Passing on Positivity: Michelle’s Story of Recovery and Redemption

Passing on Positivity: Michelle’s Story of Recovery and Redemption


If Michelle were to look back on her life just a few years ago, she would hardly recognize herself. Once dispirited and struggling with substance use, she now radiates resilience and optimism. Through the people she met during her recovery, Michelle found empowerment and support. She now passes this positivity on to others in her daily life, whether through recovery coaching, volunteering, or a motivational conversation.

Michelle remembers the moment she wanted to begin changing her life. She was sitting in a prison cell 23 years ago when she began realizing how fast time had flown by. She started giving herself the first of many self-talks that became the foundation for her transformation.

“I said, ‘This is time. You need to stop. You're getting older... you have to change your life. You are not going to live like this...”

With only $200 and a piece of paper in her hand, Michelle walked out of jail in 1997 after years of cycling in and out. She has not been involved with the criminal justice system since then.

However, the following years were still challenging, and Michelle continued to face the sorrows of losing loved ones and experiencing health issues related to substance use. She decided to come to The Fortune Society for help, and what she thought would be another treatment center gradually became the haven in which she blossomed.

“I had to be around positive people in order for me to know that I can do better... So that was my reentry,” she said. “Being around [people in recovery] and learning.”

When Michelle first came to Fortune, she was reluctant to come out of her shell and socialize. Nevertheless, thanks to the individuals she surrounded herself with, she opened up. For instance, interning in Fortune’s kitchen was one environment in which she immersed herself in the art of small talk.

“When I was in the kitchen in the morning, I taught myself how to say ‘good morning,’” she said. “[My colleagues] taught me how to say ‘hello.’ They taught me how to say ‘how is your day?’” 

In addition to completing an internship at Fortune, Michelle is also a former resident at The Castle, our housing unit in Harlem. She is taking GED classes and has participated in Employment Services, mock interviews, mental health services, and public speaking training.

In 2019, she completed substance use treatment, and has been sober for three years.

It was through interactions with people struggling with substance use that she discovered her true passion lies in recovery coaching. She now aspires to become a licensed recovery coach and provide a glimpse of hope to people experiencing issues that she once did.

When it comes to recovery, Michelle emphasizes the need to address one’s inner hardships and come to terms with past negative experiences. In order to do so, she surrounded herself with people who were also in recovery and could listen to her story without judgement.

Today, Michelle does the same for others. Going forward, she especially wants to empower women, and also volunteers conducting outreach for people experiencing homelessness. She dedicates her time to being an open ear for someone else, understanding that sometimes, all it takes is a person with unwavering attention to validate one’s story.

“...You have to be there for [others],” she said. “That is what [people have] taught me: Be there for someone else, because someone else was there for me.”

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