Skip to main content
Home » Pain Management » This Couple Is Fighting the Stigma of Addiction by Sharing Their Own Stories
Pain Management

This Couple Is Fighting the Stigma of Addiction by Sharing Their Own Stories

Photo: Courtesy of Shawna Ankenbrandt

Before they were celebrity addiction recovery advocates, married couple Jennifer Gimenez-Ryan and Tim Ryan were living with addiction themselves. Their personal stories are different, as are the paths they took to recovery, but both understand the impact of this crisis on a deeply personal level.

That is why they’ve dedicated their lives to helping others impacted by addiction and the opioid crisis. They want to eradicate addiction stigma and guide others to recovery, whether that’s through a 12-step program, a treatment facility, or some other method.

Jenn credits her time in a treatment center and psychiatric hospital following her attempted suicide with turning the tides on her life for the better. It took a long time to recover from the physical injuries she sustained but the couple says this is when it all turned around for Jenn. 

“She had her spiritual awakening sitting in a wheelchair, listening to people out the window of that psych ward, going to 12-step meetings, laughing, talking freely,” Tim said. ”She felt a feeling she couldn’t understand.” 

That’s when Jenn pledged to God that she’d do anything in her power to keep that good feeling. That was 14 years ago and she hasn’t touched a substance since.

For Tim, the turning point was prison.

The couple explained that Tim was sitting in the Illinois Department of Corrections for his third DUI. He was trying to kick a heroin addiction and was in a lot of pain. He prayed for an end to the compulsion to use and he prayed to get into Sheridan prison, which had a therapeutic treatment program. 

He was, in fact, sent to Sheridan, where his cellmate, an ex-Chicago gang chief called Big Perk, helped Tim into the 12-step program. Tim has now been sober for more than seven years.  

Not an uncommon tale

The opioid crisis is ravaging the United States, with thousands of overdoses each year and a rising death toll. Widespread opioid addiction also has a damaging ripple effect on loved ones and communities. The longer this goes on, the greater the danger not just to individuals but to the whole country. 

Politicians, medical experts, and commentators all have different ideas for how to combat this epidemic, which doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon.

Perhaps one of the most important steps to help guide the United States through this crisis is to address the stigma of addiction, as well as mental health and mental health disorders as a whole. 

Increasingly, society is coming to understand mental health as a medical issue, just like any other kind of “health,” but there’s still a long way to go. And that’s part of the reason Jenn and Tim go out of their way to talk about it — to show there’s no shame in personal trauma or an addiction disorder — and that there is a way forward.  

“Our stories impact people because we both lived different lives but the same hell of addiction with underlying trauma, mental health, pain, hopelessness,” Jenn said, sharing that she hopes their stories will encourage others with an addiction to stop suffering in silence.

By staying silent, people living with an addiction cannot ask for the help they need — and help and support are crucial for dealing with this disorder.

Finding a friend

Jenn and Tim agree they would not have gotten to where they are today without the help of supporters and dedicated treatment programs. Even now, they say they lean on a variety of individual support systems, as well as one another to stay strong in their recovery.

“We both work a 12-step based program, have sponsors, therapy, and help others,” Jenn said. “If one of us is going through something, we support each other. Recovery has taught us how to love each other and accept each other for exactly as we are.” 

Because they each have their own foundation for recovery, they are able to support each other as a team, as well as better help others.

The couple wants to help everyone they can get the treatment they need, but they know reaching out is never that easy, and no one treatment is going to work for everyone.

“When looking for help, people need to talk to people who understand what is needed,” Tim said, pointing to the 30,000 treatment centers nationwide, including for-profit, not-for-profit, faith-based, and more. “One size does not fit all. Many people also have some form of mental health issue and underlying trauma, and all three need to be addressed.” 

For anyone looking for a place to get started, the couple recommended, where people can search facilities by state and insurance needs.

“We stand united, wanting to show others that they, too, can recover,” Tim said. “Put your hand up and ask for help.”

If you or a loved one is experiencing thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, check out this list of resources, or send a text here.

Next article