I’m very excited to welcome Dawn Nickel, PhD, co-founder of She Recovers, who has been helping women for years find recovery.
You can watch the interview by clicking below or on YouTube here: https://youtu.be/QM4jxM6WsY0
Can you tell people more about yourself for those who don’t know you?
I am a woman in long-term recovery from substance use disorder, intimate partner violence, anxiety, and many different things. And I hit the bottom in terms of substance use in 1987 when I was a mom of two little girls. I was in an abusive marriage. I went to treatment and found out that there was another way to live. I was very grateful to find that out.
I’d probably been addicted to substances by the time I was 17. And I spent 10 years trying to moderate, I knew by age 17 that I don’t think this is really for me. But I didn’t know that there was another way, that you could go completely substance free.
And I just was too addicted to really moderate my use successfully. So, went to treatment, left the marriage, and never drank or did cocaine again since 1987. But for the first couple of years, smoked a lot of pot. That was my harm reduction period. And then went back to treatment to get off the pot.
I went into 12 step recovery because there wasn’t anything else then. I talk now about how if a woman has issues with an addictive disorder of any type, we tell her listen to podcasts, go to therapy, go to yoga, do breathwork, and read literature. Back in 1987 and 1989, there was one message; thou shalt go to 12 step recovery, or thou shalt use drugs and die.
I believed it. I went and was very involved in a 12 step recovery program. I still consider myself a member. 12 step recovery is where I often tell women to go if they’re looking for a supportive community and a kind of roadmap for how to begin the self-reflection project.
But since starting She Recovers, that’s my primary recovery space now. I don’t go to a lot of meetings. I drop in once in a while. I raised my two kids. Taryn, my youngest, ended up addicted at 16. She totally followed in her mother’s footsteps. I was in recovery, so I was able to be present for her and help her reassess which direction she wanted to go in.
She chose recovery for a few years, and then she continued or returned to drinking alcohol and using substances, but in a much more measured way. And then we started She Recovers, and eventually, Taryn gave up all substances about six years ago.
About 12 years ago, I hit the wall with workaholism, and I realized that, like my bottom with substances, my life was in tatters. Through overworking, my physical health was suffering. I was having panic attacks and crying jags. My relationship with my husband was not good. He had just kind of given up on even trying to get my attention because I was just always working.
I was working three different careers at the same time. And then, I started having blackouts from the stress and the burnout. That’s when I realized I needed to do something about it. So I went on an extended leave from work and really just started a new level of recovery. I knew then that I could depend upon some of the same tools I had earlier taken on in my recovery. I went back to therapy and started doing more yoga. I did involve myself in the 12-step recovery program called Workaholics Anonymous.
The literature really resonates with me, and I use it frequently. There’s a book and a workbook. And while I was on that recovery journey, that four-month sabbatical from life, I realized that I wanted to do more in my life around recovery and especially support women in recovery.
So when I did go back to work after four months, I started a blog called Recovering Dawn and blogged every day about recovery. And then, when I went back to work, I realized I couldn’t blog every day and work every day. So, I switched over to the Facebook platform. Terran suggested we start a Facebook page called She Recovers.
Within a year, we hosted our first She Recovers yoga and recovery retreat, and the rest is kind of history in terms of the evolution of She Recovers. We’ve now hosted over 55 retreats and three major women’s recovery conferences.
We have training programs. We train coaches in our philosophy. We’re about to launch our She Recovers professional designation whereby therapists, social workers, and other professionals can become affiliated, so to speak, with us. People can pay for the course and then become listed in our directory. And people in our community will know that this therapist or this coach will know what She Recovers is all about.
How is recovery for women different from men in recovery? Do you think that women need different things than men do?
Absolutely. And I don’t know that I knew that intellectually when I was in recovery, but what I know happened in my recovery journey, even in 12-step Recovery, is I needed to see what other women were doing with their lives to know that it was possible for me. I needed a role model.
I believe Bronfenbrenner’s theory that adolescents need one adult who kind of cares about them and thinks the world of them in order to be successful in life. I’m going to be talking with some researchers at Harvard about doing some research on this. I think the same can be said about women in recovery. We just need one other woman or somebody who identifies as a woman who is living the life that we see ourselves in, and we can make that connection.
So early in my recovery with 12 steps, I hung out with the women who I saw were, in my view, stronger at parenting. They had healthier relationships than I’d ever had. They were involved in careers or other passion projects, and I thought I might want to be involved in something similar. I looked for those role models and mentors. So I think that’s one piece of it.
We want to see the possibility of what our lives can be, and we see that mirrored by other women. And then the other thing is we are different. I think the substance use stigma is much higher for women. We know this for a fact. As you know, as a mother, if you have a substance use disorder, you’re a rotten, terrible mother, says society.
If you’re a guy that uses the same amount or more, you’re just sowing your wild oats. You know, you’re just a party animal, there are kind of positive connotations around it. Substances, even physiologically, affect us differently. We end up having more severe consequences using substances than men do. The likelihood that women have been traumatized or sexually assaulted is so high that we have that predisposition towards being triggered by males.
All these things add up to why we see such strong communities developing online and in person amongst women. We bond because we have a lot in common.
It totally makes sense to have just a group of women who are on the same path as you and not have the issues with the men being part of it too, which sometimes can help. It’s great to have this option.
Have there been any big takeaways or things that you and Taryn are particularly proud of with the whole organization?
What I’m really proud of is that we have ten intentions and guiding principles, and that’s our philosophy. We try to model that we are all in recovery from something. So I really do think creating a space, an atmospheric conversation that is so inclusive. When we did our first retreat, I really wanted my two best friends to come. They’ve never struggled with substance use. But at the time, one of them was grieving a divorce, a terrible divorce. And the other one had been dealing with chronic illness for years.
I felt like they would benefit from this Sacred Pause Retreat, where we do yoga and talk about our feelings. And they did. And that was kind of the beginning of this for everybody. I had also thought that all through my own recovery from the very beginning that everybody needs this. Everybody needs a place where we can tell our story, where we can open up, where we can ask for support, and give support.
This idea is that you can come if you’re grieving a loss, have an eating disorder, are gambling, or any of those things. We’re really proud of that. And people really, women, in particular, love that about our organization.
The second thing is we have become known very much for promoting the idea, the fact that we follow individualized pathways to recovery. So I’m proud not only that we can say, Hey, recovery can look like all these things. But we don’t do it in a way that some do it, which is we’re not 12-step, 12 steps is bad. We’re good. We’re an umbrella over everything. We support all pathways and criticize none.
I have had an extremely powerful and positive experience with 12-Step Recovery. It saved my life. So I’m proud that not only do we promote multiple pathways, but we do so in a way that isn’t bashing other, more traditional types of programs.
And then the third thing is that we recognize that recovery is not linear. And so we take every kind of return to use or relapse as a learning and a lesson. You learn from that and try to help people embrace self-compassion and not shame themselves.
We have a lot of women in our community who come back. About 85% of the people in our community are in substance use recovery. And then all the other things that emerge are either related to that or just are different than that. So when people come in, and they say, oh my gosh, I had 90 days, and then I smoked pot yesterday or drank yesterday, or called up my love addiction target, or whatever it is, and they’re just so filled with remorse, our community jumps on them and says, “Hey, 90 days, let’s focus on that.” It’s a strength-based approach.
If someone needs more intensive support, we ask, “Have you thought about medication? Have you thought about treatment?” People in our community say all the time the reason they’re there is because there’s no shame around relapse. We recognize that there’s a stage of change, and you are where you are.
If you’re not quite at maintenance yet, that’s okay. You can continue to learn and grow and be supported. And in my own recovery, in 12-Step Recovery, I remember seeing women who would relapse and come back into the rooms of the program I was in. Sometimes people shamed them. Other times they didn’t. Those women felt the shame anyway. They would go away. The loathing was so bad about their relapse that they wouldn’t come back, or they come back and then leave. I lost too many friends to shame and can’t bear it.
We pivoted. Everything was in person. We had a Facebook page and a Facebook group. We didn’t do a lot virtually. When the pandemic hit on March 17th, we transitioned to two daily meetings. We’ve been hosting two online meetings daily ever since, as well as some weekend meetings for different identity-based groups; LGBTQ plus, mothers of high-needs children, healthcare and allied professionals, legal professionals, Spanish-speaking women, and more.
A lot of women found recovery during the pandemic. I love that the pandemic made recovery so accessible. If you’re a mom and you’re breastfeeding, or you have a toddler, you don’t have to get a babysitter, get dressed, get in a car, and drive for 45 minutes to a meeting where you might just be a bit petrified to walk through that door.
I think women checked out virtual recovery and found recovery. And I’ve seen in the last three years that people go, well, now I want to experience this in person. And although we’ve started our sharing circles back up in select communities across North America, this is slow-going. We don’t have many going yet, but women say, “I want to experience this in person.”
In that pain, they get their foundation in virtual recovery by talking about all the pathways. And when they go to the 12-step recovery programs, they have enough confidence when people start leveling expectations on them about what their recovery might look like.
I wrote a blog post that went viral a few years ago called Dear Women in 12 Step Programs. It’s written to women in 12-step programs to talk about how we can do better to make 12-step recovery more welcoming for women. Don’t ask a mom with a whose breastfeeding, on welfare, with no car, and a couple of other kids to go to 90 minutes in 90 days. It’s not reasonable.
It’s been a gift to a lot of women in recovery in terms of them being able to access, understand and learn a little bit more about another way to live.
Tell us about your wonderful book, She Recovers Every Day. Why did you decide to write it? What do you want your readers to take away from it?
It’s one of the Hazelden series. I wanted to write another book. I wanted to write a book that I have been writing for years. And Hazelden approached me. Hazelden/Betty Ford has something like 42 meditation books. And this is the newest.
Karen Casey is a very prolific recovery writer. And she wrote a book 40 years ago called Each Day A New Beginning. It was a meditation book. I was told I had to read the literature when I was in a program called Narcotics Anonymous.
Somebody in treatment recommended a daily reader, and this was a daily reader. I love the idea of checking in once a day in the morning as part of my routine, part of my practice, and thinking about recovery. It ties me to my recovery in the morning.
Hazeldon/Betty Ford is a great partner. I was in a meeting with one of the people I’ve been collaborating with on different projects for years. And she said, you know, your name came up in Hazelden Publishing the other day. We invite you to consider writing a daily meditation book for women.
My dad was so proud of me for doing this. My dad was 91. He passed away in October from Covid, and he was so proud of this book. And I really wished that he could have hung around long enough to have it in his hands. But I’m grateful he did get to see the cover. He lived long enough to leave a list of ten people in our family with whom he really wanted to buy books. And we joke now because, of course, he died. The book came out in February. I’ve got to pay for those 10 books for those 10 people. A person’s dying wish. You have to do it.
What final thoughts do you have for women seeking recovery, especially those just realizing there’s an issue and need some help?
I’d like to read something.
“When she came into our circle for the first time, she was overcome with feelings, some familiar, others new. She came to us knowing that she was missing something in her life but lacking clarity on what exactly that was. She only knew that her loneliness was growing, and she felt sad and a little bit afraid a lot of the time. She longed, truly longed for something that she couldn’t even name, something that she knew was both inside of and beyond herself. When she first sat in our circle, she felt immediate anxiety as she heard others talk because even though we assured her that she didn’t have to share, she knew she needed to, and the thought of having to speak the truth aloud terrified her. She felt amazement as others shared pieces of themselves that she sensed fit exactly into pieces of herself. Pieces that she had forgotten about for so long.”
And she felt hope. Hope that somehow she could find and share the words (when the time was right for her) and they would be received in the same way as she was receiving others’. Respectfully. Humbly. Gratefully. She hoped that she could be part of whatever it was that was happening in that circle of women. She didn’t know that she already was.”
And what I love about that reading is I think about the moms in our community who have come because their children are struggling or they’ve lost a child. I think about the women who have come because they’re still recovering from childhood trauma, adult children of alcoholics, and all kind of childhood stuff. They’re not necessarily acting out with substances or even other behaviors. They feel this great big huge hole in their heart. I wrote that for all of us.
Where can people learn more about you, your work, and your book, She Recovers Every Day?
Dawn Nickel.com, which is where you’ll find out about my book. 20% of the proceeds do go to the foundation. You’ll also find out about the foundation. There’s a link to the She Recovers website on my website with everything that we’re doing with She Recovers right now, including access to our daily meetings.
Registration for She Recovers in Chicago will be found at www.sherecovers.org. We are a 501 nonprofit charity.
Thank you, Dawn!
“We are all recovering from something.”
Dr. Dawn Nickel – or “Mama Dawn” as she is affectionately known in the women’s recovery space, is the Co-Founder of the SHE RECOVERS® Foundation and an experienced thought leader and consultant with extensive experience in researching and writing about women experiencing substance use disorders, mental health challenges, and intimate partner violence. She is the author of the recently published book, She Recovers Every Day. This daily meditation book is not specifically about any one condition, addiction, or life challenge. This book is designed to help you contemplate and hopefully embrace the notion that you can take charge of your life and heal, regardless of what you are recovering from.
By: Cathy Taughinbaugh
Title: She Recovers Everyday: Meet Dawn Nickel
Sourced From: cathytaughinbaugh.com/she-recovers-everyday/
Published Date: Wed, 19 Apr 2023 05:10:43 +0000