Practicing Recovery from "All the Things"

Let's Talk: Addiction & Recovery Podcast
Close up of a mid adult man working on a laptop from his cabin in the woods

As author and advocate Dawn Nickel likes to say, "we're all recovering from something." For her, those somethings include alcohol, cocaine, anxiety, marijuana and workaholism. Tune in as the co-founder of the global SHE RECOVERS movement talks with host William C. Moyers about the inspiration behind her daily meditation book for "like-minded, like-hearted" women in their own recovery practice. Discover, too, why Nickel calls the book her "love letter to recovery."

There're ups and downs; nothing's linear about recovery.

Dawn Nickels

0:00:13 Willam Moyers
Hello and it's time for another interview in our podcast series, Let's Talk. I'm your host, William C. Moyers, joined today by Dawn Nickel. A national advocate for recovery. Specifically women overcoming the adversity of substance use, violence, trauma, and as she says, quote ‘anything else from which we hope to heal.' Dawn, welcome and thanks for joining us today!

0:00:39 Dawn Nickel
Thank you, I'm pleased to be here!

0:00:40 Willam Moyers
And you're coming to us from? [smiles]

0:00:43 Dawn Nickel
Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

0:00:46 Willam Moyers
Well, that's the power of technology today that you can be with us in the studio in the same way I can be with you in British Columbia. Thank you for joining us for this important conversation.

0:00:51 Dawn Nickel
Absolutely. [smiles, nods]

0:00:55 Willam Moyers
Before we get into your new book, which we'll come back to you in a minute, tell us about your own recovery story. What are you recovering from?

0:01:04 Dawn Nickel
Well, we usually say around She Recovers all the things. But I suppose if I had to tell you kind of in the Cole's Notes version, I entered recovery for substance use disorder primarily cocaine, alcohol, pills—benzos mostly—and marijuana in 1987. I went to treatment in 1987 and left treatment and have not drank alcohol or done cocaine ever since. For the first two years of my recovery, I chose smoking marijuana as my harm reduction pathway. And since then, I've really not used any mood or mind-altering substances to change the way I feel except for one incident in 2000. My mom passed away after suffering quite severely with a terminal illness and so for a couple of days, I took her pills. And so in a Twelve Step program that I am a member of, I count my "clean time" [uses air quotes] from 2000. But I generally say that I've been in recovery since 1987. Because all of our journeys are different, right? There're ups and downs; nothing's linear about recovery.

Most recently, I would say I have been focusing on recovery from workaholism. And that started about going on twelve years ago. And it's kind of the reason that She Recovers exists today. Because I hit the wall with workaholism and I hit a bottom that looked very much like the bottom with substances. Nobody in my family was talking to me, my health was deteriorating, I was having all sorts of anxiety and depressive attacks all over the place. And I was really just numbing out the same way I had been with substances, only using work. So I started kind of a new realm of my recovery focusing on workaholism and that's still the thing that I focus on mostly today. It's the—it's the thing that still pops up for me more than anything else. And then there's just all the other things that go around that. Anxiety has been a lifelong condition of mine. Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I always say I have a touch of co-dependency but I think I've gotten really much um quite recovered from that. [smiles]

0:03:03 Willam Moyers
I really appreciate how you talked about being in recovery since you began the journey back in 1987. Because as we know, it's all about progress, not perfection. And I have even discovered in my own journey that it's that commitment to recovery that is as important perhaps as the amount of "clean time" [uses air quotes] or abstinence that we have. It's that commitment to making that step a day at a time.

0:03:26 Dawn Nickel
Absolutely. You know, I think what we see, especially in She Recovers, is the power of being able to provide a setting or a space where women who—they may have abstinence as their goal, they may wanna stop drinking alcohol or smoking pot or whatever it is, but they're not able to immediately. I mean I don't know very many people who just ‘I'm quitting now and I'm done.' My husband's such a unicorn; he went to treatment and never picked up again. But most of us don't do that, right? I mean most of us kind of just kind of we're curious and then we try and we try. And the benefit of having—creating kind of an ethos where we accept people and we don't judge them or punish them or shame them for going back to the coping mechanism that they need, until they can find other ways to cope with what's going on in their life. I think it's really instrumental. At the same time, I am a person who's completely committed to abstinence and I certainly do appreciate that for me and for many of the people that I know, that is the only way to go for us when it comes to substances. But, I was just struggling around for years before I managed to do it. And so you know, I think to now, because people are trying--getting into recovery earlier, we just need to kind of be more open-minded about what people's journey will be and be supporting them. Wherever they are, right? I always think about the idea I'm a health policy researcher, and I think about we talk about everything should be client-centered or patient-centered. And yet, maybe in recovery we have to learn a little bit more about that. You know, we have to really recognize and meet people where they're at a little bit more purposefully.

0:04:52 Willam Moyers
I wanna come back to that in a minute because we're gonna talk about your new meditation book. But before we go there, you have made several references to She Recovers. Many of us know what that is, but talk more about that please?

0:05:08 Dawn Nickel
So we're a global grassroots, international organization. And we—my daughter and I started it back in 2011. We started out as just a Facebook page. Where I wanted to have a conversation in my recovery from workaholism about how we are all recovering from something and that we need to be supported to find and follow individualized pathways about that. So I had started a blog and then a Facebook page just talking about this concept that for some of us, it's difficult when we kind of get siloed into recovery. You know, when I got into treatment, it was like okay we're gonna focus on your substance use. And to be fair, I needed to do that first. But I was also in a domestic violence situation, I needed to resolve that. I had anxiety, I needed to be medicated for that. I had all these things going on but I just really wanted to have this conversation about how we need to start looking kind of more holistically at people as a whole and their recovery journey and helping support women in particular. We also say non-binary individuals who identify with women's communities are welcome. 

So the Facebook page turned into a retreat program, turned into a conference program. Hazelden has been at all of our conferences, just a wonderful support. We started a Recovery Coach designation for people who are already designated recovery coaches. They now can deal with She Recovers coach designation. Just to be affiliated with and part of our community. We have online meetings, we're starting to go back to in-person meetings now. We had 29 sharing circles across the U.S. and beyond. Several in Canada, one in Paris, one in Sydney, Australia, and one in London. And we're just moving back into in-person sharing circles and developing chapters. So, moving back into the in-person support which just there's no replacement for that. Even though we've all become really well-supported with Zoom, especially this past three years. So yeah, we're a nonprofit. In the United States we're a 501c3, and we just received our charitable status here in Canada as well.

0:06:59 Willam Moyers
Congratulations, that's a big step in Canada! Dawn, why is it that we oftentimes designate recovery specifically for women in a way that we don't designate it for men?

0:07:15 Dawn Nickel
I'm not sure I understand the question. Say a little bit more if you can.

0:07:18 Willam Moyers
Well, we don't have a He Recovers that I'm aware of and oftentimes, if there is a meditation book for men in recovery, it's around their workaholism. But it's not necessarily on some of the topics that we've discussed. I mean, I notice that women are oftentimes very committed to recovery programs for women. Why is that?

0:07:42 Dawn Nickel
Well I think, I mean I can tell you why I am, and I know a lot of people would agree with me, in my community. And that is because it is different. It's different for men and it's different for women. It's different for women even kind of the fact that we end up in recovery, right? I mean there's biological and cultural issues why we end up in recovery and we're treated differently. So, if I am a person who has a substance use issue, there's a lot more stigma attached to me than if my partner. You know, he's just a—oh he "works hard" [uses air quotes] and he plays hard. Whereas, you know, I'm a drunken mom or something like that. And so there is kind of society looks at us differently, so that's one thing. I just believe that women are innately more drawn towards connection. And so we create these spaces and these communities because we know the power of women being in community with one another.

We have—we wanna go to a place where we can be emotionally vulnerable and that generally takes being in a community of like-minded and like-hearted individuals. So I think that that's a big part of it. I also do think that there is some amazing work being done by men. Males. Out in the world, in recovery, I just don't see them kinda creating community in quite the same sense.

0:08:55 Willam Moyers
Mmm-hmm. So let's talk about your new book, here it is, She Recovers Every Day. [holds up book]

0:09:02 Dawn Nickel
Every damn day. [smiles]

0:09:04 Willam Moyers
Every damn day. By Hazelden Betty Ford. What prompted you to write this now?

0:09:09 Dawn Nickel
Well, you know, I am a writer professionally, I do policy work and so I've been writing for a long time. And I've always wanted to kind of write a book about the things that are in my heart around recovery. I call this book my love letter to recovery. And when I started writing, I've got two other books I'm working on now as well. And when I started writing the first book, which wasn't going to be this book, I realized I've got so many ideas it's almost like, I just kinda wanna get them down and start building them. You know, kind of an inventory of my ideas. And then I can organize them into chapters and all of these other things. And as it so happened, Andrea Lien, your wonderful editor at Hazelden Publishing, reached out and talked to me about the idea of doing a meditation book. And I think Hazelden was at the time looking in my view, I mean Karen Casey's book which celebrated 40 years this year, has been a mainstay. It's been on my nightstand for 35 years. But I also think that there was a need and is a need for a similar book that just covers more than just alcohol. Covers all the things we might be in recovery from. And talks about things like abstinence versus non-abstinence and also talks about the need for us to be supported to find and follow individualized pathways. So that's really what I'm all about. You know, that's my message, that's kinda my meaning, the meaning of my life is to kind of spread that message. So, it just made sense.

I remember when I sat down and said to Andrea, ‘Wow, so that means—I have all these ideas but you're saying I need 365?!' [Moyers chuckles] And she said, ‘366 because of course there's Leap Year.' And I was like oh [expletive], sorry. [Moyers laughs] And you know what? Honestly, and I hate to say this but it was almost effortless. I just had—I had that many ideas. And just got them down and the team at Hazelden was just so supportive and the structural editing and everything else that I was supported to do, was simply amazing. Just the best team ever. And I started writing last November and I submitted in I think July.

0:11:12 Willam Moyers
Is there any symbolism or anything special about the cover? [holds book up in hand]

0:11:17 Dawn Nickel
Just that I love the color. And teal and turquoise and brown actually are the She Recovers colors. But there was a choice of two different covers. And that one just jumped at me and I loved it so much. And so, I was really glad that the marketing team decided that that was the one, too. I love it and people comment on it all of the time. It's really striking.

0:11:40 Willam Moyers
Dawn, why is meditation important? Why is it important each day to pick up this book, or the Twenty-Four Hours a Day Book, or the Bible, if that's what people want to do? Why is that important in recovery?

0:11:55 Dawn Nickel
I think there's a few reasons. You know, certainly my own recovery practice has depended upon these beautiful little books for all these years for a couple reasons. Firstly, it's just connecting with your recovery. I mean, once a day, in the morning, I start off my day with connecting with recovery. I know that I'm reading something in recovery-oriented reading. And that is—it's kind of like a nod to my commitment to my recovery. So that's I think every day if I can do something for our recovery, if it's even just reading one short little entry, such as in a meditation book. The other is that it just being mindful and introspective and thoughtful about topics that surround us or that are kind of driving our life is just another really good practice. So you might pick up that book and if the reading that day is on healing intergenerational trauma. You know, it sounds like a light topic actually [chuckles softly], I think nothing's too, too heavy in there. But, you know, it gives me an opportunity to think about, wow, here I am, for instance, I'm a mom in recovery, I have a daughter in recovery who just gave birth to a baby. My children have almost never known me to not be in recovery except for the first few years of their life. And I am, you know, we're changing, we're cycle breakers. And just to think about that fills me up. So a little reading like that might just be, ‘Here, I'm committing to my recovery,' but I'm also reminding myself of the strengths and the things that I've brought to my recovery and that I bring outside into my family and into the world. So, I think it's just a practice. Recovery is a practice. I say that all the time. And the more things that we can do each day to kinda settle into a little bit of mindfulness, the better regulated our emotional system is and the better we're able to respond to the stresses that inevitably come in every day. So, that's kind of what I would say.

0:13:48 Willam Moyers
I don't wanna put you on the spot, but I am. [chuckles]

0:13:49 Dawn Nickel
Go ahead! [grins]

0:13:51 Willam Moyers
[chuckles] Do you have a favorite meditation in this book that you could call out right now?

0:13:57 Dawn Nickel
Oh my gosh, do you know what? I do but I wouldn't be able to tell you what the date is.

0:14:02 Willam Moyers
How about themes? What's one of your favorite themes if you have that in the book?

0:14:07 Dawn Nickel
Yeah, definitely it would be about community. It would be about the power of community. And so the reading that I'm thinking of is called The Magic of Us. And it was inspired by a woman who was on retreat and brand new to recovery, and brand new to connecting and speaking out loud. Recovering out loud which is what we talk a lot about. And she just talked about how magical it felt for her to be sitting in a circle with other people talking about who we really are. And the power of being seen for who she really is. So, she—I just really loved that idea. So the entry is called The Magic of Us and it just taps into this whole idea of, you know, I need to be seen for who I am, as much as you need to be seen for who you are. And accepting each other and doing that is really the greatest gift that we can give one another. So I would say all of the entries around community. I think too, you know there's a big theme on intergenerational healing and kind of, you know, looking back at our ancestors and understanding kind of how we came to be where we are. And so that really kind of—I loved writing those and I loved kinda tapping into my—my mom and my grandmother's life and recognizing how imperfectly they lived their lives and how imperfectly they raised their children. It gives me permission to know that I can also be imperfect and still be loved, just like I loved my mother and grandmother, my children will love me, I don't have to be perfect.

I think diversity is probably maybe the broadest theme. I think diversity kind of covers everything in the book and everything in She Recovers. And it's, you know, that we need to recognize our privilege, and the privilege that we carry as for me—for a white cis you know educated Canadian, to be able to be in recovery. So yeah, just looking at all the different factors that kind of delineate who we are in recovery. And recognizing the importance of ensuring that we continue to create more access points for more and more women. Like when one woman heals, her family heals, I believe. And when a family heals, communities heal. So. 

0:16:14 Willam Moyers
We need to wrap it up, Dawn, but before we go, we know in this podcast series that we get a lot of viewers and listeners who are struggling in that moment. What is your message to women and families today?

0:16:30 Dawn Nickel
It's really easy to say that, to answer that question. It's just that you do not have to do this alone. You simply don't have to do this alone. And, in my own experience, I couldn't do it alone. I had to reach out. And it's the hardest thing in the world to reach out and say I'm struggling, I need some support. And it may not be easy to know who to reach out to and you might not have anybody in your immediate family or circle that you can reach out to. And that's kind of the beauty of the online recovery community right now. Like you can reach out to She Recovers, you can join a meeting, you can sit with your camera off--you don't have to commit to anything. You can just reach out. And even if you don't have your camera on and you don't share in a meeting, you can put in a Chat, you know, ‘I live in Seattle and I'm struggling,' and chances are, somebody else in Seattle who has struggled will be there to support you. So, I think that my message is that you don't have to do this alone and just find that kernel of strength to reach out and tell somebody.

0:17:34 Willam Moyers
And you don't have to do it alone, you can do it with She Recovers Every Day. [smiles and holds up book] Dawn Nickel, thank you for sharing with us today, thank you for bringing your experience, strength, and hope to this book. And we look forward to following up and finding out a year or so from now what your experience has been. With the people who tap into this book and walk their own walks as well. Dawn Nickel, thanks for joining us today.

0:18:00 Dawn Nickel
Thank you! Thank you very much. 

0:18:01 Willam Moyers
[turns to camera]
And thanks to all of you for joining us for another podcast, Let's Talk. On behalf of our Executive Producer, Lisa Stangl, and the crackerjack team at Blue Moon Productions, I'm William C. Moyers, we hope you'll join us again soon. Take care. [smiles]

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