After surviving colon cancer in 2005, a breakdown from workaholism and a subsequent layoff from a job that she loved in 2011, it didn’t take much soul-searching for Dawn Nickel to decide that what she really wanted to do for a living was help other women to recover.
Dawn has been in recovery from addiction to drugs and alcohol since 1989 and is well-qualified to work with women who want to recover their lives and pursue their passions. Building on her degrees in women’s studies, women’s history and a PhD in health care policy (all earned in recovery), Dawn completed life coach training with Crossroads Recovery Coaching in 2013. Dawn’s true passion is for her work as a researcher (mental health and addiction, families with complex needs). With this in mind she created a community of nearly 50,000 people on her Facebook page, She Recovers. What started out as a daily meditation practice using social media coupled with a heartfelt belief in her own life’s purpose has since turned into a business called She Recovers that, at the present time, offers international yoga retreats and workshops for women in recovery.
1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’
The most dangerous and most active period of my addiction was during my teenage years starting at 15 and ending at 20 when I became pregnant with my first daughter. I had hit many bottoms during those five teenage years of reckless drug and alcohol use, but never contemplated changing how I lived until my pregnancy.
I started to “quit using” from the time of that first pregnancy – my beautiful daughter, born in 1981, was my soul’s incentive, and another daughter followed in 1985. Although I managed several periods of extended abstinence from alcohol, cocaine, and other drugs during parts of the 1980s (being pregnant helped) I still battled with periodic binging and struggled with regular marijuana use. After trying to quit “everything” on my own and failing I finally went into treatment in 1987 and gave up my primary drugs of choice (alcohol, cocaine and pills). Unfortunately – I decided that marijuana was still okay for me, something that was proven to be untrue after two years of nearly-daily pot smoking.
By April 1989, I felt completely defeated and desperate for my life to change. By that time I was a single mom of two beautiful daughters, my marriage to their father had ended when I went into treatment two years earlier. Ironically, given the heavier drugs that I had abused so long and hard as a younger woman, it was the pot that finally brought me to my knees. One day I just collapsed into an absolutely hot mess over not being able to stop smoking pot, and I couldn’t stop crying for several days. I was finally hospitalized and diagnosed with acute melancholic depression. In retrospect, it was my Step One. I surrendered and came into recovery.
2) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?
I wish I could remember, but I don’t remember too much. I was in treatment. There was a lot of crying, and not the pretty Julia Roberts’ type of crying, either. I started to attend a 12 step fellowship and what I do recall is that I felt different – I had somehow found the hope that I needed to believe I could succeed at recovering. It wasn’t easy – I was still insane in many areas of my life (I find many of us women who come into recovery have boy issues – go figure). I made some friends in those early months in recovery who are still precious and active in my life today.
3) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?
Raising my two beautiful daughters in recovery, marrying a recovering man and building a life with him (we celebrated 22 years of marriage in December 2013). I went back to school and earned three degrees, including a PhD in health care policy. I was present for my mom when she was diagnosed with terminal leukemia in 1998. Unfortunately, she died in April 2000, and I relapsed on pills for two days. It was a quiet relapse, and nobody knew about it but me, but I did eventually recognize it for what it was and changed my recovery date to May 11, 2000. I celebrated 14 years of complete abstinence in May 2014. The best thing overall that has happened to me is that I have recovered my potential, identified my dreams and continue to realize them. I like myself, I love my life, and things just keep getting better. I’m involved in recovery advocacy in my community – and love the work.
4) If you could go back in time to you when you were drinking/using what would you tell yourself?
I would tell myself that I was worthy of living a better life, that the drugs and alcohol were killing me and that I needed to learn how to live without them. I would tell myself that I needed to take better care of myself, and that I needed to forgive myself for the mistakes that I was making, but that I needed to stop making them.
5) What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?
I am smart! I have a lot of compassion for people, but still have to work hard to have it for myself, sometimes. I have learned that I am a control freak, but I work on that too. I have learned that I can do anything – if I set my heart, mind and my actions to it. I have learned that I love recovery, and doing something with that passion is part of my life’s purpose. Not ‘zactly sure what, yet. What I know for certain is that:
Firstly, I think that as women in our addiction, we are the same. Regardless of where we are at along the spectrum of addiction, we are very likely to share the same feelings of insecurity, low-self worth, guilt, sadness and despair.
Secondly, I feel strongly that being alike in our addiction does not mean that we need to follow identical pathways to and through recovery.
6) Tell me about something wonderful that happened to you recently that never would have happened if you had been drinking.
In just the past two years, I have organized and ran three women’s yoga and recovery retreats in Mexico and one closer to home on beautiful Salt Spring Island, British Columbia – with another one coming up in November 2014 in Mexico. I run the retreats with my youngest daughter Taryn (she’s a yoga teacher specializing in teaching trauma-informed yoga for recovery) and a dear friend who lives in Mexico. The energy at our retreats is mind-blowing – we focus on getting in touch with our “selves”, on extreme self-care, and connection with one another. Working with my daughter and sweet friend is amazing. The other wonderful piece related to the retreats is that my husband and I have started to spend a few months in Mexico after the fall retreat ends. I have built myself a research consulting business that allows me to work from anywhere! I wouldn’t have gone back to school if I hadn’t come into recovery – and my life options would have been minimal in terms of a professional career. (Not that I wasn’t a good bartender but…)
7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?
Stop the behavior.
We do recover.
8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’
That’s easy –the people who I get to meet and learn to love in recovery are the reasons that recovery rocks. It is those people who have taught me this way of life – who have inspired me to live a life that matters.
You can follow Dawn on Twitter here.