'What got me out was this desperation': Toronto woman details struggle with substance abuse

A recovering addict talks to Angie Seth about her addiction, what it took to get her life back on track, and the importance of support, hope and courage in helping others beat the urge to use.

Ashley has been sober for over two years. Her journey to get this point has been long, often scary, but critical.

Ashley became an addict at the age of 14. It started with alcohol and then escalated to mushrooms, then ecstasy to years of drug abuse that included ketamine, MDMA, GHB, booze, weed and eventually cocaine.

“I was a very high academic achiever in school and once the drug use got … if I could it was daily … it was failing out, not going to school, dropping out, not going home a lot of the time … I was in active addiction for 16 years. I got to some pretty low places in my life,” she told Global News.

A few years ago, Ashley was arrested and spent time in jail for importing large amounts of cocaine from the Caribbean into Canada.

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“That was the only time I was substance free,” Ashley said.

“One third of the way through my sentence I was going to college and found myself at a bar having a few drinks, a mental blank spot hit and I was doing cocaine again even though I said I never wanted to again. That started a six-year spree,” she said.

Her story is an important one to tell because it sheds a critical spotlight on addiction in Toronto, the desperate call for help, and how support and understanding can mean the difference between ongoing addiction and breaking the desire to use.

For Ashley, it was her desperate need to break the cycle and start a new life.

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“In 2011 I was restless, irritable and discontent and prayed for answers and knew I had to stop hard drugs or die. So I put them down and used weed and booze for another five years. Then I started feeling restless, irritable and discontented again. Just over two years ago, August 2015, I went on a Cocaine Anonymous camp-out in Sibbald Point, and had a breakthrough.”

Since then her life has been very different.

Cocaine Anonymous is an outreach program that helps those with substance abuse stop using and focus on living. Since 1997, an annual convention takes place that brings together addicts from around the world.

The event incorporates a number of powerful and inspiring speakers, a sobriety countdown and an opportunity for former addicts to share their personal stories of freedom from drug addiction.

“What got me out was this desperation. I could not live like this anymore. I had been introduced to “Cocaine Anonymous,” a 12 step program,” she said.

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“That combined with seeing other people who had found a way out and they were happy. You know they just weren’t sober, they were happy and I wanted that. I wanted to be at peace inside… I gave up trying to do it my own way and gave this program a shot.”

Ashley says we are in a critical situation right now and the cry for help is loud and desperate.

“There are a lot of folks who are really struggling right now. I see a lot of hopelessness.”

It’s that hopelessness that motivates her to help others and to spread the message that there is so much more beyond addiction. She works as a social service worker and works closely with Cocaine Anonymous and its members.

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“I go into institutions like detoxes and treatment centres, and the main purpose of our program is to carry the message to people who are suffering.”

But she admits the road to recovery is a long one, often labelled with stereotypes and misconceptions – something that can make it very difficult for addicts to get away from.

“People who struggle with addiction are more than just alcoholics, are more than drug addicts, they are people and there is such a deeply rooted stigma with that label … You just think I am a bad person but I am not a bad person, I struggle with some things, and I have done bad things, but that doesn’t mean that’s who I am … and I think that is really important for people to understand it’s not who was are innately, it’s just something we struggle with. I am never cured but I am recovered from that obsession to use.”

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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