Conversation with Nicola O Hanlon, I Love Recovery Cafe

This week, Liv has a Kitchen Table Conversation with Nicola O Hanlon, a prominent figure in the recovery community and a wonderful woman. She says…

“Writing has always been a passion of mine. Even as a child I would scribble away for hours on end, creating stories or lyrics for songs. Writing has become particularly relevant in my life since I sought recovery from addiction and mental health issues.  It is now my full-time occupation and a dream come true.  I am Editor-In- Chief at I Love Recovery Cafe, a part of In The Rooms, the worlds biggest social networking site for recovering people and their families. I’ve written extensively for After Party Magazine, and had articles published in In Recovery Magazine, Recovery Today Magazine, Psychology Today, Reach Out Recovery and many more.”

Kitchen Table Conversation

Liv: First off, as I love to talk about health and recovery, what have you had for breakfast today?

Nicola: Why did I have to choose today to answer these questions…..I had toast with peanut butter and jam. And white bread too…..and about 3 cups of coffee. That’s not a good breakfast peoples…I usually do much better. 



“Addiction impairs every facet of my being. Distraction from the parts of me that hurt or I don’t like is my biggest addiction. And what an array of distractive pass times there are to choose from and stuff my gaping wounds with. When actively addicted I completely ignore myself and there is no greater impairment than abandonment of myself….the true essence of who and what I am. I become a zombie when I live like that.”

Nicola’s Story

Liv: Let’s move on to your story. You got sober on 23 January 2010 and set up a blog: Living Outside the Box to tell your story of ‘Overcoming Adversity and Becoming Whole.’ Tell me how does addiction make you impaired? 

 Addiction impairs every facet of my being. Distraction from the parts of me that hurt or I don’t like is my biggest addiction. And what an array of distractive pass times there are to choose from and stuff my gaping wounds with. When actively addicted I completely ignore myself and there is no greater impairment than abandonment of myself….the true essence of who and what I am. I become a zombie when I live like that.

Liv: Conversely, how has  writing your story of recovery led to feelings of completion and a sense of becoming whole?

Well for me there’s no greater way to get honest with myself. I can’t write from my head….that place that makes me believe I have to be a certain way. Even my most fantastical stories (which I don’t publish) come from my heart and soul. Writing helps me to understand all of myself, the parts that are dark and shadowy. My poetry is where I examine myself and my perceptions deeply. My recovery writing initially was also self-exploration….it helped me make sense of what I’d been through. I then discovered that writing and having other people read it and relate to it validated my experiences. Being really heard is a profound experience which doesn’t always happen in regular conversation. Making friends with my subconscious, deepest desires is what’s helped me to know who I am and become whole. It’s magic.

 Life Outside The Box

Liv: Your blog you describe as sharing, with brutal honesty, your thoughts feelings and reality as a recovering addict. What is the relationship between ruthless honesty and addiction?

I guess I explained that a little bit in the last answer to your question. But the saying goes, you can’t heal what you don’t acknowledge. And it’s hard to acknowledge one part of you and not have it snowball. Once I admitted I was a roaring addict, addicted to all of life’s vices, the honesty just became natural. I was no longer ashamed. So yeah… attitude became let’s look at all my shit and see what happens, and as I healed all the parts of me that were tortured the addictions started to disappear. I had nothing I needed to distract myself from any more.

Liv: You spoke of depression in your article for PsyWeb (link here), what was it like discovering an underlying depression, in recovery?

Well long before I had admitted I was an addict I struggled with depression and anxiety. Right back to childhood really. My view on my mental illness since I wrote that article is very different now. I look at my times of ill mental health as very natural reactions to very unnatural events. Most people on the planet are dealing with unnatural events in their lives. I don’t see people as being mentally ill anymore. I see societal functioning as being sick and we are reacting to being exposed to it. Understanding that I’m not insane has allowed me to live authentically and with compassion for myself and others.   
Liv: A contentious subject, what are your thoughts on medication for depression, whilst in recovery (for the record, I am pro whatever works)?

There have been times where I’ve taken medication and I feel it was beneficial for sure. There have also been times I’ve taken it and it made me worse. I believe that everyone makes choices for themselves based on where they’re at in their own lives and the knowledge they have from previous experience. I don’t think that medication should be the first port of call for mental distress but I’d never judge someone who chooses to take it either. The fact is that pharmaceutical companies are making big bucks from medicating people and that enrages me. But at the end we have a choice and it’s a very personal thing. I haven’t taken medication for quite some time and I feel that choice has enabled me to find healthier ways to function. I’ve never been more myself.




 I Love Recovery Cafe

Liv: Moving on to your site which deals with both mental health and addiction issues, I love Recovery Café: a site for Original Art, Poetry, Photography and Blogs from People in Recovery. Can you tell me how the site works? Can anyone contribute?

The site runs in conjunction with I’d been blogging for them for years and the owners Kenny Pommerance and Ron Tanenbaum, and I decided to create the site to encourage more people to get creative. Yes anyone can submit and you can find our submission guidelines under the “contact us” tab on the homepage. People who have never written a thing before have gotten brave and given it a shot. It’s scary for a lot of people to put themselves out there but the satisfaction and self-esteem created from the process is phenomenal.

Liv:  It’s something many bloggers dream of to run a site as a full-time job. Can you tell us what it is like?

Well to be honest I’m obsessed with it. I never managed to achieve my dream of becoming a writer and journalist earlier in my life because addiction was too important. Now at 41 I’m doing that. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure I’m not still in some drug induced delusion. It’s very hard work too and I have to pull back sometimes because I can work 16 hours without realising it.  Anyone would think I’m some sort of addict!

Liv: What tips would you give to anyone wishing to follow in your footsteps?

Believe in yourself. You know in your gut if this is your path or not. I’ve had to keep focused on what I’m doing and not compare myself to anyone else. Self-doubt is my biggest challenge on a daily basis. But each day I’ve done what I’m doing for the love of it. I’m at the point that I can’t quit no matter how down I get on myself and I’ve realised I have something unique to offer the world as does everyone else. I believe that talent is subjective. Somebody is going to think your work and contribution to the world is amazing……the next person may think you’re shit. Also people love to love what everyone else is loving. But just keep doing your own original magic stuff. The most important thing is what you think of yourself. 

Relationship with Food

Liv: Moving on to my area of interest…What has been your relationship with food in recovery? Has it changed?

Oh My God me and food! Actually food and body image was my first addiction. It’s been a difficult road for me because I have type 1 diabetes since I was 7. Food of course, is a major part of controlling the condition so from a very early age I was very knowledgeable about food. I’ve been an over eater my entire life…..or I’d starve myself and go to the gym twice a day. But nutrition I think, is way overlooked when it comes to recovery. For me it has been and remains to be a huge part of my recovery medicine (despite the horrible breakfast today). What I’ve learned is that what we think of as healthy food, is not healthy for everyone. If you’re eating something that you are intolerant to it will create all sorts of havoc in your body. For example, I’m intolerant to dairy and oats and since I stopped eating them my depression and anxiety has improved massively and I feel amazing physically. That’s just one aspect of food management that I’ve learned about….I could talk all day about it really. 

Liv: How has your relationship with your body changed in recovery?

As a lifetime hater of my body I can safely say that today I feel fucking gorgeous most days. I’ve wasted my youth on hating everything about me and looking for validation that I’m attractive and acceptable….mostly from men. That kind of thinking comes from societal conditioning. All the deep work I’ve done on myself has unearthed a fantastic sexual being and I love myself, big butt and all. I do workout because I love to feel strong and powerful and I love myself enough to take care of my body but I’m never going to be generically, societally, body beautiful. I mean how boring is that!

Liv: Penultimate question: what is your favourite meal/dish?

Seafood, Seafood, Seafood. I live in a fishing town on the South East Coast of Ireland so it’s plentiful. Make me any dish with seafood and I am your slave!


Recovery Tools

Liv: Last, what are your top five recovery tools?

  1. My spiritual practice (which is my own version of Witchcraft) enables me to know deeply that I’m worthy of a good life and don’t need addiction.
  2. Connection with other people in similar situations. Be it 12 step fellowship, or dancing with your tribe, finding someone to relate to is vital.
  3. Abstinence – just don’t pick up no matter what. You eventually get to a place where poisoning yourself is an insult to your soul.
  4. Writing. It’s absolutely sacred to me. Finding a creative outlet is the most empowering thing you can do for yourself in recovery.
  5. Fun. Laughing is my favourite thing to do. My children and I laugh every day at just about everything, even our own misery at times. 


Thank you for talking part in Kitchen Table Conversations.

It’s been a pleasure and an honour to share with you Liv. Thank you xo