I'd wake up every day feeling like I was hit by a truck," says Phillips, who, at her worst, was drinking more than 20 bottles of wine a week and blacking out daily. "But I realized I was going to kill myself," she says. "There wasn't another path for me other than to stop." Now, reflecting on her addiction, she says, "I'm finally starting to live my life again."
For Phillips's whole interview and story on her sobriety, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday