To say that Rachel has a big heart would be an understatement. Despite experiencing a lifetime of loss, she smiles easily and is quick to laugh.
Rachel wants to help people in whatever way she can. That is why she agreed to share her story and speak about the impact of stigma as a person who uses drugs.
She greets us at the door with bubbly enthusiasm, her freshly washed hair pulled up in a towel. She doesn’t seem nervous about being interviewed. She and her husband Jason are excited to host us. In fact, we are the first guests to visit their new home. Refreshments are offered. The apartment is spotless.
A dream catcher with bright orange feathers hangs in the corner. Rachel’s husband made it, along with the wood carvings, sketches and paintings on display.
Pinned above the living room couch are three certificates confirming Rachel has completed “Peer Support Training” – the training necessary to work with community agencies as a person with lived experience helping others with substance use issues.
But when asked about her own family upbringing, her struggles with addiction, and her experience of stigma, those warm brown eyes immediately brim with tears.
“I felt crappy,” she recalls. “I wouldn’t feel that I was worthy – I wasn’t good enough for myself, or for my spouse. Not good enough to be a sister, a daughter, or a mother. It was hard.”
Rachel began using substances in her thirties, and cocaine use quickly grew to include crystal meth and heroin. Over the years Rachel lost jobs, family members, beloved friends and special belongings. Things like the dress passed down from her mother that was always intended for Rachel’s one-day wedding. It is difficult, if not impossible, to hold on to precious items in the midst of addiction and homelessness.
Still, she managed to hold on to what is most dear to her: her life with Jason. The two now share a small apartment in the Okanagan, keeping largely to themselves, focussing on their recovery and working on their art. Rachel loves colouring and Jason is an avid drawer, painter and carver. They also volunteer, participating in community clean-ups, peer support groups and other initiatives.
“All of us, we’re all equal,” Rachel says about the need to end the stigma around addiction and substance use. “We want just the same as you – to live life and be happy.”
Watch and share the video and learn about Rachel’s story. Help #EndStigma.
Rachel’s story is the final in a four part series of stories and videos about the stigma faced by those impacted by substance use.