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2nd chance at life: Baxter couple shares story of drug addiction to empower others

Brian Andrews and Mandy Miller are on the road to recovery after struggling with drug addiction for many years. They want to share their story to show others second chances are possible.

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Mandy Miller and Brian Andrews share a laugh May 6, 2021, when talking about their road to recovery after battling drug addiction. The couple got married in December 2016 and celebrated seven years of sobriety May 21. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch
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Reilly Miller was a high school student when they were called to the office one day.

They didn’t know what the call was for but soon learned it was something serious when a social worker met them and asked to step into a conference room to talk.

A long-term drug addiction had gotten the best of Reilly’s mom and stepdad, who had just lost custody of their other children. Reilly, who is queer and uses they/them pronouns, was living with their biological father at the time but needed to step in to help find temporary homes for their four younger siblings.

Brian Andrews and Mandy Miller look back on that day, seven years ago, as one of the lowest points in their lives. Andrews recalls police officers knocking on his doors and windows. Miller was pregnant at the time and had overdosed a couple weeks earlier.

Reilly had been gone for a few months.

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“In an act of self-preservation, I left one day and walked to my dad’s house with a duffel bag full of my favorite clothing items and then didn’t really look back after that,” the University of Minnesota student recalled during a Zoom interview May 20. “But I think the hardest part of all of that was leaving my siblings behind and feeling like it was my responsibility to take care of them and to watch over them and be their rock, and I got to the point where I couldn’t do it anymore.”

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A relationship with Reilly wasn’t the only thing the couple lost to their addiction. Up to that point, they lost homes, jobs, friends and other family members. They had been close to death at times, but it wasn’t until those two police officers came to the house in March 2014 and ultimately took their children away that they knew something had to change.

Andrews will never forget the feeling of seeing and hearing his 3-year-old son cry as he handed him over to child protective services.

“It’s locked into my mind. I remember every part of it, and I know that what he was experiencing was because of my choices,” he said May 6 while sitting behind a desk at work, a sign of how far he’s come.

Helpless, hopeless and homeless

A few days after the police showed up, the eviction notice came.

Looking at everything they would now have to do to get their kids back was daunting — going to treatment, staying clean, finding a place to live. It felt like too much.

And Reilly kept their distance, amid a whirlwind of emotions.

They felt guilty for leaving their siblings behind, a sense of resentment toward their stepdad — more so than their mom — but also empathy for what the couple was going through.

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Reilly Miller
Reilly Miller smiles while talking about the pride they have for their mom Mandy Miller and stepdad Brian Andrews as the couple recovers from a years-long battle with drug addiction. Screenshot by Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

And they have always believed in second chances.

“If people are given the opportunity to heal and the support to heal, then I believe in them, and I believe that they can achieve what they want to achieve. And even from a really young age I understood that addiction is a disease,” Reilly said. “It wasn’t my mom being like, ‘I hate my kids so I’m going to treat them this way.’ It was, ‘I am really struggling right now, emotionally and psychologically, and this is a result of that.’”

Andrews and Miller always thought as long as their bills were paid or they had custody of their kids, things were OK. But they quickly learned that was not the case.

Andrews’ trouble with drugs goes back to his teenage years. He was 15 when his dad died of a massive heart attack, the result of drug abuse, alcoholism and tobacco use. Andrews and his friends already drank at that time but made a pact not to do drugs.

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That didn’t last long, though. Within the next year, he found himself doing cocaine and then methamphetamine.

Then came run-ins with law enforcement.

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Andrews got to know Andy Galles, but not in a way either one of them would have wanted.

Galles, now a captain with the Crow Wing County Sheriff’s Office, started as a narcotics investigator with the drug task force. He first met Andrews in Crosby during a drug investigation that turned into a high-speed chase.

The two developed a contentious cops and robbers-type relationship that would eventually evolve into something very different.

One foot in front of the other

If things were ever going to improve, they had to start somewhere.

Miller ended up in treatment in Grand Rapids, while Andrews signed up for an outpatient program at Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge. The kids — ages 3, 5, 11 and 14 — were living with extended family for the time being.

“But all of a sudden one day I said, ‘You know what?’” Andrews said. “I had this moment of clarity, and I sat there, and I said, ‘You know what? I might not get my kids back, but what I’m going to do is I’m going to put one foot in front of the other and start walking in that direction.’”

The turning point for Miller was when she realized she was more than her drug use.

“Something just clicked in my head, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I am not my story.’ I can share how horrible of a person I was and all the bad choices I made and that I was a dirty junkie, but now I’m like, ‘But I’m not. That was then, and I am not that person anymore,’” she said. “And as long as I don't hold on to that and believe that, there’s nothing that I can’t do.”

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Brian Andrews and Mandy Miller pose with their kids. Pictured, from left: Adrianna Andrews, Mandy Miller, Reilly Miller holding Zane Miller, Brian Andrews (back) holding Kael Andrews, Chance Miller and Isaiah Andrews. Submitted photo

Even if they didn’t get there in the end, they wanted to be able to look back and know they fought as hard as they could for their family

So they did.

Miller finished her treatment and came back to Brainerd for drug court. Andrews wasn’t accepted right away and worried he would face prison time instead. The couple still didn’t have a house and were staying on the floor in Miller’s mom’s one-bedroom apartment. They applied for 22 different rentals and were denied all of them. They had enough money for a down payment on a house but couldn’t find anyone to sell to them.

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But still, they kept going.

A connection at Northern Pines Mental Health called Andrews one day with a potential rental for the couple. He toured the house and disclosed all of his history, not wanting to be dishonest. And to his surprise, the landlord agreed to rent to him.

“And that was the turning point,” he said. “I got a second chance.”

The couple moved into their new home with their kids, continuing to go to meetings and work on their sobriety. But Andrews still had the likelihood of prison looming over him.


“I believe that those little second chances that we got in the beginning are having impacts into the future that we’re not even going to be part of."

— Brian Andrews, Lakes Area Restorative Justice executive director


Then in came Kaye Wilson, a Crow Wing County probation agent who worked with those in drug court. She was already guiding Miller through the process when she came to the house one night to give Andrews the news of the drug court team’s decision to accept him into the program alongside Miller.

“It was emotional,” he said. “It’s emotional for me now because everything shifted to such a different degree, and all of a sudden there was a little bit of hope at the end of it.”

But with that hope came strict rules.

“I was in their life basically all the time,” Wilson said during an interview May 26 at Coco Moon. “... We would talk about anything and everything — from marital problems to drugs to cravings to meetings to court dates.”

By going through the program together, Wilson said Andrews and Miller were able to call each other out on things that weren’t going right or call her to intervene.

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“Everyone has their struggles, and every relationship has its struggles. It’s even harder where they came from and all the work they had to put into it to get their kids back, to stay sober, to work the program, to do all the drug testing they had to do for us, to be in court (regularly),” Wilson said.

But they kept going. They built up a network of people in the community they could count on, people who saw them for who they truly were instead of just as addicts.

One of those people is Rob Masters, a peer recovery specialist at Northern Pines at the time assigned to work with Andrews. A recovering addict himself with 14 years of sobriety, Masters stressed the importance of constantly setting goals.

Rob Masters
Rob Masters, a friend of Brian Andrews and Mandy Miller, smiles after talking about his friends' struggle with drug addiction and journey to recovery June 3, 2021, at Caribou Coffee in Baxter. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

“If you’re not moving forward you’re moving backwards,” Masters said during an interview June 3 at Caribou Coffee in Baxter. “... When you get close to having your other goal done, you best have a goal that you’re already working on.”

Kevin Stanfield was another supporter. He met Andrews around 2010 after finishing a recovery program at Teen Challenge himself. Stanfield convinced him to come to Heritage Church in Baxter, which Andrews attended for a time.

Even when Stanfield could tell Andrews and Miller were falling off the wagon, he continued to take their children to church. Andrews was good at hiding his struggles, Stanfield said, but the friends stayed connected through the kids. Masters encouraged Andrews to participate in a peer support specialist training program. But as someone who collected disability and hadn’t worked in years, Andrews didn’t really see the point.

He agreed to participate, though, and while in the training started to get an even stronger sense of his value and worth. He learned he could actually contribute something to the community.

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All of a sudden, Andrews had job offers from both Northern Pines and Teen Challenge.

He took the job at Teen Challenge and quickly realized how much he could help others like himself. Soon, he was asked to speak to seventh graders at Forestview Middle School about making good and bad choices regarding drugs and alcohol.

In Galles’ eyes, Andrews’ testimony is much more powerful than law enforcement officers simply telling kids not to do drugs.

Andrews has since received letters of thanks from students, one of which stands out to him. The student said he normally doesn’t pay attention to guest speakers, but Andrews was different and was just as much a hero as a doctor or a firefighter.

“It just really hit me,” Andrews said. “And all of a sudden I had this dream of working with the youth.”

A second chance

Andrews and Miller have been together for almost 21 years now and officially tied the knot December 12, 2016. Stanfield was their best man.

Kevin Stanfield
Kevin Stanfield, a friend of Brian Andrews and Mandy Miller, talks about his friends' battle with drug addiction and their road to recovery May 18, 2021, at Caribou Coffee in northeast Brainerd. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

Also that month, they were chosen for the Brainerd Warriors hockey team’s Adopt a Family Christmas event, when the team sponsors a family for the holidays.

Two years later they found themselves again on the receiving end of goodwill, when they were chosen as the recipients of a brand new Habitat for Humanity home in Baxter.

The number of people willing to invest in them made Miller realize she and her husband were good enough and were worth something to the community.

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Today, Andrews is the executive director of Lakes Area Restorative Justice Project, a Brainerd-based nonprofit focused on juvenile offenders to repair the harm they’ve caused in their community by working with both them and the victims.

Miller recently moved from her job at Northern Pines to a position at the state’s Department of Human Services.

The couple works with the Brainerd Lakes Area Drug Education, or BLADE, Coalition alongside Galles and other community leaders.

Reilly is in therapy, dealing with the childhood trauma they experienced with their mom and stepdad’s drug use, and is proud of the progress the couple has made.


“There’s a hidden agenda underneath those who are recovering, and that’s to change the world. And we do it one life at a time. We start out with ourselves, and then we help someone else out."

— Rob Masters


“I don’t picture a life where they have relapsed another time. It just doesn’t cross my mind because I feel like they’re in such a better space now than they were before,” Reilly said. “And they’re getting what they needed all along, which was support, therapy and really good people in their life. So it’s been really incredible to see where they’ve come and to see both my mom and Brian kind of fill the roles that they have always wanted for themselves.”

When Reilly came out to their parents as queer in early 2020, Andrews quickly became their biggest and most vocal supporter. It was refreshing to feel the empathy they had given for so many years reciprocated.

Words like “amazing” and “incredible” don’t even begin to describe the change Andrews’ and Miller’s friends and family see in the couple today.

“The difference is like night and day. That might be a little cliche, but it is,” Stanfield said.

For Galles, it’s rewarding.

“For me, who used to chase Brian and Mandy and others around and arrest them … it’s fun to see them actually contribute,” Galles said. “They get the kids back, they get a house, they get employment. And they’re actually feeling like active contributors to their community again.”

For Aitkin County Judge David Hermerding, a Crow Wing County prosecuting attorney at the time of Andrews’ and Miller’s last case, seeing the couple’s success — and others like it — keeps him going in what isn’t always an easy job.

“To see Brian and Mandy get into recovery, have their children come back into their lives, and then for both Brian and Mandy to be giving back to the community, that’s really what it’s all about, and that’s why we have our treatment courts,” Hermerding said. “... It’s those things that make you get ready to go on to another week.”

And for Andrews and Miller?

“I’m thankful and grateful for the officers that came to our house that day,” Andrews said. “And I’m thankful and grateful for everyone that has tried along the way because we have had different windows where we could have stepped out into a different path and just didn’t take the opportunity.”

Changing the world

Now, they and their friends in recovery are taking a different opportunity.

“There’s a hidden agenda underneath those who are recovering,” Masters said, “and that’s to change the world. And we do it one life at a time. We start out with ourselves, and then we help someone else out.”

Andrews is just beginning to see that ripple effect in his life, too. Because others have helped them, he and Miller have been able to help others, especially through restorative justice work. And who knows who those kids will go on to help?

“I believe that those little second chances that we got in the beginning are having impacts into the future that we’re not even going to be part of,” he said.

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Mandy Miller and Brian Andrews celebrated seven years of sobriety May 21, after struggling with drug addiction for many years. Submitted Photo

And it’s all because the couple got one last chance and found the right resources to help them on their road to sobriety.

Finding those resources, after all, is one of the first, and perhaps the most important, steps for those struggling with addiction.

Galles advises reaching out to a support group, a pastor or even someone like Andrews with lived experience. And because everyone’s recovery journey is different, Hermerding suggests finding a treatment program that fits the individual’s needs and to make sure they take care of themselves first.

Stanfield recommends finding at least one person to rely on completely — to call, to meet up with — when things are getting tough.

And Reilly has a message for kids who witness the tough times for their parents struggling with addiction.

“You are loved. You have potential. You have so much to offer this world because you are experiencing this now. … And even though you didn’t ask for it, and you didn’t ask for this trauma, it’s going to show you a really unique way to navigate the world that other people may not have,” Reilly said, adding therapy is never a bad thing either.

Andrews has a similar message for those with addictions.

“The most important thing that I would tell them is that you’re an important person, that every amount of effort that you put into yourself or others put into you is because you are worthy of it,” he said. “... And you have your set of life experiences. Every good and bad thing that you have experienced is going to be the exact thing that someone’s going to need to hear in the future, and you’re going to be able to share that with them, and it’s going to be the turning point for that person.”

Community resources

For those struggling with substance abuse, the following resources are available in the lakes area:

Crow Wing County also offers assistance for those with chemical dependency. Visit crowwing.us/169/Chemical-Dependency for more information.

For a list of mental health resources in the area, visit crowwing.us/410/Mental-Health .

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .

Related Topics: EVERYDAY PEOPLE
Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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