Credit: Darcyadelaide | Via Flickr

Nikki Oliver of Saco is this year’s recipient of the Maine Women’s Addiction Services Council’s leadership award. She gave the following speech after accepting the award at Husson University’s Gracie Theatre on Thursday. Oliver is program manager of Crossroad’s Back Cove Residential Program in Portland, which is a recovery center for women. She has made it her life’s mission to support the recovery of Maine women with substance use disorders.

Here is her reflection:

My name is Nikki Oliver, and I am a woman in long-term recovery.

Thank you, Helen, and the other WASC members for your warm introduction. I am both humbled and honored by this award. I have certainly struggled a bit over the last few days to remain right sized.

I have asked myself, “Why me?” I am only doing what I am supposed to be doing. Thankfully I have people in my life who ask the hard question, “Why not you?”

I will tell you that my addiction took me to a place that was very dark and lonely. Each of us has our own stories of relying on outside sources to fill the hole in the soul. Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

I began my journey of recovery on January 10, 2002, and have been free of mind-altering substances since that time.

Please don’t misunderstand me. It has not been simple to practice recovery efforts at all times. I remember being told, in moments of real challenge, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”

So I asked myself with guidance from other women in recovery, “What is my goal? What am I looking for? What do I want?” My identified goals have certainly changed over the years.

Initially, it was to get revenge on my ex-husband, and then it was to get my children back into my life, and then to impress others. Eventually it turned into an intrinsic search for my recovery.

The obstacles I have overcome, some still a work in progress according to my oldest daughter, have helped me to be the woman I always wanted to be and, here is the kicker, the woman I deserve to be. When I falter from my identified path, multiple people say in one way or another, “Remember you are the most important person in your recovery.”

Some of my life’s best lessons have been learned in the worst times. I remember having feelings of “it’s not fair.” I learned recently that the only fair in life has cotton candy and Ferris wheels.

I wanted others to do the work for me. I could not see that the relief I would experience involved having feelings that I had been searching for so many years before.

I had a woman say to me, after I bellyached for a spell, “Decide you want this more than you are afraid of it.” Wow, that knocked me over. I couldn’t see I was afraid of anything. I was like the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz, playing with a big roar and afraid of my own shadow.

I asked people, “What if I fail? What if I am not good enough?” I was told, “So what if you fall down seven times? Get up eight.”

These sayings were frequently unwelcome, and people who presented them were not always my favorite people. However I have grown over the years to love both the sayings for their wisdom and for the people willing to share their recovery with me.

I believed I was alone, that others couldn’t possibly understand my situation. Terminal uniqueness could have killed me.

I began to fear that I would share my stuff with someone, and she would not get it; she wouldn’t understand. I was unwilling and unable to share with anyone for a few months.

I was nearly emotionally dead when I finally asked for help. However, I still hesitated and continued to procrastinate a bit longer regarding whether to commit to this self-searching task, which was discussed in my new circles endlessly.

My dear friend said to me, “You know, when you have a decision and don’t make it, that is a decision in itself.” That hit me! It was so simple, yet so complex to grasp.

I asked her the rhetorical question, “You mean by not doing the work, I am choosing misery?”

Her response: “Bingo.”

Seriously, she said bingo. My immediate thought in response to her, that I kept to myself, thankfully, was, “Well, now I have to get to work. I’ll show her bingo.”

The pain I experienced through the work I have done in my recovery has made me look at others in a different light. Don’t get me wrong; I still am mostly the center of my own universe. However, I have learned empathy. I have been able to experience another’s pain through their sharing, and I continue to work on not taking it on, and not making it mine.

I have seen over the years that allowing someone to have their own hard time is a gift to them. By doing their work for them, I rob them of their recovery process, and the process is the best part.

This all is a work in progress for me, for sure. I have been able to lean into the discomfort of making positive strides to remain a woman in recovery who is available to others whom are seeking recovery as well.

Silly sayings like, “If I am not telling the truth, I am lying,” seem much more simple today. I have complicated many things in my recovery. I have caused chaos, made poor decisions and had a few moments of regret.

However I have remained abstinent with the help of God, and my family and friends who loved me through these times.

I learned that expectations are usually premeditated resentments. Some resentments have developed over the years. However, I have been given the tools to work through them — not always with grace, ease and dignity, but with the ability to work through each of them with help from people through whom I believe God works.

I have been given hope, and, for me, today hope stands for “hold on — pain ends.”

The greatest risk we will ever take is to be seen for who we really are. Recovery has given me the opportunity to explore me, so I can take the risk of showing you who I am.

I am incredibly grateful for the ability to see where I started and where I am today. I am involved in so many healthy, recovery-related things. I have attained bachelor’s degrees and master’s degree; I own a home; I am employable; my children are very involved in my life; I have friends and am a good friend.

I was recently recruited by my high school to be on the alumni board of directors. I don’t know about any of you, but I wasn’t sure I was going to graduate, never mind be asked to return and serve on the board. I have been blessed with opportunities galore. I travel and tell my story around the area and in Canada.

None of these things would have ever been on the horizon, never mind possible without my recovery.

In closing, I am now filled with gratitude and joy that I have my fantastic children, Myra and Analaide, my mother, my father, Phil, my best friends Lisa and Sandee, and a close family friend, Em, and many, many friends I love, some right here in this room. I no longer have a secret. I have a story, and I feel honored to be able to share that with many, without the need to impress anyone.

I am the only fish I have to catch. I want to continue to do this recovery dance and be available to others who are trying to figure out their own recovery dance. I love my life, and I am humbled and honored for this wonderful tribute.

Thank you all so much.

Erin Rhoda

Erin Rhoda is the editor of Maine Focus, a team that conducts journalism investigations and projects at the Bangor Daily News. She also writes for the newspaper, often centering her work on issues of sexual...