If anyone knows what it takes to turn their life around, it’s Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino.
The New Jersey native rose to fame as a hard-partying, self-proclaimed “guido” on Jersey Shore — but by the time the original run of the MTV show wrapped in 2012, he was battling a prescription painkiller addiction.
“We are both recovery advocates and speakers for Banyan Treatment Centers,” Mike tells PEOPLE. “They have 10 treatment centers across the country right now. My job is to spread awareness about substance abuse and the disease of addiction.”
“Also, we want to shed light on the fact that there are positive stories out there — we do recover,” he adds. “Most importantly, the comeback is truly greater than the setback.”
Mike says his own decision to get sober came during his third stint in rehab.
“I was in a treatment center and I was really just sort of sick and tired,” he recalls. “I was desperate for results. I really wanted to be able to look in the mirror again and make myself proud, I wanted to make my mother proud.”
“So I just made a promise to myself for there to be no excuses, for me to do the best I can to absorb as much as I could in rehab and practice those principles in my everyday life, and for me to stay on the road to recovery no matter what,” he continues. “Ever since then, I’ve continued being my best self, and now I’m living my best life and teaching others to do the same.”
And Lauren — Mike’s college sweetheart, whom he married a little over a year ago — has not only stood by her man on his recovery journey, but she also has experience with addiction from within her own family.
“Unfortunately, my younger brother passed from the disease of addiction,” she tells PEOPLE. “It was extremely traumatic to go through while he was suffering, and then you don’t even expect it when it happens, so after he passed it was even more challenging.”
“I like to work with Mike and every facility that he works with to bring on the family aspect of it, because even though I’m not an addict and I can’t understand that point of view of struggling with addiction, I can completely understand where the families are coming from and the advice they need,” she explains. “They’re scrambling for resources and help and information and sometimes just for a community of support. So I just bring that perspective to all of the people we partner with.”
Lauren says her number one advice for family members and friends of addicts is “to never lose faith in them, and to always reassure them that there is time to turn it around.”
“Even during active addiction, if the addict is really reckless and you have boundaries and they’re not living at home and you’re not financially supporting them, you can still let them know that you’re … there for them when they’re ready to take that step to turn it around,” she says.
“There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but don’t forget that light is you,” Mike adds. “The only person that can fix your life is the person in the mirror. In active recovery, there are no excuses. You never want to get off the road to recovery. It’s really about going one day at a time for the rest of your life.”
“Those important principles that I learned are what helped us get through prison and through the most recent situation with my wife and a bit of a complication we had, so I guess everything in life happens for a reason,” he continues, referencing the miscarriage the couple recently suffered.
“I had a choice: to become better, or to become bitter,” he says. “I decided to become better and worked on losing weight. I was very proud of myself for how I acted under great adversity.”
Since his release, he says he’s “excited about everything.”
“Every phone call, every conversation, every meal,” he says. “You’re very, very grateful and very humble and very excited to have the chance, one day at a time, to achieve your goals and dreams.”
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please contact the SAMHSA substance abuse helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.