Just over a week ago I had the honor and pleasure of attending She Recovers in NYC, the first of its kind 3-day event hosting 500 women in recovery from all over the world. There were world-renowned speakers, yoga sessions, breakout workshops with authors and entrepreneurs, and a whole lot of hugging. The well-known speakers included Marianne Williamson, Glennon Doyle Melton, Elizabeth Vargas, Nikki Myers, Elena Brower and Gabby Bernstein. Many of these women are in recovery themselves and that made their talks even more of a special treat. There’s so much we can learn from women in recovery, and even more so from women leaders who are willing to speak up about addiction and recovery.
Here’s what I learned from the powerful women leaders at She Recovers in NYC.
1. Being open and honest about your recovery reduces stigma
Watching these women who are acclaimed speakers, authors, and lecturers be open and honest about their recovery reaffirms everything I believe about stigma. It thrives in the dark. When one person is open about their struggles and their triumph, they give other people the ability to be open too. By putting their words and experiences out in the open they automatically say to people who are in the same boat, “hey, me too.” This is a powerful message. They also show the world that you can be sober, you can recover, and you can be successful. Addiction and recovery should not make you feel ashamed. You should be able to talk about addiction and about recovery and not hide those parts of yourselves. Keeping those secrets contributes to the deadly addiction stigma. The more we talk about this stuff, the more we create an environment for people to acknowledge their pain and heal and get better from it, instead of suffering in silence with no options.
2. Anything I use to escape the present moment can become an addiction
Nikki Myers, founder of Y12SR – Yoga for 12 Step Recovery – spoke about co-dependency, which she defined as ‘the disease of looking elsewhere.’ She reiterated that anything we use to escape the present moment can become an addiction – shopping, gambling, exercise, love, sex, other people etc. Her recommendations for healing included a healthy sense of self-esteem and a healthy sense of boundaries, two things women aren’t often taught. She explained the difference between emotional walls and barriers. Her message on emotional sobriety is so important because it’s a topic that’s overlooked after people stop drinking and using drugs.
3. How can you turn your struggle into triumph?
Author and woman in recovery, Ann Dowsett Johnson, said this line during her breakout workshop “Write your recovery.” We are told by society that addiction is something that happens to bad people and that’s partly why it’s so hard for people to ask for help when they need it. Ann spoke about writing about her recovery and gave us tips on how to write our own. The theme was that authenticity matters. This is the way I write about my own recovery. I like to be as honest as I can, sharing my struggles and successes, while letting my followers know that not every day in recovery is all rainbows and butterflies. Overcoming an addiction is hard work and many of us find purpose in turning our struggles into triumphs. I believe this is an important lesson for anyone who is facing adversity, use your pain, don’t let it destroy you.
4. Nobody else will make your self-care a priority
Elizabeth Vargas, reporter and co-anchor of 20/20 spoke about alcoholism and anxiety and how they coexist in women. She touched on meditation as a part of her recovery from anxiety and alcohol misuse, and how it really allowed her to sit in her discomfort and analyze why she was feeling anxious. Elizabeth shared with us that self-care is a pillar of her recovery program and that includes making amends, taking responsibility, and learning how to cope with anxiety in a healthy way. What stuck with me was when she said, “nobody else will make your self-care a priority,” which seems obvious, but hit me like a ton of bricks. The only person that can and should make your self-care a priority is you. We so often forget to put ourselves on our to-do list and take the steps we need to take care of our mental health. When I was drinking, I didn’t even know self-care was a thing. I didn’t want to waste my time taking a bath, going to bed early, or meditating for 10 minutes. I had a life to live! But sobriety has taught me otherwise and Elizabeth Vargas’s message is so important.
5. Show up for your pain
Gabby Bernstein spoke about her 10 years of sobriety and how even when sober, you can hit new rock bottoms that are emotional in nature. Recovery is a process of healing and there are some experiences and things we avoid and deny until they come up. This happened to Gabby, even 10 years in. She taught us that the question is not, “how can I stop feeling this pain? But how can I show up for this pain?” As drug and alcohol users, we spend years running from our pain and numbing our emotions. We are taught from a young age pain is bad and we should not feel it. But the power is in the healing. I’m so glad Gabby touched on this crucial piece of advice. By showing up for our pain, we can go through it and learn from it. Vocalizing our pain lessens our burden.
When women leaders show up for other women amazing things happen. They inspire other women to be their authentic selves and live lives free from shame and guilt. In this case, women in recovery spoke out and taught us that women can and do recover, that their pain is useful, and that they’re capable of changing the world.