As the youngest Director in the organization’s nearly 55-year history, she is challenging the notion of how an Executive Director “should” dress, act, and lead.
Nichole Dawsey knows that healing can seem disruptive, especially when an unhealthy pattern feels like the norm. She’s leaning into positive change as the first female Executive Director of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse – St. Louis Area (NCADA). As the youngest Director in the organization’s nearly 55-year history, she is challenging the notion of how an Executive Director “should” dress, act, and lead.
“My staff and Board have been incredibly supportive of me as I find my voice,” she said.
NCADA has been part of the recovery movement since 1965. The organization is working to promote wellbeing in all of its form: emotional, physical, spiritual, and financial. Nichole says the group’s message really hits home with women.
“Historically, women are traditionally the primary caregivers in the family,” she said. “In St. Louis, we have a shortage of treatment centers that can accommodate moms and their kids. That needs to change. In addition, women tend to feel immense pressure to juggle work and home, while projecting an aura of perfection. The weight of this pressure is often too much to bear.”
One of the biggest challenges Nichole encounters in herself and others is the idea that recovery can be “perfect,” without struggle or conflict. Women with substance use disorder often carry the responsibility of caring for her family, children, friends, work, and other commitments. Additionally, she may also grapple with the mentality of “never let them see you sweat.” The fear of being vulnerable or seeming like she’s not totally in control can undermine her recovery.
Nichole says that the solution is to change the way women perceive recovery, and offer support for women who need help. “Champion the idea amongst women that imperfection is a gift and not a sign of weakness.”
Nichole, who is a recovering codependent, finds inspiration in the words of Melody Beattie and Brene Brown. Her work in prevention and mental health started when she was a middle school teacher, teaching students “the other side of the report card.” In the prevention department, she was able to combine her public health background with her passion to teach life skills to kids and adults. She worked as a prevention educator for a few years, before becoming Director of Prevention Education for NCADA. After five years, she was selected as Executive Director in May 2018.
In over a decade of work in the recovery space, Nichole knows that recovery is possible, attainable, and realistic for women when it’s accessible. That is true inside the organization, as well as for the women it serves. NCADA just received special recognition from a local organization as one of the area’s best places to work for women. They received this distinction because of their generous parental leave policy, multigenerational workforce, flexible leave policy, and their in-house lactation room.
“We are truly a people-first organization; this award highlights that,” Nichole said.
Putting people first works, and Nichole sees every day the positive impact that teamwork and compassion have on the recovery community.
She said, “I believe that prevention works. I believe that treatment works. And I believe that recovery is possible. My family is a testament to all of these things. But I want more families to believe in these same tenets. Joining me in this fight is my incredible staff. They are the most incredible group of delightfully weird and steadfastly dedicated professionals that I have ever had the pleasure of working alongside.”