November 14th, 2011
06:46 PM ET

In and out: An addiction journey

Tracey Helton Mitchell lives outside San Francisco where she and her husband are raising three children. Tracey is an addiction specialist who helps people dealing with dependency and mental health issues find meaningful employment. In her free time, she enjoys writing and exploring the Bay Area. Tracey hopes by telling her story, she can give hope to others dealing with addiction.

From the very beginning, I always felt like there was something about different about me. There was a space inside my consciousness that was restless.

Everything about my birth and my childhood implied a happy future. I was born of two parents into a family that wanted me. I lived in a comfortable house in a small, close-knit community. While I was found to be extremely “gifted” at an early age, I found that to be a burden. I could never stop judging myself, every detail. I was the kid always in search of attention from the teacher, not the fellow students. I was confident in my abilities but there was a dissonance. No matter what I did, what I said, where I went - I was never comfortable with the shell I carried called myself.

High IQ, drug use linked

I wanted to talk about problems that were happening at home. I found myself more isolated. I remember spending weeks at a time in my pajamas in the summer months- not sleeping, not bathing, not caring. I ate to excess. I read a book a day. I built a fantasy world for myself. I began cycles of overeating, puking, dieting, and crying in silence. I was put on my first diet at 10 and struggle with my weight today.

I had tested into a small all girls private high school where I ended up separated from the people I had known my whole life. By my junior year, I found the city. It was as if my little box expanded to a wide horizon. I started going to concerts, meeting friends, learning to turn the noise off in my head. I never acted out sexually because I felt as if there wasn’t any one who would want me. I was still a “good girl.” The direction of my life changed at 17. I saw a movie that showed people using heroin. I looked at them - free, uninhibited, able not to care. It was only a movie but to me it was real. It took years before I found the drugs but the seed was planted that day.

The rest becomes a blur of activity. I went to the local college to continue my pattern of chronic approval sought in all the wrong places. The booze led me to the drugs. The drugs led to me whereever I landed. I ended up in San Francisco as a homeless junkie where I lived on the streets, in dive hotels, and in jail for six years. My existence was tempered by whatever substance I could put in my body. I logged a new set of regrets on a daily basis. Violence, infections, thoughts of suicide were frequent. I would cry when the sun came up and think:  How did I get here? I thought I was so smart but I couldn’t think myself out of addiction.

Did people try to help me? Yes and No. By this point, I became such a shadow of my former self, the core was difficult to reach. I had tried to stop on my own. However, stopping really meant switching to me. The very last day I used, there was cocaine, meth, alcohol, and marijuana. I could barely walk because I had been shooting up in the bottoms of my feet. I was skinny - all traces of the feminine were long gone. I had a suitcase packed in my closet so I would have something to wear when I got out of jail. When I finally got the knock on the door from the police, I went out into my new life in handcuffs. I left the suitcase and the shell behind me.

My new life in recovery began February 27, 1998. I went from jail to treatment, from treatment to a transitional house where I lived for four years. I went back to college through an ex-offender program where I obtained two degrees. I worked hard to reclaim myself, my education, my community. I have stayed connected with a group of friends who are supportive of my recovery. I have discovered the joys of relationships, the struggles dealing with daily life without medicating my feelings. I deal with old scars and one new one, opened three times to bring beautiful children into this world. I have dealt with the death of both of my parents. I have had amazing success in my career. I have been helping others reach their goals both in recovery and employment.

There isn’t much silence in my house full of active children. Yet, the most important gift I have been given is the gift of silence. The voices in my head that created a lifetime of self-doubt are fairly silent. I enjoy my life. I am at peace.

soundoff (30 Responses)
  1. bettyfordboy

    Thanks for the article Tracey. Happy to hear that you made it back from the same dark place I found myself living in for years....

    Coming up on two years clean...one day at a time....

    November 14, 2011 at 22:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Reggie Pee

    Found a grammatical error in the first few sentences. Is this amateur week or something?

    November 15, 2011 at 01:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kevin

      Great article. In rehab and recovery, I have recognized the unusual number of high IQ people.

      @Reggie Pee. Grammatically, consider the last sentence in your reply!

      November 15, 2011 at 08:10 | Report abuse |
    • Gulfwarvet

      How PETTY! Come on, this is a story of someone that has overcome the odds!

      November 16, 2011 at 10:59 | Report abuse |
    • Woman

      Can't see the forest for the trees?

      December 11, 2011 at 03:20 | Report abuse |
    • Crystal

      Wow, what a heartless individual you must be. Tracey went to hell and back, turned her life around and spends every free moment helping those who are in that same hell. You should be ashamed of yourself!

      August 14, 2014 at 03:51 | Report abuse |
  3. Stephen

    Wonderful article. Sadly, I can relate only to negative aspects of substance abuse which were detailed, as I continue to struggle with my addictions. However, the article has, if even for the briefest of moments, given me a glimmer of hope. For that I thank you.

    November 15, 2011 at 04:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Unseenrain

      @Stephen....I too struggle daily with my addictions (alcohol/food) though it's far better than before (heroin). It's frustrating and lonely as I fully understand the dynamics of addiction, yet feel powerless and consumed by it. At the end of a long and demanding day with tremendous stress (caring for both a severely disabled son and an aged mother) it's what I look forward to: a couple of drinks and a comforting meal. May you find a way to heal as I search for a way myself. Peace.

      November 15, 2011 at 09:14 | Report abuse |
  4. Katy

    Tracey, You're such an amazing woman and I am proud to know you. Much love and many blessings to you!-K

    November 15, 2011 at 11:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Woman

    Wonderful article, i related to so much of it. U inspire me. Thank you. Keep writing and keep shining :).

    December 11, 2011 at 03:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Jeffrey Reynolds, Ph.D

    Great article and congrats for making it to the other side!

    December 15, 2011 at 08:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. eve

    Tracey thank you for helping.

    February 25, 2012 at 14:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Jason F

    God! Can people just be nice for a change!? Let's stop tearing each other apart. We should be grateful for someone like Tracey; someone who has not just beaten the odds, but who has taken a negative experience and turned it into something positive for other people. I honestly wish I had the strength to do what she has done.

    March 31, 2012 at 20:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. therealeladd

    Thank you Tracey, I am 23 years old and have over a year and a half clean and sober. I also came from a loving, upper-middle class family...my parents have been married for over 26 years. I never dealt with abuse or childhood trauma, yet I was always creating it in my mind. I don't tell a lot of people that I'm in recovery...I feel like they automatically think of the dead beat junkies in all of the Hollywood movies, when in reality, anyone can become an addict. I was and still am, an athlete, college student, and loving daughter, sister, and lover. I always knew I was different from everyone else, that I thought no one would understand me, because I was better than everyone else around me. Recovery has taught me about humility and serenity. I am only 23 years old and I still have my whole life ahead of me....and I'm already on a path towards success. I've never been happier and when the subject is brought up, I am proud to say that I don't drink or do drugs in today's society. I give back by going into rehabs, detox centers, and detention centers to speak to those who are still struggling. Abstinence from drugs has given me complete peace of mind, and I humbly respect my self worth. It's damn hard work staying clean, but every day is a miracle and people constantly tell me that they see how much I've changed....and that's the greatest gift of all.

    June 4, 2012 at 12:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. traceyh415

    you can also follow my blog http://traceyh415.blogspot.com/

    February 8, 2013 at 16:24 | Report abuse | Reply
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    My vigor is unreal and I have considerably more energy. I look at my sister Sharon and she’s a great success story to boot; she remains in just as fantastic shape and she also still uses yoga burn. There’s absolutely so much value here, I felt I had to contribute my story and with any luck you could have as much if not increased success, best of luck to you on your own journey! Look at the link


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