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You might have heard the phrase “Lean in” before. Brene Brown has talked about “leaning into our feelings.” In 2013, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg wrote a bestseller called Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead. Its contemporary definition is all about “grabbing opportunities without hesitation.” That may refer to the opportunity for self-examination or opportunity for advancement professionally (according to Grammarist). The phrase has also been the subject of fierce criticism from feminists, scholars and former First Ladies. And understandably. But what does it mean to lean into our struggles?

Relating the concept to ourselves.

For many women, the idea of leaning into leadership roles, opportunities or promotions places unrealistic emphasis on personal responsibility and opportunity. It sometimes fails, many would argue, to take into account women’s real experiences. Particularly marginalized women. Being unable to stand (let alone lean into)spaces of vulnerability or professional advancement is an all too common reality for many women.

While there are plenty of Op-Eds and social media posts about the irrelevance of the concept, I’d like to suggest something a bit bold:

Let’s reclaim it. 

As people in recovery, let’s reclaim it.

The phrase lean in has been used in the context of sports to mean, to shift one’s body weight forward or toward someone or something. In water and snow sports, you can lean into a wave, the wind, a slope, or a turn. You can lean into a pitch, or throw, or catch as well.

And this is how I think we, as women in addiction and trauma recovery, can choose to see it if we’d like to. When I say I’m going to “lean into the struggle” this can mean that I am going to face my struggles head-on. I’m not going to shrink back and stay silent. I won’t allow shame to swallow me but lean my body, mind, and spirit into the hard things in order to heal.

Problems just don’t disappear…

at least not on their own. For many years in my active addiction and early recovery, I did not want to lean into the struggle. I thought that ending the addiction (or at least stalling it) was enough. Somehow all my problems would magically disappear after I quit drinking and drugging.

They didn’t. 

After I came to recovery, I realized how broken and how much support I needed to make changes in my life. I realized that transformation was going to cost me something more than the money. If I was not willing to lean into my struggles, then I was opting out. Just like I had spent years already in the active escape of my active addiction. Like hitting the small x on the screen to the right of the pop-up. Every time I  rejected an underlying issue, it disappeared for a time but always resurfaced. 

So What Changed?

Leaning into and addressing my struggles is not something that I can do on my own. And I’m not the only one hurtling downhill. There is a group of us, innumerable, like those beautiful shifting waves of blackbirds that create works of art in the sky as they flit here and there in perfect unison. We are all moving towards healing.  

I cannot will myself to heal. I can’t lean into my struggle by myself and expect to make it out alive. I cannot lean into my experience to create new opportunities unless I do this with others. With you. 

God has created us to live together in community and harmony. When I realize this, I understand that I can take my recovery to the next level when I humble myself and let others into my journey. When I embrace vulnerability instead of creating more walls (even sober ones) around myself and my experience. 

I learn every day that:

Healing isn’t a holding on—it’s a leaning in and letting go. With the help of my recovery family. 


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

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