Don’t give up. Example: Learn to rest — don’t quit. Part of working in this field causes some level of disappointment. Remember why you’re doing this and stay crystal clear on your mission. People need to hear your story and message. Even if people aren’t commenting or leaving reviews — they’re watching.
As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Addiction Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Smith.
Michelle is an author, speaker, and founder of Recovery is the New Black, a digital community for moms in recovery. As a wife and working mother of two, she fell into the “mommy juice” drinking culture. Michelle found a way out and has been in recovery from alcohol abuse since 2016. As a certified addiction and mental health counselor, she provides services to other moms who are seeking supportive alternatives to a boozy culture that tells us alcohol is an accessory to motherhood. Michelle has 20 years of experience in the field of addiction medicine and behavioral health treatment.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit of your backstory?
As an adult child of an alcoholic father, I had the perfect example of what not to be. After the passing of both my parents from natural causes, I became a mother myself. Knowing I was predisposed to alcoholism, I steered clear of alcohol. After the birth of my second child, I found myself falling into the “Mommy Juice Culture.” What once was a sip here and there quickly turned into a daily habit. Within 4 years my alcohol dependence was in full swing. My addiction thrived in silence and secrecy landing in the hospital a total of 4 times for fatal alcohol poisoning, Child Protective Services involvement, and inpatient treatment.
Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work with opioid and drug addiction?
I felt it was important to tell my story since I came from an upper-middle-class background and was well educated. People think that women like me don’t become alcoholics, lose jobs, and threatened to have custody of their children taken away. My goal was to break the stigma associated with addiction, make those struggling feel less alone and hopeful.
Can you explain what brought us to this place? Where did this epidemic come from?
I believe it’s the combination of accessibility to substances and the increase in undiagnosed and untreated mental health issues. Then when you add in trauma, addictive pharmaceutical drugs, and lack of access to treatment, many individuals fall into the criminal justice system rather than the health care system.
Can you describe how your work is making an impact on battling this epidemic?
I’ve written a memoir that will be released in 2021. I’m a speaker at local treatment facilities, correctional institutions, and high schools around awareness and harm reduction. My podcast will be launched later this year and I have guests lined up to address this epidemic.
Wow! Without sharing real names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by your initiative?
Since recovering out loud in 2017, I’ve received hundreds of messages from individuals and family members of loved ones. One woman and her daughter particularly stand out. I was at Home Goods and I was asked by a highschool aged girl, “are you Recovery is the New Black?” I responded, “I sure am.” She thanked me for giving her mom back. We had a moment of tears and a family hug. I realized at that moment my story and service to others had an impact.
Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?
I often visit and speak in the facility I attended inpatient treatment. To give back and provide hope to other women in the program has been most rewarding.
Can you share three things that the community and society can do to help you address the root of this problem? Can you give some examples?
Less stigma. Society shames the sick. This keeps individuals isolated from getting the services they need. Allow treatment as an option in lieu of incarceration for alcohol and drug-related crimes. More conversations around awareness and harm reduction.
If you had the power to influence legislation, which three laws would you like to see introduced that might help you in your work?
Decriminalize alcohol and drug use and funnel these individuals into treatment services, not the judicial system. Secondly, increase the alcohol tax to the rate of cannabis. Lastly, ensure the tax money would be used for treatment and rehabilitation services.
I know that this is not easy work. What keeps you going?
My addiction tried to kill me several times. I’m grateful to be alive and share my story of healing, hope, and redemption. It’s not okay to write off anyone who struggles with addiction. The ability to see people flourish in their recovery and be of service to the next person is priceless.
Do you have hope that one day this leading cause of death can be defeated?
That’s my hope. If we come together and utilize our tools such as harm reduction, medication, prevention education, and treatment I believe it’s possible. We need to work together on this this possible. There is a lot of division in the recovery community. There needs to be less judgment on what treatment modality a person uses to recovery. The goal is the same.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
In my mind, a leader is someone who does more than just leads people. They have to be driven by the right motivation and make a positive impact on the people around them. Someone who can see how things can be improved and who rallies people to move toward that better vision. Leaders can work toward making their vision a reality while putting people first. Just being able to motivate people isn’t enough — leaders need to be empathetic and connect with people to be successful.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Agree to disagree. Example: I’m an advocate of harm reduction. Others have commented on their disapproval of my involvement in the online space.
- Social media detox. Example: I’ve learned the hard way to take breaks away from social media. The burnout rate is high. It’s healthy to close my phone and connect with a real-life human in the same way I do in the online space.
- Be patient. Example: You have to build a know, like and trust factor. These means show up, create content that will educate, entertain, and inspire people to listen and take action on your message.
- Trolls. Example: Get ready because they are every. Having thick skin is part of the deal. If you don’t have it now, you’re sure to grow it.
- Don’t give up. Example: Learn to rest — don’t quit. Part of working in this field causes some level of disappointment. Remember why you’re doing this and stay crystal clear on your mission. People need to hear your story and message. Even if people aren’t commenting or leaving reviews — they’re watching.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would hands down say, recovering out loud. The stigma around addiction needs to stop. We’re all human and no one is immune. If you’re not directly affected by it, you surely know someone who is. Shaming the sick will not make anything better. It disempowers people who want to reach out for help.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Loving ourselves through the process of owning our story is the bravest thing we will ever do.” — Brené Brown
Through my addiction, I lost all love and respect for myself. The self-loathing and self-sabotage kept me stuck. Once I heard this quote I knew this was the missing piece to me being successful in my recovery.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I’d love to sit down with Brené Brown. She has spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. She’s is also a sober mother which I love.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m on Facebook at @recoveryisthenewblack.
I’m on Instagram at Recoveryisthenewblack_.