“We never know when we make a difference”: An Interview with Recovery Coach Michelle Graves
During National Recovery Month, an initiative launched by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to increase public awareness around mental health and addiction recovery, we celebrate those in recovery and recognize the work that service providers deliver to the community. This includes the work of Michelle Graves, one of OneEighty’s most beloved peer recovery support coaches, affectionately known to her clients as “Miss Michelle.”
Miss Michelle has been with OneEighty for 14 years. She works with incarcerated clients and assists them through court hearings. “My job is to encourage the clients and show them a different way of living,” says Michelle. “A lot of times people in recovery think that the only way of life is the way they have been living. I try to show them that you can recover. You don’t have to live the way you have been living.”
Of working with recovering clients, she says, “Our lives are always so different, but yet so much alike. I’m a recovering addict. September 28th has been 22 years of sobriety for me. I have to say, only by the grace of God, because I could not do that on my own.”
In addition to meeting with clients in jail and assisting them through court hearings, she also attends doctor appointments with clients, takes them to the store, and makes sure they have the things they need.
Miss Michelle makes the effort to meet her clients wherever they need to be met. “I have met people in downtown Wooster, at the library, at their homes, wherever they feel comfortable enough and want to talk. A lady asked me, she said, ‘Miss Michelle, I need a blanket because I’m going to be sleeping outside.’ So, I’m going to make sure she gets a blanket. Even if I have to give her one of my own. One of the things that I often tell clients is, ‘I’m going to always be here until you don’t want me here any longer.’”
She says it’s important for clients “to have somebody to listen to them, have somebody not be ashamed of them, have somebody to tell them and show them how to do things right. Most of my clients have broken bridges. They have nobody else they can go to.”
During her time working first in the men’s residential treatment facility, then the women’s facility, she fostered strong relationships with the residents. She recalls her female clients affectionately referring to her as “mom” as she taught them important life skills, like how to prepare and cook basic meals.
“We don’t think of how deep addiction runs sometimes,” says Michelle. “Some of my clients’ mothers were addicts, and their mothers were addicts. Some of the things they should have learned as young girls, they didn’t get that.”
As a peer recovery coach, she now spends a lot of time calling her clients on a regular basis. The hope is to ask them questions, get them talking about their day, and help them be comfortable enough with her to want to talk to her when they are struggling.
Making a difference
For many, the work of peer recovery can be difficult to understand. Michelle approaches every week with an understanding that recovery is different for each individual and if someone wants to recover, she can help show them a different way of life.
Miss Michelle’s philosophy is that you never know when you can make a difference in someone’s life. “First thing in the morning when I would leave the house, I would always say a prayer, because you never know who you’re going to run into. You never know what battle you’re going to have to fight. You never know what your day holds. I would say, ‘Lord, please give me the words to say to your people.’”
She also believes that making a difference is a two-way street: when you open yourself to others, you allow yourself to be affected by them too. “You never know the impact you make on somebody’s life. Not only do I impact people, but people impact me by just being here.”
Miss Michelle is passionate about both the people she helps and the team she works with. “I want the world to know about OneEighty and what we have to offer.”
She explains that “walking through the doors of OneEighty can make all the difference to change your life. No matter what your issues are, we’re here to support you in your journey, your recovery, your struggles. Our agency is a huge part of this community that works on teaching people how to live, how to be comfortable in a society where they are welcomed by every member of this community.”
OneEighty was there for Miss Michelle on a personal level, as well. In Michelle’s words, “When I lost my son last year, my OneEighty family showed up. My daughter and son told me that their jobs were there for them, but ‘nobody’s job has been there quite like your job has been there for you.’ I know they are here for me no matter what.”
Fulfilling your purpose
After ten years of working in the group homes, Miss Michelle made the decision to become a peer recovery coach. A major factor in her decision was the opportunity to reach a larger group of people.
In this position, she truly feels like she’s found her purpose. “Recovery is beautiful. A long time ago, before I came into recovery, I would often ask, ‘Lord, what is my purpose? What is my purpose?’ I was a mother. I was a wife, but I was not being fulfilled. I remember the day came and I was no longer asking what my purpose was, because I was living in it. I was doing what I was supposed to be doing. I was comfortable. I was at a place where I wanted to be, and I was being fulfilled.”
The nature of addiction
As someone in recovery, Michelle has insight into the recovery process that many don’t. “A lot of people say relapse doesn’t necessarily need to be a part of recovery, but sometimes it is. It was for me,” says Michelle. “I had to learn how to stay consistent and be consistent. The recovery community becomes a part of your family, or that family you might have lost when you were out there in the world living in addiction.”
“We look for things to ease and soothe our pain that don’t make it better. It’s just the bandage for that moment and the issues are still there. We can help you change those issues, to help you find what it is you need, to help your inner self to find the beauty in you. Because we all have it. We just don’t sometimes know how to release it. Many different lives, many different paths.”
“The final answer,” Miss Michelle says, “is getting to know who we are, and learning how to love ourselves one day at a time.”
To learn more about the work Miss Michelle and other Recovery Coaches do, check out our Recovery Coaching page.