By Nicole Bell, Just Exits Advisory Councilmember

So today I celebrate 8 years of sustained recovery

and am incredibly grateful for the life we have built, the community I am a part of, the ability to have friends and be a friend, the ability to be a mother and daughter, and the fact that I manage my substance use disorder (SUD) and mental health (MH).

Who would've imagined that I could accumulate 8 minutes of recovery, never mind 8 years? No one would, and neither did I.

I had always imagined if I could find recovery, life would be rainbows and sunshine. I couldn't manage even the smallest things in life, because I was overwhelmed and afraid all the time. I have learned to believe in myself. I learned that life in recovery or with untreated SUD is still life. There are going to be challenges and difficult situations, but I can get through them without using. I have learned to believe in humanity again. There are good people who genuinely give a shit about others. I have an incredible tribe of women in my life. I have reconnected with my family and loved ones. I have had the opportunity to really find out who I am and what I am capable of. I learned that trauma is what kept me stuck in that repetitive cycle for a decade. I have had the opportunity to do really amazing things over the last eight years, and I look forward to continue creating memories that I will look back on with love and not fear.

Life is hard and scary, but I can live it every day without using and running. I was that person that everyone had given up on. I was that person who when I showed up for treatment the providers would say "Why should I give you a bed tonight, when I could give it to someone who actually wants and deserves it?"

I hadn't just burned every bridge I had in my life. I set it on fire while still standing on it. I hurt my family, making broken promises that I intended to keep, but was never able to. I cycled deeper, due to the shame I felt for continuously letting everyone down. I couldn't process the grief I felt for all the losses I had. They just kept accumulating. Just like the providers who believed I didn't stand a chance, I didn't believe it either. I had tried and failed countless times. I believed I was a lost cause.

If I was lucky, I would die of an overdose, and not at the hands of a violent buyer.

You see, those messages we send people (telling them they don’t deserve assistance, a treatment bed, shelter, housing, healthcare, or simple human kindness and compassion) stick. They reinforce what we already believe about ourselves.

It often takes someone to see through the anger, rage, sadness, and walls we put up to protect ourselves, and to see the human being standing in front of them. It takes understanding that those are behaviors and survival tools that protected us from the life we were surviving. Having someone see you as a human being in need of assistance, treatment, and support, rather than a burden to the system and a blight on society. People who actually do see us as human beings are few and far between.

Those people who see through all the suffering and pain and treat us with humanity can be a catalyst to someone turning their life around.

It doesn't matter if it’s the first time you are seeing someone or the hundredth. Remember, kindness is what we need, and encouragement that we can find and maintain recovery too.

I am so grateful for people who gave me that chance again: those who encouraged me to keep fighting; those who empowered me to shed the behaviors that allowed me to survive, but kept me from thriving. I am so grateful for the people who truly saw me, and the potential I had before I did. It matters.

So, the next time someone like me presents at your door for the 57th time, don’t say "You again?" with disgust in your voice. Say "Welcome. I'm so glad you are ready to give this another try." It matters. You'll never know how those small things have a big impact, but I certainly do.