Last month, the 20/20 anchor released Between Breaths: A Memoir of Panic and Addiction, the poignant and powerful story about her longtime battle with alcoholism and anxiety.
“It was scary to write this book and tell this story,” she tells PEOPLE. “I imagined every terrible scenario possible.”
But, she adds, “None of the things I was worrying about happened. Only amazing things have happened.”
Since the book’s debut, “I have people stopping me every single day,” she says. “I had somebody stop me the other day who said she was at an AA meeting in Italy and they were talking about my book at the meeting. It makes me feel so grateful. This is a gift I have been given and the reaction has been so lovely.”
Vargas spoke to PEOPLE Wednesday night in Manhattan at at the 2016 gala she hosted for The Samaritan Daytop Foundation, a human services agency with programs including treatment for substance abuse and services for veterans, seniors and the homeless.
She says she will never forget how other people lifted her up when she was at her lowest point in her battle with alcoholism – and how she is doing the same.
“One of the things we learn in recovery is that there were people there to save us,” she says. “So to be able to turn around and do that for someone else is really important. It’s our way of paying it forward.”
While onstage, she told the audience she was fortunate to have had the resources to seek the help she needed to battle the disease. “But so many people don’t have those resources and that’s why we are here tonight – to make sure people who just want a fair shot in getting better get that chance to lead a fulfilling and happy addiction-free life.”
One in five families in the United States are impacted by substance abuse, says Sheila Greene, who is vice president of communications and external affairs for The Samaritan Daytop Foundation.
“We have helped thousands of people reclaim their lives,” she said. “Our goal is to get people to support this important work.”