I’ve been in recovery for a long time now. Over ten years. I haven’t kept track or marked the date since I was about seven years in recovery because it began to feel a little egotistical for me. My thinking around it is this: everyone has problems, so why should I get to have a special day to mark me deciding to live the healthy way, when others don’t? Abstinence is not recovery for me. Living authentically is. For anyone who does choose to mark the day, I hope you are not offended by my way of looking at things. My view is not a criticism of you. I have just found that keeping my life as simple as possible is the way for me to be functional in this world.

Which brings me to the point of this essay. Lessons. My lessons. Recovering from anything is about enlightenment about your situation past and present and the best way to navigate the influence those situations have had on us. So here are just some of the moments of enlightenment that stand out for me so far in my own life.

I don’t feel like I used to about past trauma.

My initial entrance into recovery was an angry, resentful and diabolical one. I was in my early thirties and spent my entire life numbing the pain from past trauma furiously – alcohol, drugs, men, spending – you know the story. Suddenly I was thrust into a world where everyone was talking about feelings. I then realised I couldn’t keep my own feelings suppressed anymore and they came up from my soul like a tsunami. Thick and dark and relentless. They took me to the depths of insanity and depression where, at times, I really didn’t think I would make it out alive. I had to do the work and seek the help.

Now, I can think about and look at my past without reliving it all. If I talk about it, I don’t always cry. I have a certain sense of detachment, but in a healthy way. I know it happened, but it doesn’t own me any longer.

Perfection is not the goal. Accepting myself is.

I’m still in the process of fully immersing myself in this. Some days, I’m really good at it, while other days, I will find myself in subconscious self-hatred. Subtle things, like looking in the mirror and catching a thought or a sigh about how awful my tummy looks, or how the bags under my eyes make me look older than I am. You know—those messages we have had whipped into us relentlessly that are complete nonsense. Despite my strong feminist ideology, I can still slip back into that societal brainwashed thinking that age and imperfection are unacceptable – almost sinful. I pull myself out immediately and remind myself that these days I really like who I am, scares and all!

I spent years trying to change parts of my body and my personality that I wished were different. The endless battle with the size and shape of my body and my strong opinions on things caused me endless frustration. If I was just smaller and quieter people would like me better, right? Now, my strength in body, mind and soul are my favourite things about myself. How would I have gotten through my life experience without that? I just wouldn’t have!

I don’t need as many people as I thought I did.

This is completely due to my personality type. Like everyone, I have had good and bad experiences with people, as they have with me. I agree that my tendency towards liking animals more than I do people may be due to some awful past human interaction, but really, I think I’m a true introvert who enjoys her own company and that of a small selection of others. My outspokenness tends to alarm people I think, so they keep their distance. I can’t help but be passionate about certain stuff, so instead of verbalizing my thoughts and feelings to people, I write instead.

All that is okay with me though. I’m fine with being too much for most people. It’s been one of the parts of me that I had to work on accepting and since I did, I have a lot more peace. My four dogs and three cats love me even if humans don’t!

I have found endless contradictions in who I think I am.

Like I have just stated, my human relationships and interactions can be difficult. Yet, I thrive on helping other people heal. Go figure! I will sit with you day and night and listen to your pain or joy. I will hold your hand and feel your sorrow and soothe you. Then I will share with you my own pain and tell you how I healed. And I will most definitely make you herbal tea and make you laugh at yourself. But you cannot under any circumstances come home with me. I need my space!

And there you have it – a small glimpse into a recovered version of me. I realize areas of my life where I am recovered at random moments and I relish many more moments of revelation to come in the future.


Nicola is a Health & Wellness coach with 20 years experience helping people heal and find their path. She is a qualified Reflexologist, Masseuse and Life Coach. She has created content for intherooms.com for 7 years. She was Editor at iloverecovery.com and has written for many recovery publications online and in print. She is also an author at The Girl God books. She has lived with type 1 diabetes for 38 years, since she was 7 years old.


  1. Steve Rekedal Reply

    Nicola: Congratulations on arriving at an equilibrium that keeps you focusing on wellness, and, based on your words, willingness to be of service to others. Your approach to Recovery and not keeping track of time-frames is working for you. Here’s where we differ in our approach to keeping track of the date and time, and letting others know. My experience, like many others (the majority of people?) in Recovery is that the A.A. community is where my personality is refined, where my emotions can be safely exposed and evolve, based on the 12 Steps, the 12 Traditions, my relationship with God (my higher power) and an annual organised work-through of the Steps. In community, my length of sobriety is a way to encourage others, especially those new to the program as well as those with more experience who may be reaching a “plateau.” KEEP COMING BACK, IT WORKS IF YOU WORK IT may be just the encouragement someone needs to stay the course, to keep trudging the road. I know my length of sobriety is not determinant to my continued Recovery. But, I also know that I am recovering in community in which others may be encouraged, one way to be of service. Every blessing as we continue our imperfect, and very real Recovery together! Steve Rekedal

    • Nicola O'Hanlon Reply

      I know all about 12 step. I was a member for some time. I think really where we differ is that we have our approach labeled differently. Service to me is basic human compassion and decency, which people already have and practice on a daily basis. Calling it service for me is also egotistical. It is basic good nature. 12 step is not practiced by the majority of people either. There are dozens of other ways to deal with our self harming behaviours that are not seen as valid by many 12 step members but work brilliantly. People receive equal amounts of encouragement and love without a 12 step community. I find that an institutionalized way of viewing recovery is not helpful for everyone, but is for some, and appears so to be for you. I’m glad you have your way of dealing with your recovery and it is wonderful that people have the freedom to chose their own.

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