On the first night of She Recovers in NYC, I found myself in an elevator with a small group of women from the conference and another pair who were probably just in town for the weekend. As the elevator rose, one of the women just there for the weekend noticed a She Recovers tote bag slung over one woman’s shoulder and asked what it was for. The woman with the tote bag paused for a second and cheerfully said “I’m here because I’m a recovering alcoholic, but it’s a conference for women recovering from all kinds of things.” The elevator stopped and she got off and the other woman turned to her friend and said, “Now I feel bad. I should have just kept my mouth shut.” I thought about doing the same but instead said to her, “Don’t feel bad. I’m here for the same reason and we’re genuinely happy to be here. Really.”
It’s too bad the curious woman in the elevator wasn’t at the keynote that night. She would have loved Glennon’s trademark honest and often hilarious delivery and seen a room full of vibrant, empowered women instead of whatever image people still have of what an alcoholic looks like, which is more about active addiction and not the transformation that comes after. I think we were all a little blown away by the energy of so many successfully recovering women under one roof. Before the first speech, I met a successful author of children’s books, an executive living in Manhattan and two women I’ve known online for years through sober blogging—and still I’d barely scratched the surface.
Around 500 women, some from as far away as Egypt, New Zealand and Australia, gathered at the Conrad Hotel in lower Manhattan May 5th through 7th, not only to hear talks by recovery experts and celebrities, but also to meet and connect with each other. Mornings started with recovery yoga, a run through Battery Park alongside the Hudson River, or a movement and dance class. Saturday afternoon offered breakout sessions on topics like sex in recovery by Jennifer Matesa or writing your own recovery story by Ann Dowsett Johnston. All weekend a variety of vendors offered everything from Hazelden books to meditation bracelets and monthly subscription boxes for people in recovery. There was something for everyone, including those who couldn’t be there in person.
April is a woman in long-term recovery who attended the conference virtually from her Chicago living room via the Livestream ticket. She said, “I felt like I was part of everything going on, from yoga to learning and growing in my writing and methods of recovery. I was also able to directly ask questions to other recovery bloggers that will help me improve my blog and do my part to help the community. I can’t help helping.”
This is exactly what the women behind She Recovers hoped for. Dawn Nickel, a co-founder along with her daughter Taryn Strong, said, “After six years of organically growing She Recovers, we wanted She Recovers In NYC to be a weekend of connection and inspiration. We also wanted to issue a call to action to women to do the work to heal themselves so they in turn can help more women recover and heal.”
One recurring theme throughout the weekend was the need to lean into pain rather than try to escape it. Best-selling author Glennon Doyle Melton described a free woman as one not free from suffering but free from the fear of what suffering will do to us. Yoga therapist Nikki Myers talked about how anything that helps us escape the present moment has the potential to become an addiction and gave suggestions on how to stay in the moment, despite the urge to escape. ABC’s 20/20 anchor Elizabeth Vargas shared how she used to drink to control anxiety only to find it’s much easier to manage sober. Spiritual activist Gabby Bernstein urged the crowd to uncover the pain underneath addiction and internationally acclaimed author and lecturer Marianne Williamson called on us to transform our suffering to wisdom so that we can help others do the same.
It was a lot to take in, but orchestrated expertly throughout the weekend by five women and a small team of volunteers, all in long-term recovery themselves. She Recovers is no stranger to recovery retreats for women, which they host regularly in exotic locations like Mexico and Bali. But a large, weekend-long gathering with celebrity speakers in one of the biggest cities in the world was a new venture, and one they pretty much nailed on the first try. Next year She Recovers hopes to head to Los Angeles, which would likely attract a new geographic base as well as current fans of the inaugural event. Those of us who can’t make it to LA can always watch from the comfort of our living room.
“Our speakers gave all of our attendees a lot of information,” said Nickel. “We’ll have to wait and see what they do with it. One thing is clear—She Recovers in NYC was the beginning of a mass movement. We can’t wait to see what’s next.”
Photo courtesy of She Recovers; used with permission