At 32, Chris Wendel had completed what many would contemplate the American dream.
She was married to a profitable lawyer and had a pleasant residence and a well-paying job. From the surface, she was completely satisfied. However at instances, she struggled with despair and the urge to take her personal life.
“I had purchased right into a system that stated should you accomplish sure issues, you’d be completely satisfied,” Wendel stated. “… I couldn’t determine what I had performed flawed.”
Wendel, now 67, got here to phrases on the time together with her dependancy to alcohol and commenced what would change into a lifelong restoration course of. For 13 years, she has used her expertise with substance abuse to assist others battling related points — together with many who may need felt as in the event that they had been struggling in silence, with out assist.
“I’m all about these nonetheless struggling,” Wendel stated. “I used to be very clear that if I will help one individual, it will be value it.”
Her tireless work within the substance abuse area, starting from service on an advisory council below former Gov. Invoice Richardson to volunteering as a secretary on the Santa Fe Restoration Middle, has earned her a spot as one in every of The New Mexican‘s 10 Who Made a Distinction for 2020.
Wendel was born in 1953 in upstate New York and had a father she described as a “pretty profitable man” — the CEO of a Fortune 500 firm. Wendel and her two brothers did what was anticipated of them: They went to Ivy League faculties, earned levels and landed nice careers.
“My act of riot was that I went to Cornell,” Wendel stated with amusing, including her two brothers and father went to Harvard.
That wasn’t her solely act of riot.
Like many younger adults of the Sixties and ’70s, Wendel experimented with medicine — crystal meth, cocaine and marijuana — and alcohol whereas she was in school.
After getting married, she dropped the illicit medicine, however her relationship with alcohol took a distinct kind. Considered one of her brothers even prompt on the time, round 35 years in the past, she may need an alcohol abuse situation.
Whereas she was assembly with a therapist quickly after, Wendel stated, she requested a query that she believes saved her life.
She requested the therapist: “Do you assume I’m an alcoholic?”
The therapist responded: “I don’t know, but it surely appears to me that should you could be, you need to discover out.”
Wendel had been in restoration for almost a decade when she moved to Santa Fe in 1994. She started volunteering with totally different organizations when she may discover the time, she stated, however her advocacy work in dependancy remedy actually started in 2007, when she started working with the Richardson administration’s Behavioral Well being Planning Council, which advises the governor, the state Legislature and the Human Providers Division’s Behavioral Well being Collaborative. She served as chairwoman of the council from 2008-12.
Pamela Hyde, a former state human providers secretary who additionally was appointed to the Substance Abuse and Psychological Well being Providers Administration below President Barack Obama, picked Wendel to hitch her in Washington, D.C., just a few instances a yr to debate substance abuse remedy methods.
“She actually cares about individuals who need assistance and making a distinction in our group,” Hyde stated. “I give her plenty of credit score.”
Though Wendel loved the work, she quickly got here to appreciate administration was too “huge image” for her.
She wanted to get again on the bottom degree.
She refocused her consideration in Santa Fe, the place she obtained concerned with the Santa Fe Restoration Middle, finally serving as board chairwoman for 4 years.
Sylvia Barela, CEO of the Santa Fe Restoration Middle, nominated Wendel for the ten Who Made a Distinction award on behalf of the group. She described Wendel as an issue solver who “is aware of find out how to discover the best way by means of any impediment, irrespective of how insurmountable.”
Barela credit Wendel for serving to the group climate the COVID-19 storm, discovering important funding by means of her many connections for a brand new playground and restoration literature for every shopper. Wendel additionally helped the middle navigate obstacles because it added a brand new ladies and youngsters’s program, Barela stated.
“She’s an incredible board member with an exceptional and galvanizing restoration story,” Barela stated.
In 2014, Wendel labored with retired physicist Tom Starke to create the nonprofit Restoration Santa Fe, which focuses on lowering the stigma round substance abuse.
“Most individuals don’t say it out loud, however they assume individuals who drink and drug are weak or morally flawed — choose your phrase,” Wendel stated. “I don’t know what the phrases are, I simply know we method this illness totally different than we method diabetes.”
Each September, the nonprofit throws a rally that brings collectively service suppliers, purchasers and the group to rejoice these in restoration. This yr, as a result of pandemic, the occasion needed to go digital.
“We had been attempting to only let individuals know that it’s attainable,” Wendel stated of dependancy restoration.
Sometime, she stated, she hopes to see substance abuse consciousness rival that of different nationwide campaigns.
“We’ll get there,” Wendel stated. “Individuals who survive this illness are a number of the most passionate and strongest individuals on the planet.”
Wendel is a main instance.