man holding a rock on his back


The hard work begins after leaving the safety of rehab and returning home.

Rehabilitation for a substance addiction
is life-saving. However, leaving rehab and re-entering society after completing treatment leaves individuals incredibly vulnerable. This is especially true for when people receive short-term treatment, which is 30 days or less. The transition from rehab to home can be a shaky and fragile time.

Many people enter rehab reluctantly. As the days roll by, their facility becomes their sanctuary. It’s their safe environment, where every move is structured and planned. They make friends in group therapy and trust in their doctors. Rehabilitation surrounds people with others who understand the addiction struggle on an intimate level. There are no grudges held or disdain in the eyes of people within this place. In a matter of weeks, rehab can become a new home, where people in treatment feel welcomed and wanted.

And then the day comes when they must leave their cozy new nest, bound for the old, chaotic home left behind in a substance-fueled haze. Who wouldn’t be scared? People, places and events associated with drug use are often the cues and triggers to relapse.

Welcome Home

While individuals may be free from drugs and alcohol for the first time in months or even years, they are now responsible for their own choices. Temptation and triggers lurk around every corner. They might live with a spouse or family member who drinks or keeps painkillers in the house. Perhaps their family isn’t supportive of their efforts and doubts their sobriety.

In public and social settings, many of the same dangers await. Individuals may run into old friends who expect them to start using again now that they are out of rehab. Coworkers may expect individuals to nonchalantly attend office parties, where alcohol is served. Stressful people or events can throw people for a loop and trigger intense urges to escape. According to research from Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, stress has been long implicated in relapse to drug abuse. Even driving by liquor stores or corner markets where individuals used to meet drug dealers can send their heads spinning. It’s certainly a fair statement to say that the hard work begins after leaving rehab.

The time spent in rehab is all about preparation. The preparation for the life that awaits once home and how to navigate that world without drugs or alcohol. At Recovery Brands, we’re highlighting individuals as they fight to remain clean post-treatment through our site, We sat down with four people in the early stages of recovery, and though their journeys are each uniquely different, they’re all determined to beat the odds and not fall victim to the horrors of sobriety. Here’s a look at their stories:

Amy Jo

“I was 14 when I started drinking, which quickly led to things like smoking pot and dabbling in cocaine. Once I tried crack, I was instantly hooked and in love. How strange is that? I was in love with a drug. I hate even thinking about those days, to be honest with you.

Individuals who are more nervous about falling back into similar environments and old friends are more likely to relapse during recovery. My life spiraled out of control until one day I found myself in jail for stealing cars with my then-boyfriend. Since I’d never been in trouble, the judge ordered that I go to a 90-day rehab program and remain on probation for five years.



After I stopped fighting the process, rehab was a great place for me. I learned a lot about why I started using drugs in the first place and I learned how to utilize coping skills in the “real world.” When my time in rehab was almost up, I really started to panic. I didn’t know what I would do to make money, where I’d live or if my daughter would remember me. My anxiety levels were through the roof.

Right now I’m living with my ex-husband’s parents – strange situation to say the least, but I get to see my daughter three times a week and every other weekend. I’m having a hard time finding a job because I’m officially a convicted felon, so that’s though. I’ve had to cut out all those old ‘friends’ I used crack with – I already know I’m not strong enough to be in that kind of environment. None of them were ever really my friends, anyway.

The one thing I’m struggling with is feeling isolated. My family members don’t really talk to me anymore – I don’t think any of them believe I’m actually clean and sober. I’ve started going to meetings once a week and that really seems to help. It’s nice to talk openly about what I’m going through without the fear of being judged. I’m taking things one day at a time.”


“I made my way to rehab thanks to two major injuries I got while serving in Iraq. The pain medication I was taking round-the-clock morphed into one hell of an addiction. I nearly lost my life when I overdosed.

I did three months in an intensive rehab program. The facility was nicer than any house I’d ever been in and the people were amazing. I made some life-long friends in that place – most of them were vets like me. I don’t think any of us wanted to leave when our time was up.

Once I got home, reality hit me like a ton of bricks. I had a stack of overdue bills like you wouldn’t believe, my house was a wreck and littered with empty pill bottles, there were blackened spoons and needles on my kitchen table – everything was exactly the way I left it the night I overdosed. Seeing how I’d been living was too much for me to handle; I could feel my depression coming on like a freight train.

Instead of staying there, calling my old dealer and getting high, I picked up the phone and called my mom. She told me to come stay with her – that we’d figure it out together. That woman’s a saint and she’s never given up on me, even though I’ve given her plenty of reasons to. Together, we decided it’d be best if I went to live in a transitional facility – I call it a halfway house [laughs] – where I could get some more help with learning to live on my own. I already had the tools to navigate life outside rehab, I was just scared and confused about how to put turn those tools into actions. Best decision I ever made.

Today, I’m managing my chronic pain with a couple different non-narcotic medications and acupuncture. Don’t get me wrong; I’m still in a lot of pain, but I can’t go back to taking OxyContin again. If I did that, I know exactly where it would lead me. With my injuries, I can’t work… so they consider me disabled, I guess. My depression is getting better, but I still have to manage it with therapy and medication. This road will be a long one, but it’s better than having no road to travel at all.”


“My sister, Kelli, and I spent two years shooting heroin into each other’s veins. When I lost my scholarship to play soccer — along with the respect of all my teammates — I knew I had to get some help. I checked myself into a rehab center that took my health insurance and just hoped for the best.

I spent three months working on my issues and thought I had a good grasp of how to navigate the world without heroin. I felt like I could conquer the world in the days leading up to my graduation from the program. If I’d only known…

When I moved back in with my family, I quickly realized Kelli was still using. And once I learned she’d added meth to her regimen, I told my parents. They just ignored the situation, like they’ve always done. I hate them for standing by, watching both of their daughters kill themselves all these years. They’ve never bothered to step in or try to save us…not once.

I’ve tried my best to either avoid Kelli or encourage her to get help. With so much of my time focused on her, I’ve neglected to take care of myself. I haven’t been to a meeting in two months now and I don’t feel like I have anyone who supports my sobriety. The really sad thing is that I’ve started drinking a glass of wine at night just to calm my nerves — a really big glass of wine. This is the road I prepared to avoid and I know I have to take action before things get worse.

I’ve made up my mind to move in with my grandparents. They live six hours away and they totally support my recovery. I’ve already found a new therapist and have a list of all the AA/NA meetings in the area. I’m scared, but I’m ready. It’ll be hard starting all over again in a strange city, but it’s my best hope for survival. I can’t depend on anyone else to do this for me; I have to do it myself…and I’ll be damned if I let anything stop me.”


“My drug use began with my mom. We started drinking together when I was 16; that led to us smoking pot by the time I was 17 and snorting coke before I got out of high school. When I turned 23, my mom died from an overdose — I’m the one who found her body.

Losing my mom only made me worse. I escaped my pain by crawling into the bottom of a whiskey bottle every night and topped it off with a handful of Xanax. This went on for months…until I overdosed and my son found me unconscious, lying on the living room floor covered in vomit and barely breathing. I was repeating the cycle with a vengeance.



I didn’t want to turn my son’s life into the life I’d experienced when I was younger, so I went into a short-term rehab program. Looking back, the only reason I went was to relive my own guilt. I did what I had to do to complete the program, told everyone how much better I felt, spoke the “rehab” terminology I thought they wanted to hear…fake it until you make it, right?

I got home and everyone thought I was cured — like the month I’d been “away” somehow magically erased all my problems. I didn’t want to let anyone down, so I hid my demons well. I played ‘sober Deenie’ and muddled through life. 

Six months ago, I fixed lunch for my son and, when he sat down at the kitchen table, he looked at me real serious all the sudden. Out of the blue, he said, “Mom, I’m so proud of you,” and immediately went back to eating his sandwich, happy and innocent like the sweet angel he is. In that moment, I couldn’t do it anymore — I couldn’t keep up the façade.

My old rehab therapist had kept in touch with me since my time in treatment and she always said, “We’re here if you ever need anything.” I put that statement to the test. I called her up and spilled my guts…told her everything. I decided long-term treatment was what I needed, and this time, I was ready.

I spent a total of five months in treatment and rebuilt myself — from the bottom up. I see a therapist three times a week and attend daily online 12-step meetings — sometimes, when I really need it, I get greedy and attend two or three online meetings a day. It really hurt my family when I admitted I’d been hiding my alcohol and pill use; we’re working to mend those fences and establish trust again. I’ve got a lot of fence-mending to do, to tell you the truth…but this time, I’m doing the mending with a clear head and a sober heart.

Have you or a loved one been battling the horrors of sobriety? Share your story with us by using #RBRecoveryMonth on social media or by leaving a comment below.


The impact of addiction hits home for millions of Americans. So much, in fact, there is an entire month dedicated to the celebration of those who have found success in long-term recovery.

While every day we are thankful for those who are reaching recovery, National Recovery Month (September) is also the perfect time to highlight the loved ones who supported them along the way.

In America, 21.5 million people struggled with a substance use disorder in 2014. It’s safe to say the number of loved ones impacted by substance use disorders is even higher. Addiction and the recovery process impacts parents, siblings, children, significant others, friends, colleagues, peers… the list goes on and on.

Robbie Gallo, the lead singer of Vokab Kompany, like millions of individuals, has been impacted by a loved one’s addiction. Through his experience, Robbie wrote a song, “It’s Warm in the Light,” dedicated to his brother. He sat down with us at Recovery Brands to share the inspiration for this song and how it helps inspire other individuals impacted by addiction. Robbie opens up about the struggles his family has gone through as a result of his brother’s addiction and the control addiction had on their lives until the process of recovery began.

After learning how much addiction has impacted Robbie and his family, we were curious to learn more about what it’s like for other individuals who love someone who’s struggling with an addiction. Through our site,, this is what we learned:

Jesse, son of a person struggling with addiction: “Frustration is the first word that comes to mind. No matter how many times or how many ways you try to help [someone with an addiction], you realize they can only help themselves.”

Dean, father of a child in recovery: “Being the parent of [someone with an addiction] is incredibly frustrating because as parents we’re programmed to take care of our children and help “fix” them from the time they are born. But addiction isn’t a scrape on the knee or a sore throat. Addiction is something parents can’t fix. So you do the best you can with what you know at the time, and you learn as you go along. And you can never go wrong with love.”  

Elizabeth, mother of someone struggling with addiction: “You hope it’s not that bad. You hope it will get better. You prepare yourself. They might not survive. You must strengthen your mind, your heart. You look in on them when they are ‘sleeping.’ You check on their breathing, just like a newborn. You look for a lot of input, calling local rehab centers for any and all possible options. You enlist your local police for strength. You tell your loved one, ‘You are so loved, so valued, so worth every effort, just please don’t die.’ You keep hoping and praying that something grand and magical could happen. I realize that none of us, not even God, can control, manage, fix, stop our loved ones from this possible, terrible final ending. For now, though, my son seems to be safe, inspired and succeeding. His drug use is currently on hold, so maybe he will beat the odds. And, maybe Brian will have a future, with just ‘regular people’ problems. We so hope!”

Rose, mother of a child in recovery: “Loving someone with addiction is heartbreaking. Loving someone in recovery is heartwarming. During addition, it’s heartbreaking to witness a loved one’s positive potential replaced with scary possibilities and horrible realities. Hope helps, but there are so many unknowns … until recovery. During recovery, it’s heartwarming to see the return good health, smart decisions, trust and confidence.”

Jean, mother of a child in recovery: “Love is powerful: I often use the phrase ‘Love them to life.’ This love is not an enabling emotion supporting a loved one’s destructive behavior; it is pure, simple, unconditional love. Loving someone struggling with addiction expands our capability to love, if we allow it. It’s not always easy to work through the frustration, anger and confusion we feel and dig down to find the love we have for someone, but it’s our love they will remember and our love that can bring them back. We have to try to love them home. When my son was struggling, we organized a family intervention. There were 12 of us and we surprised him as most interventions are planned to do. We truly and sincerely expressed our concern and our love and our belief in him. His reaction was one of anger. We were ready for him to change, but he was not; he felt ambushed and betrayed by those of us who had ‘lured’ him to our home and soon after he moved away, stopped communicating and continued on his addictive path. Even when communication opened again and the tension was less, we felt as if we had completely failed at the intervention. We even felt we had made things worse. Several months later, he asked for help. And more than a year later, upon hearing me speak to an audience and share how miserably our intervention had failed, he stood to correct me. My son stood and shared with all of us something I had not understood. He told us that on the morning when he woke up depressed, sick, addicted and alone, he knew he had three choices: one was to take his own life in a violent way, the second was to purposely overdose and the third was to ask for help. I thank God every day he chose to ask for help and made what must have been a very difficult call to his dad and me. My son said he knew our intervention came from a place of love and it included all of the most important people in his life, his family, his friends, everyone who really cared about him. He could feel our love and said if an intervention truly comes from a place of love, it will never fail. It may not happen as hoped on that day and in that place, but it will not be forgotten. Love is powerful. Never let anger, hurt, frustration, disappointment and the other negative emotions we feel bury the love you have for someone struggling with addiction. Love them home. Love them to life.”

Hannah, sister of someone struggling with addiction: “The easiest way I can explain it to others is that addiction is, in fact, a mental illness. Addiction alters the brain which alters the person. Because of that, loving someone with an addiction is like loving someone with a mental illness. You love that person endlessly, but there are good days and there are bad days. You find yourself loving the shell of that person before they were feeding that addiction. You certainly love them on the good days and the bad days, but you find you don’t have to limit yourself or your life on those good days. You talk to them about what it would be like if things were different but in the end, you always know it is that person who has to make the conscious effort and the decision to turn their life around every single day in order to fight addictions. Nevertheless, you never stop loving every single ounce of that person and never stop wishing away the part of them that feeds the addictions.

What often goes unnoticed in addiction treatment is the rest of the family. Many families fall apart when a child is struggling with drug abuse and treatment. Being the sibling of a person addicted to drugs is no cake-walk. I’m sure many other families can attest to this, but my brother’s drug use and recovery became the focus of our household. His addiction hung over our family. On December 23, 2009, my brother Zach was shot and killed by a fellow heroin user. My family was shattered and in the midst of our grief, we had to go through the grueling process of a trial against my brother’s murderer. Zach was only 21 years old.

We often hear about families falling apart after losing a loved one, and while my family has changed, we remain together because that it is what Zach would want. I decided to get involved with the Miss America Organization as a way to share my family’s story. My work helps spread my platform of ‘Reach for Your Dreams, Not Drugs,’ with the focus of inspiring others to choose a path that allows for their dreams to come true and lead healthy lifestyles in order to get there. It is my hope to help people understand that addiction can harm anyone. I continue to share Zach’s story with others in the hope of encouraging families to create an open household where they have consistent discussions about drug use and conversations with their children about how to lead a healthy life.”

Have you been impacted by a loved one’s addiction and recovery process? Share with us what it’s like loving someone who’s struggling with an addiction by using #RBRecoveryMonth or by leaving a comment below.

In observance of National Recovery Month in September, we’ve gathered at Recovery Brands to put stories of hope in the spotlight through our site Each week throughout the month, we will be we honoring those in recovery, and the loved ones and communities surrounding them. By celebrating the strength, love, success and perseverance of these individuals, our hope is to deliver a message of inspiration, encouragement, understanding and acceptance to others traveling this road.

To kick things off, we’re celebrating the success of 10 individuals and what recovery means to them. It’s easy to believe that addiction takes a lot away — and it can — but at the same time, it can give so much. 

Sadly, the stigma of addiction still runs deep in society. In fact, 82.2 percent of individuals struggling with addiction have felt stigmatized. For many, it can be difficult — even in recovery — to escape feelings of shame, fear, embarrassment or failure associated with the disease. It’s time to break the perception that addiction or mental health disorders define a person’s life. Let’s celebrate the possibilities of full, powerful lives in recovery: loving family members, successful business owners, courageous leaders, loyal friends, dedicated employees and innovative thinkers!

These are the stories of life in recovery…


Recovery means having a fair shot at happiness, instead of living in constant misery. With that happiness, I’m able to have a successful career and be there for my wife and daughter.”


“So many people are worried about what they don’t have, or about what they need to have; In my recovery, I get to be grateful for all that I have and all that I get to experience. That changes the whole world. Now I get to be a dear husband, a great dad, an employer, business partner, triathlete and so much more that I never even knew I wanted.”

Recovery 3

“Now that I am clean, I am able to face adversity with a clear mind and make responsible decisions. Recovery is possible now that I am able to deal with adversity fearlessly.”

Recovery 4

“Recovery means freedom. Freedom to be who I am, to be who I want to be. Freedom to do what I want to do, and the freedom to continue writing the rest of my story. Freedom to make my dreams come true and to dream again.”

Recovery 5

“Recovery means having opportunity I didn’t have before. Having opportunity means being able to be a great husband, dad and member of my community.”

recovery 6

“Before recovery I was in fear of everything. After I got a connection with the universe, fear was replaced with faith. The stronger and more intimate my connection was with my higher power, the universe, the more I realized the power is within and I became more confident! Without my recovery, I never would have found my empowerment, which in turn helps me to be of maximum service to the universe’s children!”

recovery 6

“Recovery means freedom from having to wake up needing a devil substance that controls your entire life. Recovery means a chance at a new found life, a new beginning, a second chance at life, and for that I am grateful.”

recovery 7

“Recovery means rebirth and a second chance at life. A second chance to be the son and brother I used to be. Life in recovery presents many new opportunities that were never possible as an active alcoholic.”

recovery 8

“Today I have friends that I can count on. I can be a friend and help others.”

recovery 9

“Recovery means honesty because it is part of the foundation of my recovery. I value honesty with myself and with others. It allows me to be genuine in my relationship.”

Get social! Tell us what recovery means to you by using #RBRecoveryMonth on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, or leave a comment below.

“What, you don’t drink? Why not?”

Whenever I tell someone I don’t drink, I always get the same responses.

“Are you an alcoholic?”

“You’re not judging us for drinking, are you?”

Then, there’s the ones I don’t hear. I’m a loser. I’m not fun to be around.

I’ve heard that question more times than I care to remember. Yet, every single time I hear it, I respond with the same few lines.

“Oh, I just don’t like the taste.”

“I have to drive.”

“I’m on a diet.”

“I have a prescription that won’t let me drink.”

What I wish I could tell them was the truth. I don’t judge them, and I’m not an alcoholic. I haven’t gone to a luxury drug rehab. It’s nothing like that, but alcohol has been the constant element in almost every major catastrophe in my life. It is the thread that strings together most of the tragedies I’ve experienced. What I wish I could tell them is I grew up watching my mother die a little more each day to alcoholism. I wish I could tell them all the times I had to walk five miles to school because my mother was too drunk to drive. I wish I could them how my family fell apart because of alcohol.

I wish I could tell them about how terrifying it is to wake up to the police breaking the windows of your house to get inside. They were looking for my brother, who had broken into a house down the road after he had driven home drunk and become lost. As much as I wish I could, there’s no way to explain to someone what it feels like to watch your brother be arrested in front of you.

What I wish I did when someone confronts me about not drinking is explain to them alcohol isn’t always fun. It can be, but it also can mean something different to everyone. For some of us, it is trauma and it is heartbreak. I wish I could explain without the stigma and without people fearing I’m judging them.

For now, though, I’ll just be the designated driver.

Image via Thinkstock.

“I’ve got two tabs of acid in my car.” He lobs this fact across the coffee table at me with a bashful smile that spreads in slow waves to the edges of his face.

I roll my head back and groan. We’re not friends and I’m not amused.

“Ethan*, why are you telling me this?”

“What’s the point of coming here if I don’t tell you the truth?”

I give a half-shrug. “But why that truth, Ethan? Why do you want me know about the acid?”

His thick, unruly curls lend a boyish look to his 6-foot-3-inch frame. He turns his head in search of distraction and notices the paint swatches on my desk.

“You redecorating, Doc? I like the blue. My mom’s an interior designer and she says blue relaxes people. It’s like Zen or some shit.”

Ethan gets under my skin in a way I can’t quite pin down. He’s both offensively arrogant: “This ain’t my first rodeo, Doc. I know how this therapy thing works,”and heartbreakingly vulnerable: “Can I get a piece of paper? I want to write down what you just said.”

When he was 11 years old and jumping around in the backseat, his mother punched him in the face so hard she broke his nose. Late for a business trip, she dropped him at school with a napkin for the blood. “Stop crying, Ethan. Your friends will think you’re a baby.” Ethan didn’t see his mother for a week and the incident was never discussed. When he tells stories like this, I have to fight the urge to hug him like I would my own child.

“Why’d you tell me about the acid, Ethan?”

“I don’t know. Because I’m going to the beach this weekend and I’m gonna trip my balls off?” His smile fades as he looks up. “Seriously, though. You ever tripped?”

I could tell him about the time I took mushrooms in college and went snowboarding. How it took us two hours to buy lift tickets because we couldn’t stop laughing. How the snow looked like pixie dust and how I dominated the black diamond slopes like Shaun Palmer. How later I learned I had merely lumbered down the bunny hill.

I want to tell him: I get it. Drugs are really fun. Right up until they’re not. I want to tell him about James.

“Ethan, I’ve known other people who thought they were having fun with drugs until the drugs caught up with them. I don’t want that to happen to you.”

“You think I have a problem, don’t you, Doc? You think I’m an addict.”

Ethan is taking a gap year because his Ivy League admission was rescinded following his expulsion from high school for drinking on campus. So problem? Yeah. Addict is tougher to define.

“It’s interesting you use the word addict, Ethan? What do you think?”

“I think I don’t like being sober. Do you?”

I meet his third deflection with what I hope comes across as a warm, nonjudgmental smile. After a few moments, he can’t take the silence.

“Look, Doc, I know when I need to be sober. I got a 3.8 last semester. Now I have two jobs and I never miss a day. I work hard!”

He leans forward, palms up, like a defendant on the stand. In his mind, I am both judge and jury. He doesn’t know how often I second-guess myself with him.

“Let’s review, Ethan. How come you’re not in school right now?”

He drops his gaze. “Because I’m unlucky, Doc. I’m always the one who gets caught.”

“Unlucky?” I ask, surprised by the sharpness of my tone. “Ethan, if you speed one time and get caught, that’s unlucky. If you speed every day for a year and get pulled over, that’s the Law of Averages catching up with you.”

At 19, Ethan is neurologically an adolescent. His pre-frontal cortex, the part of his brain controlling reason and planning, is still developing and trumped by the hormone dopamine, which triggers feelings of happiness when taking risks. Since he is legally an adult, I can’t disclose his risky behaviors, unless he reports a plan to intentionally harm himself. So I ask him.

“Are you trying to kill yourself, Ethan?”

“What? Doc, No! I’m just trying to have fun. Don’t you ever just want to party?”

I think of the Halloween party turned real life horror show the night James killed himself. Everyone had taken mushrooms. Costumed and perma-grinning from the drugs, we were dancing to House of Pain’s “Jump Around” when we heard the shot.

“I know you miss your friends, Ethan, but this party sounds ripe with opportunity to get ‘unlucky’ again.”

“Come on, Doc. Don’t tell me not to go. I really need this.”

Professionally, I can’t grant or deny permission. I can only point out the conflict between his goals and behaviors. His goals include graduating from college, landing a job that pays him shitloads of money and marrying Gisele Bündchen. (Remember, he’s 19). I ask him a series of questions and together we develop an algorithm that looks something like this: (lots of) drug taking equals getting kicked out of school, which equals no college, a crappy job, no money and living in a rusty van, down by the river.

“I get it, Doc. I do. Living in a rusty van does not equal dating supermodels.”

We laugh. He leaves. I have no idea if our conversation landed. As I type up the session notes, my fingers pause on the word progress. Has Ethan made any tangible progress? Am I helping him? My mind catapulted to my own child, who is still in diapers. The mother in me wished I’d grabbed Ethan by the shoulders and wrapped my arms around him in the same way I’d embrace my toddler to stop him from stumbling down the stairs.

I consider my college friends. Like Ethan, we partied, but then we graduated, cultivated careers and traded in the partying for potty-training, except James. He couldn’t stop and we hadn’t seen his pain. No drug could blunt our anguish that Halloween night. Our once-festive costumes drooping and our party make-up gruesome from hours of crying, we watched uniformed men carry him down the steps in a body bag.

Is Ethan like us or like James?

I pick up the paint swatches and worry I let Ethan leave too quickly. Should I have yielded to my maternal instincts and told him directly not to go to the party?

“I forgot my umbrella.” A voice at the door shakes me from my thoughts. “You OK, Doc? I know that face. You’re torn, aren’t you?”

“Excuse me?”

“Go with the blue. Definitely the blue. See ya next week.”

*Name has been changed.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. 

Here we are, husband and wife, holding hands on the beach. Our two dogs run ahead of us, their black coats blending with the gray-blue ocean. The setting sun casts a golden glow along the wet sand where we walk. Here we are safe, happy.

What you may not notice is the fear in my eyes. What you can’t hear is the little shake in my husband’s voice, as he tries to hide the truth beneath witty jokes. We are grateful to be together. We are grateful for this beach and our carefree pups, but we are also gripped by an awareness we could be pulled away from one another at any moment. That everything we know could be lost.

My husband is recovering from a drug addiction. We’ve been married for six months, together four years. I knew he had an addiction from the start, but I didn’t really know what that meant. I didn’t realize there’s no such thing as an “ex-addict,” as he once called himself. I didn’t know what his therapist meant when she said addiction is a “family disease.” By the time I finally understood the ugly truth, I’d fallen in love. Not with the disease, but with this funny, intelligent, sweet person being dragged across hot pavement by his demons.

I have been through hell with my husband. I have shaken hands with his demons, while tears streamed down my face. I have also walked along the beach with him. I’ve seen him pick up white chip after white chip, and I’m inspired by his determination to keep fighting for sobriety. Looking back on the past four years, there are things I would change, but I would still want to be with him. I have grown. I’ve gained a level of compassion and humility I didn’t realize was possible. I’ve experienced divine grace. Despite everything, somehow we are still in love.

At the same time, the innocence I’ve lost along the way has brought with it a quiet pain. The kind of pain that hunkers down in the bones, wraps around the soul and constricts until the soul turns black. It’s a pain that’s hard to recognize when you look at me. I hide it well because I’m afraid to be vulnerable, afraid to convey to others what it’s really like to live with an addict (recovering or otherwise). I’m afraid they won’t understand. That they’ll reject me. That they’ll convince me I must leave him. That they will play God in my life.

So I write this not for the person addicted or the people who love that person. They already know that life and don’t need me to tell them about it, but this is for everyone else. The friends and family who want to be supportive but may not know how. The people who, perhaps in the midst of their own personal struggles, only see a husband and wife holding hands on the beach.

Here’s how to respond to someone who loves a person with an addiction:

1. Listen.

This is the most helpful thing you can do when she opens up to you. The stories she tells you might be frightening. You might feel the urge to interrupt, to give her some kind of direction. You might start spouting clichés like, “I’ll pray for you,” or “Once an addict, always an addict.” Please don’t. Just let her talk. More than anything she’s afraid of your judgement. So just listen.

2. If she happens to ask you for advice, try not to let your emotions drive your response.

Emotional blubbering is common in these circumstances. Unless she is in a violent situation, it’s helpful to simply tell her to focus on herself, to take care of herself. Tell her you love her and you’re there for her.

3. At the same time, set your boundaries.

When she first opens up, an entire ocean may flow out of her, sharks and all. Perhaps the gory details are too much. You may not want to hear how she found him pale-faced on the bathroom floor surrounded by tiny, opened packets and a used needle. You may not have room for her to stay the night at your apartment. That’s OK. Be clear on how far you’re able to go.

4. When she says she loves him, believe her.

Don’t minimize that love into lust, craziness or a fear of letting go. Maybe she is afraid to let him go, but she also loves him. This is OK too.

5. Avoid judging the person who has an addiction.

This will be hard. You may want to condemn him. You may want to shake his brains out for hurting her, but this kind of judgment will only hurt her more. Remember she loves him. Remember he is hurting too.

6. Learn everything you can about addiction.

Not only will this help you better understand her life, but it may be useful to your own life too. You may know someone else who struggles with an addiction. The more we learn, the more we can erase the stigma that tells us people with addiction are just bad people with sh*ty willpower.

7. It’s OK to be afraid for her.

It’s OK to be afraid of addiction. After all, he could end up doing horrible things because of his disease. He could die. She could lose everything and because addiction has a sneaky way of touching everyone it comes into contact with, not just the person addicted, you could lose a little something too. It’s OK to be frightened, but know there is also hope.

My husband relapsed three months ago, after almost a year of sobriety. It was during that year when I felt safe enough to marry him. I knew relapse would always be a possibility, but I was devastated when it happened so soon after our wedding, terrified at what I’d gotten myself into. He, too, was scared and upset.

At least for today, we have chosen hope. He got sober again, and I took some steps to refocus my energy on my own healing. Because if, as we walk on the beach toward the sunset, I turn and look at the scarcity of light behind us or if I look out into the wild sea, I am guaranteed to lose my grasp on hope. I will become paralyzed with fear.

So when she finally lets you see her cry, when she has her eyes set on the darkness all around, remind her the sand is soft beneath her feet and the sun’s reflection is golden where she walks.

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