She likes to think of herself as a recovering addict, but the young woman, scars of her drug abuse a road map that runs up and down her arms, quickly admits staying clean is an uphill battle that she often loses.
“Right now, I'm controlling it; it's not controlling me, and that's a good start. I'm not perfect, but I'm not getting high every day either.”
She's tried many controlled substances in her life, starting at the age of 14 with cocaine offered to her by her mother. “We snorted it together off my grandmother's washing machine,” she recalled of the first of many admittedly bad choices she has made.
Growing up watching her mother, a crack addict, abuse drugs, Ashley said it was easy to fall into the same pattern. Yet, ironically, she doesn't blame her mother's example on her own downhill slide. “That would be easy, to blame her. And as a teenager, it was a poor example to set, but I'm responsible for my own actions, for the choices I've made. That's on me, no one else.”
It's a mantra she now recites, a part of what she's learned from an intense 12-week substance abuse counseling program she was ordered to enter by the courts. While the program, she said, didn't help her all that much with her addictions, it did give her a new insight into how she saw herself.
“It has helped me with my self-worth, with understanding I'm responsible for my choices,” she said.
Thirteen years earlier, her self-worth wasn't very valuable, she acknowledged, recalling how her use of cocaine led to crack and eventually to trying heroin.
“I've done heroin, but I don't like it. I'd choose pain pills over heroin. You get that same kind of high, that same kind of burn.”
It's the burn that addicts crave, she said. Whether shooting it up, snorting it, eating it or smoking it, the sensation it gives your body is palpable. “You ever heard people say 'it hurts so good,' well that's what shooting up heroin is all about. When you push that plug and the medicine goes into your body, you feel this burning heat. It hurts so bad it feels good. People who are addicted to heroin are constantly carving that burn.”
Prescription pills, crushed up and snorted or shot up, will give a similar, if not more intense, high, she said.
Getting clean after abusing the drug, she stressed, is a different kind of hurt, and one that doesn't ever feel good.
“Oh my God, it's terrible. Your body is physically ill. You are dehydrated, constipated one day, having diarrhea the next, and cold sweats virtually all the time. And you have the worst kind of cramps you can imagine. It's the worst kind of withdrawal.”
Until recently, the only two times in her life she wasn't using was when she was pregnant.
“I understood what it could do to my children, and I didn't want that for them. I wanted to be a good mother.”
But the cycle of abuse would return within months of giving birth. “It would usually start with alcohol. I'd get drunk and then I'd start looking for a different high. Eventually I'd find myself making those same bad choices again.”
Today, she's banking on a stronger sense of self-worth and a desire to be a good mother to be the catalyst for her to stay clean, though Ashley doesn't kid herself about the uphill battle it is and will continue to be.
“Just to be able to say I've moved from sinking sand to solid ground is a real big step. My goal right now is to live my life sober, and I'm doing a good job of it right now, and it's a new world for me. Everything smells different when you aren't high, being in the sun feels different.”
Today, when she wakes up, it's a cup of coffee she yearns for. Before, she said, it was a drug, sometimes any drug, something to take the edge off.
For Ashley, it's been a cold turkey approach to breaking a 13-year habit. “It's hell doing it that way, but right now, I'm in control.”
She urges anyone thinking about trying any drug, be it prescription medication or something illegal, to resist the urge. “It's not worth it, take it from somebody who really knows. You lose everything, including yourself, and it's really hard to get it back.
“Before you try drugs, think about your family, all the people you care about. Addiction doesn't just impact you, it impacts everyone who cares about you. You take them to hell with you.”
And the battle to recover is a hard one, she attested.
“You don't ever stop fighting it. That addiction is always present, ready to rear its head, ready to take you away again.”
Today Ashley said she's winning the battle. Tomorrow she's not sure about.
“I'm just trying to get me back, and I'm trying to keep me. It's a struggle, but one I'm counting on winning.”