She Does The City: The Changing Face and Voice of Recovery

By Olivia Pennelle 11/30/17

"When you stop fighting addiction on your own, you realize there is a web of support that is so tightly woven – so strong – that if you lean into it, it will hold you.”

Instagram post with the panel of speakers at She Does the City.
The panel of speakers at She Does The City, including the author (fourth from the left). Photo by Laura Kaminer

The face and voice of recovery is being redefined—to one that is more inclusive, open-minded, and provides the space for every one of us to speak out loud. In doing so, we are gaining momentum to build a recovery movement: one where women feel empowered and stronger together—whatever we are recovering from.

Just last week I attended and spoke at a Recover Out Loud Panel, hosted by She Does The City in Toronto, Canada. At the event, speakers shared their stories, insights, and wisdom about what recovery looks like to them. It was attended by women recovering from substance use disorder, eating disorders, and any other of life challenge. The philosophy behind the event was that we’re all recovering from something; and the mission was that we do not recover alone.

Owner of She Does The City, Jen McNeely, was inspired to produce this event after attending the She Recovers event in New York City, last May, which was attended by 500 women in all types of recovery. “I witnessed a type of recovery environment for women that was warm, positive, and inclusive. I wanted to duplicate that for the women of Toronto, on a smaller scale,” she said.

This event was featured amongst She Does The City's weekend-long ten year celebration—but it was the one closest to her heart. All of the women invited to speak “have been integral to my sobriety, to my recovery, to my journey. And there are dozens of other women who have played important roles. In my experience, I have found that shame, isolation, secrecy and negativity are what prevent us from living our truths in a confident and joyous way. When you stop fighting addiction on your own, you realize there is a web of support that is so tightly woven – so strong – that if you lean into it, it will hold you,” McNeely explained. The speakers included Taryn Strong, co-founder of She Recovers; Nanook Fareal, activist and founder of Feeding Canada; Ann Dowsett Johnston, author of international best seller DrinkJowita Bydlowska, author of Drunk Mom; and me, owner of Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, writer and coach.

Jen chose to partner with She Recovers for the event because she believes that they are approaching recovery “with a fresh lens, and have built a philosophy of recovery that is revolutionary. I want to build on what they’re doing and share with as many women as possible. We’re stronger together.”

And that is exactly what we all witnessed: a fresh lens of recovery that is slowly revolutionizing the recovery community. I saw women who felt comfortable enough to share their struggles—anxiety and depression, eating disorders, co-dependency, perfectionism, substance use disorder, and trauma. They spoke candidly about some of their deepest emotional wounds with compassion and grace, but also laced with a wicked sense of humor that only those of us who have been there can appreciate.

Speaking about our struggles together in this way is revolutionary because we can see not only the different facets of addiction, and how it can manifest, but that we are all recovering from something—not just addiction. We all have struggles in life and there is such great comfort and strength to be gained by sharing and owning them. The power of the phrase me too cannot be underestimated. Women can finally see that they are not alone, and in a disease that is riddled with shame, that is a powerful way to realize that they needn’t keep quiet or continue to feel ashamed.

While AA might not work for everyone (or may not be indicated for those recovering from struggles other than substance use disorder), the power of this collective empathy gained by speaking aloud about our struggles is something which is proving to be one of the most successful tools of any recovery. And it is not exclusive to AA—it can be experienced in any event where people openly share, like this one.

Jen McNeely (Photo by Kayla Rocca)

What I found most enlightening, though, was that women were feeling more comfortable to show the way in which they recovered. It became apparent that the face of recovery is changing; what is emerging is the presence of all types of recovery: AA, Refuge Recovery, therapy, exercise, yoga, healthy eating to name a few. I heard the impassioned voices and saw the sparkle in those women’s eyes gained by following their hearts and figuring out what works for them (even if that involves ignoring the way that they have been told to recover). They tell me that we are all headed to the same destination of recovery and that it doesn’t matter how we get there. What matters is that we treat one another with the compassion, love, and empathy with which we wish to be treated. And, ultimately, that we respect each other’s journey.

In speaking to women in Toronto—and the recovery community in other countries—it was clear that there remains some strongly held beliefs within the recovery community that there is only one way to recover: the 12 steps. And that if you choose not to recover in that way, that you somehow have a lesser recovery or there is something wrong with you. The fact remains that there are millions of people recovering in many ways and there is a greater need than ever to provide events like this where all types of women, in all walks of life, feel welcomed and heard.

“Shedoesthecity is a community with all types of women, some of us drink and use, some of us don’t. The real world doesn’t operate in bubbles, and life isn’t about absolutes, but rather many zones of grey. Our recovery event was one of the many events happening in our weekend-long pop up, and it was important to me to have it alongside other panel discussions and creative workshops that reflected a diverse representation of our editorial priorities. Us alcoholics don’t live in a separate world,” McNeely concluded.

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Located in Portland, OR, Olivia Pennelle (Liv) is an experienced writer, journalist, and coach. She is the founder of the popular site Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, a site dedicated to helping people flourish in their recovery. Liv is passionate about challenging limiting mentalities and empowering others to direct their own lives, health, and recovery. You can find her articles across the web on podcasts and addiction recovery websites, including, Workit Health, Ravishly, Recovery Campus, and The Recovery Village. Liv was recently featured in VICE. Find Liv on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn

Liv also co-hosts a podcast — Breaking Free: Your Recovery. Your Way. Listen here.