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As a woman, addiction recovery is about so much more than quitting alcohol and other drugs. For me it is a peeling back of many layers, like an onion—or to liven up the vegetable metaphor a bit, a cabbage. Before I get ready to slice up some cabbage for one of my favorite stir fry dishes, I always pull the outer leaves off first. Quitting alcohol and other drugs is like removing those wilty-brown leaves so I can get to the good stuff: the crisp, light green. To recover like a woman is complex. 

But don’t get me wrong, when I say good stuff, I also mean hard stuff. Underneath the visible wilt is where my own journey gets interesting—and tough. Layers of shame and anxiety and toxic relationships and depression and trauma inextricably bound together. Those things that no longer work in my life needing to be stripped away to make room for the new and fresh. 

What we Don’t Say in a Meeting

My own recovery is a layered experience with so many intersecting or presenting issues (as my therapist says). As a woman, there have been things that I haven’t shared in a meeting or another recovery space. Fear, traditions and insecurity, all of these things have kept me silent when what I’ve needed is to talk about the parts of myself and my past that have impacted my addiction. 

I am not alone. I have talked to countless women who have felt the same: uncomfortable sharing about women’s issues. Afraid to talk about the divorce, the repeated sexual assaults, the manipulation and objectification, the disordered eating and body dysmorphia. I even have friends who have started amazing organizations like She Recovers in order to provide a place specific to women (and those who identify as woman) so that we do have a place where we can share.  

Moving on from Quitting to Freedom

Recovery, for me, first started with the realization that my life was unmanageable. Alcohol and other drugs weren’t working anymore and stopped being my solution. Then, as I trudged the road awhile, the walk became a continual peeling back and learning and exploring and digging. It was messy and hard and all of the things that propel us forward to grow. I leaned on mental health professionals and a circle of strong women who helped support me when I didn’t think I could stand. When I was overwhelmed by the mountain of brokenness in front of me.

I began to rest on what other women assured me: that it was going to be okay—I was going to heal. I was going to end up with a bowl of pretty chopped cabbage that would be excellent fried with a little sesame oil and a dash of ginger. Even when I was scared and even when my memories brought me to my knees with crushing grief or anger. Other women showed me that change is possible. And not just the sort of change that leads me to drink sparkling water at night instead of wine with a side of pot. The type of change that leads to freedom from mental health and trauma challenges. 

Women’s Recovery is Beautiful 

Women, by our nature, are relational. Most of us want connection. Even if we might be trapped in the isolation of our addiction or mental health challenges, at the core of who we are is this truth: we long to be together. To figure things out. To process. And this is okay. It’s okay to carve out a gentle place where we can share and weep and laugh and celebrate all of the marvel that is the journey of womanhood through sobriety and life-change. It’s okay to keep this precious gift to ourselves, the gift that one woman can give another: strength and hope. And not just in giving up our substance du jour, but in everything: in all of the mysteries and agonies and delicate, lovely curves of experience that are ours.

Want to connect with other women in recovery? Gat a free video link to the Women’s Global Recovery Roundtable on International Women’s Day here:


Caroline Beidler, MSW is an author, recovery advocate and founder of the storytelling platform Bright Story Shine. Her new book Downstairs Church: Finding Hope in the Grit of Addiction and Trauma Recovery is available anywhere you buy books. With almost 20 years in leadership within social work and ministry, she is a team writer for the Grit and Grace Project and blogger at the global recovery platform In the Rooms. Caroline lives in Tennessee with her husband and twins where she enjoys hiking in the mountains and building up her community’s local recovery ministry. Connect with her @carolinebeidler_official and

1 Comment

  1. Wendee Degens Reply

    Hello I’m very new in recovery and I am a mess. I isolated in my addiction and I’m isolating still. I’ve rid myself of every friend I had to be successful in this journey. My depression is worse than ever. I remember how much joy I once had when I had friends and a social life, hell I’d love to simply have someone to call. Anyhow I have had enough sobriety to know I want this desperately but my loneliness is winning lately and I’m imbarrassed to admit I recently relapsed I’m lower than I’ve ever been and need a human connection. I thank you for your time and hope for a response. Please call me if you could at 419-389-2352.

    Wendee Degens

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