By Anyssa Bohanan
Central Oregon Daily
When you first enter the Cascade Peer and Self-Help Center in Bend, Kristina Neet-Valet is often one of the first faces you’ll see.
As the non-profit’s operations manager, Kristina helps those who are struggling with substance abuse, addiction or mental illness.
“The biggest part of my job is just being able to connect with our clients and just be able to support them in their journey and wherever they’re at,” said Kristina Neet-Valet.
Over the years, Kristina’s own journey has included overcoming addiction, homelessness, and sex assault.
She first began taking prescription drugs for back pain at just 12-years-old. Over the years, she says she began to abuse the medication.
After having children, the situation got worse.
“After I had my third child I really spiraled after that, I got into a bad car accident and started using heavily again with painkillers and then I started drinking as well,” she said.
Kristina was first sexually assaulted at the age of 12, and then again six years ago.
She says that after the second assault her life began to spiral out of control.
“I did end up losing all three of my kids. I lost all hope after that once the kids were gone,” Neet-Valet said. “Right before that I left my ex-husband, we weren’t able to get clean together.”
Kristina says tried to get clean and sober hoping to regain custody of her children, but a judge ultimately ruled that her parents would adopt her two youngest children.
Her oldest son lives with his father.
“After that I was homeless, I had nobody and my life continued to spiral out of control,” she said. “After I had left my husband I had bounced around for a while with friends but eventually I ended up outside in a tent and started using drugs again more heavily.”
She says she had a few opportunities to get back on her feet and stayed at several local shelters, but says she wasn’t ready to get sober and had to leave those facilities.
“Ended up back out in a tent, and I honestly thought I was going to die out there in that tent because I just…I hit rock bottom.”
It was ultimately a friend from church who provided Kristina with the number for someone who could help her. A local homeless advocate named Larry Kogovsek.
“I was afraid to call him but before I could call him he called me and he left me a message and he told me to could call him day or night and that he would be there whatever I needed.”
She and Larry had a cup of coffee at the hospital, and ultimately he helped her get a place at Bethlehem Inn, a homeless shelter in Bend.
Though she says she ended up leaving the shelter and once again living outside, she found the Cascade Peer and Self-Help Center.
“I loved the atmosphere and I felt really loved and supported and didn’t feel judged,” she said. “And through being at the Peer Center I met an acquaintance who offered me to come live at his house, in his apartment, and that’s ready where my journey of getting back on my feet started.”
And just six months after moving in, Kristina met a very special someone named Richard.
But just as things were going so well, Kristina hit yet another low point.
One that almost cost her her life.
“So even after I’d moved into the apartment I was still using on and off again and on that particular Mother’s Day three years ago I got really depressed again and I was using and I was drinking and after a binge I decided I was ready to die. I just wanted the pain to go away and, I tried to commit suicide. After I woke up in the hospital I woke up just so happy to still be alive and so happy my husband decided to stay. I decided that was it, I was gonna turn my life around.”
With help from her counselor at Deschutes County Behavioral Health, Kristina came up with plans for her to get back on track.
She graduated from the county’s drug and alcohol program and began seeing a counselor and psychiatrist regularly.
“That’s where it started and all along I had the Peer Center as a support and I found that I suddenly had these people around me that didn’t leave me, they stuck around.”
Today, Kristina has been sober for nearly two years.
Just two months ago she and Richard got married and now live in Sisters with their two dogs.
Her old friend Larry performed a symbolic ceremony for them.
She’s also been the manager at the Peer Center for a little over a year, and uses her own experiences to help guide others on their journey.
“Kristina and I have been friends for a couple of years at least. I was an addict, I’m a recovering addict, and I would come in here and she was totally supportive and I got to know her over a period of time,” said Gary Williamson a Cascade Peer and Self Help Center Client. “She never turned her back on me for one, even in my addiction she stood by me. And she gave me some of the best advice and I’ve been clean now for awhile because of her.”
Said Kristina: “I love my job, I love what I do. I love that I can relate! I’ve been through so much, I’ve had the trauma, I’ve had the homelessness, I’ve had the addiction. I hope that people when they look at me and see my life that they see that there’s still hope. Nobody’s too far gone to turn their life around.”