Ready to meet someone super cool? Annie Grace chats it up with Taryn Strong – one of the founders of She Recovers – an organization aimed at connecting, supporting, and empowering women. Taryn takes us back to her first drink at 12 years old and walks us through her hard-partying past of alcohol and cocaine. Find out how Taryn took her recovery experience and used it to help others through a variety of resources, including yoga, women’s retreats, and coaching.
She Recovers Website
My mom is Dawn Nickel, the founder of She Recovers. She’s a woman who’s in long term recovery. She entered recovery when I was four and my sister was eight and her path of recovery at that time was and still is a 12-step program. So I always share because it’s true and I feel so lucky that this is my experience, that some of my earliest memories are 12-step meetings. Sitting in those rooms, very smoky rooms back then and listening to people not knowing what they were talking about. Just being four years old and sitting there and knowing that I was sitting in a room of really cool people, people who were the real deal. That always stuck with me. Then growing up we would always attend 12-step camp outs and my parents were very, very involved in that community.
I also realized how lucky I am that I got to witness my mom who was demonstrating and showcasing, putting her recovery first kind of in a way, right? I know so many people in recovery think that they’re being selfish by going to meetings, going on retreats, taking courses, whatever it is. They feel guilty like, “Oh, I shouldn’t be doing this.” Those 12-step meetings were her priority. So if she couldn’t find childcare, guess what, “Kids, you’re coming with me.” I think that that’s a really unique and powerful experience that I got to have as well, which I’m really grateful for because let me tell you what, I’m very good at self care. I do not have a problem with self care. I’m really good at it and I think that’s a part of it. I was modeled that.
Growing up I was very good at school. I loved school, honor roll student. I was a pianist in the Royal Conservatory of Music as well as a competitive Irish dancer. So I had a very full schedule and I loved it. I didn’t want it any other way. There was no pressure coming from anyone else except myself to do these things and to be the best at them. I put a lot of pressure on myself with the competitive dancing so the day before my 13th birthday, I tried drinking for the first time. What happened the first time I drank were a few things obviously, but one of the things was all of a sudden for a very short amount of time, I had this confidence that I had never experienced before. It was this confidence that I was always wanting to have when I was dancing or playing piano. It’s kind of this fearless confidence that alcohol, I thought, I was under the impression was giving me.
Then of course very quickly this 12 year old, almost 13 year old’s body couldn’t handle it. I got really, really ill. I was strategic in that because I had parents in recovery. They would know right away if I was smoking or smoking pot or drinking. So whenever I would drink or engage in any of those substances, I would always make sure I would sleep at a friend’s house. That evening, yes, first time I drank, liked it. Liked the feeling it gave me. Slept at a friend’s house so my parents wouldn’t know. Over time, trying to continue to recreate that feeling, that false sense of confidence and for the next few years, 13 to 16 was occasional binge drinking and smoking cigarettes and smoking pot, and thinking to myself I wasn’t good at it. Because as soon as that substance would get in my body, I didn’t have that off switch so I would just hit it too hard, binge really hard and get really, really ill.
When I was 16 and I got my driver’s license, none of my friends were engaging in cocaine. Always in my mind, I was curious about it. I knew I wanted to try it. So 16 year old Taryn gets her driver’s license, doesn’t know anybody doing it or dealing it and I couldn’t even tell you how but somehow I drove to Edmonton, Alberta, the next city over and I found it and I did it and instantly, again, I had that false sense of confidence.
It gave me energy and it did all the things that I was hoping the other substances were going to do for me, but they weren’t. So and I started doing it daily.
The love affair I was having with it was that it was giving me energy. I’m using quotes. If you can’t see the air quotes, it was suppressing my appetite. So I was losing weight, which was really ideal for a competitive dancer. Again, it just gave me this confidence, this false confidence. I stopped going to work. Stopped going to school. I was just skipping classes. I was literally doing it all day everyday. Some of my close friends started doing it with me as well. Pardon me, my female friends. I then came to a point where I started dating the 17 year old drug dealer. He was dealing crack cocaine.
As you can imagine, things got very, very scary very quickly and because I lived in a small town, my parents found out. There were consequences that I wasn’t following and the consequences were, “You’re grounded.” So back then grounding meant I wasn’t allowed to leave the house. I wasn’t allowed to go on the computer, which was like an actual keyboard computer or be on the phone or anything. So what I did was I ran away to go live with the 17 year old drug dealer boyfriend that brought me to my bottom very quickly, which I’m really grateful for.
When I got home that’s when everything changed of course. Like I said, there were consequences, but my parents got me right into therapy. I had two therapists. I had to finish grade 11 through kind of homeschool correspondence and the deal was I kept getting drug tested. If I kept passing my drug test, I could finish grade 12 at my high school with my friends. So I did that. So I was actually sober for a few years. Got back into dance, started playing the piano again. I never identified at that point in my life as being in recovery. I was that weird 17 year old girl who wasn’t like drinking at grad. The sober one at grad and I just, yeah, I didn’t, for me, I didn’t identify as being in recovery.
The day of my 20th birthday, mom had to go in for an emergency surgery. They discovered a tumor, a cancerous tumor – colon cancer. My sister and I, we became drinking buddies. My sister and I started binge drinking every weekend and a lot of times during the week as well. We moved in together and now I look back and I just see these two girls who were just terrified that they were going to lose their mom and this is how they were coping. At the same time, I see these two girls who were 20 and 24 just doing what they thought was normal because that’s what you do when you’re in your 20s. You just binge drink on the weekends and it’s acceptable and you just make an ass out of yourself and you laugh about it the next day and of course you puke every time you drink because that’s just what happens.
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We were caught in that lie. That went on for a few years. Mom is cancer-free. She totally kicked cancer’s ass and has been cancer-free for a long time, 11 or 12 years now. At that same time-ish, I discovered yoga, fell in love with yoga and then I also fell in love with somebody.
I stopped using substances, but I didn’t ever identify as being in recovery.
I just stopped. Amazingly, I was able to just stop. That lifestyle wasn’t jiving with my new lifestyle because going to yoga hungover sucked. Also, I was wanting to focus on this new passion of mine and build a career around yoga and yoga for recovery. At the same time we started She Recovers. So I’m not using. When people would ask me if I was in recovery, I would say, “Oh, when I was 16, I had this experience, but now I’m in recovery from codependency and blah, blah, blah, blah.” That’s what I would say because that’s what I thought, that was my experience.
Here We Go Again
I find myself in my mid-twenties, single, living by myself for the first time in my life. This is when I discovered the dating app Tinder. So I thought, “Well, I’m a single girl now. I guess this is what I do.” I started dating and with dating, I was so nervous to be dating. Of course I would have to have drinks before and during the date. All my dates were quite messy to be honest. Again, just drinking with my single girlfriends, going out drinking because that’s what you do. That’s how you do it. One of the guys I dated, had cocaine and I thought, “Oh.” I was drunk so I didn’t have that filter. Thought, “What’s the worst that could happen?” Well, the worst that could happen happened. I’m an addict so it had that effect and I then, again, went down that really slippery slope.
Keep listening to find out how Taryn could continue using while leading SheRecovers and how she finally accepted she needed to be IN recovery.
Special music thank you to the Kevin MacLeod Funkorama (incompetech.com)
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