I just got back from a cruise. I went alone. This was the vacation I did not take last year because I used up most of my vacation time when my roommate overdosed, followed by the death of my boyfriend to cancer 16-days later.

I really needed to get away and completely unplug. I am an investigative reporter and have spent the last two years investigating corruption in South Florida’s drug treatment industry and the opioid epidemic. Every day has been filled with death, greed and desperation.

Phone calls and text messages – day, night and weekends – from desperate parents and addicts with pleas for help and tips. Countless hours spent scouring social media for connections and leads. Dealing with lazy leaders and policy makers who know that he who complains the loudest about a problem – claims that problem as their responsibility. Greedy young addicts who have made millions by scamming insurance companies and brokering insured addicts like they are widgets – not human beings.

This has been my life for two years. The only way to escape was to find a place where there is no cell service, no wifi and no one who knew who I am or what I have been doing. So, I took a cruise.

Unlimited bad food! A spa! Room service! A 1,000-page book! Chocolate on my pillow every night! No TV! No Wifi! No email! No Twitter! No Facebook! And a 12-Step meeting every day when I wasn’t on the bottom of the ocean scuba diving with the fishies.

I sat at a different dinner table every night so I could meet people. They mostly talked about other cruises they had been on and what they had planned at each port. Some showed me pictures of their grand kids. A few asked what I did.

“I am an investigative reporter,” I said.

“Oh, that sounds interesting! What do you investigate?”they asked.

“Well, for the last two years I have been investigating insurance fraud in south Florida’s drug treatment industry and the heroin epidemic,” I said.

“Oh my! That does sound interesting,” they said. And then we talked about the dessert menu.

But one afternoon, after a wonderful dive, I decided to have a Diet Coke with a couple having a cocktail at a beach bar. They were a lovely couple. I was thoroughly relaxed – loving my life, my sobriety and that little chocolate that would be on my pillow that night.

Then the question: “So, what do you do?”

“I am an investigative reporter,” I said.

“Wow. What are you investigating?” they asked.

“Insurance fraud in South Florida’s drug treatment industry and the heroin epidemic,” I said.

They were silent. Then the wife spoke.

“Our daughter has been a heroin addict for 10 years,” she said. “She’s got a year clean now.”

My inner tourist cringed. “Here we go,” she said sarcastically.

And there I went, head first into a long conversation with this lovely couple about their daughter, their granddaughter who was born addicted to heroin and their family’s relentless effort to help. I shared some of my experiences in recovery and they shared their daughter’s program.

Their daughter is on buprenorphine and she has a job. This time she is really determined. Seeing the agony her newborn went through detoxing off heroin had really gotten to her, they said. She is really doing well, they said. They were so proud of her.

We talked and talked. Part of me silently whined and resented the conversation but a much bigger part of me was so happy. This is the way we need to behave if we are going to put a dent in the stigma and epidemic. We need to meet the disease wherever and whenever it comes up. No shame. No judgment.

They didn’t have to talk about their daughter. We could have just talked about that night’s dinner menu. It takes bravery – not just to endure 10 years of watching your child slowly die – but of being willing to talk about it.  On vacation. On a beach. On a beautiful day.