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Rebecca Moxey was six years old when she realized she was on her own.

On a cool, rainy Saturday, Moxey played by herself in her Atlanta home. Her father, Joseph Gardner, came into the home with an all too familiar look on his face. Paralyzed in fear, Moxey witnessed him rip the iron railing off the side of the stairs in their home, and with implausible strength, he took the metal bar and threw it against the wall. The noise of iron crashing against the wall ripped through the entire home. Moxey’s siblings bolted out the door to their friend’s homes to hide from their father. She was accustomed to her father’s rages, she knew the routine of hiding in her closet until the noise stopped. This time, she was too scared to be inside her home, so she ran out the door.

To keep busy, waiting for someone to tell her it’s safe, Moxey wandered. The cool rain hit her skin like bullets, but it was better than the crossfire her mother faced inside. Moxey was soaked to her bones from the rain before she finally went back to her house and listened through the doors: silence. Entering slowly, Moxey crept upstairs to her room to get ready for bed. It was past her bedtime by now. She was a child that disappeared all day to escape torment at home, and no one even looked for her. 

“And that really set the tone for me that I was alone, really alone. I was in survival mode from that moment on.”

Rebecca Moxey, maiden name Gardner, has faced a lifetime of turbulence. She was silenced from sharing the dark sides of her family dynamic. She struggled to raise children that shared all too familiar pathologies to her late father. She dealt with substance abuse, rehabilitation, and numerous autoimmune diseases that cause pain in her daily life.

She is now an ambassador for the Herren Project: one of the largest non-profit organizations in the world that provides free resources for the treatment, recovery, and prevention of substance use disorder. Moxey mainly partakes in and plans athletics events that raise money for the Herren Project.

When discussing the turmoil of her life, Moxey still clings to the beauty in between the lines of trauma. She speaks fondly of growing up in Atlanta, she reminisces about her time competitively roller skating and feels pride in the progress her oldest daughter made since being incarcerated. That is who Rebecca Moxey is: although so many things went awry in her life, she continues to see the simple pleasures.

“I could post on social media the dark stuff, but I don’t want to. I go just deep enough, then show the recovery side. You can survive, you can thrive. I wasn’t just an alcoholic. I have PTSD, anxiety, and autoimmune diseases. I just keep fighting, overcoming, and finding ways. This is who I am.”

Moxey’s father, Joseph Gardner, was intellectually gifted from a young age. He went from high school valedictorian to graduate summa cum laude from the University of Virginia medical school. He then completed his residency at an Air Force base.

Gardner began working as the chief of staff at a prominent Atlanta hospital as well as running a private practice. He was a renowned OB-GYN, the family drove luxury cars, had a beautiful home, and lived a comfortable life. Moxey was bombarded through her early life with those around her wondering what it is like to have a father who is a genius. 

Great brilliance often is accompanied by immense turmoil, and despite the respect that the Gardner family had throughout the city of Atlanta, they were not unfamiliar with agony behind closed doors.

Joseph Gardner was not only an alcoholic but also self-medicated by illegally prescribing himself barbiturates and amphetamines, both highly addictive classes of drugs. He was later diagnosed with manic depressive disorder, now known as bipolar, a mental illness that drags those suffering into episodes of deep depression and manic highs. Nobody outside of that house knew about Joseph Gardner’s flaws.

Moxey’s older sister, Norma Wallace, was five years older but had similar strategies to Moxey for avoiding the violence at home: athletics. Wallace would spend most of her time at cheerleading competitions until she went to college in Mississippi. Moxey found incredible success in roller skating. She won the national championship twice in 1976-77 when she was 15 and 16 years old. This required immense training and qualification to reach that level, equivalent to Olympic-level competition. She also was a cheerleader like her sister and ran track.

Before Wallace left, she saw unimaginable sides of her father at home and witnessed the complacency of her mother. She found prescription pill bottles for opioids written in her own name. She also saw how quickly the bottles emptied. Through all of the rage and fear Joseph Gardner instilled in the family, their mother remained complicit in his abuses.

“What I remember the most about the way she [our mother] raised us was to pretend like it didn’t happen. To lie about it and not tell anybody about the violence and the screaming. The verbal abuse, physical abuse, we weren’t supposed to talk about it” Wallace recalled.

Gardner’s substance abuse worsened and led to absent parenting. Moxey succeeded athletically and academically, but after hours she was free to do as she pleased. Moxey found out she was pregnant at the age of 16. After much deliberation, she decided to keep the baby and married her high school boyfriend, Lonnie, at 16 before her daughter Andrea was born.  

The night of the wedding Joseph Gardner was particularly drunk, high, and angry. Wallace was staying at the house home from college, so she and her mother began packing the car to leave for a hotel for the night. As they drove down the driveway, Joseph Gardner ran out the front door and pulled out a gun from behind his back. He shot at the windshield as they drove away, narrowly escaping the bullets.

“And that was the first time I realized that he had a gun, and would use it,” Wallace said.

On August 13, 1979, Moxey received a call from her mother that Joseph Gardner had passed away from a heart attack. Even with all of the torment her father put her through, Moxey was still crushed from his death. Within the next two years, she stopped skating competitively, worked more to support her daughter, and got divorced from her first husband Lonnie after he had an affair. 

Two years after her father’s passing, Moxey learned the truth her mother had tried desperately to bury. On August 13, 1979, Joseph Gardner walked to his office in downtown Atlanta, pulled a gun out of his desk drawer, and shot himself in the mouth. The truth took two years for Rebecca Moxey to unearth as her mother told everyone around her to lie.

“I hated my mother for that. She made sure I didn’t know. She was extremely selfish and was all about what people thought of her. She sacrificed all three of her children’s well-being so that she could stay in a relationship where she was married to the doctor. That’s who she was.”

Moxey was newly divorced and 19 years old when she met Scott. In a whirlwind, rebound relationship Moxey married Scott and had her second child, Brad, at 22 years old. 

After they were married, Scott began to show familiar tendencies to her father. He would get into angry rages and threaten suicide.

“He said ‘there’s nobody that’s ever going to want you if you divorce me. Because you’ve been divorced twice with two kids at 22.’ And you know, I believed it.” 

Moxey eventually took her kids and left the marriage, and then the job she held for four years at a bank for a job at a real estate firm. She found a group of friends who were supportive of her, and with that, she met Brian Moxey. He was a man who came from a family without trauma and took in her two kids, eventually officially adopting her son. After dating for four years, they got married. 

Happy and in love, the Moxey’s raised two children in Atlanta, and in 2001, Moxey became pregnant with her third and last child, Hannah. They moved Hannah and Brad to Topsail, North Carolina. This seemingly fairytale ending, however, is where the real struggles began.

Moxey’s oldest daughter, Andrea, inherited bipolar disorder from Moxey’s late father and left home as an early teenager. She got involved with drugs, was a stripper in Atlanta, had several children with different fathers, and eventually was incarcerated for selling methamphetamine. Moxey’s son was in and out of prison and rehabilitation, lied, stole, and was eventually kicked out of their house for proving to be a danger to a young Hannah.

In 2005, everything fell apart. Moxey felt like she failed as a mother for her two oldest children. She continued to deal with anxiety and PTSD from her childhood. After years of inconclusive results from doctors, Moxey found out she suffers from psoriatic arthritis, a form of connective tissue lupus and lichen planus. These autoimmune diseases only worsened with stress. As a family, they were struggling financially, going completely bankrupt at one point, and their marriage suffering because of the stressors all around.

To self-medicate, Moxey drank. She drank wine every day to subside the psychological and physical pain she was experiencing. By 2006, she was constantly exhausted, deflated, and depressed.

“I just wanted to die. I thought Hannah and Brian would be better off without me. I had a life insurance policy, and I was the same age when my dad took his life. I was trying to live his own legacy. I had it planned out, I was going to drink myself to death.”

With the strength that she had grown to know after years in a broken home, Moxey checked into a rehabilitation program on December 21, 2006. After 28 days, Moxey came out of rehab with the same issues she entered with: reckless children, childhood trauma, bankruptcy, marital problems, and autoimmune diseases. After rehab, she dealt with these same issues, but newfound sobriety and strength to live.

The most impactful way Moxey recovered from addiction as well as helped her autoimmune diseases was with exercise. Beginning with triathlons, Moxey then started competing in Iron Mans, which consist of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride, and a marathon 26.22-mile run. Moxey gained a community of athletes from these sporting events who similar to her, were often recovering addicts.

One of Moxey’s closest friends is Charlie Engle, an ultramarathon runner who gained fame from books he wrote and movies made about his story of substance abuse recovery. Moxey and Engle met when she showed interest in a run he was completing. Engle and five others ran from Los Angeles to Washington DC in a relay without stopping. The purpose was to bring greater attention to the need for mental health services.

“I remember Rebecca so distinctly. She gave me the biggest hug, I’m pretty sure there were tears of joy. When you meet her, you just know her. You know her commitment to sobriety and her support to what we were doing was incredibly apparent right from the beginning” Engle said.

Through Engle, Moxey was introduced to Herren Project, and quickly became an ambassador for the non-profit run by ex-NBA basketball player and recovering addict, Chris Herren. The Herren Project has raised $4.6 million in treatment scholarships through events that ambassadors like Moxey orchestrate.

“I believe at my core that anything you volunteer for it has to feed you first. It’s not about deflecting your own need for growth and for healing. It’s about feeding that part of you at the same time that you’re doing something selfless. Rebecca is the perfect person for that” Engle said.

Currently, Moxey organizes and competes in numerous athletic events every year and has spoken at North Carolina high schools about her story and the Herren Project. Through social media, people read Moxey’s story and contact her about their struggles and she helps them receive treatment from the Herren project. She is also in the process of applying to run for the Herren Project in the 2022 Boston Marathon.

The problems Moxey has to conquer never entirely subside. She still struggles with anxiety, PTSD, and severe claustrophobia from the years of hiding in her closet from her father’s abuse. Her oldest daughter is sober and a model prisoner, but both of her oldest children still have a long way to go for a full recovery. Although treatment for her autoimmune disorders improved, the COVID-19 pandemic put her in an extremely high-risk category and forced her to stop working. 

“I am an open book. I choose to live my recovery out loud so I can help others. It’ll be 15 years in December. It makes me so happy to touch people’s lives with the reality of how hard it can all be, but we do recover. I am a warrior,” Moxey said proudly.

Hi! My name is Isabella Castineyra and I am the President of Her Campus at NC State! I am a junior majoring in communication media with minors in journalism and criminology. I am from Boston originally, so I am all for Boston sports teams (go Pats)! I love taking naps, listening to Billy Joel, and rewatching the same shows over and over again. Go Pack!!
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