She didn’t grow up wanting to be addicted to heroin. She had self-esteem issues at an early age. She, like many young girls, began dating an older man. And he hit her, which caused more problems than one.
Ashley Livingston turned 29 this year. She’s a young person in sustained recovery, which means she hasn’t used any mood or mind-altering substances. Now for four years. “The disease does not discriminate,” said Livingston. “I was involved in sports, dance, gymnastics. I had a good family, but I was predisposition. Both of my parents are alcoholics.”
Her boyfriend ended up in jail. At age 16, Livingston then dated another older man. He had mental health issues. Sometimes, when he went off his medication, he’d hit Livingston, too. He ended up in jail with his own mom testifying against his abusive actions. After six months in jail he returned to Livingston’s life. And that’s where her life ultimately changed forever.
“When he got out, he started stalking me. He ripped me out of my car and body slammed me on the pavement, so I got bone spurs in my back, so my primary care doctor prescribed me opioids,” said Livingston. “I don’t know if I become addicted right away or not but I was doing physical therapy and I think it was the emotional/mental pain and anguish combined with the physical pain that I was in, so then I started taking more than I was supposed to and stuff.”
Livingston smoked weed. She’d drop ecstasy and tried other recreation drugs. She never went past that until the doctors prescribed her opioids. “I really liked them. And that helped me write papers,” said Livingston. “I could’ve went to Stony Brook on a scholarship and I told my mom I wasn’t ready to move away from home, so I went to SUNY Adirondack but it was really because I wanted to continue taking pills. I didn’t think I was addicted, but I was purchasing pills on the street.”
In December 2005 with her first semester of college nearly completed Livingston tried heroin for the first time. Livingston said she instantly felt better. From there Livingston started to exclusively do heroin because it was cheaper. Sometimes she’d sell to support her habit. She did go to her mom in the summer of 2006. She had just finished her freshman year and she told her mom she thought she was addicted to heroin. Livingston with the help of her family attempted to enter a detox in Albany, which she was first turned away for not being sick enough; she had to return the next morning when she was vomiting, nearly defecating on herself, sweating and in extreme amounts of physical pain from the withdrawal. “I wouldn’t wish [withdrawal] on my worst enemy,” said Livingston.
After the weekend, Livingston was released. She was told she didn’t need to enter a treatment facility, because she wasn’t that bad. Her mom sent her to South Carolina to live with her dad. She didn’t use all summer, but as soon as she got back to New York she started using again, going back to the same places with the same people.
“I just didn’t care about anything,” said Livingston.
In February 2007, at age 19, police raided a house she frequented, charging her with several felonies. Livingston served five and half months in Saratoga County, on a six-month five-year felony probation sentence she was given. Still, 19, she violated her probation. She was sent to a treatment center for about three weeks. Then things looked better. She was doing well. “I think [it was] three years and then my ex came home from jail. We both thought we were in a good place,” said Livingston. “Then he relapsed on crack, which made him really mean.”
Shortly then her ex-boyfriend shattered Livingston’s mandible. She had surgery, and began shooting up, her prescribed medication and heroin. She tried cocaine intravenously to numb the physical, as well as emotional pain.
In June 2012 her mom found her overdosed. “I had five weeks left on my five-year felony probation. I was violated. But that was probably the best thing that could have happened to me because I really was probably ready to die,” said Livingston. “I weighed like 89 pounds and I had like no desire to live, really.”
Livingston spent three-months, after waiting in jail for three months, at St. Joseph’s Addiction Treatment & Recovery Center. She went to a halfway house, attended outpatient and domestic violence counseling. Then, in 2014, she graduated from Washington County Felony Treatment Court; which she credits with saving her life.
Things are looking up for Livingston. “My life is really good today. I’m co-chair of Friends of Recovery of Warren and Washington. I am a certified recovery coach,” said Livingston. “I am an advocate. I’m working on my CPRA-P (Certified Peer Recovery Advocate Provisional).”
This disease, however, continues to affect Livingston. She has seen friends and family die from this disease; she continues to see many of her family and friends struggle with their disease. She wants to tell the world it’s possible to live a life of sustained recovery. “I try to raise awareness and let people know that recovery is possible. It does happen,” said Livingston. “But we need to support it. We need to be a society that supports recovery.”