Tatum O'Neal

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For Tatum O'Neal, it was the closest call of her life.

After being released from a Manhattan jail following her Sunday night drug bust, the Oscar winner spoke to the New York Post, pronouncing herself clean and expressing gratitude to New York's Finest for nabbing her before she could fall off the wagon.

"I'm still sober!" O'Neal told the newspaper. "Just when I was about to change that and wreck my life, the cops came and saved me! I was saved by the bell, by the guys in the Seventh Precinct."

The former child star, who wrote about her struggles with drug and alcohol addiction in her 2004 memoir, A Paper Life, was taken into custody around 7:30 p.m. Sunday after attempting to buy crack cocaine from a panhandler a few blocks from her Lower East Side apartment.

O'Neal was charged with a misdemeanor criminal possession of a controlled substance and ended up spending the night in a cell with two other women. She did not enter a plea at her arraignment yesterday and was released without bail.

"There's no excuse for what I did," she told the Post.

Recounting her ordeal, the 44-year-old actress said the desire to give in to temptation began after she lost her 16-year-old Scottish terrier, Lena, three weeks ago.

"That seemed to set me off," she explained. "[Lena] got old. She got cancer. She was the fabric of our family. We had to let her go to heaven. My daughter and I had to put her down. It was too horrible for words."

Dogged by depression, O'Neal fell into a tailspin. Her pooch's death, she said, triggered memories of her actress mother, Joanna Cook Moore, who died of lung cancer in 1997 after years of battling substance abuse. She also thought about her relationship with her estranged father, Ryan O'Neal, whose fiery temper and bachelor ways exposed her to drugs at an early age, in what can only be described as a chaotic childhood.

"I couldn't get out of it. I was going to my psychiatrist. I was doing everything I could do," she added. "I have the disease of alcoholism. It's lifelong. I treat it everyday by going to my 12-step program."

But O'Neal says she was so despondent she nearly gave up sobriety.

"One day, I'm walking aimlessly. I found myself doing the wrong thing," she confessed as she related how she approached 33-year-old Alan Garcia, a homeless man who was dealing cocaine on the street.

When informed she was also charged with trying to purchase crack, too, O'Neal's surprise revealed how out of it she really was.

"It's both?" she asked. "I didn't even know what I was buying!"

O'Neal was also grateful to her sometime beau, architect Ron Catellano, who came to her aid and escorted her out of the courthouse yesterday. The two had recently decided to take a "little break."

"He is a saint!" Tatum said. "I'm so glad he took my phone call at 3 o'clock in the morning."

Though her case isn't resolved, O'Neal is likely to get off with enrollment in some sort of drug treatment program because she's facing a misdemeanor.

Garcia was also arrested and faces the more serious count of felony sale of a controlled substance. However, the erstwhile Bad News Bears alum said she is talking to her lawyer about helping him.

All in all, O'Neal is taking the embarrassing fiasco in stride and is even thankful for that.

"It was a shock to me, and a huge wake-up call. I'm eternally grateful, as sort of grim as the situation was, that I didn't get to do what my disease was telling me to do," she said.

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