Recognizing Women in Recovery for Women’s History Month

This week’s guest blogger is Sheilah Powell, a lifelong native of New Jersey, who is involved with local, state and national recovery advocacy.  She is a tireless advocate serving on numerous grassroots committees and task forces throughout the state and has made it her personal and professional mission to eradicate the stigma around substance use disorder.

Sheila is going to be a panelist in the SHE RECOVERS ® Foundation, Amplifying Women’s Stories in Recovery Advocacy, an online global event taking place at 2 p.m. on March 8th.  To learn more and register please click here.

As today marks the start of Women’s History month below, Sheilah discusses the importance of women sharing their personal recovery stories, speaking up and having a voice in recovery advocacy.


By Sheilah Powell

I am thrilled to be a part of the SHE RECOVERS Amplifying Women’s Stories event on March 8th.  Women from around the globe will take part in this sacred event that honors YOUR story and inspires possibilities for the future of women’s recovery support and lifts up the voices of women and amplifies the value and power of our collective stories.

We must recognize that women’s stories have power and they need to be shared and heard. Our stories of recovery are about self-compassion, growth and transformation. Our stories also provide a key to unlocking healing opportunities for everyone who listens. Together we can redefine recovery, smash stigma, break barriers and rewrite the stories of recovering women⁠ everywhere to become stories of renewed possibilities, inspiration and hope.

Women in recovery face specific challenges and it is important to amplify our experiences and talk about barriers and challenges only women face.  These include caring for children, "mommy wine culture", domestic violence, gender-specific stigma, mom shame and guilt for having a problematic relationship with substances, fatphobia, childcare, custody issues, pretty privilege, gender bias in the medical community, gender wage gap, issues with DCPP and the family court system, and more.

Women also need individualized support and the recovery space often places these issues on the back burner.  Just look at the number of male recovery homes versus female recovery homes.  What about homes for women and children? What if the mother is on Medically Assisted Treatment? Many women put off entering recovery or accessing medical treatment as they do not have a support system in place to care for their children.  I myself tried so hard to wait until AFTER Christmas to go for medical treatment - I didn't make it.

In my early recovery, I was so lucky to have powerful women role models as I felt accepted and never judged.  My role models saw potential in me and I learned so much from these women! One taught me the power of showing up, another the power of mindfulness, another the importance of accepting my flaws, another for teaching me the beauty of harm reduction, another for showing me that I can get through anything with the right support, another the power of mentorship, and yet another showing me the power of radical and gentle compassion.

As March is Women’s History Month, I want to be a woman who inspires other women.  I want to show women they can be their authentic selves, unapologetically. Be PROUD of the space you take up in the world -- physical space, emotional space, spiritual space, vocal space. We are worth every good thing that happens to us, and that includes a beautiful magical recovery journey. A journey that is unique and special and individualized to YOU. That's what makes recovery so great - the diversity. Our similarities unite us and our differences define us.

Additionally, I have been an advocate for marginalized groups with substance use disorder, and women are one of the most marginalized. Women of color are even more marginalized and face even more barriers. Yet, we are expected to suit up, show up and not complain, all while looking pretty and smiling.  This is not realistic.

She Recovers is a place where women can go and recover authentically with loving support from other women.  And when I say women, I mean all women. Trans women are women, and they are the most oppressed group out there.  This space is a welcoming and loving arena where women can be heard, seen and valued.  And I am so excited to be a part of this event!!

We must eradicate the stigma of substance use disorder by changing the language associated with it. Stop using harmful and stigmatizing words like "addict" and "alcoholic". Talk about addiction and recovery in a strength-based and empowering way. Listen to people in recovery - we know what we are talking about. 

We are people.  When someone goes to treatment or rehab, treat them as if they were in the hospital for a heart attack or surgery for a month.  Bring the family a casserole. Ask how the family is doing. Don't judge. Carry narcan and naloxone and know how to use them. Speak up to the naysayers.  Say "Substance Use Disorder" instead of "Substance Abuse". Use person-first language. No, that person is not an addict. That person is a human being who went through some difficult times and needed connection.

Embrace harm reduction. Vote for policymakers who support progressive solutions to the substance use and overdose crisis. Embrace harm reduction, even if you don't agree with it personally. It saves lives, and the data doesn't lie. Don't treat your loved one who is struggling with substance use disorder as a black sheep.  Treat them as if they had any other chronic, relapsing medical condition.

Ask how you can support people who are seeking or in recovery. Share non-stigmatizing info and memes on social media. And stand up to the haters. If a recovery homeowner wants to put a safe, stable recovery home in your neighborhood, do not oppose it at the Planning Board meeting. Support any measure that can help a person recover from a substance use disorder. I can go on and on!  People can make a profound difference in the addiction and recovery landscape with small, meaningful actions.

As I would remind anyone who is struggling with substance use disorder, know that there is nothing wrong with you. I'm sorry if your friends and family make you feel like you're a failure, an outcast. You're not.  Everyone uses substances in some form, and you deserve love, respect and kindness.

I will never judge you. I want to keep you safe and accept you exactly for who you are. Life is complicated. Recovery is hard. I believe in you that you can make any change in your life that you want to make. I can walk beside you as you figure out your path. You're worth it and I believe in you, even if you don't.  It's ok to think you can't do this - we're all flawed humans. You have been through a lot, and people do recover - it is possible. It's ok if you gain weight. It's ok if you don't wear makeup. We are not here to be aesthetically pleasing to the masses. Do what is right and just and perfect for you and your life. You are the expert in your own life, and I would be honored to cheerlead you as you smash your goals and rock your recovery. The good news is, you can curate your own recovery recipe. Your pathway is yours to define. And if no one else is there for you, I am. I love you.


Notice: This article reflects the opinion of the author and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey (PDFNJ). This information should not be construed as legal advice from the author or PDFNJ. Please consult your own attorney before making any legal decisions

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