Ester Nicholson Talks "Soul Recovered"

By McCarton Ackerman 06/20/13

After her first decade of sobriety, Ester Nicholson found the 12 Steps had taken her as far as they could. Then she found a way to take those teachings even further.

Esther Nicholson, recovered addict Photo via

Ester Nicholson doesn’t hide her drug-filled past. A top-rated talk show host on Unity Online Radio, a motivational speaker and a recording artist who’s toured with Rod Stewart and Bette Midler, Nicholson has been vocal about her former struggles as a cocaine and food addict. She’s now been clean and sober for the last 26 years. But she found that the 12-step program she had diligently worked for the first 10 years of her recovery eventually stopped working for her. It was only when she began to combine those 12-step principles with metaphysical teachings that she felt able to continue growing in her sobriety—to the point that Nicholson now considers herself to be an addict who is "recovered" and not "recovering." She shares those lessons and her story in her new book Soul Recovery—12 Keys to Healing Addiction.

When did your initial drug use begin?

Whenever people ask me this, I tell them I have to start at the beginning. From the time I was five years old, my initial addiction was fear. That feeling of hopelessness and emotional imbalance led to a spiritual disconnect. My first drug to try and mask these feelings was marijuana, but then I moved into cocaine and that became my primary drug of choice.

People say that you’re one day away from your next drink and that’s bullshit. I’ve been clean and sober for 26 years. You mean to tell me I’m one day away from the crack house?

Are these childhood fears the “core wounds” you describe in your book?

Absolutely. Our core wounds are our root beliefs and those beliefs determine how we deal with events in our life each day. That fear of not belonging, the emotional imbalance, results in our core wounds being manifested. The more we can heal those core wounds, the more we’re able to experience a sense of wholeness from within and feel our lives gaining purpose and strength. These types of lessons are what make up the majority of the book. It started off more as a memoir than as a self-help book, but people in the publishing world eventually told me that the teachings in the book were powerful and needed to be the cake instead of the icing.

What was the moment that convinced you to get clean?

It was really a chain of events for me. I’d try to quit and say “That’s it,” but then I’d keep using again and again and say, “Just one more hit, just one more party.” Eventually, it got to the point where I knew I was going to die. There was one night where the craving and obsession had taken over so badly that I walked out of my house without shoes to go get drugs. I got into a taxi and gave the driver the address, which was in a drug-infested area of town. We drove for a little while and eventually he pulled over and said, “Young lady, please don’t do this. You don’t have to live like this anymore.” I looked in his eyes and knew deep down it was a sign I would die that night if I went there. It was an internal struggle at first, but I knew he was right so I asked him to take me back home.

Are the 12 keys to freedom you mention in your book primarily based on the 12 Steps?

It’s an expansion of them, but with a metaphysical message. I had been to Cocaine Anonymous before, but the 12 Steps only helped me when I told myself that I was truly ready to get to work. I wasn’t there to find a boyfriend or go to the fellowship parties. Once I truly made that commitment, those first steps saved my life when I gave myself to those principles. But after 10 years of diligently practicing the steps, it couldn’t take me to the next level. It’s like going to a gym and doing the same workout for 10 years. Eventually, it becomes ineffective and you stagnate and possibly even regress.

The metaphysical message relates to ancient wisdom in that the higher power in 12 Steps is you. It made me realize that the core wounds operating in my life aren’t actually real and allowed me to make that connection. However, metaphysical teachers didn’t deal with a lot of 12 Step related principles, so that wasn’t entirely helpful for me either. Those principles could only truly restore my life when I was able to combine the two.

You now say that you’re a "recovered" addict instead of "recovering." Doesn’t that go against what the 12 Steps teach?

12-step teaching says you can absolutely recover—it’s the people in fellowship who say otherwise. Bill Wilson, the founder of AA, says you can recover, but it depends on your spiritual practice and continued growth. I took that part and ran with it, but it seems to be left out of a lot of 12 Step talks and speeches. People say that you’re one day away from your next drink and that’s bullshit. I’ve been clean and sober for 26 years. You mean to tell me I’m one day away from the crack house? People can recover from cancer, but you can’t recover from alcoholism? It makes no sense. There are certainly days where I might have a relapse emotionally. I’ll find myself at a certain place in my life where I’m still struggling with something that I think I’ve already dealt with, but it’s really just another layer. That doesn’t mean I’ve completely fallen and have to start over.

What’s the main message you would give to people either looking to get sober or maintain their sobriety?

I believe that the first step of the 12 Steps—admitting powerlessness over your addiction— is an incredibly powerful step. Ask yourself if you’ve lost the power to choose whether or not to pick up whatever this addiction is, whether it’s drugs or shopping or whatever else. The addiction is just a symptom and it may take on many different forms. And if you feel that need to back away, does the addiction become worse each time you go back to it? However, I think it’s important for people to realize that this isn’t just a book about addiction. Even if you’ve never touched a drug, everyone in this planet suffers from mental chatter and sabotaging self-talk. Even if you’re connected to yourself, you can always get more connected. I like to view these keys in the book as the 12 Steps for everyone.

McCarton Ackerman is a regular contributor to The Fix. He recently interviewed Filter's Richard Patrick.

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