This article is part of Scroll’s Second Chances series. Second Chances highlights the unique experiences and potential of individuals who have overcome substance abuse and/or incarceration, as well as the programs and people that supported their journey.

When I sat down to talk with Michelle Smoley, a recovery coach at the Center for Hope, I first noticed a photo on the wall behind her with a smiling toddler.

“I have a little three-year-old granddaughter. She’s my best friend,” Michelle said.

Michelle is a mother of three and enjoys hiking and spending time with Rosie, her granddaughter. She also works with people in the drug and family courts and she’s good at it. But what makes her so good isn’t years of formal education — it’s lived experience.

“You can’t buy my degree, you know, you have to live my degree,” Michelle said.

Michelle grew up in Minnesota. She first got involved with drugs around eighth grade, unaware of the dangers and heartbreak this would cause.

“I had no idea what addiction even was,” Michelle said. “I didn’t even know that was a thing — until it was too late. I was already in full-blown addiction by my early 20s.”

Around this time, she began having kids.

“I managed to stop doing drugs every time I was pregnant,” Michelle said.

After each pregnancy, she relapsed and it became increasingly difficult to hold a steady job. That was when she opened her own daycare and found success. But even as she seemed to be doing well, her struggle with substance abuse continued.

“I was this perfect picture on the outside but behind closed doors, it was very, very different,” Michelle said.

The problem got worse when someone offered her heroin and, later on, methamphetamine.

“I started doing meth and within, I want to say, within six months I was homeless, committing crimes to feed this addiction that I had,” Michelle said. “And then I think how it’s terrifying how easily I took to the streets like that after I was 40 years old. When my kids were teenagers.”

However, according to Michelle, this downhill path eventually took her to where she could get the help she needed. After being in and out of various jails, she was sent to the Idaho State Drug Court where she graduated in 2019. This month she celebrates being six years sober.

During her time in the drug court, Michelle attended meetings at the Center for Hope which would eventually spark her interest in becoming a recovery coach for others facing similar problems.

“It just always was such a great place, such a welcoming place with like-minded people where it’s just a room full of people — for the first time in my life — that had the same thing I did,” Michelle said.

Michelle with her family and those who support her.

Michelle with her family and those who support her. Photo credit: Michelle Smoley

Michelle explained that mental health is often the primary problem in situations of substance abuse. If individuals suffering from mental illness can get the support they need, she says, they will be a lot less likely to turn to drugs as a way to cope.

“Connection is the ultimate cure for so many things,” Michelle said.

Michelle believes one of the biggest things we can do to support those struggling with mental illness or substance abuse is to talk to them and try to understand their stories. Even if we haven’t been in their place, we can be supportive.

“Let people be human and treat them like they’re human,” Michelle said. “And that’s what we’re doing here (at the Center for Hope). That’s why we came to Rexburg. That’s why we’re in Blackfoot. That’s why, you know, that’s why we’re doing all these things because places like this is where the connection happens, it’s where it starts.”

Now, as well as working at the Center for Hope, she works with the drug and family courts, providing support to young mothers in situations similar to the one she was in.

“I get to go to court every single week with my peers and advocate for them and support them and help them navigate this thing that you know we’re all trying to do — just get through life, you know, the best we can.” Michelle said. “I have found a love for life … And it’s my job to spread that to other people.”

Her love for life also comes from her family. Though faced with difficult circumstances growing up, her children love Michelle and are very proud of her.

“That’s the part of my story that —” Michelle said, tearing up as she tried to describe her love and pride for her children. “It’s my favorite part. They’re good kids. I don’t know how they became so good. But they did. They’re really good kids. They’re responsible. They have a work ethic like I’ve never seen … Good, responsible kids.”

As she helps and loves others, Michelle hopes she can continue to be an example for her kids and her granddaughter, Rosie.

“I just hope I will always be a good memory to her — always.”