By Mike Wade | NRVCS

Despite ongoing efforts to educate the public about the struggles of persons living with a mental health and/or substance use disorder, the reality is that most people simply can’t fully understand what it is like to live with these issues unless they’ve been through it themselves.

Rachel Jarvis knows all too well the challenges that can arise from mental illness and addiction. Now 33, Jarvis says she’s spent most of her life trying to combat these issues, along with the collateral damage they’ve caused.

“I was really, really young when I first started cutting,” recalls Rachel. “I was probably seven- or eight-years-old…My dad was an alcoholic and cutting gave me my first taste of instant gratification – because I thought God was upset with me and somehow if I punished myself, it would make God happier.”

Rachel, a life-long resident of Montgomery County, says she stayed isolated as a child, absorbing herself in her dog and her books. She had purposely kept her circle of friends very small, but at age 15, she began “hanging out with the party people” and started to experiment with substances.

“I was embarrassed by my home situation and tried to keep that away from my ‘normal’ friends,” Rachel explains, “but with the new crowd I was hanging out with, I didn’t feel like they would judge me for that.”
Despite the fact that her father stopped drinking and entered recovery when she was 16, Rachel’s self-destructive behaviors continued. Eventually, drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana led her to try more illicit drugs, including opioids.

“I got my hands on some pain pills when I was 19 and quickly decided that I needed them to function,” notes Rachel. “It spiraled downward from there…I couldn’t keep a job, I became an IV [intravenous drug] user, and things escalated to the point that I was facing criminal felony charges,” she adds.

Rachel credits her probation officer with finally opening her eyes to the benefits of seeking professional help and getting treatment.

“I didn’t ask my parents because I didn’t feel that I deserved their help – I know that’s messed up logic – but that’s really where my mind was at the time,” declares Rachel. “I desperately wanted help at that point, but I had also already accepted that I was going to be a junkie for the rest of my life.”

She was admitted into NRVCS’ intensive outpatient program for substance use/misuse (Stepping Stones), and also began receiving medication assisted therapy (MAT). Rachel says those two treatment options, along with an active presence in the 12-step community, helped her to begin picking up the pieces of a shattered past.

“Stepping Stones was really a big turning point in my relationship with my dad,” Rachel notes. “I had lost my license because of my legal stuff and so my dad had to give me a ride and pick me up from the program…We eventually got to where we had some of our best conversations ever on the way home.”

“It definitely took a group effort to get me through the program and it was also the first opportunity I had been given to prove myself – to show my family that I could be different with the right help.”

Rachel has now been in recovery for over two years. She’s transitioned out of MAT and was also able to stop taking anti-depressants. She’s regained her driver’s license and was recently hired as a Peer Specialist Trainee with NRVCS, working primarily at the agency’s new peer support center in Radford. She’s planning to return to school this fall and hopes to eventually become a counselor to help others – especially teens and young adults – who are struggling with addiction.

“The best part of recovery for me has definitely been repairing my relationship with both of my parents,” Rachel adds. “A lot of our history has not been good, but now we have an opportunity to build a whole new one and to make happy memories together.”

Rachel’s recovery has also caused her to challenge herself physically. She runs regularly and has also been competing in obstacle races along the East Coast.

“I value life today – I’m excited when I wake up because I get another chance to be a better me,” she concludes. “For whatever reason, I’m still here. So, I intend to make the most of it.”