Note: To protect her privacy, the last name of Ashley B., the subject of the story, is omitted from this story.
Nineteen year-old Statesboro resident Ashley B. will be following in the footsteps of many other Bulloch County high school graduates in beginning her freshman year at Georgia Southern University Monday.
She has the same worries as many potential freshmen: finding her way around campus, handling her class load, and of course whether she’s carrying this fall’s “it” bag. But she has another, more pressing concern than most of her classmates … staying sober.
Ashley is a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. Born a heroin-addicted baby, Ashley spent the first few years of her life shuttled back and forth between family members.
“When I was growing up,” she said, “it was not uncommon to find needles or other drug paraphernalia around the house.”
Ashley began participating in gymnastics at the age of 7.
“Gymnastics was my way out,” she said.
At 14, her mother was diagnosed with cancer, and Ashley decided she would try alcohol to help her cope. The first time she got drunk, she ended up in the emergency room. But that did nothing to stop her experimentation.
When Ashley was 15, her mother passed away, and Ashley quit “everything in my life,” including gymnastics and school. Eventually she returned to school, but her drinking continued. She started smoking marijuana, as well.
“I liked it because for once I didn’t have to worry about my family or think about my mother,” she said.
She tried cocaine, and her life began spiraling downward at a dizzying speed. She dropped out of high school and began smoking crack.
“I had finally achieved my goal of not having to think or feel anymore,” Ashley said.
However, she experienced a moment of clarity in February 2006.
“I realized I didn’t care about anything, and I knew I had to do something,” she said.
A friend recommended a treatment center in Statesboro.
“At first I didn’t think I wanted to be sober, but I didn’t want to keep living the way I was living,” she said.
Ashley, following recommendations, agreed to remain in Statesboro and participate in an extended treatment program. She was introduced to the concept of recovery. She realized that she had the disease of alcoholism, and that while the tragedy in her life provided her with a good excuse to drink and use drugs, she was unable to stop using because she was sick.
While in treatment, she began transitioning back into life.
“I realized that I wanted to go back to high school,” Ashley said.
She was anxious about assimilating. She couldn’t go to the movies on Friday nights, or participate in a lot of the activities most students revel in. But instead of descending into self-pity, Ashley adopted a positive attitude and excelled in school. She was the Student Council secretary and co-captain of her school’s Relay for Life team. She acted as a representative in the Model UN program and participated in Statesboro’s Mock City Council.
In June, Ashley graduated with honors, and was awarded the Statesboro Service League Scholarship.
When she starts classes Monday at Georgia Southern, Ashley has fears about being a college student in recovery.
“Some of my fears are that there won’t be people I can relate to, who have the same interests as I do.”
The establishment of the new Center for Addiction Recovery at GSU has alleviated some of her fears. The center will offer educational resources and community partnerships, as well as a place where recovering students can gather to share, relax and offer each other support.
“I’m excited about the center,” Ashley says.
Ashley’s long-term goals are still unsettled.
“I might want to do a double major, nursing and international relations, or maybe counseling,” she said.
Ashley is employed as a counselor aide at Willingway Hospital in Statesboro.
“I love working with other people, and I love world issues,” she said. “Sometimes the problems of the world are so magnified. But you know, one person can really have an impact.”