We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
The 12 Steps played a pivotal role in Ester Nicholson’s successful path to recovery, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t studied them with a critical eye. And her first stop in the analysis occurred at that first Step, and the notion of powerlessness that she believes can get many recovering people into trouble.
“The Steps were never intended for you to pull over and park in the powerlessness,” says Nicholson. She believes that when she began to engage in a spirituality that embraces “the God within” and a sense of powerfulness, her recovery blossomed to a greater degree than it would have with a straight reading of the Steps alone.
Nicholson now works as a spiritual therapist and recovery coach in sharing a philosophy that blends the Steps with other spiritual and metaphysical principles, emphasizing the individual’s strengths and the capacity to connect with one’s soul. Her 2013 book, Soul Recovery: 12 Keys to Healing Addiction, carries the tagline “And 12 Steps for the Rest of Us—a Path to Wholeness, Serenity and Success.”
“We have to catch kids at an early age,” says Nicholson, who turns 53 in August. “I tell people, ‘You were created perfect, complete. Someone lied to you and said you were not worthy.’”
Nicholson herself did not receive that kind of reinforcement early on in her life. She smoked marijuana for the first time at age 15, she was pregnant and out of school by 16, and she had discovered crack cocaine by her early 20s. “At that point I didn’t care if you liked me; that cocaine made me feel like all my insecurities had fallen away,” she recalls.
She gave up her daughter to members of her family, and went through a period where she would alternate between charming an employer to hire her and then dealing with the consequences of a sudden firing. “I would often catch a glimpse of my potential,” she says, but it constantly would take a back seat to using.
A turning point for Nicholson occurred in her mid-20s. She had been clean for a couple of weeks but was still obsessed with using. She rushed out of her house without shoes and directed a cab driver to take her to what was a drug house. When the driver pulled over, he said, “Young lady, please don’t kill yourself.” Somehow she would end up going to a 12-Step meeting.
This began her recovery journey, but it wouldn’t be until 10 years later that she would take her recovery to another level. Still plagued by old resentments, Nicholson was convinced by a friend to attend the Agape International Spiritual Center, a transdenominational place of worship in Culver City, Calif., where she took classes and attended services. The center’s lessons surrounding the innate empowerment residing in all individuals would shape Nicholson’s eventual desire to teach and counsel others.
Something else awakened in Nicholson during that time. Part of a musically talented family growing up, she had put any thoughts of that pursuit on the shelf because of her addiction. “I didn’t even sing in the shower; I had damaged my voice,” she says.
About a decade into her recovery, Nicholson had become interested in singing again. The musical director at the spiritual center took note of her talent in the center’s congregation and took her by surprise one day with the news that he had a song for her to perform.
As her voice continued to improve, people in the music business began to notice. First she was asked to sing on a CD. Then in 1999, she would be asked what she would need in order to join Bette Midler on tour. She has performed as a vocalist with Rod Stewart, Faith Hill and others, and has appeared on numerous daytime talk and news programs.
Stewart remarks in the acknowledgements for Nicholson’s book, “Ester Nicholson has all the essential qualities of greatness: a unique tone, wonderful phrasing, emotional flexibility and passion. In a nutshell, the girl’s got soul.”
Nicholson has reunited with her daughter who is now in her mid-30s (“I see that she’s still very wounded,” she adds), and she remains devoted to helping others early on find an awareness of self-divinity that can give them the power to meet numerous life challenges.
“When you heal the spirit, you heal emotionally, and when you heal emotionally, you heal physically,” Nicholson says.