Nadine Machkovech is a certified recovery coach and educator in long-term recovery. As a scholar of addiction recovery, she helps to improve the recovery landscape for adolescents, especially young women, across the country. Read her full bio here.
Below is the full text of her TEDx Talk titled “The Secret to Being Enough” at TEDxFondduLac conference.
Listen to MP3 audio of this speech here:
When I was in high school, about to graduate early with high honors, instead of picking out a prom dress, or preparing for college, I was preparing for the end.
I was at one of the lowest, deepest and darkest points in my life, and I was ready to give up.
I was so ashamed of the person that I was becoming, and for the mistakes that I was making, that I couldn’t even look myself in the mirror anymore.
I remember, it was one night; I was sitting in my car, on the edge of the lake in my hometown. And through the uncontrollable sobbing tears and the music that I had blasted, while feeling so ashamed after another one-night stand and another hit of dope, that I wanted it to end.
It was either the drugs were going to take me, or I was going to end it all myself. I was so ashamed.
I was 17 years old and I was struggling with an opioid use disorder. For those of you who don’t know what opioids are, I encourage you to please become educated, because heroin and prescription pills are destroying our communities.
In fact, one out of three households today in America are being affected by the addiction crisis. And mine was one of them.
But it all started with a secret. A secret that I held on to for so long that eventually it made me sick.
But this secret wasn’t about my addiction. No, using for me was just a way to cope and mask the pain. My secret was so much deeper than that.
My secret was that I never felt good enough.
When I was five years old, my parents got divorced. And in a world where I should have been playing with dolls and watching cartoons, I was blaming myself for their divorce.
Was I not being a good enough daughter for them to stay together?
I grew up watching my parents’ struggle with their own addictions along with other family members. I even grew up having four older sisters.
And as you can imagine, I felt like I saw more and knew way more than I should have at such a young age.
By the time I got to middle school, the thoughts and worries around being good enough were all around me.
It was almost as if I was wearing a mask, because feeling good enough I started to place my own self-worth and value on things that really didn’t matter — things like what I looked like, what type of clothes I was wearing, what kind of house we lived in, and what kind of cars we drove.
I started wearing makeup at too young of an age and I started to worry about what others thought of me, especially boys. But I would go to school every day and I would put a fake smile on my face — wearing a mask, pretending to be somebody that I wasn’t, because I just wanted to fit in.
I thought that if I could just be like everyone else, then I wouldn’t feel so alone. When in fact, I started to feel lonelier than I did before.
What was it that I was searching for?
I mean I had great parents, they still loved me and took care of me. As any parent would be, they were still on my back about cleaning my room, doing the dishes, responding to their text messages which they still expect to this day.
I had great friends. I played sports. We had sleepovers and I even got good grades. But still I felt like something was missing.
I wanted to feel like there was greater meaning and purpose to my life — or as why I was even put here on this earth.
I was searching for a deeper meaning.
Is this life I am living enough? If so, then why am I still not enough? That’s why I started experimenting with drugs and alcohol at the age of 14.
I thought I found the perfect mask that would temporarily make me feel like I was good enough.
As I continued to use the thoughts around being good enough and the questions even around my existence started to vanish. I became addicted.
You see, I remember hearing the phrase “just say no” but it wasn’t just that easy. Once I found the perfect mask to hide behind, I continued to bury my pain and my secrets even deeper.
That’s when I began to fall prey to the question: Why me? Why is this happening to me?
Something I’m sure maybe all of us have asked ourselves at some point. Or maybe we have had this feeling of not feeling good enough.
Maybe for you it was — you didn’t feel smart enough or pretty enough or skinny enough or strong enough, or just enough in anything that you do.
And the secret to being enough was just always out of reach.
Fast forward a few years for me and going into high school, and all of my dreams, goals and aspirations that I had as a child started to slowly disappear. I didn’t know where to turn, or who to talk to.
As I continued to use this feeling of not feeling good enough became worse and I couldn’t look myself in the mirror anymore.
As I continued to use, I continued to make horrible decisions. I started getting into trouble with the law. And instead of asking for help, I ended up using even more heavily.
Going back to that night at the lake – yes, I drove away. By God’s grace, yes, I am still here.
But like I said instead of asking for help, I started using even more. And as things became worse, I eventually lost my job, my apartment. I was losing my friends and I was pushing away my family and felt like I had nobody to turn to.
I was digging myself so deep into a hole that I thought I would never make it out of there.
Not until — thankfully — about a year later, I happened to reconnect with one of my older sisters. She saw that I was at one of the lowest points in my life. And she offered me some support.
What was so great is that she didn’t shame me or force me to change. Instead, she met me in my mess and asked how she could help me.
She offered me a place to live and food to eat but only under one condition: I had to get sober.
Sober? I wasn’t sure if that was going to be possible.
In fact, the word “recovery” was something that I had never used in my vocabulary before. Oh, yeah and I had to live in her basement, give her my car keys, eat when she said I had to eat and be home when she said I had to be home. I felt like a child again.
But the truth is: I had no other option at that point. I no longer wanted to suffer.
So I dropped to my knees and I let go of the control.
I was done doing it my own way and I was done trying to figure it all out by myself. I wanted to figure out what recovery meant to me.
And now I stand here before you today because of her unconditional love and God’s grace that I was given a second chance at life. Something I used to never even believe in.
As I started to figure out what recovery meant to me, it was in December of 2013, before I could even legally step foot in the bar at the age of 20 years old, I found recovery.
And today I no longer say, “Hi, my name is Nadine and I am an addict.”
Instead, today I am a person in long-term recovery and am proud of it. Today I will no longer allow my substance use and mental health disorders to define me.
Today I no longer allow others to define me.
And while things didn’t change overnight, I realized that I had to put the work in. I discovered that the only person who could really start making these changes in my life was me.
So I started to figure out what recovery meant to me. I started leaning into the discomfort of my thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
I started diving into self-help books. I started journaling. And I started having uncomfortable conversations around who I am and how I got here.
I started to surround myself with others who were willing to help me find a new way. As I became more involved with the recovery community, I got connected with the founders of an organization called RISE TOGETHER. They were on a mission to stand up and speak out about their recovery.
But when they asked me to share my story for the very first time, I said absolutely not. Speaking out about recovery from addiction was not something I ever imagined doing. It was never in the five-year plan anyway.
Not until February of 2014. I mustered up the courage to share my story publicly for the very first time in front of hundreds of students. I stepped onstage that day. And I was shaking.
My mouth was dry and I wasn’t sure if I was even going to be able to make it through my speech. But I took a deep breath.
I shared my story. It was that day that my whole world started to change. When I stepped off stage that day, it’s like this heavy weight was lifted off my shoulders.
I went home and I reflected on what had just happened. And that’s when I realized why I was put here on this earth.
I discovered that once I started to speak my truth, I began to discover some light even through so much darkness. That’s when my question changed from why me to why not me.
And now I believe it is part of my purpose to share three and valuable lessons that have helped me to learn and believe that I am truly enough. And it starts with forgiveness.
When I realized that I could be forgiven for the mistakes that I made in the past and for the horrible things I had done, not only to myself but to others, I started to feel whole again.
I don’t have to wear a mask anymore. Today I have a real smile. If I didn’t find forgiveness, I would have continued to live my life as a victim, giving other people’s actions power over me.
When I educate others around this topic, people often feel like they can’t find forgiveness. But I promise you that finding forgiveness isn’t about them; it’s about you.
The second is trust. Not just trusting in yourself or others but trusting the process. Trusting that whatever struggles you may be facing today could be leading you to something bigger and greater than you could have ever expected or imagined.
It’s like that phrase “walk by faith and not by sight”. I believe that that’s the same when you walk with trust.
I would have never imagined that my addiction would lead me to sharing my story with people all around the world.
Now that is trust.
And finally, the third is acceptance.
For me it was accepting that even though I’ve made countless mistakes in my life, I no longer believe that I am one. And that’s what matters.
I also discovered that once you start accepting who you are made to be by focusing on your strengths and things that you’re good at, your passion will naturally come into play.
It was through this acceptance that I am now helping to lead RISE TOGETHER and we have ignited a youth-led movement that is saving lives, encouraging over 150,000 young people to use their voice and share their stories.
Because at the end of the day, we’re all recovering from something. But it’s up to you to choose a different life.
It’s up to you to find forgiveness, trust, and acceptance. But this is a constant practice. And it’s not always easy.
In fact, when I came to pitch my idea to TEDx about feeling good enough, immediately when I was accepted, I started to question whether I was good enough to talk about feeling good enough.
But this is my story. This is my truth. And I will continue to share it.
And not just for me because this was never just about me. This is for you, too.
This is for the thousands of individuals and beautiful people who no longer have a voice or a choice.
So if you’re anything like me and you’ve had season after season of searching for the secret to being enough, and you find yourself asking why me, ask yourself instead why not me, because we all are enough.