EP 59: Workaholism with Dawn Nickel

Dawn Nickel is the co-creator of She Recovers. Dawn talks to Annie about her personal struggles with addictions to alcohol, marijuana and most recently, work. Her recovery work in all of these areas led her down the path to creating She Recovers in the hopes of reaching other women who struggle with any kind of addiction.

She Recovers

Dawn is the founder of She Recovers, who also works as a consultant in mental health of substance use disorders specifically and intimate partner violence. Her approach encompasses all the different paths and so many different roads and it’s just so incredibly beautifully inclusive. She honors all methods of recovery.

It's Foundational

The premise for that, I think, was as a woman in recovery from substance use disorder for now 30 years, is seven years ago I hit the wall with workaholism. I’m a person who chooses abstinence and I don’t use any drugs, anything that is mood or mind altering for me. It just wrecks my day. About seven years ago, I found myself in a position of being as wired to work as I was to cocaine. I was just a disaster and burning out so fast. Really, I look back and I had the same emotional bottom as I did when I stopped using drugs and went to rehab. That was that my relationships were falling apart around me because of my use of work. I was having anxiety attacks, panic attacks, like physiologically, my body was just screaming stop and I couldn’t stop. It was just the same as if it was drugs.

Hitting The Wall

I had a pretty highfalutin job in government. Over a period of just a few days, on two occasions I burst into tears at board table meetings. One was because my boss looked at me the wrong way, so yeah, there was a problem. The second time I actually don’t remember driving home, but what I remember is pulling into my driveway and realizing that I had no recollection whatsoever of having driven home. In fact, I could not even piece together the day that had just happened. I didn’t know what day it was. I looked and I saw that I was dressed. Obviously I must’ve just come from work because I didn’t wear things like that just around the house or out in public. At that moment, I realized that I had been in a blackout and I had to come in the house, turn on my computer, and look through all of the emails that I’d sent and received and responded to that day. I couldn’t get my memory back on that day. It was a complete and utter blackout.

Losing Touch

Around that same time, my husband had practically stopped talking to me. As he says, “Well, I was talking to you for months, but you never answered.” It was just I didn’t even hear him. My daughters had moved here to Victoria, BC, where we live, in order to be with me as I was going through cancer treatments cancer. They moved here to be with me. Then over the next five years, I was just so enthralled with my work and using it to escape other stuff that had happened in my life that they were saying things like, “Why did we move here? We saw you more when we lived 1200 miles away. What’s going on here?”


Mostly it was the physical reason. That blackout really scared me and the panic attacks that I’d had at work scared me. The next day, I took Friday off, which was very unusual for me to ever take time off. I went to the doctor and I said, “Something’s going on here. Honesty, I was thinking I’m losing my mind or maybe there’s something wrong.” I thought I had some sort of disease and maybe it was a sudden onset of Alzheimer’s. I didn’t know. Of course, she just talked me through it and said, “Well, you’re killing yourself with work and you’re going to need to take some time off.” I said, “Okay, well, I took today off.” She laughed and said, “Yeah, no, we’re probably talking a little longer than that.” I said, “Like two days, three days, what?”


To begin, I stayed off for four months. In that time, I started to blog. I started a blog called Recovering Dawn. I was blogging about workaholism, codependency, the cancer that I’d survived and the loss of my mother that I’d barely survived. She passed away in 2000 and all of the things that I realized that I was recovering from. It wasn’t about substance use then. It hadn’t been for a long time. This was about all this other stuff. I just started talking about this idea that … It was new to me. Maybe it wasn’t new to other people, but to me, it was just this concept and it’s the first principle in our guiding principles at She Recovers. We are all recovering from something and that how we deal with the trauma or the issues that are driving us to the behaviors or the substances that are messing us up, it’s all underlying stuff, right? We have to find the inner happy. We’re not going to do very well with cutting out the substances and behaviors until we get in touch with what’s really going on for us.


After 4 months, I returned to work. By then, my thinking had evolved. I really did start to see that it wasn’t just about me and that Recovering Dawn had got me to this place where women were connecting with what I was saying. That made sense and so started the Facebook page. I’d been back at work for about five months and again, my thinking is evolving. What I decided was when I was off that what I really wanted to do was something with women in recovery. I didn’t know what that looked like yet and I couldn’t do anything. I thought maybe I’ll become a recovery coach, but again, I couldn’t train and work. Really I was sticking to my plan of taking care of myself. Self-care became my best friend in those days. It’s still what I struggle with, but strive to achieve always is good self-care. It looks very different for me than it does for anybody else, I’m sure. It’s an individualized pathway, too.

Hidden Blessings

After five months of being at work, the government that I worked for had major changes due to the economic downturn. They dissolved my unit and gave me a year of severance. It was the greatest gift ever. I remember thinking two things. It was that horrible thing where they take you into a room and they take your Blackberry.They tell you you’re done and then they escort you out. It was really quite traumatic in and of itself, but as I was going down the elevator, I remember thinking oh, my god. My first thought was what if this had happened six months ago when I thought that I was my job, that I thought this was my identity. This is everything I am. I decided that I was going to take it as what I was, an opportunity from the universe to turn things around.

It begins

I went back to Mexico, where I love, and sat on a beach and pondered my life, decided to start a recovery coach training, professional recovery coach training program, which I did start. At that same time, a good friend of ours, Sharon Lee, had moved down to the Mayan Riviera and Taryn had completed some recovery coach or sorry, recovery yoga, and we just got this idea to start a retreat for women in recovery. By then, I still had these loose concepts around what She Recovers was. It was a Facebook page and now it was going to be a retreat and that’s all it was.

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Special music thank you to the Kevin MacLeod Funkorama (incompetech.com)
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