“Marvel Way is a place that allows me to prioritize my goals: recovery, raising healthy kids, and getting through school. I feel so supported, because I can afford this.”
Noell Whaley’s substance of choice was alcohol and she’s been sober for 5 years. She lives in a 2-bedroom apartment at Marvel Way with her kids, ages 4 and 5. Marvel Way supports her recovery because it allows her to focus on earning her Masters in Social Work from University of Nevada, Reno. She’s completing an internship along with her schooling at Sai Mental Health and also has work cleaning houses.
“In hindsight,” Noell explains, “I definitely had addictive problems and tendencies, but I was completely unaware of it for so many years.” She was a very heavy drinker, and alcohol was incorporated into most of her lifestyle and social world: martinis, sake and sushi, and day drinking at BBQs. But, when she had her daughter, everything changed. “It’s something that people don’t talk about enough. When you have an existential event, like having a baby and postpartum depression,” things can shift. When she wasn’t able to breastfeed her daughter, she though “I can just drink.” In the early months of motherhood, her addiction quickly progressed from alcohol abuse to alcohol dependency. She was hiding alcohol everywhere.
When her daughter was 5 months old, Noell checked herself into a treatment center. It was a 30-day program that included a 10-day hospital stay. When she got out, she relapsed for a couple weeks before returning to recovery. Her kids are her meaning and purpose and inspire her sobriety. She “looks at women who go into treatment when they have kids, and you don’t do that unless you have so much love.”
Noell’s Recovery & Social Work Masters
Before having children, Noell worked in casinos. “It’s a very soul sucking job,” she explained, and she knew a career change needed to be part of building a healthier lifestyle for herself and her family.
While Noell’s recovery included AA at first, she found the program wasn’t the right fit for her. At first she thought it would, because it’s all about steps – and she’s an organized person who loves steps! But she found herself having a “fumbly” recovery and relapsing on cannabis and Adderall. She felt like she didn’t belong, and decided the program’s rigidity and higher-power focus wasn’t for her.
Instead, she found a close relationship with her therapist. Together, they built an intensive outpatient program that fit her better. Her program was centered on therapy and school. She also carried a note in her bra that reminded her why she needed to stay sober. While she wasn’t successful in all of her classes at first, she learned how to study better, earned a BA in psychology with a minor in Addiction Treatment Services, and is currently pursuing her Masters in Social Work from UNR.
Noell was inspired by her therapist to study for a career in mental health because she wanted to gain her therapist’s level of knowledge, insight, and self-awareness. She’s especially enjoyed learning about systems theory in her program. Noell graduates in 2 years. After all she’s been through, she’s excited to incorporate her lived experiences into all that she does as she builds her new career.
Noell’s Family & What Marvel Way Means to Her
Noell says she’s never lived in an apartment complex like Marvel Way. Where it feels like a community, and everyone is friendly and wants the best for her kids. She notes, “I think because everybody here has experienced so much darkness, there’s an allyship.”
She loves how Marvel Way is close to the Meadowood Mall, yet on a “cozy, safe little road” that feels almost rural. On their neighborhood walks, her children love watching goats, chickens, and horses. They’re proud to have one of the greenest beds in the Marvel Way community garden. So far this summer, Noell’s family has enjoyed trips to the Wild Island waterpark, watching the Reno Rodeo, and floating the Truckee River with a couple other Marvel Way residents.
When she has her kids, spending quality time with them is her priority. When they’re with their father, Noell focuses on her housecleaning work, class assignments, and internship hours. She appreciates how her affordable Marvel Way apartment, online classes, and flexible work allow her to build her schedule around her kids and around her family’s future.
Noell suggests that everyone find the treatment program that works best for them. While so many people have gained so much from AA, for her, it took time to realize that “THE program” wasn’t the only program, and wasn’t the option that worked best for her personally.
She also acknowledges that it can be hard to know you have choices when you’re caught in addiction and feeling desperate. “Safety is a spectrum, the system isn’t perfect, and some people and treatment centers are just not safe.” She recommends being mindful of who you trust and finding the right people to help you on your recovery journey.