Why Rehab Addict’s Nicole Curtis Stepped Out of the Spotlight 2 Years Ago — and Why She’s 'Nervous' Coming Back

Nicole Curtis is back! The star of HGTV's Rehab Addict is making her return to TV with a new show and a new outlook after stepping away from the spotlight two years ago.

On Rehab Addict Rescue, premiering January 28 on HGTV and Discovery+, the design expert, 44, is part renovation guru, part life coach, as she comes to the aid of families who are in over their heads after purchasing old homes in need of an overhaul.

Some were inspired to attempt a rehab by watching Curtis's journey: "There were moments of 'What have I done? I've created monsters,'" she jokes in this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday. "But, overall, whenever somebody feels loving and passionate about old houses, I'm like, 'All right, you got me there.'"

Still, she's determined to make her pupils put in the work: "This isn't 'Oh, we're going to make your house over, and your life will be so fabulous.' They have to be committed," she says. "But it was a lot of fun teaching them. If it's not fun, it's not worth doing."

The eight hour-long episodes mark Curtis's return to TV after a significant hiatus following the end of Rehab Addict 1.0 in the fall of 2018.

"I was completely burned out," Curtis admits of her decision to step away. "There was so much time in those ten years where I didn't get to enjoy it at all. I was stressed out."

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Making the hit show, for which she bought and restored old houses in Detroit, was often exhausting for Curtis as a young single mom. (She has sons Ethan, 23, and Harper, 5.) "Everything you see on the show, I personally bought, picked up, put into place, ironed the curtains, everything," she says. And filming could be grueling: "It was so raw. And I'd wear the same clothes every day. I didn't have any makeup on."

While her success as a TV star eventually allowed her the privilege of hitting pause ("I just reached a point where I didn't have to do it anymore. I'm thankful," she says), ultimately, it was her family that inspired her to take a significant break.

For the first time, she says, "I could just be at home, being a mom. When I had a chance for that to happen, I took it, because I didn't have that the first time around." Curtis welcomed her older son Ethan when she was 20 years old and cared for him as she built her business and launched her TV career. (He appeared on her show as a kid and makes a cameo in the first episode of Rescue.) Deciding to take a different route nearly two decades later, she managed to keep her second pregnancy, with Harper in 2015, a secret.

During filming, she went through a contentious, years-long custody battle over Harper with her ex-boyfriend Shane Maguire and became an outspoken advocate for the rights of breastfeeding mothers. Her choice to continue to breastfeed Harper at age 3 drew criticism from some and became a flashpoint in her legal fight with Maguire. They finally reached a custody agreement in October 2018.

As she returns to the public eye, she says, "I can't lie and say that I'm not nervous about having a show back out there." But this time she's doing it on her own terms.

"I had a very chaotic ten years. I didn't want to go down that path again," she says. "I'm hyper-focused right now on remembering where I want to be, what matters in my life, what my priorities are. My biggest thing, always, is that life is short and I want to live it to the fullest. And I'm thankful our fans have appreciated that."

Rehab Addict Rescue premieres January 28 on HGTV and the Discovery+ streaming service.

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