No matter how blessed our lives may be, none of us gets through life on this earth without coming up against struggle or loss in some form.
“We’re all recovering from something,” says Dawn Nickel, PhD, founder of She Recovers, an international movement of women in or seeking recovery from a wide variety of issues—including substance use, eating disorders, trauma, grief, loss, and other challenges. In long-term recovery herself, Dawn came to realize that, regardless of what women are recovering from, they all need connection and support to heal. “It’s hard to heal in isolation,” she says.
Founded in 2011, She Recovers offers women in any type of recovery the chance to connect with, support, and empower one another online and in person via retreats, workshops, meet-ups, conferences, and other events. The growing recovery and empowerment platform has held 23 retreats to date throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Bali, and boasts a Facebook page of more than 264,000 followers.
“One of our intentions and guiding principles is the journey to wholeness,” says She Recovers cofounder Taryn Strong, RYT, a trauma-informed yoga instructor who also happens to be Dawn’s daughter. “We take care of our mind, body, and spirit. We do sharing circles; we do a lot of yoga. There’s a lot of free time in our retreats because, a lot of the time, we already know what we need to do. We just need the time and the space to do it.”
What Dawn and Taryn also know is that in addition to unstructured time, being in community offers women in recovery opportunities to heal that self-reflection alone does not. “When we come together in community, we’re mirrors for one another,” Dawn explains. “If you’re going to tell me all the things you did when your ex-husband did such and such, and I still like you anyway, then why can’t I accept what I did in my dysfunction or my illness? If I can accept you, why can’t I accept myself?”
Dawn says that when women mirror each other at She Recovers retreats (or even online), they reduce the shame they carry, which leads to self-acceptance. “We need self-acceptance before we can feel self-worth,” Dawn continues. “When we feel self-worth, then we can get to self-love. But women can also become our mentors at She Recovers. We don’t just reflect back who we are to each other. We reflect who we can be, too.”
She Recovers was born out of Dawn’s personal struggle with workaholism. On stress leave from work, she began blogging about her experience. “Being a woman in recovery from substance abuse disorders, domestic violence, cancer, and other issues, I just started to reflect on how similar my experience recovering from workaholism was [to those challenges]. I began to blog about how we’re all recovering from something.”
Dawn wrote while she healed, and the message resonated. “When I went back to work, I realized I couldn’t continue to blog every day, so I switched from a blog to a Facebook page.” That’s when her daughter, Taryn, who was in recovery from substance abuse, joined in to help manage the Facebook page. When the mother-daughter team realized that women were developing relationships with each other online and craving in-person connection, they began offering retreats and workshops.
Taryn emphasizes that you don’t need to hit rock bottom before getting into any form of recovery, She Recovers included. “A lot of women in our community are considered gray-area drinkers,” she says. “Maybe they’re drinking a little bit too much wine with dinner or they’re in their Mommy groups and drinking wine in those. They don’t see themselves as having a problem, but there’s a voice within them telling them this isn’t healthy or okay.”
In order to recover from anything, Dawn says, an honest assessment of your life is necessary. “And then it’s really about finding the support and resources that you need,” she says. “That’s the crisis point. It’s like you have to figure that out and change the behavior—stop the substance or just get through those first harrowing weeks after a loss or a divorce. After that, it’s about figuring out what your identity is without those things or that person. That’s when we start seeking wholeness.”
While some may turn to Twelve-Step programs, Taryn insists it’s important for each woman to find her own individualized journey of recovery, and she emphasizes that our bodies are a repository where the feelings connected to our life experiences reside. “Unless we actually release what’s stored in the body, it can manifest in a repetitive injury, chronic pain, or maybe even disease,” she says. “We store the issues in our tissues. We need to ensure we’re addressing the traumas our bodies have been holding onto, as well as any damage that might have been done to our bodies during our active addiction or time of stress.”
She Recovers retreats typically offer two trauma-informed yoga classes a day. Built around recovery-related themes like letting go, resilience, and courage, the classes provide women in recovery with the opportunity to explore what feels good to their bodies in the moment, and do as much or as little as they want. “Some women come to my class and literally lie on their mats and have a nap,” Taryn says. “That’s what they need and I give them the permission to do that. Some women do Child’s pose for most of the class, and they have permission to do that. I don’t do any hands-on adjustments—all of the cues are verbal because some women in our community are recovering from sexual assault, so it can be triggering and traumatizing to have a yoga teacher put her hands on you when you’re in this vulnerable state.”
Sharing circles are another important element of She Recovers. “People just need to be heard,” Dawn agrees. “Some of the things women share in the circle they have never said out loud in their lives.”
The goal of She Recovers is to provide common ground on which women can receive fuel to continue moving forward in reclaiming their lives. “What we ultimately know is that it isn’t the behavior we’re recovering from that needs healing,” Dawn says. “It’s what’s underneath that. Take away the cocaine, the codependency, or the workaholism, and we’re all the same underneath. That’s what we have to heal—the feelings about ourselves that drive us to the unhealthy behaviors.”
And when the healing begins to happen, the benefits only multiply. “After a period of time, women become so empowered by the connection and support they’re receiving,” Dawn says, “that they begin to support someone else. She Recovers really is a beautiful love fest of pay-it-forward.”
Originally published by Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health