SHE RECOVERS founder Dawn Nickel shares what “we are all recovering from something” means to her as well as some fundamental truths she has discovered over her three decades of recovery.
If I’ve learned anything over the past three decades of my own recovery – it is this. We are all recovering from something. Or many somethings.
This truth – that every one of us has a thing or two that we need to address to live our healthiest, happiest lives – is the absolute foundation of what SHE RECOVERS is about. The principle is intended to be hopeful – not depressing. For one thing, it levels the playing field because it connects us all. It reduces stigma because…well because everyone has a thing which means that everybody else’s thing is no big deal. This principle is as helpful as it is hopeful because when we share the same things, we can also share our strategies and solutions for recovering from them. Are you following me?
These days, the laundry list of things that I am recovering from is mostly manageable. At the moment, I consider myself in recovery from workaholism, anxiety and perfectionism with a lingering touch of codependency from my past thrown in to keep life interesting. Bonus points for you if can see how those four things might be inter-related. There may be more for me to work on but I’m just not looking for anything else to recover from right now. Not just because I’m too busy working, dealing with my anxiety and trying to be perfect for all the people I am in codependent relationships with but because…it’s just not necessary to be in recovery from all of the things at the same time. Not necessary and not actually recommended.
If you are trying to decide what you might be in recovery from today, please be gentle with yourself. Pick that one thing that – above and beyond all of the rest of the things – is causing you the most grief, holding you back, messing with your serenity, or – as I know might be true for some of you – is killing you or could kill you. Pick just that one thing. And come up with just one thing that you can do today to start to address it. Paying attention to what I am writing/saying here is a start to addressing it. Baby steps matter.
It’s important for me to say that I understand that not everyone is in recovery from things that almost killed them and I am glad about that. I don’t think you have to descend into absolute hell to choose to recover and I believe that everybody’s concept of hell can be different. I hope that the things that you are recovering from are not or were not life threatening – but I bet that they were soul threatening nonetheless. I hope that you recover your soul in your recovery.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have more-or-less recovered from those things that without question did have the potential to kill me in my past life. The big three for me were addiction, intimate partner violence and cancer. And guess what? Those three things are related too.
Let’s get intimate partner violence out of the way first because – out of respect for my daughters – it’s the one that I like to talk about the least – in a public forum. Like me, my first husband had substance use issues – primarily cocaine in his case – cocaine and all the other drugs (including alcohol) in mine. Over the four years that we were together, my former husband was consistently verbally abusive and sporadically physically abusive. On at least two separate occasions I feared for my life – once when he threw me down a flight of stairs and another time when he pushed me onto the ground and kicked me repeatedly in the head. Those were the most serious transgressions, there were other physical incidents. When I decided that I had had enough – I took my two little girls and went to a women’s shelter. I really only wanted to recover from domestic abuse but I learned very quickly from the professionals who were supporting me that I had to deal with my drug and alcohol problem at the same time. I was not impressed.
Nor was I ready. Having abused myself and been abused for years, I wasn’t ready to accept that I deserved better. So I didn’t stop using and I did go back to my husband for a few months. Finally, in July 1987 I checked myself into a treatment center and haven’t done cocaine, drank alcohol or put up with abuse from any man since that time. Before you clap or cheer for me – I did smoke a lot of pot until May 1989. And that’s okay – it was harm reduction for me. If you are in an abusive relationship – verbal, emotional or physical – I beg of you to make that the one thing that you will seek help for first. Your life, your soul depends upon it.
Recovering from an abusive relationship and self-induced substance abuse wasn’t easy. It took a lot of time, therapy and devotion to a variety of modalities including working a 12 step recovery program for many years. I’ve learned over the years how important it is for women to be supported to find and follow individualized pathways and patchworks of recovery – another of our SHE RECOVERS Guiding Principles. But I’ll leave that for another day. Suffice it to say – when we recover from our things, we need to do it our way.
Which brings me to cancer. In 2005 – deep into recovery and enjoying an amazing life – I ended up in emergency surgery due to a large tumor perforating my colon. I was within an hour of my death, according to my surgeon. Research shows that colon cancer can be related to excessive alcohol and drug use so I’m grateful that I had stopped using many years previously. I recovered fully from cancer after undergoing a year of chemotherapy. Oddly enough that year of chemo was one of the best years of my life. I truly understood and embraced the temporary nature of life. I wanted to live fully that year and I did. Just ask my bank account.
I often reflect on the idea that if I had to have a reoccurrence of anything that might have killed me – drugs, abusive partner or cancer – I would choose cancer. I will never, ever go back to the hell of addiction or domestic violence. Some people might say that I can’t say that I’ll never use drugs again. But I’m saying it. In the end what I know to be true today is that the things that I have recovered from – or am recovering from – are most likely just an extension of needing to recover from a kernel of a feeling deep in my core that I’m not okay. No matter how hard I work, how many degrees I have earned in recovery (three), how much my family loves and supports me, how many women in this world of recovery know and love me (lots) that I might always have a touch of that thing called unworthiness.
But I can be in recovery from that if I continue to share it. With you. With others. I’m not ashamed of it. It’s just a thing. And I’m going to guess it might just a thing for you too.
I love you. Thanks for reading.
Dawn Nickel is the Founder of She Recovers. She lost her mother the same week that she turned 40 and although she has not been the same since, she is doing great. She Recovers is in part a tribute to her mother-loss, in that it was created as much for women grieving as it is for anyone else.