Nurse Jackie Finale – Review by a Person in Recovery

I discovered the “Nurse Jackie” series  within my first year of sobriety, around the same time as I started learning a lot about myself and recovery. I connected with the idea of a “high functioning” addict, although my life as a small-town business owner who drank too much wine paled in comparison to the drama of a pill-popping ER nurse in New York. I’ve since learned that’s the beauty of recovery – we all have a lot in common even when the details differ.

*SPOILER ALERT * It’s impossible to talk about the relevance and validity of this show without discussing how the series ends. Bookmark this post for later if you’re set on watching out the series unscathed.

I’ve been writing about sobriety for 4+ years now, and more importantly I’ve been reading about all of you throughout that time. For every word I’ve written about my own recovery, I’ve read a thousand more. Emails, comments, messages, and other recovery blogs fill my days with a steady stream of insights and information. I’ve learned a lot.

When I started watching Nurse Jackie, it was with interest as a student of recovery. I was curious about the story. I felt a kinship with Jackie as a high-functioning character and with actor Edie Falco as a recovery advocate. As the series progressed in step with my own recovery, something troubling was becoming clear in both real life and the Nurse Jackie series; that if an addict of whatever stripe (pills, drugs, booze, or other) is fortunate enough to be “high-functioning”, it is not a sustainable state.

Someone who can perform reasonably well despite a growing drug or alcohol problem can only balance the scales for so long. Eventually one of two things happens: the addict either stops using or stops excelling. “High functioning” is nothing but a snapshot – a timeframe of suspended animation. The addiction trajectory will eventually escalate and the function will eventually decline – the paths merely intersect briefly in a temporary state of competency despite impairment.

I exhaled in Season 4 when Jackie’s family became aware of her drug use and her rehab journey began. Thank God! I was becoming frustrated with the idea that she could continue her complicated status quo. Hurray for recovery! Hurray for Jackie being just like us! I looked forward to identifying even more as she liked arms with us recovery peeps and started writing out her steps in a journal (okay I never did that but I understood the process).

But as the ground slipped out from her on subsequent seasons, my heart sank. Because here, in my real life as Jean-who-writes-UnPickled I was learning the hard truth: untreated addiction is often fatal. It kills people – fiction, famous or otherwise.

As it happens, I’m in a hotel room in Vancouver watching over my adult son who had day-surgery this morning. He’s asleep in the next room, so I’m alone with a mini bar and his pain meds. My purpose here is to nurse and protect my son, to be his trusted caregiver. My sobriety is unwavering, but it’s not lost on me that many others would sadly not fare so well under these conditions. Hence, this seemed the perfect opportunity to watch the final episode of Nurse Jackie. I’d been saving it – partly for delayed gratification and partly out of dread. The irony of learning Jackie’s fate with booze and pills in my own room was not lost on me, no matter how firm my resolve.

In this final season, Jackie lost her nursing license due to her drug use and the moment it was reinstated (thanks to some borrowed urine) she was popping pills again. I guessed then how the finale would end. As I said earlier, the high-functioning addict has two choices – quit using or quit functioning. Clearly this would not be a happy ending.

In the last moments of the final show Jackie – never one to pass up a golden opportunity – was in possession of heroine from a patient and sure enough, she used. A lot. Decisively.

Tears rolled as I watched the scene unfold. Although it isn’t clear if Jackie survives the overdose, that’s irrelevant. She’s moved on from pills to heroine. In the unlikely event that she lives, things are looking very grim for our favourite ER nurse. Her story is a tragedy.

But I wasn’t crying for her. I was crying for every reader who struggles and says, “I can’t.” I cried for every alcoholic and addict who don’t see the addiction/function lines cross and part. I cried because losing to addiction is optional.

Please. If you need to quit drinking and you can’t seem to find the strength, know this: you have the choice to change course now. Take your life back. Nothing is as simple or as complicated as a tv show, but addiction kills too many good people.

I hope to God you won’t be one of them.


  1. I recently subscribed to Showtime, and binged watched every series, with Nurse Jackie being the last one. As a sober man of 19 years, I identified with every dilemma and situation that she was in. I wasn’t too sure how it would end, but then I realized, if it ended with a “happy” ending, the message that was being told could only work as it did. Who would believer that she was truly grounded in her avoidance of drug usage? At the end, she lost everything, and it was indeed a fitting series finale. To the author of unpickled, I congratulate you on your sobriety, and for a very interesting blog. Jimmy


  2. I recently discovered Nurse Jackie and binge watched the series, and was happy to reread this post with the benefit of having actually watched the show. I really needed the message in this post – the series was a bit triggery for me – I was sober from alcohol for 1 year and 3 mos, but have been struggling for the past 6 months. I have realized that I was abstinent, but not pursuing recovery. I plan to go back and reread many of your posts that now seem to make more sense to me. With all that said, I believe Jackie did not live because she couldn’t see the need for recovery. Thanks for your wonderful blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am licensed therapist. Unfortunately, I have treated my share of Nurse Jackie’s and all of them don’t make it. However, people are resilient and some are able to go through the full spectrum of addiction and survive. I think that although Jackie lost her marriage, her children, went to jail, lost her nursing license, and lost the trust / respect of her family/ friends / colleagues. I don’t think any of this was her rock bottom. Like so many addicts – she thought she had all of the answers and could continue to manipulate her way out of situations and bad consequences.
    I want to believe that she survived the OD, but that she has to go through recovery the hard way, no diversion program, without the enabling friends like Zoey and Eddie, without the trust of her kids, no job and without a nursing license. Some addicts don’t recover, but I want to believe that Jackie does survives because she loses everything – there’s not much left when, you OD at your old job in front of all of your colleagues, you land in the ER of your new job, you miss your daughter’s confirmation and you fiancé goes off to prison. What’s left? Gloria made a grim but accurate prediction . She said that Jackie and Eddie would not marry, and she stated she did not trust Jackie’s sobriety to be real. She as right on both counts. She was one of few people to see the real Jackie, who is a selfish addict looking for the next hit. Without the enablers, the pretense and the job, Jackie’s only choice is to get real and lasting recovery via the public system or keep using dope and die an addict. That’s real life.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have been reading this blog on and off the the last few months. I find it quite insightful and i must admit that i have drawn many lessons from it though i have not been able to implement any of them.

    Truth is i have been able to balance my life quite well in terms of family, work, finances and all seems quite well on the outside. The tragedy for me is that i know for sure i am not performing at my best and though it may not be noticeable to outsiders it kills me knowing that soon enough it will all crumble.

    See i have been enjoying my beers for the past 22years Tusker (Kenyan beer) was my poison never a daily drinker but would knock back 8-10 half liter beer 2-3 times a week. That was until Tuesday the 21st July 2015.

    I like what you said about losing to addiction being optional oh well this one i will not lose so help me God.


  5. I am reading this over and over again, as I am struggling to stay sober, one more day, one more day. I was one of the high functioning users (alcohol and pills). I did it for years. You are right, I did not realize I could not keep it up forever, that is it is not a way of life. Honestly, I remember discovering how to “manage” my days with pills and I really thought I finally found the way, this is it. How crazy. I think another myth worth mentioning is the addict’s belief that there is a slow slope of decline, from high functionality to total disaster. A slow slope where you get a chance to see what is happening and re-evaluate, change course, pull back. No, that’s not what happens, not for the addict. You no longer notice any deterioration, one day you are going to work as usual, the next you od in the bathroom, and everything goes to pieces.
    I say I can’t a lot. I said it too many times. I need to change that into I’ll try. I’ll try harder.
    Thank you for the posts that keep me on the right side of the dangerous line.

    Liked by 1 person

    • So Damaged, Thank you for your brutal honesty here. Your words will change someone’s life who reads them here – guaranteed. Maybe even save a life. That’s an incredible gift. I hope that honesty hit you at your core as well, because your life needs saving, too. You explain it so well, how people think they’ll have lots of opportunities to course correct, failing to understand that addiction removes options. Please, get past “try” and just “DO”. Whatever it takes. Get serious and fierce. Your life is worth fighting for.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I have been reading your blog for a couple of months. This post hit home in that I have been able to function at work and home until the last couple of months. Each time I fail, I promise myself that this will be the last time but I have not been able to keep this promise. I think my family and co-workers are starting to think there is an issue because I just haven’t been able to keep it together when I am using, I have been able to for a couple of years. I want to stop because I am a private person and really don’t want all to know my problem. Hoping that by writing a reply that I am finally able to walk toward recovery.


    • I think it would help you if you wanted to stop just for yourself and not for appearances. If you think hard about that, and divorce yourself from what others think, your privacy and image, I believe you’ll find that by making it “really an inside job”, you’ll have focus, direction and a true grip on getting sober that you’ve never had before.

      Easy Rider


    • Hi Anonymous – very brave of you to post. Thank you for sharing here – it is good for you to do it and it helps all the rest of us, too! I felt the same as you when I first quit, and my instinct was to hide and tend to my wounds. I want you to know tho, that if you reach out you will find tremendous support and encouragement – no judgement or gossip. Everyone gets it and to be around others who share that experience is like falling into a feather bed. So if you are trying to get sober on your own and find that you need help in order to be successful, then go get it. I have never laughed like I laugh with my sober friends. I have never been as honest, never felt as safe or as whole as when I am in a sharing circle. Whatever recovery pathway you decide on, I encourage you to build a support network. And please also keep posting here so we can cheer you on and learn along with you!


  7. Unpickled, you know you are my inspiration. Like you have been an inspiration for many others. And I love getting your updates. They keep me on track!

    Today was not an easy day to avoid drinking. Day 24. Each day I think that the ‘cravings’ are lessening, but today I don’t think they are. The cravings just seem to wax and wane. I survived. Journalling on my blog helped me immensely:

    A while back I wrote that I did not think that a person could sustain the challenge of going sober if they had not fully answered the ‘Why?’ question. Why you want to be sober. Today I tried to put into words my answer to the ‘Why?’ Question.

    Why do I want to be sober?

    Thank you for the blog Unpickled.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are so sweet, Leighton. Thank you for your kind words – it means a lot to know I have been able to pay it forward. “Why” is a key question and in my experience, it changes over time. It’s a good thing to revisit on a regular basis!


  8. Hi, I came across your blog and have enjoyed it immensely. I’ve taken up a journey to not drink for a year, and write about it.
    I wrote about before I stopped drinking; you know, what I drank, what I did; and now I write about my life not being able to have a drink.
    Looking back, it’s kind of scary thinking about how I acted; how I couldn’t just go for one. I realise now you can still have a good time without a beer in your hand.
    I’m thankful everyday I didn’t, don’t, have a problem with alcohol…it’s just interesting to see how I, and especially how other people, react when I explain what I’m doing!
    I’d love you to have a look at my blog? It’s

    All the best



  9. I appreciate so much your thoughts on the finale of “Nurse Jackie” and the incredible and devastating toll that addiction takes on the mind, body and soul. I am a nurse in grateful recovery for 11 years from narcotics. I brushed off the idea that alcohol was an issue until, of course, it became an issue. I am clean from alcohol now for a couple of years. I have changed my vices to self-help, clean eating and exercise.

    I thought I reached my rock bottom so many times and was thankful for the second, third and fourth chances I was given to try again. I had to lose EVERY single thing that ever meant anything to me, including almost losing my life, to finally crawl out from the darkness. My first thought when I watched Jackie lying on the floor overdosing was how closely that resembled my life. My second thought was how for just one moment of artificial freedom we are willing to risk it all.

    You are so right about making the choice to change your life. The gift of true freedom is more than possible! We have the right to live a life without struggle and pain. There is a path to redemption when we actually take the first step. I cried when I saw Jackie fall, but then I remembered how I finally got up and flew…

    Liked by 3 people

    • Shari, I appreciate your thoughts on gaining true freedom through sobriety and congrats to you on taking off. Sorry you had to lose so many important things. I’m with you there as I have as well.

      Thinking back, drinking was just so damn confusing for me, until it just got dangerous, unpredictable, demoralizing and painful. Somehow, some way, I finally got my fill of it and I thank my lucky stars every day for simple sobriety and the honest desire to never drink again. It’s literally the best decision/choice/commitment I ever made.

      Easy Rider

      Liked by 1 person

    • Your comment gives me chills, Shari. I am glad you survived. Do you encounter addicts in your work now and does your experience give you extra compassion for them? Is your job different for you? What is your take on the Nurse Jackie ending – do you think she survives the od or is it the end? CONGRATS on 11 YEARS (!!!) OF RECOVERY!!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sorry it took me a while answer, but I just saw your reply even though I am subscribing to this post. I lost my career as an APRN 12 years ago…walked away, actually crawled away because I could not get out of bed for three months. I lost my nursing license for a year where I was living. Went from a mid-six figure salary with a house in the burbs to a crappy apartment typing and making 9 cents a line and fighting my husband for every moment I could get with my kids. I finally got my license back and got back into nursing in a whole different arena. I recently started a DNP and re-entry program back in my calling and former profession to help those with my same history (mothers with addiction issues, PTSD, rape, sexual abuse, domestic abuse, etc.) YES! I do see addicts/alcoholics in my profession and the continuum of healthcare all around me….surgeons, pharmacists, radiology techs, lawyers, nurses, nurse-practitioners, PAs, physical therapists, students, etc. Some do just work the system to get through the monitoring and back to the scam. Some just made a stupid mistake and got the dreaded DUI. And, some are like me – sick, twisted, desperate for healing, salvation, and a better life. How could someone with such altruistic motives be so self-destructive? It is the disease. It is the spectrum of lifelong experiences that go along with the many facets of our illness. But, it is also the same strength that gives some of us the amazing ability to get our asses off the floor and try over again and again until it works. I have to believe that Jackie will survive. We wake up thinking we will never be able to breath again because our true self has finally been exposed. That is when we finally find out what we are made of and who and what is really important in the grand scheme of things. I don’t know why I thought I was different or why Jackie thought she was so special. Maybe because the healing profession tells us to be infallible. We fall. We can also conquer the demons that reside within us. I do it every single damn day.


    • You can do it! I was about the same amount of time sober as you when I started my vacation and managed to stay alcohol free over the entire 2 week time. I promise you won’t get done with your vacation and say “damn, I wish I had gotten drunk more”. Staying sober on vacation wasn’t easy because I had lots of opportunities to drink but I kept focusing on how great I felt in the mornings. The best part was not having to plan my drinking…..i.e. when will I be able to start drinking, where’s the liquor store etc.? Now that I’m back home, I have a new resolve bolstered by the fact that I know can do this. And you can have the same feeling! Stay strong… can do this!


    • Hi Karen – it is almost “go” time – are you ready? What are you doing to plan ahead and prepare? How will you stay motivated and look out for yourself? Do you any suggestions from this huge audience of wise and gracious community of readers? Do you want your won cheering squad – post here any time you’re feeling low and we’ll all send you some extra support!


  10. “But I wasn’t crying for her. I was crying for every reader who struggles and says, “I can’t.” I cried for every alcoholic and addict who don’t see the addiction/function lines cross and part. I cried because losing to addiction is optional.”

    This is so very powerful. Something I need to remember. Made me stop and think…and I am on day one once again. I haven’t had a rock bottom either, but I’ve been scared by the downward, inward spiral that can happen when I’m not paying close attention. Yes, the addiction/function lines can cross and part. Thank you for this…


    • I was about to “like” your comment, NT, but didn’t want to seem glib about your return to early recovery. It is a tender, fragile time. Be gentle with yourself, while accepting the seriousness of the situation. You don’t have to dig any deeper. How are you doing today?


      • Oh, I leapt off the wagon after successfully participating in an athletic event I’d prepared for – a week or so of “party for one.” For me it’s about the permission, but permission becomes licence way too fast. It needs, for me, to be about choice, and I just need to keep making the choice not to drink, one day at a time. I am now on day three, once again, planning and hoping to stretch my days into weeks.


  11. Wow. Just Wow. Reading your post just brought some perspective to me personally…When you were describing the sad and true reality of the downward spiral of despair and death for sufferers of addiction, I had a sudden, overwhelming sense of gratitude for what I’ve found. I’m ready to be realistic and admit that “that was me” I may not have been all the way at the bottom…but I was on my way fast.
    I feel like I’m standing on a highway, and a large bus just passed by at 80 miles an hour, and it came within inches of hitting me, but it missed me, and I survived. I could have been Nurse Jackie. I am deciding now to change my focus…. I now vow to wake up each morning grateful that I have another sober day to live, love, grow and share with my family. Today I am 180 days alcohol-free. What a gift. I hope I can one day be strong enough to pass it on and help someone else out of the trenches.


    • You describe it so perfectly – that WHOOOOM of truth when it hits. That’s exactly how I felt watching the show and writing this post – I am thrilled you were able to make the same connection. And WHAAAAT??! You are 180 (186 now) days AF? woohoo hoo hooo dooo doo de doop (happy dance in your honour). I hope you are doing something lovely for yourself to mark the occasion.


  12. ‘If you need to quit drinking, and you can’t seem to find the strength…’ That’s me at the moment. It’s really got a grip on me, and my motivation is at rock bottom. But I’m still reading here, still writing a bit, still trying not to lose the thread tying me to you all. Annie x


    • Annie, you can quit drinking……the folks here and at countless other support sites are proof that it can be done! If you haven’t checked out Allen Carr’s “The Easy Way to Quit Drinking”, I highly recommend it. Hang in there, we are pulling for you!


    • Finish the end of that sentence, Annie 🙂 It says, “know this: you have the choice to change course now. Take your life back. ” I know you can do it.


  13. Thanks Jean. Your Nurse Jackie expose got me thinking that “highly functioning” can in actuality morph to “highly terminal” more often than I often supposed.

    Many who struggle in recovery haven’t enjoyed the benefit of a hard bottom. It’s a curse to some. They’re more apt to kid themselves that they can somehow control their drinking because they are seemingly straddling the fence successfully, somehow. Surely it’s fool’s gold for some.

    I think that applied to me for a long time and you are right. Eventually I stopped excelling and started sliding down to the narrow middle part of the hourglass again, where there’s still plenty of room for a very hard bottom if one lets denial, arrogance and fear get too powerful.

    Easy Rider


  14. Jean. I hear your deep compassion in your post. It is so true. As we continue on the path of recovery it becomes very clear that many stories will not have a happy ending. That people can only cover up problems for so long, and often only with luck. That every story of a drunk driver killing someone or themselves includes a person just like us who never found a way out of their horror.

    Like you, I path that anyone who even begins to think they have a problem take it seriously. Ask for help. Find support. Do whatever it takes to stop addictive behaviour before it becomes harder.

    There is so much life available to us when we stop numbing it. Perhaps there needs to be some pain and sadness to start, but recovery brings so many gifts.

    It isn’t just Hollywood. Alcohol and drugs kill. So tragic.

    Liked by 1 person

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