By Amy Rothenberg, ND

The Phoenix tattoo that covers Mariya Javed’s back took ten years to complete, which is just about how long she’s been sober. To say that she has risen from the ashes of her own life, would be an understatement. And in this challenging time of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is not only that she found her way back from chronic poor health, trauma and addiction, but has found purpose and deep meaning in her life and in her place of work. As the Director of Behavioral Health at a large Midwest Community Health Center, Mariya is both an administrator and clinician where she works with a team of 40 providers to ensure that patients’ psychological needs are addressed and met. As a trained addiction counselor and trauma specialist, Mariya’s personal experience informs her capacity and effectiveness in the life work she is called to do. Teetering toward personal collapse with overlapping chronic ailments, Mariya’s health was in shambles for years; she credits her work with a licensed naturopathic doctor as saving her life.

The daughter of Indian immigrants, Mariya lived in four different countries before she was six, moving often to follow employment for her mother, who always worked hard to support the family. There were challenges in the family on a good day, but the constant moving, the lack of consistent friendships, the ongoing cultural differences, and the never being able to “take root” left Mariya vulnerable and alone. A self-described sensitive soul, the family and life stressors hit her hard and then puberty came along, wreaking havoc on Mariya’s hormones, her sleep, her physical body and her spirit. Her hair was falling out, she felt sick all the time, her digestion did not work properly, she was anxious and depressed to the point of trying to take her own life.

As diagnoses compounded, Mariya took an overwhelming number of pharmaceuticals where nothing much helped but she experienced many side effects. When introduced to illicit drugs, it seemed finally, there was some relief. Not unlike many other young people, Mariya soon found herself addicted. She spent her teens using and abusing drugs. Though a high school athlete who ran track and cross-country and boxed, by junior year, she sank further into her addiction, and quit all sports, leaving behind one of the only activities that kept her connected to others and doing something positive. 

She had gained 70 pounds due to psychoactive medications, and complications from her physical ailments. Serious food allergies and an overactive immune system, fibromyalgia, and chronic pain became her constant companions. As a young woman barely twenty, living in the world of addiction, having numerous stints in and out of rehab, Mariya also suffered additional and severe traumatic experiences, which amplified the challenges of an already difficult life. 

At very rock bottom, yearning to die, Mariya had an epiphany: that in fact, she would not die this way, that she would somehow find a way to health. At first, alone, through agonizing drug detox, through the loneliness and isolation, she experienced climbing her way to sobriety. She adopted better ways to eat, she learned mindfulness meditation. She found MDs with a holistic bent, where each helped her with individual parts of her healing journey.

But by 2016, Mariya realized she needed someone with broader expertise in natural medicine, and a practitioner who had a specialty in women’s health and hormones. She met Dr. Crystalin Montgomery, who has remained her compassionate, helpful, and devoted naturopathic doctor ever since. 

They have been through a lot together, unwinding many of Mariya’s health difficulties from thyroid to menstrual to digestive issues. Mariya loves that Dr. Montgomery takes time to listen to her story. She loves that her mental health and addiction background are always understood when exploring therapeutic approaches. And she loves that Dr. Montgomery includes Mariya in her thinking about and creating effective treatment plans. Together they have realized that, as Mariya’s puts it, “My body is sensitive and cannot tolerate strong treatments,” so they work with gentle natural medicines Mariya can tolerate. The main areas they work together include:

  • Ongoing detoxification efforts through diet and botanicals, gentle exercise and nutritional supplements.
  • Hormonal balancing through an appropriate nourishing diet, botanical medicine and homeopathy.
  • Reducing inflammation by avoiding food allergens and supporting the creation of a robust and diverse microbiome.

They also spend much of their efforts on the psycho-emotional pieces, so central to Mariya’s healing: plans made for Mariya take into account the deep roots of trauma and how they impact Mariya’s physical and mental health. Mariya’s relationship with Dr. Montgomery has her constantly learning new things about herself.  Understanding how the hypothalamus/pituitary/adrenal axis was a nexus from where many of Mariya’s symptoms arose, was one eye-opening perspective which helped Mariya understand how she became so ill and then how she might get better. For instance, Dr. Montgomery prescribed adaptogenic herbs to support the HPA axis. Naturopathic doctors are trained to treat the whole person and to treat each person as a unique individual. 

Upon reflection, Dr. Montgomery adds, “I appreciate that our work together is  truly a partnership. Mariya has tremendous self-awareness and understanding of her process, and is able to keep perspective during periods of discomfort, knowing they are often followed by breakthrough and growth. She has developed an amazing set of tools that have enabled her to weather the ups and downs that accompany healing from trauma and addiction, and I feel gratitude for the opportunity to be a part of her team throughout this process.”

With her renewed health and a strong education behind her, Mariya is contributing, at this challenging moment of COVID-19, through overseeing the behavioral medicine offerings in the clinic where she works. From helping coordinate medical care, to soothing those who have lost loved ones, to quelling the infectious anxiety many patients have, to ensuring the access to social services for those impacted by the coronavirus, Mariya is leading a team of mental health experts. She has also introduced brain-body based trauma therapies to the clinic relevant for many patients. She is spearheading the effort toward HIPAA compliant virtual visits, has shored up the mindfulness offerings and worked to have providers of mental health services appropriately trained and ready to serve. She has been able to amplify her own belief in the inherent healing power of the individuals she serves, by ensuring that the staff where she works is prepared.

It is not that Mariya’s health is perfect or that she does not continue to work on herself every day. But in Dr. Montgomery, she has found a doctor educated as a primary care provider, who can investigate broadly, integrate a wide understanding of both addiction history, health background and complicated intertwined symptoms and who can create, assess and modify gentle, effective, treatment recommendations over time. This is a long term relationship with many of the most important features of that dynamic: presence, compassion, trust and mutual respect.

Work with her licensed naturopathic doctor has helped Mariya in profound ways to stay dedicated to sobriety, to keep looking for answers for physical body challenges and to trust in the healing power of nature. Through inspiration and resilience, Mariya refused to succumb to the addiction that plagued her teens. She gives herself fully to the hard and ongoing work of healing through diet, exercise, gentle natural medicines, mindfulness meditation, and the body-centered psychotherapy to unwind grief and trauma. Mariya is dedicated to her healing path, regardless of how hard and how difficult it can be and how long it may take. “I’m grateful to have had the right people show up in my life at the right time to support me on my journey.” She shares that it’s more a lifestyle, as opposed to a quick fix and offers, “If I heal myself, I can help others heal. I cannot give what I do not have.”  

To find a naturopathic doctor near you look here.

If you are struggling with addiction here is a National Help Line.

If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, here is the number to call or you can chat online.