Posted: Mon 18th Sep 2023

Wrexham woman who beat addiction to become a counsellor wins national award for people living in or visiting the Wrexham area
This article is old - Published: Monday, Sep 18th, 2023

A Wrexham woman who overcame a turbulent upbringing and addiction to become a counsellor has won a national award for her dedication to learning against the odds.

50-year-old Rachel Parker was born into a chaotic home life with alcoholic parents and little support at the time for her development or schooling.

After being taken into care, Rachel left school at a young age and found her escape in drugs and alcohol.

But after years of addiction, Rachel is now clean, and on her way to achieving her dream of becoming a counsellor.

Her dedication to transforming her life has earned her the Learning for Better Health Inspire! Award, as her determination continues to inspire people.

“Drugs and alcohol took me out of my reality, but it was stunting my growth and limiting my potential,” explained Rachel.

Rachel became a young mother at 18 after giving birth to her daughter Holly who was born blind and with other severe disabilities.

It was difficult for Rachel to provide the level of care Holly needed while she was in active addiction.

After losing custody of Holly, Rachel’s life spiralled, with her addiction taking over.

Despite her addiction, Rachel had dreams of a career where she could help others. She looked up to her substance misuse counsellors: “Throughout my treatment over the years, I would often think to myself if I could stay clean, perhaps I could do their job one day.”

Rachel noticed that people found her approachable and would regularly go to her with their problems, which she always made time to listen to.

Years later, once Rachel was able to get herself clean and remain sober, she was able to start thinking about training and turning her life around.

She remembers: “It wasn’t until I began to realise that my lifestyle was killing me, that I begged my counsellor for help to get me into rehabilitation.

“Thankfully, she secured the funding, and I believe she saved my life.”

Rachel’s dream of becoming a counsellor to help others in a similar situation was reignited. In 2017, now three years clean and sober, she began training with Addysg Oedolion Cymru | Adult Learning Wales.

Nicola Holmes, from Addysg Oedolion Cymru | Adult Learning Wales, who nominated Rachel for the award said: “Rachel’s story is one of determination, dedication and personal growth.

“Rachel has had many setbacks during her journey, and at times she did have days when she doubted herself. Yet I have never met someone so determined to make a change, not only for their own future but for all those who need support just like she did all those years ago.”

Now, nine years sober, Rachel has been a qualified counsellor for a year, having completed over 100 hours of counselling to pass her diploma.

“Qualifying felt surreal, I was ecstatic and so proud of myself. What an achievement.”, says Rachel.

Every Friday, Rachel works on the Narcotics Anonymous telephone helpline as she strives to help others suffering from substance misuse, saying “I want to counsel people because I want to give back, I don’t want to be a nuisance to society.”

Rachel is a deeply religious person, and her faith has kept her strong throughout the many losses she’s endured, including the death of her daughter Holly two years after she became sober.

She has also kept great relationships with her tutors at Addysg Oedolion Cymru | Adult Learning Wales, who helped her progress through her Level 2 and 3 diplomas.

Rachel said: “I owe a huge amount of gratitude to my tutors. They helped me to regain my strength and focus to continue on to complete my Diploma and qualify as a counsellor.”

Rachel is one of 11 winners to be recognised at the 2023 Inspire! Awards. Co-ordinated by the Learning and Work Institute with support from the Welsh Government. The Inspire! Awards recognise those who have demonstrated a commitment to never stop learning.

Each Inspire! winner demonstrates how learning can offer second chances, help create new career opportunities, build confidence, and help communities become vibrant and successful.

Studying for a Level 4 diploma has been placed on hold as Rachel takes some time to deal with her health conditions, but she is still determined to pursue it, and strongly advocates for adult learning.

She said: “You’ve got to go for it and give yourself that opportunity. You’re going to meet new people, make new friends, and learn a lot about yourself, others and the world around you.

“It’s an opportunity you don’t want to deny yourself.”

Jeremy Miles, Minister for Education and Welsh Language, said: “Congratulations to this year’s Inspire! Award winners and nominees. It’s incredible to see so many individuals of different ages, from varied backgrounds, and with a range of abilities overcoming personal challenges and becoming role models for us all.

“The Inspire! Awards are a fantastic platform to showcase learners who have gone above and beyond to turn their lives around and succeed in their careers. Thanks to their hard work and dedication, this year’s winners have shown how learning can help pave the way to personal and professional success.

Joshua Miles, Director for Wales at Learning and Work Institute, said: “The Inspire! Awards serve as a reminder of how important it is to never stop learning. We live in a world that’s changing rapidly.

“Between the impact of the pandemic, the cost-of-living crisis and emergence of new technologies, nothing stays still for long. Learning helps us adapt to this change and ultimately benefit from it.

“If we keep learning and improving our skills throughout our lives, we can continue to increase our job prospects, and are more likely to secure a promotion or be able to change careers. And we know that learning is good for our self-esteem and mental health, making us feel more linked to our community.

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