People hide their dirty laundry in their closets, shove it under their beds, or throw it down in the basement. Basically, the dirty laundry gets stored anywhere that it’s not going to be noticed by outsiders. This is the concept that fueled the establishment of Dirty Laundry Designs (DLD), a website that provides greeting cards for those battling addiction and pursuing recovery. DLD is owned and operated by Colleen Gardner and her husband, John.
Colleen, who comes from a “very private family in which you don’t ever ‘air your dirty laundry,’” came up with the idea for the company after she experienced addiction and recovery very close to home. Members of her immediate family, her two twin brothers, struggled with alcoholism and drug addiction, and one fell into an “extremely dire situation.” He was placed on life support and the doctors told her family that he would not make it.
Thankfully, he pulled through and is celebrating six years of sobriety this year. The other twin has been sober for 17 years.
During the time that her brother was in critical shape, Colleen began to feel the desire to share the information with her extended family and friends who had no idea that this was even an issue in her family. She says she and her family were “hiding in the shame and embarrassment.”
“Really, it was a hard thing for me because I’m an honest person and I felt like my spirit was suffocating,” she remembers about keeping the secret from her loved ones.
“But when I did come forward and say, ‘This is what’s going on, my brother has been placed on life support for addiction,’ every single person that I confided in had their own story about addiction, whether it was their grandpa or their mom, or themselves,” Colleen recalls. “All this time, all of us were struggling when we could have been leaning on each other, because we all hadn’t talked about it. Amazing relationships have happened because we put it all out there.”
“Dirty Laundry Designs is out of a love and a need,” she explains. Colleen started making the cards for her brothers because she and her family members were having a hard time finding cards that were “age appropriate or that looked celebratory.” She said that many of the cards she had found on the topic of recovery looked like sympathy cards. With the idea that “the recovery process was such a great thing that needed to be celebrated,” she started designing and making the cards.
Colleen and John, who both have a photography background, work together on the words and images for the cards. Every single card on the DLD product line has original photographs taken by either John or Colleen. Many of the cards have sayings that she and John had wanted to say to their loved ones who were going through the recovery process. “One card is a picture of an old VW, with the saying ‘I love watching you living life sober,’ and that’s something I always wanted to say to my brother,” Colleen says. Some sayings on the cards apply to 12-Step recovery.
She explains that many of the cards don’t have sobriety sayings on the front because sometimes people just want to hang them in their office and be reminded of it but they don’t necessarily want everyone to know that they’re in recovery. “Everybody’s different. Some people are very private with their recovery journey and some people just want the world to know, so we try to respect both sides,” she says.
The feedback from customers has been very positive, according to Colleen. She says that it is gratifying to receive emails from those in recovery who have been touched by DLD. Most recently, she received an email from a woman whose son was going through treatment. She told Colleen that he had all of the card designs framed in his room at the treatment facility.
Another instance she recalls involves a woman reordering her favorite card. “She said, ‘I carried this card everywhere with me in my purse because I was really going through a rough time, and now it is all tattered and worn.’ And she actually ordered five copies of the same card. One for her mirror, her purse, her car ... that’s been very touching as well.”
The biggest lesson learned throughout this process has been that “there’s always hope,” Colleen says. “I’ve met a lot of people who were in the same dire situation as us, and by the grace of God, or a higher power, or whomever, they were able to come through it,” she explains.
Colleen says that DLD is “also a great way of healing and therapy for myself and my husband.” She and the rest of her family understand firsthand what chemical dependency can do to family dynamics.
Although Colleen and her husband were immediately affected by her brothers’ addiction and recovery journeys, she also comes from a long family history of addiction. “We’ve had people die in our family from it, some have almost died, some are recovering and some are still battling. It’s been a long journey for my entire family.”
DLD is currently wholesaling to retail establishments and rehab centers, as well as making its cards available online. DLD cards have been purchased by addiction counselors and rehab centers to send out to alumni for their sobriety anniversaries, according to Colleen.
“It’s been a great, happy thing to be able to finally celebrate recovery for my family members and many others,” she adds.