By Mike Wade
NRVCS Community Relations Specialist

Six years ago, it seemed highly unlikely that Kristine Stuart’s story would have a happy ending. At just 21, she found herself in jail – a high school dropout facing felony charges stemming from her addiction to opiates. Clearly, the odds were not in her favor.

Fast forward to 2017 and anyone meeting Stuart for the first time would probably never suspect that she has such a troubled past, but then again, it’s not something she had necessarily planned on. Now employed by NRVCS as a Peer Recovery Specialist, Stuart is hoping to use her own experiences to help others who are battling substance use disorders.

“It started in high school for me,” Stuart explains. “I liked to drink. I was a party girl.”

Her alcohol use – combined with the influence of an unhealthy relationship – soon led Stuart toward more illicit drugs and bad decisions, including the choice to drop out of school just months shy of graduation.

“I made good grades – I was a smart kid,” declares Stuart, a native of Pulaski County. “I played soccer, I did travel soccer, I had a promising future.”

“But then I started doing harder stuff – weed, cocaine – and then I moved over to opiates and oxys, and that’s when I found my drug of choice,” she adds. “It started out as a weekend thing but within a couple of months it was an everyday thing…and before you knew it, I had a $300 a day habit.”

Feeding that habit soon caused Stuart to engage in criminal activity and eventually resulted in her incarceration. The month she spent in jail, however, did little to deter her drug use.

“Within a week after getting out, I was getting high again,” Stuart recalls. “I wound up failing a drug test and got sent back to jail for another six months.”

Stuart was released from her second stint in jail so that she could enter treatment at New Life Recovery Center, a residential facility operated by NRVCS. That was May of 2012. Although she completed the 30-day program at New Life, Stuart says she didn’t truly enter recovery until October 2013.

“New Life definitely planted a seed for me – they showed me what I needed to do, introduced me to the 12-step groups, and a healthy way to cope with my problems – but sometimes it just takes people a little longer to get it, and that was the case for me,” adds Stuart.

She points out that her “reality check” came one day when she was seriously considering running her car into oncoming traffic, hoping to end her own life. She had relapsed and resorted back to alcohol, drinking herself into despair.

“I was at a spiritual and emotional bottom,” remembers Stuart. “When you have a head full of recovery and a body full of substances, that’s a very dangerous place to be in. You know what you should do, but you drink or use more to get rid of those thoughts and then you wake up with the shame and the guilt of it all. It’s horrible.”

“A lot of people want to discredit alcohol when we talk about addiction – they want to shove it off to the side because they don’t see it as being has harmful or dangerous as other drugs – but it can be just as devastating,” Stuart continues.
Stuart has now been clean and sober since October 2013. She says the support of her family – and more importantly, the support of the recovery community – has helped open doors to a future that once seemed unattainable.

“During my active drug addiction, I stole from my family and treated them like crap,” notes Stuart, “but they never gave up on me. I’m very lucky in that respect because a lot of people don’t get that same support.”

Despite the fact that she’s been clean for over four years, Stuart says she still tries to attend several AA/NA meetings each week.

“Other people who are in recovery just understand me on a level that my family just doesn’t or can’t,” adds Stuart. “It’s an unconditional love that comes without any kind of judgement.”

Aside from her job as a peer, Stuart is taking a full-time course load at Radford University, where she is pursuing a degree in social work, and is also doing an internship this semester with NRVCS’ Recovery Center (a day support program for adults with serious mental illness). She plans to eventually obtain her graduate degree.

“I believe peers can have a huge role in breaking the stigma around addiction,” she notes. “We are living, breathing examples of what recovery is.”

Stuart takes exception to the stigma associated with substance use disorders, which she says is the result of “ignorance – just a total lack of knowledge.”

“Addicts are not bad people, they are sick and they need help,” she says. “It’s unfortunate that we are so quick to condemn them and look down on them as a society. We need to open our eyes. If we’re not part of the solution, we’re part of the problem.”

“People in recovery have so much to prove – not just to everyone else but to ourselves,” adds Stuart. “Recovery is about achieving the best version of you that you can be. It’s not just about not doing drugs anymore.”

Stuart acknowledges that her past – difficult as it may have been – is also the key to her future.

“I have such a full life now,” she says. “I’m doing things now that I never would have thought possible before and how great is it that I get to use all of the crappy things that have happened in my life to help others?”

This year’s Thanksgiving dinner with her family will mark yet another major milestone in Stuart’s journey. She’s responsible for the macaroni and cheese this time around.

“I mean that’s kind of a big deal,” she says with a smile.

“This really is just the beginning for me,” Stuart declares. “The possibilities are endless and that’s what recovery has given me. If I stay clean, I can do anything.”