By Jennifer Marbley
Jo Harvey is a prevention coordinator at the University of Nevada, Reno, a doctoral student in the Educational Leadership program and engaged to be married. Harvey’s life wasn’t always a picture of success; she revealed her battle with drug and alcohol addiction in her 2015 TEDxUniversityofNevada talk called, “Rewriting the Story of my Addiction.”
The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as a chronic, relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use despite harmful consequences. The NIDA goes on to note that no single factor can determine how an individual will become addicted to drugs.
“The number one thing I’ve heard since my TEDx talk was that I don’t look like an addict or that I don’t look like I was an alcoholic,” Harvey said.
Harvey said she developed the ability to maintain appearances of happiness and success from a young age.
She grew up with her parents in Prescott, Arizona, a small town two hours north of Phoenix.
Harvey recalled having her first drink at the age of 7 while on an Alaskan hiking trip with her dad and several of his friends. Her father gave her a fruity alcohol beverage called Zima as a joke, according to Harvey. She said that she remembered enjoying the taste, even to her 7-year-old palate.
“I didn’t have one of those knee-jerk reactions you would expect from a kid who would say, ‘God, that tastes horrible!’” Harvey said. “I was like, ‘Can I have another?’”
Her introduction to alcohol at a young age paved the way for future experimentation with drugs, including marijuana and psychedelics such as LSD by the age of 12. Her drinking habits had also intensified by the fifth grade with access to her parents’ liquor supply.
“In the environment that I grew up in, alcohol was always available,” Harvey said. “My parents were extremely social, we always had parties and I always saw people drinking. It was very much a part of my growing up.”
Harvey said that she felt a lot of pressure to succeed from a young age. While it helped her to achieve her goals, it left her feeling like she always had to please others.
It was in high school that her peers introduced her to what would become her drug of choice — high-grade cocaine.
“I would definitely classify myself as one of those high-functioning users,” Harvey said. “I played junior Olympic sports in high school and did well academically. I’ve always been able to keep it together.”
Harvey relocated to Reno with her family in 1999 and started taking classes at Truckee Meadows Community College and later at UNR.
In 2005 she began working as a spokes model for a variety of companies. She frequently left Reno on Thursday nights on redeye flights for modeling work out-of-state. Harvey modeled during the weekends and would come back on Mondays to begin the school week the following day.
She soon moved to Los Angeles to pursue modeling full time. With Harvey’s condo in a Newport Beach gated community, National Football League boyfriends and successful a career, her life appeared perfect to the outside word.
Things were not as perfect as they seemed, according to Harvey. She began missing work and began spiraling into a deep depression fueled by drug and alcohol abuse.
“On the outside everything looked so great, but I would find myself on the floor of my kitchen, not knowing if it was four in the afternoon [or] four in the morning,” Harvey said.
According to Harvey, using drugs and alcohol helped numb the pain of loneliness, but only served to further isolate her. It was at that point that Harvey knew she needed help.
“I called [my mom] from my place in Newport,” Harvey said. “I was at the point where I didn’t want to live anymore. I don’t want to say I was suicidal, because I don’t believe I had the energy to do anything at that point.”
Harvey’s mother Debbie helped to pay for an expensive treatment center to assist in her daughter’s recovery. Harvey said that with a team of skilled therapists and health practitioners, the treatment was successful. In 2006 she gave up all drugs and alcohol and began to write her story of recovery.
“I’ve never really shared my story,” Harvey said. “I’ve been very secretive with it for a long time, not because I’ve been ashamed of it, but addiction defined me for so long. I didn’t want to live in that shadow. But now I see, here is a gift, I am living, breathing proof that [recovery] can happen.”
Tres Weatherford, Harvey’s fiance described her ability to survive her past traumas as incredible.
“Without the pain and shame she experienced, she would not have the skills or empathy needed to help people and them in the right direction,” Weatherford said.
As a prevention coordinator,Harvey said that for anyone going through addiction, it’s important to love people and seek out the good in them even when they cannot see it for themselves.
“People are worth fighting for, but we can’t save them, we can only love them until they can do the same,” Harvey said.
Jennifer Marbley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.