Brave Spaces — Living and thriving in recovery
Brave Spaces is a periodic feature from the DSHS Behavioral Health Administration
My name is Rachel Dreon. I am a leader within the Department of Social and Health Services and the Behavioral Health Administration, a single mother of three successful young adults, a sports lover, an avid traveler and, most importantly, a grateful, recovering addict, and this is my story.
DSHS has been supporting me with services since nearly the beginning of my life. I was adopted by a loving, supporting family through DSHS and the Washington state foster care system during infancy. On reflection, I have found that I have used nearly every possible DSHS administration for support and services throughout my life. I have used services through the Department of Children, Youth and Families as a foster child, and then, later in life, as a foster parent. I was provided services by the Economic Services Administration as a young 19-year-old widowed mother needing medical benefits, food benefits and child care subsidies. I have used the Division of Child Support for establishing and maintaining child support services after a divorce. I have used several services funded by the Behavioral Health Administration for community mental health services, parenting classes and substance use treatment programs. Recently, I have used services offered by the Aging and Long-Term Support Administration to support our family dealing with hospice and an aging mother. I have also used other community social service programs designed to help families who need support, including Social Security Administration benefits for my oldest son, Pell grants and subsidized loans to allow me, and now each of my three children, to get a higher education, sober housing programs, subsidized low-income housing and eventually a HUD Section 8 voucher. I used these programs to help me rebuild my life, provide ongoing support for my physical and mental health, and ultimately emerge as a successful, productive member of society.
Here is a little bit of my story. Adopted at 9 months old by a loving family of educators, I spent my early years engaged in theater arts, music, sports and visiting our family farm in Iowa during summers. However, as I grew older, I often had trouble feeling like I fit in. In high school, while a successful student, I started using drugs and alcohol to self-medicate and to mask internal feelings and underlying mental health issues (addiction and depression).
After high school graduation, I came home from college after one quarter, pregnant. Within a year of having my eldest son, his father died traumatically from an accident with explosives. I became a teenage mother and a widow; I was without financial support and emotionally devastated. From that day on I used any drug I could find as a coping mechanism to not feel, and it soon got out of control. I eventually ended up a daily user of methamphetamine for several years. In 2003, after adding two more children to my family, and continuing to use drugs, I was arrested and given the opportunity to change my life through the Thurston County Drug Court. This program changed my life, introduced me to self-care, taught me to be accountable, taught me about personal responsibility and allowed me to get access to behavioral health services. Most importantly, drug court introduced and encouraged me to get involved in a 12-step program. Living in recovery is a lifetime process and daily commitment for me. After several years of hard work and determination, along with the help of Narcotics Anonymous and many community programs, including various services provided at DSHS, I have a life today that I never dreamed would be possible.
Because of the work we do every day here at DSHS by supporting families with social services, I was able to find my way out of depression and addiction and into a life I am truly proud of. Through the years, I have been offered many opportunities to change my old behavior and to find a new way to live. I am a 2004 graduate of Thurston County drug court and a 2009 graduate of Behavioral Health Resources Harvest Program, a program that seeks to support pregnant and parenting women struggling with mental illness and substance use disorders as they focus on recovery. With the support of mental health and substance use treatment, along with help to find stable housing for my family, I returned to college, graduating from The Evergreen State College in 2007 with my bachelor’s degree in business administration, and then again in 2014 with a master’s degree in public administration. I started my full-time career in the state of Washington as an office assistant 10 years ago, the day after my first born graduated from high school. Working for the state has allowed me to be a single mother who is present and available for my children while allowing me the opportunity to work on building a career that I love. Today, I am a leader within DSHS, I own my second home, I have several service positions in our local recovery community and, most importantly, I have three successful and thriving children.
This is the first time I have shared my story widely for all to know. For years, as I built my career, I had to keep this part of my story quiet. Today, with the amazing work being done within DSHS to encourage a culture of acceptance in equity, diversion, access and inclusion, I can own my lived experience and be proud of it. It has taken many years for the behavioral health field to shift the conversation away from the negative stigma of addiction, and today having this kind of past is considered an asset.
I feel like I have the best job in the world. Working for BHA for the past eight years, I have had the opportunity to have a voice and substantial influence in developing budgets, adding resources, implementing and creating legislation and policies, and increasing and expanding behavioral health and substance use disorder programs throughout our state. This work we do changes lives every day. In fact, the work we do at DSHS transformed my life and allowed for me, a recovering drug addict, to succeed as a single mother, as a life-long learner and now as a leader. Thank you DSHS, for truly transforming my life. I am so grateful to give my time and efforts to the mission we serve and to have the ability to give back to our community what was so freely given to me.