From 50 pills a day to 3 years sober: An addict's life-changing moment, 14 years in the making

- "I was a slave to my addiction. I had no idea how to stop it. It consumed my life. It consumed my soul."

Looking at 31-year-old Ashton Marr today, it may be difficult to believe three years ago she was going through withdrawals.

"It felt like I was crawling out of my skin. It felt like my bones were glass. I still, to this day, have no idea how you can be hot and cold at the same time," she says.

Growing up in Ann Arbor, Marr says she came from a good family. She was outgoing and self-confident, a happy-go-lucky child. She was in gymnastics and Girl Scouts. But, at 14 and entering high school, that confidence turned into insecurity. The world suddenly became too big and she didn't fit in it. Marr says she felt lost and alone.

"I don't know if it was teenage angst or what, but I suddenly became very unsure of my place in the world. I believe that addiction is born out of pain, and for me, that was a very painful experience," she says.

At just 14 years old, Marr's drugs of choice were ecstasy and cocaine. Those drugs, throughout high school, were often easier for her to get than alcohol.

She says, before she went into recovery, she was using drugs daily and as much as she could.

In 2004, in her early 20s, Marr was exposed to narcotic pain killers. They were prescribed to her after a surgery.

"I thought that I'd found the solution to all my problems, all that pain and anxiety I felt," she remembers.

Devouring 20-30 pills a day, by 2007 Marr had replaced pills with heroin and crack cocaine. She wasn't working and was lying to her parents and friends for money. She masked her addiction with what she calls her "good girl from Ann Arbor" facade.

"I had two full-time jobs: hiding my addiction and fueling my addiction," she says. She calls the time between 2011 and 2013 her "fuzzy years," as she always high and isolated.

Marr, who stands 5 feet 1 inch tall, weighed only 80 pounds. She was hospitalized twice and her immune system was shutting down.

"My hair was falling out. It was awful. I knew I couldn't go on that way," she says.

But Marr says her choice to use drugs was no longer that. Some days, she swallowed 40 - even 50 - Vicodins throughout the day, hoping she wouldn't wake up.

"I was more terrified of withdrawal than I was of death," she admits.

While Marr says she's never been arrested, she says there's too many times she should have been.

Marr says during her "fuzzy years," she passed out in her car at a gas station with drug paraphernalia scattered on the floor.

"The next thing I knew, I woke up to that loud cop knock," she says.

It's words from another officer, though, that stayed with her. Marr was pulled over while driving home from Detroit. She says the cop spoke up after looking at her ID, as Marr looked like a withered version from her photo.

"She just said, 'Do you see what you're doing to yourself? I don't even give you another month if you keep on like this.' And I was so angry; I was so angry because I knew she was right," Marr says.

Then, on the morning of June 23, 2013, instead of calling her dealer, like she did every morning, she made a different choice.

"For whatever reason, I put my phone back down, picked up my phone again and called Brighton Center for recovery and asked if they had a bed available, and by some small miracle, they did," she says.

Into treatment that day and out in 28, Marr spent another three and a half months in a half-way house before coming back to Ann Arbor. A year and a half later, she popped into an impact workshop where 30 officers and residents were discussing community-police relations.

"This one random person with a red mohawk showed up, so I had to talk to her and find out how did she get connected and why she was at this particular event," remembers Derrick Jackson. He's the Director of Community Engagement with the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Office.

Most proud of Washtenaw County's street outreach program, which is now 8 years old, Jackson was in need of workers and offered Marr a job.

"The ability to sit there and talk to someone who's been there, lived that story and walk you through like, 'Here's what's possible,' - I think that's just tremendous," he says.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says 78 Americans die every day from opioid-related overdoses. That number has quadrupled from 1999.

"Yes, they get locked up, but we help them through the process so when they get back out they're in a much better place than when they came in," Jackson says. "You could have a deputy give naloxone and bring someone back to life in the midst of a heroin overdose, and then they get connected to Ashton. Ashton reaches out to them, goes to the hospital to meet them."

While Jackson looks to expand the program and find new ways to fight the overwhelming epidemic, Marr, instead of running from the cops, says she's finally found her passion working with them and other addicts. And, she says she's found herself, too.

"My entire life today is built around recovery," she says.

Marr is three years clean and is working toward a degree in social work.

"I didn't know I could be a 4.0 student! It just blows my mind," she says.

Old photos show an Ashton Marr who was numb and always alone. But new ones show the Ashton Marr who had always been inside, striving to survive.

"We're not bad people trying to get good. We're sick people trying to get well," she says. "As long as we're still breathing, there is hope. And there is help for us."

RESOURCES
www.homeofnewvision.org
www.brightonrecovery.org
www.dawnfarm.org

If you have questions, you can also reach out via email to Derrick Jackson at jacksond@ewashtenaw.org, or on social media at www.facebook.com/washtenawrecovery or @WRAP_MI on Twitter. 

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