How I Broke the Cycle of Addiction & Became a SHE RECOVERS Coach

By Kathleen Smigels, SHE RECOVERS® Coach

Broke the Cycle of Addiction

We are all as unique as our fingerprints. This is also true for our individual recovery paths and patchworks.

I believe an optimal system of treatment and recovery is created by providing highly individualized and accessible opportunities for healing – with ongoing support regardless of the path a person chooses. This individualized approach is what I needed to break the cycle of addiction. I believe in it so much that I became a SHE RECOVERS Coach.

I knew I needed help with my addiction in high school. In 1989 I made my first attempt to get help for my alcohol use/abuse cycle, eating disorder, depression, grief, anxiety, emotional regulation, and LIFE! I was a square peg desperately trying to fit into numerous circles available for recovery (a few hexagons too). There were many paths I had started on, stopped, and some I even continued on within my recovery. I was destroying my health, family, friendships, employment, and finances. In the process, I felt like I lost my head at times; my heart at other times; but mostly my soul and spirit. During this path, I would recover it, only to lose it again and again. In some spaces, when I no longer identified with a specific group, sponsor support was no longer available to me. I felt like I didn’t belong. I lost many connections and even some friends I had made. I also utilized professional support groups and treatment but left many because my beliefs about my own personal recovery felt out of alignment with the program and people.

Throughout my recovery journey, I’ve explored holistic healing practices including indigenous sweat lodge ceremonies, art and yoga therapy, Labyrinth meditations, recovery-focused retreats, religious pathways, and cacao ceremonies. I also participated in more traditional recovery solutions and mutual support groups such as 12-step programs, Refuge Recovery, SmartRecovery, Women for Sobriety, Recovery Forums and memberships, group therapy, and individual counseling. I found myself constantly searching for an external answer to my struggles, all the while engaging in a cycle of using, abusing, and abstaining from substances in the process.

This was the cha-cha stage of my recovery. One step forward, a few steps back.

Although many of these practices and programs remain a part of my recovery patchwork today, I always felt like a piece in my puzzle was missing. It definitely was not for lack of trying, in fact, my perseverance through it all brought me to where I am today. I have come to understand now that I may always be recovering from something! I do wish, especially in those early days, I could have had someone there to travel alongside me through the maze of my recovery journey.

Thankfully, I finally surrendered in 2005 to the fact I was unable to use ANY substance that altered my mind or mood regardless of what support group I was a part of at the moment. I no longer wanted these thoughts or behaviors as a part of my life. I wanted to live mindfully, with clear senses (including emotional sense), and improve my quality of life.

Eventually, I enrolled in a College Course to become a Certified Peer Recovery Mentor. With this certification, I made myself available to those entering the criminal justice system who were facing their addiction, many for the first time. I was able to introduce resources and ideas about recovery and help them navigate with a roadmap to support systems available. I advocated for them within the court system and felt a sense of purpose being in service to others, but I needed more scientifically based information about addiction and recovery. So, I enrolled in a University Specialty Program for Alcohol and Drug Abuse (SPADA) and became a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC). With this training, I could back up my personal experience and beliefs about recovery. I found that many people struggling with substance use also had co-occurring disorders and highly individualized needs. This led me to enroll in a master’s degree program in clinical mental health and I became a Limited Licensed Professional Counselor (LLPC).

Although I felt lost for many years, I have become the person I wished I had at the beginning of my own recovery journey. I became a Peer Mentor to help others navigate through the recovery system; an Addiction Counselor to be able to understand the physical, mental and emotional science of addiction, and the many pathways of recovery. I learned about Recovery-Oriented Systems of Care (ROSC). I dove into theories and systems of recovery. I sought out people who had the experience of living in long-term recovery.


That is when I found my soul sisters.

The opportunity to become a SHE RECOVERS Coach entered into my pathway. SHE RECOVERS recognizes “unhealthy” thoughts and behaviors simply as maladaptive coping tools blocking our ability to fully recover. This was my next piece to complete the puzzle of my belief in (and deep desire) a holistic continuum of care that focused on healing the body, mind, and spirit of those suffering from substance use disorders, addiction, and mental health issues.

I became an active advocate for radical change in how addiction treatment was provided when I first walked into a privately licensed outpatient substance use disorder treatment center and began to co-facilitate group sessions. I was quickly called into educational programs for addiction and mental health to learn about the history in the development of treatment, what worked, what didn’t, and what I could do to reach more people with what I knew and learned through navigating my own journey of long-term recovery.

Today my life is focused on balance and walking with grace through life transitions (including surviving cancer). I can now recognize emotions, situations, relationships, environments, and life events that stood in the way of my own peace and comfort.

I am now able to focus on my strengths, and let go of being self-critical. I arrived here through radical self-love and daily practices that include meditation and journaling. Once I began these daily practices, I noticed a significant change in myself. I realized I had reached milestones and accomplished goals people (myself included) never thought possible. I practiced living mindfully and present to transform out of unhealthy habits, thought processes, and behaviors.

I have experienced monumental moments in my life, and today, I treasure free living. However, I didn’t do it alone.

I sought out help and support from others to walk me through experiences that scared me; emotions that made me feel like I was going to drown. I took advantage of the guidance and support from those who had the strengths I admired; those who achieved great transformations; those who were setting intentions and acting on them; those who reached the goals I wanted to reach; those I admired that were reaching back and pulling others forward with them in collaboration; walking alongside them and cheering each other on.

I see this type of support reflected within the SHE RECOVERS Community on a daily basis.

Recovery is like a game of soccer, you need a Coach, the defense, offense, and midfielders. A good Coach can help you to identify liabilities and strengths and utilizes them together. Once a person is in the game (recovering), the Coach complements a recovery of pathways or patchwork that is unique to every individual. The desire to get in the game of recovery is all we need to take that first step towards a life of endless possibilities. I am beyond grateful to serve as a SHE RECOVERS Coach. Recovery isn’t always easy, but it is possible and always worth it.

There is still time to make an impact and help more women heal in recovery.

For as little as $5 USD you can help to ensure all women in or seeking recovery from substance use and/or mental health issues have access to a lifeline of support.

As a FOUNDING INVESTOR you and your contribution can be included in our online Portfolio of Hope and featured in the SHE RECOVERS® Foundation Annual Report – documenting this moment in herstory when this global life-saving movement first began.

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Kathleen Smigels, MA, LLPC, NCC, SST, CADC, CPRM, SRCD

Kathleen is the owner of Free Living Recovery, LLCwhere she provides recovery and counseling services. She began her journey in recovery at the age of 20. The recovery seed was planted in the 12-step self-support programs and bloomed into experiencing and discovering many pathways of recovery. She believes recovery begins the day you awaken to your own inner-being and take that first step into the discovery of self. She will meet you where you are on your journey. The combination of her education and personal experience led her to become a SHE RECOVERS Coach, to reach out to other women, and co-create a recovery pathway to provide hope in living a life of wellness.

Connect with Kathleen on LinkedIn


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