Shame Will Kill You – By Nicola O’Hanlon

I’ve had a revelation, just this morning actually, that most of my life has been spent trying to avoid shame. I’m not alone in that pursuit either. It seems that most of the world is running from it too in one form or another.

I have also been angry most of my life. The seed that created all of that anger is absolutely, unequivocally, shame, and every time someone attempts to shame me still, an anger rises up that I can’t resolve easily. The two emotions are intrinsically linked.

Someone told me the other day that what I do is not actually real work. I was rooted to my chair, unexpectedly. Usually I’m not afraid of an argument. Usually I’d have defended myself and my work, but the person calmly walked away from me after saying what they said. It was clear that the comment was meant to put me down, make me feel inferior and shame me for my chosen career path. I don’t understand their thinking, but despite that, it still rendered me paralyzed.

I immediately became aware of that familiar raw feeling in my chest. Devastation. But why such an intense reaction? The anger rose in me later that day the and was released in an hour long crying session. During that hour, I remembered the other occasions of shaming throughout my life and how it left me too afraid to move forward, or try new things.

Four years old, learning to read and write; my teacher would thump me in the back and call me a dunce for not understanding where to put my full stops. I’d write my little story, and then place dots randomly throughout the words. Feeling very pleased with myself, I’d take it to the teacher and instead of teaching me, she thumped me. As a result, I struggled my entire life with learning and it took me thirty-five years to let anyone else see my writing.

“You have a fat arse.”  “You’d be so much prettier if you lost weight”…….I heard it over and over again. I then spent my whole life hating my body and being ashamed of every inch of it. It’s funny, because when I look back at old photos I don’t see fat. I just see beauty. I wasted my entire youth hanging onto a perception of myself that wasn’t mine.

Shame is in me deep. Right in my bone marrow. There have been endless instances that I don’t care to recall. It made me want to give up on myself, and I felt the same way the other day. What’s the fucking point, I thought. I even feel it’s presence right now, feeling shame because I’m voicing past experiences, which I should have forgotten about and gotten over by now. Right?

I know many of you will relate to these instances or some like them. You will recognise the shame associated that created the bars of your cage and held you hostage. You will also understand the daily struggle to release yourself and convince your tired mind that being you is absolutely worth it. Sometimes you can’t convince yourself though.

It has sent some of us quite mad. We have lost our minds from the exhaustive pursuit to be good enough, worthy, acceptable. We become depressed, bio-polar, psychotic. We have sought out alternative reality through drugs, alcohol, food, sex, to find some relief and to convince ourselves that we are all that they say we should be. It has even killed some of us.

But who are these, they?

Well, they are you and I. We do it to each other. We judge and condemn because of skin colour, religion, politics, age, tattoos and fat arses. We judge and condemn inside of our tiny boxes, from inside our tiny minds until we make each other crazy and so afraid of other people, places and things that we become enslaved…….by shame. We make up rules about appropriate behaviour, right and wrong and forget about basic kindness and respect. We live half lives because our notions about societal appropriateness and acceptability cannot under any circumstances be trespassed upon. Until we stop living altogether.

So for fuck sake, write the story and put the full stops wherever you want, get the tattoo, embrace your big fat arse, wear your burka, or don’t wear it, wear a miniskirt at 60…..even if you’re a guy, speak your mind, stand up for yourself, dye your hair Octarine, travel the world, do whatever the hell you want and don’t let others fear induced shame infect you.

You may be hated and looked down upon and declared mad for living your life free, but one thing I know for sure is, you will not hate yourself! You will wake up every day very fucking pleased with yourself, knowing that you are conquering the most insidious and lethal weapon on this planet. Shame. Shame cannot breathe if you like yourself.

So keep cheering for yourself. Know contentment. Be happy. Be free. Be SHAMELESS.

Intolerance In The Recovery Community

This post, originally written for, has caused the biggest shit storm of my writing career. It’s been so bad I just stopped reading the comments. However, the reaction completely proved my observation, on one hand by the utter narrow mindedness and arrogance of some and on the other hand by the amount of people with similar experiences as mine. However, I shall continue to follow what works for me and applaud all others who choose their own path, regardless of what that is. I’m pretty much done with the constant put downs and nastiness. It’s truly amazing what people have taken from this essay. It gave some hope, it made others so angry they had to try and ridicule me, and others got things from it that aren’t even written in there. All I can say is, thankfully I’m recovered enough to be solid in my own perception, with my own thoughts and opinions and experiences and that no amount of bullying can drag me into dogmatic ideals.


It occurred to me this past week, that the level of intolerance is rising within the recovery community at quite a disturbing level.

It seems to be stemming from the fact that people are choosing for themselves what their recovery process will be and especially because of the new thinking and concepts that are arising around recovery programs.

In some quarters, you’re always sick, you’re always selfish and your own thoughts, decisions and understanding is completely unreliable. And you are told that on a constant basis.

But thankfully, people now have access to a plethora of information and possibility to learn and understand from a vast array of teaching, philosophies and concepts. There’s no limit to what we can access when seeking to overcome our difficulties be it from addiction or any other self-harming behaviour.

I’ve been a member of the Addiction and Mental Health Recovery Community for over seven years now. At one point, as I’ve written about before, my perception of addiction and ill mental health was a limited one and my recovery options were even more limited.

So I decided to educate myself a little more because some of the stuff I’d come to define myself by was no longer true for me.

For example, I don’t see myself as diseased or having the disease of addiction. That just doesn’t sound or feel true for me so I don’t identify with it any longer.

I also don’t go to certain 12 step meetings anymore nor do I think it’s healthy to reinforce negative labels over and over again because of the type of person I am. That never worked for me and I feel a great freedom and empowerment from detachment from that no cure idea.

If these things work for you then it’s absolutely fantastic. I totally support you in that and applaud you for taking care of yourself your way.

I engaged in 12 step recovery for a few years and learned many great tools and met many great people. It was just time for me to move on to a broader concept.

I also know people who were in AA for years and now have a drink every couple of months and are living completely normal and productive lives.

I know people who were addicted to drugs who have an occasional drink without adverse effects and again, are living superb lives.

Shock. Horror. What is this blasphemy! How dare they find their own way.

I must stress, that these people, who are my friends, have done deep intensive mental, emotional and spiritual work on themselves. I am most definitely not advocating for anyone to go back to drinking or using again. Total abstinence is a must for some.

I as a person am progressive. I move forward constantly. I can’t read or learn enough and new ideas and concepts are what keep me alive and hopeful. They excite me beyond anything, and they make me want to care for and treat myself with the highest of respect.

What really disturbs me within our community of late, is the lack of tolerance for people’s growth and expansion and choice to think and do differently. It reeks of my childhood Catholic teaching that if you step outside the box, hellfire is gonna get ya. Everyone is wrong. We are right. You must repent.

Radicalised thinking at its best.

So here’s my understanding; most addiction and mental health issues are based in some form of trauma in our lives, and the results, if not dealt with effectively, manifest as addiction and for me depression and anxiety.

Trauma and the use of chemicals and obsessive behaviours change the functioning of the brain, which by the way, can be reversed and healed.

I didn’t make that up either. The healing part. That’s scientific fact.

Dr. Gabor Mate is someone who’s philosophy rings true for me and he has said that if we do not understand trauma then we cannot understand addiction. And pretty much any professional I’ve spoken to concurs with that notion.

So for me it’s been way more positive to understand that my brain has been disordered and that it can be fixed rather than telling myself that selfishness is at the root of my problems and that there’s no cure.

And I completely accept and respect people’s choices and viewpoints that are contrary. I absolutely love to engage in conversation about these topics, because that’s how I learn and discover and find out what truly works for me on a deep level.

And then you have this guy:

 “ Lol…ty for your concern Nickyo! Not that it’s a competition, but believe me, I’d stack up my service efforts, and how many suffering addicts are positively affected, against yours any day of the week. And, mine happen in the real world free from the shackles of advertising dollars, and ego attachment of being “in charge” of something.

You go on painting me as the “bad guy” if you need to :).”

This was in reply to me standing up for someone he’d torn to shreds with pissy, personal attacking  comments because she had the audacity to suggest that it was better and more productive for her to not identify with the disease model.

I’ll let you come to your own conclusion about what recovery path he engages in. Apparently love and tolerance is the basis of his much treasured programme. Oh, and don’t forget humility!

I will say also, that I know wonderful genuine people on this same path who would never treat others like this. They must have read the part in the literature where it talks about open mindedness, compassion and empathy.

And this woman, in reply to a comment I made on an artilce “Safe injection sites are a radical new approach to battling addiction”  saying I agree with the concept to save lives and there’s strong evidence in European countries that it’s effective. I mean if addiction is a recognised medical issue,  why not treat it as such and give addicts equal, sufficient, medical care like the rest of the sick people in the world….right?

Apparently, I’m completely off the wall!

“And that kind of thinking is so off the charts nuts it takes my breath away. For Gods sake, they are not all using dirty needles, in dirty drug dens. Engage a junkie? Go ahead I’d like to see you try. They have to hit rock bottom, they have to want to stop. Enabling them is a solution that works somewhere in the atmosphere. Look, I am sure your heart is in the right place, but I wish you do gooders would just shut up.”

These are just two of many this week alone.

Believe me, I’m used to this kind of personal attack. It’s part of the job for most writers and especially those who go against the cookie cutter social thinking. But recently it’s coming fast and hard.

I do know one thing. A high presence of aggressive ugliness and lack of tolerance, empathy and basic politeness comes from deep fear. Perhaps a subconscious knowing that your perception is weak, and that you are so attached to that perception you need to guard it violently regardless of the consequences for others. Pretty basic philosophy.

It cannot be denied that this low energy, aggressiveness is extremely prevalent in society at large. The world is most definitely engaged in revolt. It’s just really sad that this same revolt seems needed in a community that is supposed to support and promote the growth of others.

But it does show that change is coming!

When The Outsides Don’t Match The Insides.

Originally Published on

I find myself lately, missing my house. The house I lived in ten years ago, when I was married. The place I thought would symbolise a functional, abundant, happy life. It was spacious, and decorated how I liked it. It had a big kitchen that I loved to cook in and a dining room that could seat all our family members.

It had a huge garden that backed onto fields, with hedgerows abundant with different plant life each season. Snow drops and bluebells in Spring. Flowering wild fruit trees in Summer. Crab apples and slows in the Autumn, and even in winter the red holly berries appeared like little red jewels against the receding greenery.

And the peace. Oh the peace and quiet. Sounds like an episode of Little House On The Prairie. But reality was, we were far from the Ingalls family.

One day, it was necessary for us to leave. I packed what I could into my car, along with my two children and we left. While our home appeared beautiful and peaceful, our lives were not. The external picture of our world most definitely didn’t match the internal.

We left, and we never went back. I still cannot drive by that house to this day because it is too painful. I’m grieving still for my home. For a home. And I’m continually searching for ways to have a permanent and secure place for my children and I. It is the last raw space inside me. The part where I feel most vulnerable, most inadequate and where I am still letting my children down. Yuck. The shame I have around it is sometimes unbearable.

This area of my life is a work in progress…..and all that stuff.

There are times in everyone’s lives when something happens that we perceive as bad. We feel like the bottom has just fallen out of our world and we are in a freefall tailspin to impending doom. But often, the doom we are so sure is coming, never actually arrives and we find we stay in unbearable situations because of the great job, the gorgeous house, and the illusion that without these things we cannot survive.

I have a meeting tomorrow to discuss plans for a new business venture. Yes, it’s another attempt at security for us. I’ve gotten to know this person over the last few weeks, and it looks like a promising project. I’m excited about working with her. I’m excited about the possibilities and a new adventure.

As I spoke to her on the phone this morning giving her the address of the house we live in now, I found myself apologising for it. I heard myself saying, “it’s just rented, and so it’s not very pretty”….yadda yadda yadda.

Immediately she said that instead of berating myself, I should be very fucking proud of the person I am, the lessons I’ve learned and the experience I’ve gained in the past ten years and that no amount of external fanciness can depict that adequately.

And you know what?…she’s 100% right.

Despite what I see as a grotesque failing in me, what I have gained following the loss of our home, is quite astonishing. Where loss is, there is also opportunity. A void is left that you can fill with absolutely anything you want. It leaves space for things that perhaps there wasn’t an inch of room for before.

Once, I was obsessed with curtains and matching cushions. When all that was forcefully taken away, it left room for my writing, which led to travel and meeting people I never dreamed I would meet. It opened endless opportunities, most of which I’ve grabbed with both hands. It afforded me a choice of expansion in my thoughts and experience and the development of myself.

Sometimes, what we attach ourselves to, what we identify ourselves with, limits our growth and expansion. Be it houses, jobs, people, places or things, the external is worthless without the internal being solid.

Most days I don’t look so shiny on the outside, but the inside is doing better than I give it credit for. I guess that never judging books by their covers is something I should pay more attention to.

So Just How Brave Are You?

At the Women’s Wisdom Healing Circle that I facilitate every Sunday on (please come join us at Noon EST), we like to get deep with our topics. This past Sunday I chose to open up with a brief personal experience of going from shockingly low self-esteem, barely being able to keep a roof over mine and my children’s heads and being so depressed I could barely wash myself most days, to where I am now….

….living fully.

But what does that even mean?

Is it just another guru-esk phrase to bamboozle our brains?

Or is there something to this that none of us can afford to ignore?

In my experience, the latter is true. I could not and cannot afford to ignore this concept. By doing so, I am, in essence, ignoring everything that I authentically am. I have searched and searched for the answer to happiness and fulfilment. I’ve now discovered I’ve had the answer all along.

If this sounds too love and light for you, here is the layman’s way of saying the same thing.

Living fully, in my estimation, is getting so brave that you scare the hell out of yourself most days of the week. You do this by stepping outside your comfort zone, out of that strategically placed box that has been created for you, and living life with you at the helm.

And I know you know what I mean. I know that as you read this, you recognize the discomfort rising in you because you have that internal voice too. You’re clean and sober. You’ve quit overeating, you’ve got your sex addiction, smoking, spending all under control….

….but that gnawing, gut churning, irritating feeling won’t go away. It can be hellish at times. Repetitive thoughts that seemingly come from nowhere and give you a burn in your soul, haunt you.

What the hell is it?

Well, that would be your calling my dear. Your life purpose; the reason you were put on the planet, begging and demanding to be heard after years of being drowned out with whatever substance or behaviour you’ve been obsessed with. Now, at last, there’s room for it to make itself known to you.

And it’s impatient and loud and pissed off with being tossed aside. Now your fearful, limiting thoughts and your deep inner knowing that you have important life’s work to do, are in hand to hand combat. As one woman put it at the Womens Wisdom Healing Circle….”I have two versions of myself living inside me.”

Can’t we all relate to that? The mental push and pull we deal with every day between what we feel obligated to and what our true life’s purpose is.

The question is….which version of yourself will you pick?

Well let’s look at the options here.

Your first option is, a life lived mediocrely. You will be somewhat happy. You may have a great job, a great family, and life looks good on the outside. But there’s that something missing. A burning, a creativity, a dormant part of yourself that you know is there but you haven’t met yet.

Your other option is to live fully. To choose a path that isn’t always easy. Where you decide to take action, and scare the crap out of yourself on a daily or weekly basis, until that fear becomes joy. On deeper investigation, I discovered that fear and joy are one and the same thing….it just depends on your perspective.

Living fully takes sacrifice at first.

You may need to survive on less money and work less hours so you can dedicate time to your passion. It may mean working long hours at your job and then staying up later to pursue that dream. It may simply be buying that material to make that dress, or sing that song, or paint that picture. It could be to write a novel.

Or it just may be being brave enough to say hi to that girl you’ve always wanted to talk to, or sit in a café by yourself despite feeling socially awkward.

Bravery is living fully. To ignite your heart and soul with feeling fear and doing it anyway becomes a lifestyle. It will take you to places inside yourself that you never knew existed. To practice bravery on a small scale will open you up like nothing else can. It will then snowball until you have no choice but to have a new and brilliant experience of life.

Is your inner dialogue going to continue to be “I’ve always wanted to do that but”….and you then list a million reasons why you can’t do that thing?

Or are you finally, after all your hard work and slog and turning your life around, going to allow yourself to live the life you’ve always dreamed of?

It’s your choice. It’s your life. I hope you live it fully!


Originally published on and featured in Recovery Today Magazine

The Women Who Showed Me The Way

Originally posted at

Today, on this, International Womens Day, I want to honour the women who have helped and inspired and nourished me along my sometimes pretty horrific path. Long gone are the days of hiding away in shame, anonymous and afraid that someone may find out we have had issues with addiction, mental health, domestic violence, eating disorders, various kinds of trauma and sexual violation. We women are recovering and thriving in the face of multifaceted adversity and at a time in HERSTORY, where it’s never been more important to join together in solidarity with our sisters, the fierce feminine is arising in all walks of society.

I have been fortunate to come in contact with women who taught me that recovery, independence and real freedom is possible. My decision to seek a better life and different understanding of the world, opened up infinite possibilites for me. Some of the women I have met are directly connected to the recovery world, some are not. Nevertheless, each of them has given me invaluable gifts in the form of wisdom, knowledge, support and encouragement.

Here are some of the women who have inspired me to change my life forever:

Anna David, Author and creator of I approached Anna in 2013, when I had just started blogging about my own recovery journey from substance abuse and mental illness. I was in awe (and still am) of her success and work ethic and I wanted to know her secret. It so happened she was on the lookout for writers for her new website and so I became the first ever writer for her website. She gave me the confidence to really give writing a shot and became my mentor. Without her taking a chance and giving me a shot I don’t think I’d be running my own website today.

Trista Hendren, creator of The Girl God. I met Trista through social media in my quest to redefine my femininity. Trista created The Girl God series of books after a conversation with her young daughter about God being a girl. Trista produces books on all aspects of Femininity, Female Divinity and the struggles of women in modern society. I have been lucky enough to have my work published in two of her books. Her memoire “Hearts Aren’t Made Of Glass” tells her story of living with an alcoholic and trying to recover hers and her children’s lives after complete devastation. She has encouraged and inspired me deeply and is the personification of The Goddess in all of us.

Jamie Marich, Author of Trauma and The 12 Steps and Clinical Therapist. I was introduced to Jamie through and had the privilege of meeting her in 2015. The first time I heard Jamie speak it felt like at last someone understood what was going on inside my head and heart. I knew all about my ill mental health and substance abuse, but there were some issues at the root of this that I couldn’t fully articulate. Jamie Marich provided the language and held the space for me, and many others, to finally communicate the full extent of my pain. You can listen to our podcast here.

Carolyn Elliot, Author and creator of WITCH and several online courses. Anyone who knows me, knows that I am drawn to witchy stuff like a moth to a flame. Therefore, when I came across Carolyn online, I fluttered straight to her unafraid of getting burned. And boy was I set on fire. Through her course, Influence, I discovered the true power of our shadow side, our unconscious. It’s the driving force behind our entire lives. Love and light is all fine and dandy, but we have darkness too that cannot be ignored. Carolyn Elliot changed my entire perspective on the world and I shall never be the same again…….thankfully! Read her interview here.

Dawn Nickel, Creator of She Recovers.  Dawn is one of those no bullshit business women that I have always been in awe of…….but with a ginormous heart. She and I share much of the same philosophy regarding women in recovery. Dawn has dedicated herself to creating and holding space for women in recovery to connect with themselves, and with other like-hearted women….and she does it brilliantly. It is her, no-such-thing-as-can’t, energy that inspires me to be the best I can be. She and her team hold retreats around the world for recovering women. Her New York City event in May, with speakers such as Marianne Williamson, Nikki Myers and Gabby Bernstein is completely sold out. However, She Recovers just announced that the event can be accessed through livestream, right around the world.  Click here for details of the event and to purchase livestream tickets.

Of course there have been scores of women whom I have connected with – friends, family, health professionals, passing strangers who offered a smile, writers, poets, activists, therapists, lawyers, women in the rooms of recovery from all over the world, who have helped me along my way. I am convinced that a reignited connection between women is the way to heal the world and all it’s inhabitants.

Today I wish all of the wonderful women in my life love, freedom, empowerment and strength. Thank you for showing me the way.

Lessons In Love

“You’re Gonna Have To Face It You’re Addicted To Love”

I really love that song. But it also kinda makes me cringe because it reminds me of how I used to think about love. I wasn’t addicted to love. I was addicted to being owned, admired, shown off. Plastic love with no depth. I’ll preform how you want me to and then you’ll love me. Yuck, I feel ill. Real love is not an addictive thing in my opinion because it is not remotely attached to anything negative…including addiction.

In our obsessive, all consuming desire for the ever illusive true love, so many of us lose ourselves and fail to even understand what love is. It’s Impossible to define because it seems to mean different things to different people. I’m not an expert on love in any respect, but I can guarantee you, love from another person is not ownership, control or conformity. Neither is it admiration of your ass, your breasts or diamond rings.

We all have a need to find deep, respectful, mutual connection with another person. But for too many of us, that connection never gets past the first layer of makeup we apply to try to make ourselves remotely visually acceptable, in our visually obsessed world.

So what is real and healthy love and how do we connect fully to another person?

It’s not hard to find the answer to that one. There’s a million articles and another million books written on this topic. But instead of recounting what these articles and books tell us, I’m going to share the things that I have learned about love along my path.

You come first: It is that simple. Self-care, self-realisation, self-awareness. I could go on with the self stuff. Somewhere along the line caring about and developing ourselves became a negatively selfish act. This is more crapola that should be totally disregarded. You do you!

Narcissistic control is not love:  This is an issue not talked about enough at all. I’ve seen these relationships destroy people to such an extent they never recover. These relationships become so crazy that the victim doesn’t talk about it….because nobody would believe them. Well I believe you. If you are questioning your own sanity, your own sense of reality, your self-worth and your abilities since you got into a relationship, then you’re probably dealing with a Narcissist. You cannot win with a Narcissistic Personality. I strongly suggest you educate yourself on this disorder, starting with this.

Make your boundaries: If you have boundaries in place, you are less likely to become consumed and obsessed. If you have boundaries already and they aren’t working, then raise the bar. It is so important to know what is acceptable to you and what is not. If you keep accepting things that are just not ok with you, you will end up resenting yourself more than the other person. You must be able to trust yourself. Making boundaries and sticking to them helps that internal trust and self-respect.

 Abusive behaviour is never ok: I’ve learned the hard way, that when someone shows you who they are the first time…believe them. It doesn’t matter if it’s mental, emotional, verbal, physical or sexual. Do not, I implore you, ever accept any kind of abuse. The recovery from it is long, arduous and sometimes recovery is incomplete.

Your instinct is everything: Listen to it well. Oh how many times have I ignored my churning gut when I met someone for the first time, only to pay dearly for it later. Your instinct is flawless, and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.

Lust and love is not the same thing: But we already know that right? Or do we? The intensity of lust is addictive. It is my experience that lust, not love makes us do stupid, insane stuff. Now a mixture of love and lust, is of course, Heaven on Earth….which will still make you do stupid, insane stuff. Caution is advised.

Kindness is the foundation: You cannot put a price on a kind partner. Kindness is in the little things. The cup of coffee in bed in the morning. The unexpected herbal remedy from the health food shop when you’re sick. The phone call first thing in the morning to see if you slept ok. And you notice that they practice kindness towards other people too. In other words, genuine concern for you and the world. If there’s kindness there is the potential for happy ever after. But a word of warning. There’s a big difference between kindness and point scoring!

No change required: You are perfectly acceptable to them on your worst days and your best days. They encourage your mad schemes and support you when they fail. It’s not an issue that you cry or laugh at inappropriate times, or that you swear incessantly. There are no conditions required for them to love you. That’s the real deal!

To listen and to be heard: If there’s a lack of or ineffective communication then there is nothing. Believe me. To have someone really hear you and to be able to really hear someone is a rare thing. To have mutual understanding means a deep connection is possible.

Compromise: There has to be ongoing give and take. However, when the other things I talked about are in place, in my experience, compromise is not a big deal.

Sex…the good kind: YES YES YES…..It totally has to be there. That is all.

I don’t believe there is a one size fits all formula for navigating relationships but I do think that if we keep what is most important to us a priority, then we can be fully present in our own lives and have a happy life with a partner or partners or part-time lovers. However you want to role is your choice.

What I am sure of is, that if we know and love ourselves deeply first we are on the right path for a great love relationship, whatever that looks like for you.