'RHONY' 's Luann de Lesseps Says She's Drinking Responsibly Again After Completing Probation

"I'm toasting to a happy new year ahead!" Luann de Lesseps tells PEOPLE exclusively

Luann de Lesseps is making changes in the new year.

The Real Housewives of New York City star and Countess and Friends cabaret performer, 54, tells PEOPLE exclusively that after months of sobriety, she has recently made the decision to allow herself a drink on occasion.

Coming to that conclusion was something that de Lesseps approached slowly and responsibly, she says, after much soul-searching.

“New Year’s has been a time of reflection,” explained de Lesseps, of her choice. “I’ve learned a great deal about myself, and I’m in a very good place and finally back in the drivers seat.”

“I’ve always said my journey is day by day,” the Countess added. “I’m toasting to a happy new year ahead!”

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De Lesseps’ news comes after a roller coaster few years for the reality star, which began when she was arrested in Palm Beach, Florida back in December 2017 on charges of battery, trespassing and disorderly intoxication.

In the aftermath of that, de Lesseps made some changes. She voluntarily entered an alcohol treatment center after her arrest, telling PEOPLE at the time that she “intended to turn this unfortunate incident into a positive life changing event.” Then, in July 2018, de Lesseps returned to rehab for a second time, which caused her to miss the RHONY season 10 reunion.

Not drinking wound up being a key part of de Lesseps’ plea deal, which she agreed to in August 2018. The one-year probation, in place of jail time, required de Lesseps to not possess or consume alcohol or illegal drugs, while also performing 50 hours of community service, attending two AA meetings per week and attending a Victim Impact Class organized by Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

All appeared to be going well until this April, when de Lesseps failed her alcohol test and later admitted to “drinking 2 glasses of mimosas after a [cabaret] performance she had in Chicago.”

“I take my sobriety very seriously and like many in my situation, it is a daily struggle,” de Lesseps said to PEOPLE then. “I remain committed to doing whatever it takes to continue living a healthy sober lifestyle.”

Eventually, de Lesseps came to a new probation deal with her judge, adding in May the promise of weekly call-in counseling sessions, monthly psychiatric sessions and an agreement that she’d keep a breathalyzer with her.

All terms of her probation were completed in late August.

“Hi my friends, I’m happy to say after a difficult year…I’ve made it through!” she wrote in a handwritten letter shared to her Instagram on Aug. 28. “I’m humbled and grateful for this life lesson and ready to put the past behind me and move on with my life.”

“Wish me luck!” the Bravo star added. “Thank you for your undying support over the year. Love always, Luann.”

Just this past November, during a special Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen from BravoCon, de Lesseps earned applause from the audience when she was congratulated on coming to the end of her probation.

“It feels great. It is behind me and I can move on in my life and be a badass with all the Housewives of New York again,” she said.

“I look at it right now as kind of a blessing, believe it or not, because it really made me step back and take a look at my drinking, etc,” she said in a July appearance on WWHL. “I feel fortunate.”

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Her legal troubles aside, de Lesseps has remained busy with her hit Countess and Friends cabaret tour.

February will mark two years on the road for the show, which brought her all across the country. She told PEOPLE in December she’s hoping the new installment of the show — titled F, Marry, Kill — will bring some of her fans back to see the newly crafted cabaret.

It’s a very different show,” de Lesseps said. “It’s really about sex, men, and relationships. There will obviously be a lot of Housewives stories, because I’m always in trouble with men on the show somehow. I mean, either I’m getting married, divorced, or arrested! So we have a lot of fun with that and dive in deep.”

The show’s title came from the popular game of the same name. “It’s always the question I get from the audience during my Q&A segment, so I was like, ‘This is going to be the next show!’” de Lesseps said.

Those fans, de Lesseps said, are the reason she loves doing her cabaret the most.

“I’m always amazed by the fans’ reaction. They’re always so supportive,” de Lesseps said. “I feel like I can do anything on stage. I can trip and they’ll be like, ‘Countess, that’s amazing!’ They’re just so wonderful to me. They make shirts with all my sayings. They come dressed up to the shows. They have their statement necklaces on, their sequins. They’re ‘feeling Jovani,’ and it’s wonderful they make an effort like that. I feel like when people go to Broadway shows they don’t make an effort like that. When they come to the Countess show, they dress up. I feel the love from them.”

“That’s what drives me on the tours,” added de Lesseps, explaining that life on the road mixed with filming can be hard. “I get up there and feel all this love and it makes all the stress go away. It feeds my soul.”

Season 12 of The Real Housewives of New York City is expected to premiere this year.

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