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Embracing Confusion and Self-Validation in Recovery

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This is an edited excerpt of “She Recovers Every Day“.


Recovery is a journey filled with ups and downs, twists and turns, and moments of confusion and self-doubt. In this journey, it’s easy to fall into the trap of seeking validation from others instead of finding it within ourselves. However, true recovery requires us to embrace the confusion and become our own barometers of success.


As individuals, we get to determine what our personal successes look like. Unfortunately, we are used to allowing others to tell us what success looks like. We become so used to looking for validation from others that we lack the clarity we need to even assess how well we are doing. Like, the great job that we get is only great if the people in our life think it’s great, or that wonderful thing we did for somebody else is only of value when other people remark on how wonderful it is. This is not a fun or healthy way to exist. Each one of us must determine what our success will look and feel like; we are our own barometers of what hits the mark for us as individuals. We must each be in control of our own recovery. 

The good news is becoming stronger at self-validation becomes easier when we think about what success will look like in advance. Committing to yourself that you will remain sober for one week at a time, and then doing that, is a success. It will also give you the confidence you need to keep moving forward. Celebrate your successes, always. 

Validating what success looks like for us is about recapturing our own agency over ourselves and our recovery

Our story can change in an instant 

One Saturday evening in April 2022, I sat in an audience of 500 women in recovery listening to the remarkably lovely Ashley Judd share about her journey to spiritual wellness. She spoke to many aspects of her growth as an adult child of dysfunction, referring several times to her healed relationship with her beloved mother, Naomi Judd. On that warm night in Miami, Ashley talked about knowing how to “be together” with her mom, and about their deep love and affection for one another. She spoke to us about finding understanding, acceptance, and forgiveness in their relationship. 

Seven days later, Ashley and her sister Wynonna announced that their mother had passed away after years of suffering from mental illness. And just like that, Ashley and Wynonna’s own lives and stories were forever changed. As is true for all of us, deep loss transforms our recovery stories, especially when the most important characters in that story leave us. Fortunately for us, the loving, healing parts of our story are embedded in our souls and live on forever. 

Our stories are not static, they grow and change with every heartbreak.

Embracing confusion 

Do you ever feel so lost, stuck, and confused about a situation that you don’t know what to think or do? Me too. It’s not a comfortable place to be, but I’ve learned that confusion can’t be ignored, it needs to be embraced to get to the other side of it. We have to admit to ourselves that we don’t have an easy answer to whatever it is that is confusing the hell out of us. And then, we need to start working through the confusion. Gently. That can mean writing about the situation, literally freestyling and dropping thoughts onto paper, not trying to make sense of any of the words. That might help us get comfortable enough to speak our confusion aloud to another person. Perhaps a close friend will give us some time and listen to us as we process the wide array of conflicting thoughts and ideas. It’s good to remind that friend that we don’t need them to find a solution to our confusion; we need them to be there while we work through the other side. And we will get to the other side, as long as we cultivate curiosity and ask ourselves the right questions. 

Are you confounded and confused about anything in your life today? Embrace it.


Recovery is a journey that requires strength, resilience, and self-validation. It’s crucial to set our own goals and celebrate our successes to build confidence and stay motivated. At the same time, embracing confusion and working through it can help us find clarity and move forward on our journey. With these tools in hand, we can navigate the twists and turns of recovery and emerge stronger and more resilient than ever before.

Dawn Nickel is one of the founders of the international movement and nonprofit organisation SHE RECOVERS Foundation. She presents a daily meditation book for women in recovery.

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