She was a member of the academic team at school with a score of 32 on her ACT and in church whenever the doors were open. Her father was a police officer.

Kayla Parsons had a normal, middle class upbringing. She had no idea that the future would take her far outside her previously sheltered life, or that the downfall would end up being a blessing to her and everyone who she helps today.

“All the dark, horrible moments that caused me the greatest shame are now the brightest moments when I get to help someone,” she says. “Everything that held me back is now helping someone else.”

“I thought I was the epitome of wasted potential. I thought I was too far gone with a criminal background and being in my late 20s, but all has been restored.”

Here is her story:

Life changed drastically for Kayla the winter after she graduated. On Super Bowl Sunday, she was raped. She ran as far away from God as possible. Kayla discovered her anxiety disappeared when she was under the influence, and she liked the attention.

She had no clue it would lead to being in and out of jail, in and out of treatment. Her drugs of choice went from Loritab to Oxycontin then heroin and meth. Kayla was living in a house with broken windows. It rarely had electricity and running water, so she decided that making meth would solve her financial problems and supply an endless source of drugs.

Instead, she was arrested for manufacturing meth and spent 11 months in jail. Kayla did fairly well until she had her second daughter and decided that she was working hard and deserved a glass of wine every night. One glass turned into a bottle, which rapidly turned into shooting up drugs.

In August 2016, her family told her that she could get help or get out of her grandmother’s house where she had been living.

Kayla chose Karen’s Place even though she was not interested in a faith-based program. But something changed. She learned about the newly created peer support academy and had hope for the first time in 15 years. Kayla continued beyond the initial 28-day treatment with the help of a UNITE voucher and was part of the first peer academy graduating ceremony, where she gave the speech.

She is now Deputy Chief of Staff for development and projects for Addiction Recovery Care, regained custody of her children, got married, bought a car and is working toward buying a house. Kayla is working on a degree from the University of the Cumberlands and hopes to pursue an MBA after that.

She also serves as a consortium member on UNITE’s Rural Health Outreach Grant in the Kentucky River Region.