Women’s Recovery Voices: an interview with Florence Hilliard
About the Series
Women’s Recovery Voices was initiated to enhance the visibility of women in recovery and their stories. We will be conducting interviews of national women leaders in the recovery movement. Sharing their stories to inspire those in or seeking recovery and to increase awareness for women’s recovery advocacy.
There are over 23 million people living in recovery in the United States. Even though our numbers are strong, there is still a lack of representation of women’s voices in the recovery movement. This series seeks to elevate the voices of women leaders across the country who are changing the recovery landscape of communities while discussing their personal recovery journeys.
We are professionals. We are mothers. We are sisters. We are friends and co-workers. We are hope. We are recovery, too.
Florence Hilliard holds a Master’s in Health Science with a concentration in Addictions Counseling from the University of North Florida. Entering recovery while in college she became passionate about helping others both personally and professionally. Flo has worked in the recovery field for 30 years. Through her time as a clinician, lecturer for the University of Wisconsin, grant writer, and an advocate to improve addiction prevention, treatment and recovery services – Flo has been a driving force in the recovery community. She is the creator of Many Voices, One Journey – a video production discussing the special issues women face in addiction and recovery. She is a founding member of Faces & Voices of Recovery and previously served as a national trainer on The Science of Addiction & Recovery (SOAR) – developed in collaboration with the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). She is currently the Director of Wisconsin Voices For Recovery and ED2 Recovery in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Tell me about what your life looks like today as a woman in recovery/woman in long-term recovery?
My life in recovery has been nothing I could have expected and everything I could have wanted. Today I am living a richer life than I ever thought possible. I get to work as a recovery professional, both in academic and community settings. I’ve had the opportunity to travel all around the country, meeting thousands of people and sharing my story and love for the science of addiction and recovery and stigma elimination. I also personally have a stable and long-lasting marriage with my partner who is also in recovery and a grown son who has never seen me in active addiction. These are all blessings and words cannot describe my gratitude to those who mentored me and my Higher Power. The road has not always been easy; but because of recovery, I now know I live life in a real and positive way rather than life “living” me.
Why is recovery advocacy important to you?
My ultimate dream is to eliminate stigma and end the discrimination that surrounds addiction and recovery as much as possible in my life time. When I came into recovery as a woman, even though it was in a part of the country where being a non-drinker was not looked at as unusual, I was still too ashamed to tell people about why I was a non-drinker. It wasn’t until I was involved with the creation of Faces and Voices of Recovery that I realized sharing my recovery story to different audiences could help women who are still suffering with Substance Use Disorder I kept silent for so many years. It was other recovery advocates and joining a community of recovery voices that changed my life.
What types of treatment/recovery support services have been instrumental in sustaining your recovery?
I’ve had so many people instrumental in my recovery that I will always be grateful to; but most importantly, I had women in recovery and a female therapist that helped me to become the woman I am today that feels comfortable in her own skin. These women with more life experience have been instrumental in my healing.
When I first came into recovery, I was filled with shame and I couldn’t even speak in a recovery meeting. Then, I remember a woman saying to me: its ok…just know that even if you can’t believe in yourself, I believe in you. This has stuck with me all of my years in recovery; and now I try to give that back to other women in early recovery or seeking recovery: that same gift of learning how to believe in yourself as a woman.
How did other women play a role in accessing and sustaining your wellness and recovery?
When I was in school, a young woman that looked like me was open about the fact that she had been in recovery for a year and a half. I was shocked, but relieved because she helped me to finally be honest about my own addiction to alcohol. She used the term “soul sickness” and I knew right away that she got me and knew my story.
What does it mean to be a leader in the recovery advocacy movement? How do you lead others?
Being called a leader makes me feel very humble because I am just trying to give away the gifts that other women have given to me. It was other women leaders who helped me to be the person I always dreamed of being.
Being a leader also means that I have a responsibility to be a voice for the women still suffering who are yet to find their voice. The most important thing to accomplish as a leader is to help women understand their power and how much they have to offer, even if they are still suffering in active addiction; help them to believe in and trust themselves again.
Why is it important to elevate the voices of women in recovery?
Because women have a slightly different story and worldview than men and because women have been passed over for far too long when it comes to looking at this issue. Women were wrongly left out of early research about addiction and recovery. Our story must be told for other women to hear. Just like I needed to hear it, too.
Is there anything else that you’d like to share?
That if you, as a woman, feel called to do this work, no matter how hard it may seem at times, don’t give up. You will see miracles if you persevere. It may start small, but you will see the success of your work over time. You will see other women and men whose lives have been transformed.
Submit your Story
We invite you to share your story of recovery. Faces & Voices is seeking submissions of approximately 1,000 words for a collection of online stories that highlight the woman’s perspective. We ask that each submission focus on specific ways your recovery is supported, how you support others in recovery, leadership roles and advocacy opportunities you have been involved in, recovery support services you have accessed, and how this has been helpful in maintaining your recovery. In writing, we ask that you avoid the use of stigmatizing language.
Elevate women’s recovery voices. Thank you for joining us to highlight women in recovery! Submit your stories here.
About the Guest Author
Caroline Beidler, MSW, is a mother in recovery and writer who has worked in social services for over 18 years. She works as a consultant with Creative Consultation Services to develop programs and recovery support services around the country. She lives with her family in Tennessee.