Shattering the Stereotype of Substance Abuse

Rachel Beehler was on a path to success. She was a straight-A student, active in school and living with a stable family in a safe suburban town. Rachel enjoyed spending time with friends and family and was beginning to envision her future. But to the surprise of many, her path took a detour in the form of substance abuse.


It all began when Rachel began feeling depressed in junior high. At first, she self-harmed to cope; but she soon latched on to using drugs and alcohol to help her deal with the pain and sadness.


“The first time I smoked I thought this is it. I found something I didn’t even know I was searching for,” Rachel said. It was the first time she could remember feeling comfortable in her own skin and with her surroundings. The one hit is all it took for Rachel to get hooked. “I drove home that night figuring out how I was going to get high again.”


Soon her grades began to suffer. She told herself, “if my grades drop below an A, I’ll stop using.” But she found that she couldn’t stop. By the time she entered treatment at Fairbanks, a United Way partner agency, Rachel was on the verge of being expelled from high school and in legal trouble because of her substance abuse.


During treatment, Rachel learned about Hope Academy, the recovery high school supported by Fairbanks. “I wouldn’t have graduated without Hope Academy,” she said. “Not only did I still get my high school education, but I was with people who understood the disease of addiction. Before, I had teachers who either didn’t know what I was going through, didn’t understand or didn’t care.”


Her time at Hope Academy helped her realize who substance abuse can affect. “While I was getting sober, I had to accept the fact that people with addiction issues are not always people living under bridges,” Rachel said. “Hope Academy taught me that there are many others from all walks of life – including myself – who have issues with this. Before, I had all these justifications for why I couldn’t possibly be an addict.”


Because of Hope Academy, Rachel was able to come to terms with the detour in her life and learned healthy ways to cope with her feelings. She soon found her way back to success: after graduating from Hope Academy, Rachel earned an Associate of Arts degree, with high honors, from College of DuPage. She then earned a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and sociology, along with a certificate in criminology from Northern Illinois University.


Rachel is now pursuing a master’s of social work at the University of Michigan. Because of her experience with substance abuse and the help she found at Fairbanks, she wants to help those suffering in the same way she was just a few years ago. She plans to work with at-risk youth and those who have substance use disorder.


“I’ve always known I wanted to help people, but it took years for me to build the confidence to think I actually could,” she said. Rachel continues to build on this newly found confidence and her recovery by attending meetings, meeting with her sponsor and sponsoring others.


“I’ve accepted the fact that I’m not one of those people who can have a glass of wine and wake up and go to work the next morning,” she said. “I’m never going to be one of those people. I’ve accepted that I have a different life path, and that’s OK.”


As Rachel found out, substance abuse and addiction can strike anyone, at any time. This detour can derail many from their life path, but help is available in the form of organizations like Fairbanks and Hope Academy. If you, or someone you know, is suffering from substance abuse and needs help, contact Fairbanks today to find the support and assistance to get back on track.