As a part of my series about people who made the journey from an addict to an entrepreneur, I had the pleasure to interview Holly Wilson, Founder, Owner, and Managing Director of Women’s Recovery. Holly Wilson brings years of experience in the field of mental health and addiction to Women’s Recovery. She has worked in some of the most reputable treatment programs in the country in various roles, including her role as Program Director for a nationally renowned dual-diagnosis, extended care program. Holly was responsible for evidence-based development and maintenance of program scheduling for clients, facility, and staff for three levels of care; residential inpatient, transitional, and sober living.
Having an intimate knowledge of substance abuse recovery, Holly is a strong advocate for clinically savvy, gender-specific, co-occurring treatment. Holly is deeply committed to the recovery community of Colorado. Holly opened Denver Women’s Recovery in January of 2017 which offers Intensive Outpatient co-occurring treatment as well as sober living. She also opened Valiant Living Interventional Detox in January of 2019 and Summit Women’s Recovery in April of 2019. Holly plans to continue to expand services as needed in Colorado and elsewhere.
Holly Wilson received her baccalaureate from the University of Colorado at Boulder and her Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Adams State University in 2018. Holly is currently serving on the Steering Committee for the Rocky Mountain Executive Consortium.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you describe your childhood for us?
My earliest years were full of a lot of moving including making the big move out to Colorado where my parents got divorced when I was 5 years old. My parents had a very hostile divorce, which was traumatic for my sister and I. Ultimately we moved to Crested Butte, Colorado with my mom and stepdad where I had quite the privileged upbringing. I was a straight A student and involved in as many activities and sports as I possibly could. I had turned into a quintessential perfectionist as a means of controlling my world.
Can you share with us how were you initially introduced to your addiction? What drew you to the addiction you had?
I didn’t do a lot of drinking in High School, or any drugs, mostly because I was worried that I would get in trouble since we lived in such a small town. As soon as I got to college at the University of Colorado at Boulder, my drinking really took off as I had very little accountability. I had struggled for years with the pressure I had put on myself with the perfectionism and with alcohol, I felt like I could finally drop the façade and be myself. By the second semester of college, I was out partying every night and barely passing my classes even though I was on a full ride.
What do you think you were really masking or running from in the first place?
For me, there were a lot of unresolved traumas from my childhood that I never knew how to address. Some of there were major traumas and others would be considered less significant to outsiders, like my parents’ divorce, that were decaying in my psyche. I had reached a point where I had very little ability to cope with additional life stressors and that’s where the alcohol really felt like it was helping me.
Can you share what the lowest point in your addiction and life was?
I had many low points. For the last few months of my drinking, I was on a sharp downward spiral. I was not showing up to work, I had my car impounded for having too many outstanding parking tickets, I was unable to follow through with plans with my friends, I couldn’t stay sober for any amount of time, I was making good money and seemed to live paycheck to paycheck. All of those factors added up, but still was not enough to get me to see the light. It was my final bender that really did me in. I reached a point during a 5 day bender where I was taking every substance that came my way and I realized that I was not going to stop. They talk about “moments of clarity” and that’s what I had. I just was finally able to see through the denial I had been living in and realized how sad my life was becoming and heard a voice say, “God wants more for you in your life than this.” For some reason, I believed it.
Can you tell us the story about how were you able to overcome your addiction?
As soon as I had my moment of clarity, I knew that I needed to reach out for help. For accountability more than anything since I had sworn I was going to quit to myself so many times before. I wasn’t able to physically talk as I was at the end of my bender, but I texted my dear friend Dianna who I had grown up with and had been sober for a few years already. She set me up with inpatient treatment and I attended that for 60 days where I was able to dig in and work through my issues as well as learn the coping skills I never had to be able to continue living life without drinking. I continued with aftercare and sober living for my first year of sobriety and have been sober since. For me, I don’t feel like that I have overcome my addiction still. I believe it still resides in the shadows and that what I have today is the choice whether or not to drink, which I did not have before.
How did you reconcile within yourself and to others the pain that addiction caused to you and them?
It has taken, and is still taking, years of hard work in therapy and through my own personal recovery work to move through pain. The first step was dropping the perfectionist act. As soon as I could recognize myself as flawed, I was able to truly be accountable for the wrongs I had done unto others. For me, that is how I have to live today. I have to stay focused on myself and what I am able to control, which is only myself and my actions. When I can own my own wrongdoings, it helps me to give grace to others as flawed human beings, like myself, so I can move through the pain and then let it go. I have a program that I attend that gives me a design for living so I can work through the pain without finding it necessary to drink today.
When you stopped your addiction, what did you do to fill in all the newfound time you had?
I immediately immersed myself in all things recovery. Recovery housing, aftercare, sober softball, work, and pretty much anything else that I could join. Even so, early recovery was really hard and boring. I like to be honest about that because it took me a long time to even be comfortable in my own skin again and things like bowling and BBQs were awkward at first and it was really hard to not have a drink. After a few years, I was able to do all the fun things again like concerts and trips and weddings without feeling like I was missing out on something, but I don’t know anyone who had a glamorous experience in early recovery.
It’s a whole different story now. I do feel like I am able to pack so much more into a day, and once I finished grad school, my secondary focus became expanding treatment services to help other women recovery. The primary focus is being a mother to my incredible son Isaiah.
What positive habits have you incorporated into your life post addiction to keep you on the right path?
I have so many skills and positive habits today that I didn’t have before recovery. The most important being gratitude. Living in gratitude has changed how I view the world and continues to manifest in exponential blessings. One of the most important skills has been metacognition. I was never able to have an accurate appraisal on myself, my life, or my thoughts. This has been the most life-changing skill for me because in order to have what I want, I have to first truly know where I am starting from. I was never able to be honest with myself before sobriety because I had such low self-esteem, I was afraid to know.
Can you tell us a story about how your entrepreneurial journey started?
I started working in treatment a year after I had graduated from inpatient. I had wanted to go back to Colorado to attend aftercare and sober living, but none of those services were provided in the state at that time, according to my Case Manager. Once I started working in treatment and giving back, I started to dream about bringing similar services home to Colorado. I began planning my career track to first work my way up the ladder in the program and go to grad school to become a therapist. In a few short years I was promoted from Psychiatric Technician (entry level), to Recovery Coach, to Program Manager of one of the three programs, to Program Director of the full continuum of care. I became pregnant and moved back home to Colorado and began grad school. After my husband relapsed, I was left to figure out how to provide for my son and I and was unable to stop grad school since I wasn’t going to be able to repay student loans. I decided that if I were to get a job in the treatment field marketing, that would be a great skill set that I needed to learn to make my program successful. I started marketing and within 8 months connected with a dear friend and mentor who was encouraging me to open up the program I had been dreaming of. With his help, I took a leap of faith and started Denver Women’s Recovery as a single mother in grad school.
What character traits have you transferred from your addiction to your entrepreneurship. Please share both the positive and negative.
On the positive side I have definitely used, and continue to use, my experiences of my addiction to help other women. Digging into the truth of my past, my demons, and my personality has allowed me to be most efficient in working with others.
On the negative side, I can be so relentlessly obsessive with work as I was with my addiction. In recovery we have to be mindful of balance in our lives and I find myself cross-addicting by pouring myself into work. I can also still be pretty unaware of my body and emotions and work myself too hard without realizing how much stress I’m putting on my body.
Why do you think this topic is not discussed enough?
There is still so much stigma surrounding addiction. Most people I talk to think of an “addict” as people like on TV who are “junkies” that live on the street. They don’t recognize that addiction is surrounding them every day in many ways they fail to recognize. Each time I share about my own addiction, people share about their own issues and/or a loved one who has struggled. It’s up to us in recovery to be forthcoming regarding both our addiction and recovery. I believe that will ultimately show that addiction and addicted people come in many forms and we can also give them hope that recovery is possible.
Can you share three pieces of advice that you would give to the entrepreneur who is struggling with some sort of addiction but ashamed to speak about it or get help?
First, I would say that addiction is progressive and if you don’t reach out for help now, it is likely to just get worse until you lose all that matters to you. Your addiction wants you alone and dead. Second, I would say that everything you get from your drug of choice, you can also get in sobriety but in a lasting sense that doesn’t come with negative consequences. Finally, I would say that recovery has a positive ripple effect in your life and that everything and everyone is bettered by you taking the best care of yourself possible.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Thank you so much for your insights. That was really inspiring!