When it came to planning their wedding for fifty-three guests (thirty-nine adults and fourteen kids) in Hawaii, Billie and Ryen knew what they wanted more than anything: a sober, kid-friendly destination wedding on the island of Kauai. As Billie explained:
Ryen and I are both recovered alcoholics. Very early in our relationship, we managed to become and stay sober together, an against-all-odds anomaly that is to this day amazing. We met in 2007, both reeling from the consequences of our drinking. I was fresh out of the hospital from an alcohol related illness, he was fresh out of jail from more of the same. It was a fateful Cinco de Mayo afternoon at TGI Fridays. We more or less immediately connected–neither of us can recall with certainty. The next morning, we talked sobriety, hope, and treatment. Two months in, we had an apartment together, I’d checked into rehab, and we started to build. Eight years, thousands of A.A. meetings, and two children later, we got married.
The vision for our wedding was “simplicity and joy,” and the children made that happen with ease. We also planned a few outings to make the destination experience inclusive and celebratory beyond just the wedding day. We had a wedding website and planned three trips: zip-lining, a hike to a local spot of beauty (Queen’s Bath), and an A.A. Meeting. All three were incredibly special. In lieu of gifts, we requested donations to the women’s treatment center that helped get me sober, Residence XII.
So the family of four packed up and headed to Kauai, with APW fave Jonas Seaman Photography in tow… and something pretty special happened:
Deciding to have a sober wedding was incredibly important to both Ryen and Billie—anything else wasn’t even an option:
Deciding to have a sober wedding was definitely outside the box for my side of the family. Alcohol had been synonymous with a good time for Ryen and I, too, once upon a time, but our recovery was the result of that not having been the case for us anymore. We are committed to our sobriety, and the truth and honesty that goes along with it is the foundation of our solid respect and love for one another. Having alcohol at our wedding wasn’t even an option. While I self-consciously imagined vibes of resentment that the reception wasn’t a “party,” having it during the day (freeing up the night for imbibing) made sobriety a more palatable experience in my mind. We also had a lot of sober friends attend, which made it easier and less stressful.
In addition to celebrating sobriety and love, the pair wanted the focus to be on another incredibly important part of their lives:
The wedding was not only about bringing Ryen and me together, but was also about uniting us as a family with our daughters. Whitney and Maggie are both little manifestations of the strength and hope we have found in one another! It was important to us that they were included in the ceremony and involved with the whole process. We made sure to plan the wedding for when Maggie could walk down the aisle with Whitney. When we had our rings made, we commissioned the artist Nadine Kariya to make rings for the girls, too. When we sent out save-the-dates, we included Whitney and Maggie’s name in parenthesis to highlight that it would be a family affair. I also had Whitney paint with me while I made the invitations so she felt a part of the process.
Along with Whitney and Maggie, we were keenly aware of the children of friends and family attending as guests. On the invitations, we included the family’s children’s names. Within, we printed, “Kids welcome at every part of our celebration!” Our wedding coordinator, Kaye, brought hula hoops, which were used in every way imaginable—leashes, jump ropes, hula (of course), and space makers. We had a food truck that put out a yogurt parfait bar, which was helpful in getting hungry kiddos fed while the meals were cooking.
And in the end, every single thing fell into place like they wanted—and needed—it to.
Our love and joy was translated beautifully by the playful and hyperactive kids who endlessly danced, ran, cartwheeled, and tumbled throughout the day. The sun shone just long enough to allow for easy celebration, then the North Shore weather rolled in and doused us in sky and rainbow. As the day’s events wrapped up and the rain began, the safety of our union felt complete and ready for all weather. We are so happy to at last be husband and wife!
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