A baby girl and her five-year-old sister play in the sand outside their beachfront home. The world around them looks like paradise; inside, though, it’s anything but. Mom has been abusing pills, alcohol, marijuana, and cocaine heavily for the past 10 years. She doesn’t just use drugs, she’s married to her dealer, who is violent when he does too much cocaine. Another two years go by. Mom continues to use but starts to think about a better life for her two beautiful daughters. Even though it looks like they have it all, she knows it’s all a facade and she wants more for her girls. One night her husband overdoses on cocaine. He lives, but soon after she leaves him and enters treatment.
That was more than 30 years ago. Today, mom Dawn Nickel, 58, is thriving in recovery. So is the baby daughter, Taryn Strong, 33. Like her mother, Strong became addicted to drugs. Like her mother, Strong fell in love with a drug dealer. And, like her mother, Strong is in long term recovery from drug addiction, unhealthy relationships, and a few other things as well.
“Apart from the dysfunction in their earliest years, my children grew up in a house where recovery was rampant, and drugs were not on the menu,” remembers Nickel. Strong knew she was susceptible to addiction but never thought it would happen to her. She was the kid no one suspected – an honor roll student, gifted pianist, and competitive Irish dancer. Young, ignorant, reckless, and truly believing she was invincible, Strong fell in love with the false sense of confidence and the energy cocaine gave her. By the time she was 16, she was addicted to cocaine and meth.
“We were gobsmacked,” says Nickel. “Even though I knew there was a very good possibility my children would become addicted, Taryn’s struggles sent a shockwave through the family.” And, while Nickel’s parents didn’t understand what was happening to her in her troubled teen years and turned a blind eye pretending nothing was wrong, Nickel knew exactly what was going on with her own daughter, along with her second husband (also in recovery), she was able to help Strong enter recovery and get clean for the first time when she was 17.
“I know for a fact that if my mother wasn’t in recovery I would not be either,” says Strong. “Because my mother was clean and sober, she was present and able to apply what she had learned on her addiction and recovery journey. She had her own recovery toolbox she was able to share with me and she had her recovery community as a support system.”
As they flourished in recovery, Nickel and Strong began to realize all women are recovering from something – be it drugs and alcohol; food, work, and gambling addictions; or other life and mental health challenges such as trauma, eating disorders, anxiety and depression, codependency, abuse, illness, or grief. They saw a real need for women to connect and be supported as they find and follow their own pathways and patchworks of recovery.
In 2011, they founded SHE RECOVERS as a Facebook page. The message resonated; today SHE RECOVERS is an international movement that creates opportunities for women to come together both online and in real life to connect, support, and empower one another. SHE RECOVERS warmly welcomes women who are recovering in all areas of their lives and who follow all pathways of recovery. There is one message at the core of everything this inspirational mother-daughter team does: We are strong and courageous women, and we do recover.
SHE RECOVERS is the largest female online recovery community in North America, with a loyal and engaged following of over 270,000 people, mostly women, in recovery. They’re women like Erin Wickersham and Kelly Beck, both mothers now living happier and healthier lives in recovery.
Erin Wickersham’s Story
A writer, military wife, and mother of two teenage boys who has moved around a lot and currently lives in Virginia, Erin Wickersham has been working on her recovery from alcohol addiction since 2013. She recalls long stretches of sobriety interrupted by her struggle to be honest with herself, her husband, and her friends about her relationship with alcohol. Not until Wickersham discovered the strength of the SHE RECOVERS community did she find what she needed, a space where she could feel safe enough long enough to begin true recovery. She learned she didn’t have to go it alone.
“SHE RECOVERS has given me the chance to trust others with vulnerable truths about myself and, in the process, I have learned to trust myself again,” says Wickersham. “As women, we can be so good at over functioning. But all the things we are doing for our families can make us feel meaningless. We need to learn to take care of ourselves, as well as our families.”
Wickersham believes girls aren’t taught a language and skill set around finding what makes them happy. As women, they become experts at solving other people’s problems but not their own.
“When it comes to our own problems, we are conditioned to think that having a glass of wine or buying a new pair of shoes is the answer we are looking for,” she says. “But what we really need is space to ask ourselves what happiness truly looks like, and then we need encouragement to pursue it.”
Wanting to be a better mother is at the heart of Wickersham’s recovery.
“I was by myself with babies in new places and that’s not a good combination,” says Wickersham. “By the time they were old enough to realize I was drinking, I had developed a problem I didn’t want them to see. I wanted to be a mom they were proud of, not someone they were ashamed of or confused by, and I certainly didn’t want to send the message that this is something they should be doing.”
Wickersham found great strength in a quote from author Anna Quindlen (Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake): “’My mother was a drunk’ is one of the harshest, saddest sentences in any language.”
“I didn’t want to be a drunk mom,” says Wickersham. “I wasn’t going to do that to my kids. I just wasn’t. So I didn’t.”
Kelly Beck’s Story
A single mother of three adult sons and a teenage daughter, Kelly Beck lives in Seattle, Washington and is in recovery from codependency, perfectionism, and alcohol. In 2014, she was searching Google for a much-needed getaway and found a SHE RECOVERS Sacred Pause retreat. At the time, she hadn’t truly identified the need to recover from anything, but something about pausing just felt right. So she went.
“I was so depleted I didn’t have anything to give,” says Beck. “The women who were there were so openhearted and I just gravitating toward them. It’s a whole backwards way of meeting friends because you’re starting with vulnerability and even if you don’t talk about what brought you there, just being there is an acknowledgement that you belong together. There’s no starting with small talk, just the rich stuff that really connects us.”
For Beck, SHE RECOVERS provided a nurturing atmosphere that gave her permission to peel back the layers of her life and get comfortable with what was there.
“Recovery to me means recovering your essence and getting back to your core – letting go of some things and adding others,” says Beck. “The support of other women in recovery prompted answers to bubble up for me, showed me I could do hard things, and that I was stronger than I thought.”
Beck’s recovery has allowed her to have honest conversations with her children about drinking – the dialogue often focuses on the messages they see surrounding alcohol consumption and how when you know better you can do better.
“My kids saw me make a choice about something that didn’t serve me,” says Beck. “That in itself is a huge life lesson: You can stop and pull together all the tools you need to make a change.” Today, Beck is a certified recovery and life coach.
Both Wickersham and Beck acknowledge their continued shock at how radical an act it is for women to say no to drinking or to taking drugs; how surprising it is for women to decide they are no longer going to allow cultural norms to determine what makes them happy or how worthy they are to receive happiness. When someone recently asked her how she doesn’t drink, Wickersham replied, “Because I’m a badass.”
“You really have to have that attitude of, ‘Recovery is not something I’m ashamed of. It makes me powerful and awesome.’ And, I’m a badass. Period. No apologies,” says Wickersham.
Trading Gunk for Glitter
“When people think of addiction, the stories are ugly – drunk driving arrests, loss of parental rights, custody battles, homelessness, jail sentences, broken relationships, and death,” says Nickel. “But we don’t all hit rock bottom in those public ways. Often, our stories play out quietly in our homes and without such drastic consequences. On the outside women can be successful and functioning. But on the inside our spirits are dying. Regardless of how public or private our addictions are, stigma keeps us from reaching out and we are drowning in isolation and shame.”
But, as Nickel once told Strong, “The shit we did is just the shit we did. It’s not who we are.” Through SHE RECOVERS, the mother and daughter encourage women to speak their shame, forgive themselves, learn from the past, and be free. As more and more women “go public” with their stories and challenge longstanding societal norms, more and more women are inspired to enter recovery before they hit a stereotypical rock bottom. As Strong says, “When we learn from and make peace with our past, we can live fully in the present.”
Though SHE RECOVERS has been hosting small group retreats for several years, Nickel and Strong (along with some other female recovery warriors) blew hearts and minds wide open when they truly brought the cyber-recovery movement to real life with a first-of-its-kind event in New York City last May. In September 2018, an even larger event will be held at the iconic Beverly Hilton in LA … because if there was ever a time to celebrate women’s transformation it is now. SHE RECOVERS in LA (#SheRecoversLA) will roll out the red carpet from September 14-16, 2018.