Profiles in Recovery

Tracey Helton Mitchell

Mitchell was one of five young heroin addicts whose harsh lives were depicted in the top-rated HBO documentary Black Tar Heroin: The Dark End of the Street.

A doctor gave Mitchell opioid painkillers when she had her wisdom teeth removed at 17. She got hooked, chasing a euphoric high that progressed to shooting heroin. Living in an alley in San Francisco, her skin covered in abscesses, Mitchell expected to be found dead – like her boyfriend Ben or Jake, from the documentary. But instead, she found healing through rehab treatment and peer support groups such as LifeRing Secular Recovery.

Today, Mitchell is a longtime recovery advocate, married with three children. She’s earned a master’s degree in public administration and is a certified addiction specialist who has been drug-free for 18 years.

Day Job:
Manager for county mental health programs

At my worst, I was:
Living on the street or in filthy hotels. My health was in very poor condition. I was shooting up in the soles of my feet. I was completely isolated from all family and friends. I spent nine months in jail. I am a convicted felon. I’ve been arrested a total of 11 times in two states.

What worked for me:
I detoxed in jail and then went into a rehab while completing a six-month sentence. I then lived in sober living for four years. I attended 12 step groups, worked out of the LifeRing “Recovery by Choice” book, and went to support groups for women. I was highly motivated to stop. I entered therapy at around a year off drugs.

Advice to my younger self:
I wish I would have understood what a good person I was back then and how I needed to believe in myself.

Rules I live by:
Number one is, I don’t use. I don’t allow myself to entertain the fact that using would some how work for me. It never did, it never would. Secondly, I try to go out of my way to connect with people. I try to tell people that I love them as much as possible, as the future is never promised to us.

Favorite recovery quote:
“An addict alone is in bad company” ~ Narcotics Anonymous

My rock bottom moment:
I was using alone in the bathroom of a trap house when I realized if I OD’d or was murdered there, my family would never know. I had no ID at the time, no one knew my last name in my circle of people. I imagined I would be pulled out on a slab with a Jane Doe label. It really made me wake up. I got clean about a month later.

When cravings come:
I remind myself that a craving is a thought. I have no control over random thoughts. I do have control over my actions . . . I just remind myself what it (substance abuse) was really like and where that relationship is always headed. I play the whole tape and not just the highlight reel.

Best advice for newbies:
Be gentle with yourself. It is so easy to let the guilt and shame overtake the positive things you have going on in your life. Guilt and shame are useless emotions in early recovery, pure fuel for relapse.

Focus on the solution, how you are going to do better in the future. Forgive yourself. Take your time. No matter how many times you have tried, you only have to get it right once – this time.

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