Living Proof: A Tale of Two Pandemics

| This is the 543rd story of Our Life Logs® |

There is uncertainty lurking in our lives around every corner, but that doesn’t mean we have to let it dictate the direction in which it leads us. Our past does not define our future.

My name is Ashley. I grew up happy and, for a while, my life was nothing out of the ordinary.

Things took a darker turn in our home when my parents decided to get a divorce. My brother and I were stuck in the middle of it. Things weren’t the same after that. I went from living comfortably in a four-bedroom home to living in a basement apartment where I shared a room with my mother. I didn’t have space, privacy, or room to grow. And although my family’s love endured, I now realize that this was only the first of many experiences that led me to search for solace in unhealthy places later on in life.

At the beginning of 2014, I was raped by a friend. I saw myself and the world differently after that day. It didn’t matter what else happened to me. I started partying, drinking, and doing as many drugs as I could to try and escape from the memory; maybe one more hit or one more drink was what I needed to disappear. But it was never enough.

And this pain was what led me down the road to self-destruction in the first place: I wanted to escape the memories, to escape myself. I thought that if I just did enough drugs or drank enough alcohol that they would disappear. What I didn’t realize is that, in trying to escape myself, I lost myself.

In the fall of 2019, when I was 24, I was arrested twice. I had relapsed and was using heroin again. I was making bad decisions. I couldn’t recognize myself. I was in deeper than I thought and needed help. So, I checked into a rehabilitation facility on the opposite side of the country in California, to save me from myself.

Being away from friends and family for four months was difficult, but small things, like cards and care packages from loved ones, kept me going through the most challenging days. Between the support I received and the program, I thought there’d be sunny days ahead.

As I was working hard toward recovery, fighting against an epidemic, the world was introduced to a virus called COVID-19. These headlines made me wary of returning home. I didn’t want to put myself or my family at an increased risk of exposure to the virus. But as it spread across the globe, I was forced to fly home early from my recovery program. Just as I was getting back on track to health and stability, the country was headed downhill in the opposite direction.

It was a tough reality to come to terms with: now I had an opioid addiction ​and ​a global pandemic on top of that to worry about. I was meant to move into a sober living community when I returned home to Maryland, but I wasn’t able to because of COVID-19 restrictions. It was just too risky to live with strangers during such an uncertain time. Accepting this fact was terrifying. I felt lost and ungrounded and wasn’t sure where to go.

Ultimately, I decided I didn’t want to be away from my family any longer than I already had to, so I got settled back into my dad’s apartment. Then, things took a turn for the worse. The state went under lockdown. Suddenly, I couldn’t leave my home. I couldn’t get space from my family. I couldn’t even get space from myself. I could feel the walls closing in on me and stress began to pile on.

Without my recovery program, I had no one to talk to about things that ordinary people wouldn’t understand at the level that a recovering addict would. It was that community of love and unconditional support that had helped me stay sober. Without it, I knew lockdown was going to be unbearable.

It was a struggle every day, but I was determined to maintain my sobriety. I was getting by okay for the most part during the first few days. I found ways to keep myself busy with things like work, school, and other hobbies. I did everything I could think of to make sure I didn’t slip too far into a depressive state where drugs and alcohol would start sounding good again. Eventually, I found a rhythm and routine that worked for me, despite the constantly changing self-quarantine and social distancing laws of the state.

But lockdown was only supposed to last two weeks, at most. Days turned into weeks, months, and soon, what felt like years.

I ran out of things to do and became bored beyond belief. Soon, that boredom turned to emptiness. It created space for haunted memories to resurface and creep back into my daily routine with rigor. I couldn’t help but think about the darkest days of my addiction. I couldn’t help but think about the choices I made throughout my life.

Looking for a distraction, I began rummaging through some old photos and childhood knick-knacks. As I dug through them, I thought back to my earliest memory in first grade when I decided to get a late-night snack without my mother knowing. What can I say, I’ve always been pretty independent—some may say headstrong. I had a hankering for something sweet, so I reached for a juicy apple and one of the sharp kitchen knives. When I pushed down, the knife slipped and slid right into my finger. A classic example of me running on self-will and being defiant.

In my walk down memory lane, I found some essays I had written for my first semester at college. In reviewing them, I remembered the traumatic experiences I had, and how each it had spiraled me into a path of destruction. I just stopped caring about much of anything. The memory of these events and pain from my childhood still lingered. With nothing but myself and my thoughts during lockdown, it took a mental toll on me, especially without the support of my rehabilitation program. I could feel myself slipping.

Yet as I continued to explore these memories, I was able to see my past decisions with more clarity. Partying had always been my priority; it came first over anything else because it was all I could bear to do. The detrimental effects of this perspective had a huge influence over my life, including my career. At my first job, I was always late, coming in fucked up. This became a pattern. Soon my addiction became more than my lifestyle, it became my life.

I was fired from several jobs. Some companies even filed restraining orders against me so I couldn’t come back. I’ve been in and out of NA rooms countless times and have gone to a total of three rehabilitation treatment centers. I was arrested over fifteen times. I crashed a total of five cars. I lost countless friends, some of whom lost their own lives. The hate I felt for myself at the lowest points in my life and the choices I had made were always a huge factor for me using.

But that was someone else—and I wanted to make sure that I didn’t become that person again. Even if I had to face these parts of myself alone, I refused to become just another statistic of the opioid crisis. I refused to let someone else’s actions determine my life or my self-worth. I refused to succumb to the unprecedented effects of a global pandemic.

With this glimmer of hope, I knew I was going to be okay. While the old saying is that the end of one chapter starts the beginning of another, addiction recovery isn’t as straightforward as that. No healing truly is. Mental health is a process. It’s not something to escape or erase. I now know how to address my issues in healthier ways so that I can move forward. I would have to take each day as it came.

Instead of fixating on the past, I looked towards the future. I started to use my spare time in lockdown to apply for jobs that actually interested me, even ones that I didn’t think I could get. That’s when I found my calling for a career in finance and a new chapter in my life was in the making. I got a job as a bank teller and was inspired to finish my college degree in finance.

So, while addiction will never define me, it will help develop me into the best me that I can be—and that’s not something just anyone can say. This place of discomfort is where we will grow.

This is the story of Ashley Peterson

Ashley (25) has had a life filled with many ups and downs. It wasn't until Ashley’s life reached traumatizing lows that she was able to gain the insight and strength she needed to pursue her dreams. But at the emergence of COVID-19, a perfect storm weathered between herself and her recovery. This is Ashley’s living proof of courage when COVID-19 and opioid addiction collide.



This story first touched our hearts on March 16, 2020

Writer: Natasha Palance | Editor: Kristen Petronio

#COVID19 #COVID #coronavirus #opioidaddiction #rehabilitation #USA #courage #livingproof #trauma #overcomingtrauma #addiction #recovery #addictionrecovery


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