Shawna and Ryan’s Story: Rediscovered Friendship

Shawna and Ryan have a fairy tale love story. The 37-year-old couple rode the school bus together,
became instant best friends and then high school sweethearts. From the beginning, they knew they had something special.

“We didn’t run around with the same group, but I was always drawn to her,” says Ryan as he reflects on his early connection with his wife, Shawna.

As teenagers they were inseparable, often partying and having innocent fun. Although their drug and alcohol use began as curiosity, it escalated quickly and both Shawna and Ryan sought treatment at Fairbanks as teens.

“As a kid, I learned a lot in treatment,” says Ryan. “Even then, I knew something was amiss with my ability to use and my inability to stop, but I wasn’t ready.”

Through their struggles, Shawna and Ryan clung to each other and their faith. In the summer of 1997 they were married and over the next six years had three daughters. The couple remained focused on their family and tried to keep their alcohol use under control.

In 2002, shortly after their youngest daughter was born, Shawna and Ryan were prescribed opioid medications—Ryan for knee surgery and Shawna for pain. They thought they found the “magic pill,” but what they discovered was a substance that would eventually bring them to their knees.

“I immediately felt like I could deal with everything in my life,” says Shawna. “I could keep the house clean, cook meals and keep the kids together.”

That feeling changed when physical dependence set in and their pill supply ran out. Shawna and Ryan lost sight of their marriage and their drug use began taking a toll on their family.

In November of 2006, Shawna admitted she wanted help and went to Fairbanks. Over the next five months, she focused on her recovery; but as she began to heal, Ryan’s addiction got worse.

“I thought because Shawna was sober everything would be fine,” says Ryan.

It wasn’t. Shawna relapsed on prescription medications with Ryan. The next morning she was ready to be clean for good. She went to a support meeting and got her start-over token, but in her heart she knew if Ryan didn’t change, her recovery would be compromised.

“I told him—Ryan, I love you, but this is about me loving myself. If you don’t get help, the girls and I are gone,” says Shawna.

Two days later Ryan went to Fairbanks. His counselor helped him learn how to live a life without substances and gave him the tools for recovery.

Now, seven years clean and sober, Shawna and Ryan make it their mission to live one day at a time, focus on their spirituality and give back by sharing their story. They believe Fairbanks initially saved their lives, but their higher power keeps them sober.

“Our faith has been the foundation of our recovery,” says Ryan. “By God’s grace we are able to live one day at a time, which has blossomed into seven years. It’s a more beautiful life than I could have ever imagined.”

Their recovery has allowed them to have an open and honest relationship with each other and their children. They have also rediscovered their friendship.

“We came out of the dark and into the light together,” says Shawna. “Through our recovery we are back to being best friends. Today we are one.”