When Blu and Marissa Robinson said “I do” 14 years ago, they were hopeful, happy, and excited about their future — despite the odds stacked against them. At the time, Blu was a recently recovered drug addict, and the couple was well aware of the issues former addicts face. But they were determined to make their relationship work. Today, Blu — who has been clean for more than 18 years — serves as an LDS bishop and enjoys a healthy marriage and four beautiful children.
Blu and Marissa’s journey hasn’t been conventional or easy, but it does serve as a much-needed beacon of hope in the face of addictions that plague local families.
Blu grew up in a toxic environment filled with unhealthy relationships and abuse. His mother got married at 14 and jumped from one marriage to the next. All of the “stepdads” Blu encountered had anger and addiction problems and often abused Blu, his mother and his siblings.
“Our life was always unstable,” Blu says. “I moved 23 times growing up.”
The instability of his adolescence was a result of his mom’s relationship pattern, which was: “When things get tough, leave.”
“She never knew how to get from the initial ‘falling in love’ stage to the part where you work through your problems,” Blu says.
In order to survive socially and emotionally, Blu learned to lie to himself and others. When someone asked if his Polynesian half-sister was related to him, he said “no” because he knew that by the time the person figured out the truth, he would have moved. Lying was just the beginning. Blu picked up other destructive habits and started using drugs at 15. He continued to dull the pain in his life with substances, each one more harmful than the last until he was using methamphetamine.
“The root of all addiction is pain,” Blu says. “I was trying to fill a void and self-medicate.”
Seeds of Change
In his early 20s, Blu’s rock-bottom moment came. After a long night of using, he sat at the dinner table with his family and realized if he didn’t change his life he might not make it to any more family events.
He also had a profound impression that he was meant for more in this life and that he had potential.
He stopped using drugs cold turkey, but all of the addictive behaviors and emotional scars remained.
“Even though I wasn’t physically using, I was still very broken and I still lived in lies and deceit,” Blu says.
He got a job as a courier for a troubled youth center. The center frequently drug-tested their employees, which motivated Blu because he truly enjoyed his job and didn’t want to lose it.
Another employee, Don, took an interest in Blu and was the first person to tell him that his upbringing wasn’t normal and that there was a better way to live.
“The therapist asked me if I knew who I was. I felt like that was a question no one could answer. Then I asked Marissa if she knew who she was and she went on for 20 minutes.”
—Blu Robinson, Recovered Addict
The tipping point was when Blu met Marissa, who also worked at the youth center. He liked her, but he was afraid to tell her about his past. So he did what he knew how to do. He lied.
“I lied to feel better about myself, but Don saw straight through it and wanted me to tell Marissa the truth,” Blu says.
When Blu refused to be honest with Marissa, Don took matters into his own hands and told her everything.
“At first I was taken aback and wondered what Don’s motive was in telling me all of it,” Marissa says. “Then I called Blu and when I asked him if was true and heard silence, I had my answer.”
Marissa encouraged Blu to get into therapy and suggested they put their relationship on hold.
“I’ve always been a person who wants to fix everything, but I knew this was not something I could or should fix,” Marissa says. “I had tried that with other guys before and realized it did not work.”
The first time Blu went to therapy, he left vowing he would never return.
“The therapist asked me if I knew who I was,” Blu says. “I felt like that was a question no one could answer. Then I asked Marissa if she knew who she was and she went on for 20 minutes.”
Blu reluctantly continued going to therapy and started to take night classes while maintaining a casual relationship with Marissa.
One of the turning points in Blu and Marissa’s relationship was when he saw her from the window of his night class driving by to make sure he was there.
“When I saw her out there checking up on me I got mad,” Blu says. “But then I realized she was doing it because she cared about me. No one had ever cared about me like that. No one had ever cared what choices I made.”
Marissa believes her upbringing, while not perfect, prepared her to be emotionally healthy for marriage.
“I grew up in a household where you worked on your problems and figured things out,” she says. “We were always helpers, too. We took in foster kids and I got my degree in recreation therapy, so I was familiar with some of these issues on a smaller scale.”
While Marissa was supportive, loving and encouraging throughout Blu’s recovery, they both agree their relationship’s success was possible only because Marissa was not trying to solve Blu’s problems. If he wanted to get better, he had to do it on his own.
“I could be his best friend, but I couldn’t be his caretaker,” she says.
One of the things that made Blu and Marissa’s relationship healthy was their participation in weekly couples counseling throughout their engagement and newlywed stage.
“Blu’s therapist told me, ‘OK come and get to know this because it’s going to be your life,’” Marissa says.
The couple says therapy is one of the best things they’ve ever done. They laid a strong foundation of communication and trust early in their marriage.
As successful as Blu was at recognizing and dealing with issues from his past, there were still thought patterns and behaviors that manifested in his new life.
“Early in our marriage if we ever got in a disagreement I would come home expecting Marissa to be gone,” Blu says. “It took a while for me to trust that she would never do that to me.”
Another instance where Blu’s past bubbled into the future was when he was finishing his bachelor’s degree in social work at UVU, and he couldn’t seem to get through any of the math classes. After he had exhausted every resource available he discovered he had a math-specific learning disability, which would have been easily resolved if diagnosed in childhood.
He worked with school administration to finish his degree and went on to get a master’s degree in mental health counseling.
As Blu continued on his path of healing, his mom and siblings sank deeper into their own addictions. From time to time, they would randomly pop up asking for help.
Wanting to be a good son, Blu tried to be sympathetic and help them but things came to a breaking point when his mom fraudulently transfered her cell phone into his name and didn’t pay the bill.
“I came to realize that relationships are a privilege, not a right — even when it comes to your biological family,” Blu says. “It sounds harsh but I couldn’t let my relationship with my mom and siblings hurt my relationship with my wife and kids. I had to cut them off. I had to stop it.”
Blu decided to write a letter to his mom expressing all of his feelings of anger, sadness and frustration about the childhood he endured.
“I actually ended up sending the letter,” Blu says. “It felt good to hold her accountable for the first time.”
Blu doesn’t allow his family to pull him back into the darkness of his childhood, but he also doesn’t allow himself to harbor resentment. When he went to his grandmother’s funeral a few years ago, he met his biological father for the first time.
“There were a million things I could have said but I just walked up to him and said ‘It’s nice to meet you,’” Blu says.
Open and Honest
As Blu and Marissa’s children have grown, they ask questions and the couple strives to be honest and open with their kids while still being age-appropriate.
Blu remembers a specific experience when he was at a water park with his daughter and she asked him about the scars on his back.
“It broke my heart to tell her that they were from a really mean man who hurt me when I was young,” Blu says.
It’s hard for the Robinson kids to imagine that the amazing, sweet dad they love endured the challenges he did. But Blu and Marissa believe the value of being open and honest with the people you love always outweighs the initial discomfort.
“We are all going through this life and dealing with different problems,” Blu says. “I think we should more often share our life’s answers and tips. When you talk about your struggles and how you’ve overcome them, they no longer hold power over you. And if what I share can help someone else, why wouldn’t I do it? Your mess becomes your message.”
“As an addict, you suck the resources out of everyone around you. When you are in recovery, it feels good to give back.”
Addict to Athlete
In 2011, Blu and Marissa created Addict II Athlete, a volunteer organization that helps individuals in recovery replace their addictive behaviors with athletic achievements.
You could say Blu was the program’s pilot participant.
When Blu and Marissa were engaged, Marissa’s dad asked Blu if he wanted to run a marathon with him. In an effort to win him over, Blu agreed. It wasn’t until after he said yes that Marissa told him how long a marathon was.
Blu and Marissa duplicated that experience with Addict II Athlete as a way to give back to the recovery community. Blu had learned first hand that replacing addiction with exercise created small victories crucial to someone wrestling with the low self-esteem that accompanies addiction.
“Signing up for a 5K, training and finishing is a way for them to have those ‘I can do it’ moments that help them heal,” Marissa says.
As a mental health and substance abuse counselor for the Utah County Health department, Blu is acutely aware of the drug use statistics in Utah Valley and understands the barriers to healing. When Blu started Addict II Athlete, he got permission for the group meetings to count as one of the three weekly support meetings required in court-mandated treatment.
The Utah County chapter of Addict II Athlete regularly has more than 60 at each weekly meeting, which is followed by athletic training — whether it’s a trail run, a bike ride or a yoga class. Some attending are addicts themselves and some are friends and family of those who struggle with substance abuse.
When Addict II Athlete members register for races, they often pick events like Relay for Life that raises money for philanthropic causes.
“As an addict, you suck the resources out of everyone around you,” Marissa says. “When you are in recovery, it feels good to give back.”
Here and Now
Looking back on the broken road they have traveled, Blu and Marissa believe their rewarding relationship has been worth all the sacrifices.
“We believe you don’t grow old together, you heal together,” Blu says.