SOTU: Ashley Evans Inspires Hope And Recovery For Addicts

Ashley Evans called her addiction to heroin “the devil.”

It was one the one drug that controlled her life and the one she feared would end it. The fear, at the time she was using, wasn’t powerful enough to overcome the extreme control the heroin had on her mind and body.

Heroin, however, was no match for her daughter Olivia. Olivia, who is now a healthy and happy 13 month-old, was born a drug exposed baby. Evans is one of thousands of mothers whose babies are born in the U.S. exposed to heroin. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that nearly six out of every 1,000 infants born in the U.S. are now diagnosed with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, meaning the baby has been exposed to drugs in the womb.

Ashley Evans visited with Health and Human Services Director Alex Azar on Monday, the day before she attends the State of The Union as a special guest of First Lady Melania Trump. (Photograph courtesy of Ashley Evans.)

She and Olivia are survivors.

Evans brutal honesty with herself and others was the first step in battling in her demons, she said. She stopped using heroin only several days before giving birth to her daughter but admits it wouldn’t have happened without the extraordinary support of the people working at the Ohio non-profit Brigid’s Path. Founded by Jill Kingston, the nonprofit is one of only two facilities like it throughout the United States that “provides inpatient medical care for drug-exposed newborns and nonjudgmental support and advocacy” for families.

Her story is featured in a documentary Not In Vein that I produced last year in conjunction with Full Story Foundation. It tackles the dangerous epidemic perpetuated not only by over-prescribed prescription medication, but the illicit trafficking of narcotics from Mexico into the United States by the drug cartels.

The crisis is at a critical stage.  The National Safety Council released a shocking report this year stating that American’s are more likely to die from an opioid overdoses than a car crashe. Tragically, on average more than 130 people die a day from opioid overdose, according to the CDC.

Evans story is one that millions of Americans can relate to.

State Of The Union

Tonight she will be honored at the State Of The Union for successfully battling her addiction – an addiction that has taken the lives of so many Americans. She was selected by First Lady Melania Trump to attend the President Trump’s SOTU address, which will focus partially on the opioid crisis afflicting thousands of people in the United States.

“I am honored to be invited as a guest at the president’s address tonight,” Evans told early Tuesday. “This is a great experience and I couldn’t imagine I would’ve ever been here. Even if my story only helps one person recover that’s enough for me and that’s what I hope for.”

Senior White House officials who briefed reporters late last week said President Trump will address the national opioid crisis, which is a battle the administration has taken on with full intensity as addiction rates soared in the U.S. over the past years.

“It took all the pain away from me…or so I thought” 

Evans, who has now been in recovery for more than year with the help and support of Kingston, her family advocate Kim Kleinhans and others who help her fight this daily battle. Kleinhans is also the Director of the Family Advocacy at Brigid’s Path.

“She is her own best advocate and I am honored to walk along side her supporting her on her recovery journey,” said Kleinhans, who accompanied Evans to Washington D.C. “She has been open to the support from Brigid’s Path and other resources she has been linked with. Ashely puts in the hard work of recovery every day and has embraced the recovery lifestyle. Hers is a story of inspiration and hope.”

Evans says it’s seems like a lifetime since she was using.

“It was the one drug that made me lose my morals and my values, and made me do things that I never imagined I would do,” Evans said. “I have chills talking about this.”

Fighting Demons

Like many addicts, members of Evans family were also fighting off their own demons. Her mother died of a drug overdose when Evans was 22 years old. Although Evans never imagined she would end up like her mother she said, “I went straight towards the one thing that I knew could kill me.”

Her addiction to pills, marjauana and other drugs started at the age of 14. It was a way of coping with sexual abuse that started when she was a young child, she said. It was the only coping mechanism she knew until now, she added.

“It took all that pain away from me, everything,” she said. “Or so I thought.”

Her drug use had stopped at the age of 18 but after she had broken her ankle later that year she found herself being “prescribed pain medication…way too much pain medicine.”

“When I got off the pain meds, I found heroin,” she said. “It was the best feeling I had ever felt in my life. It took every bit of emotional pain away, every bit of physical pain, and it was … as great as it felt, I knew it was destroying me.”

Then There Was Olivia

Olivia Evans, is the daughter of Ashley Evans. (photograph courtesy of Ashley Evans)

Every time Evans used heroin she could feel the guilt swelling inside her. She knew most of her family and friends had given up on her and she desperately didn’t want to give up on herself.

“I felt guilty but I couldn’t stop,” she said. “You know? It was stronger than I was. The disease was just … and it’s the reason I explained it like it’s the devil is because it’s a hold that … you’d do anything for it.”

Evans recalled the feelings of helplessness and loneliness when she was pregnant with Olivia saying “I have done so many things that I’m ashamed of and … when I was pregnant with her, that’s the worst thing I’ve ever done because I couldn’t think, How could I be pregnant with this little girl, knowing that she is gonna be addicted to drugs and do it anyways.”

The decision to quit came out of love for her child and then the realization that she couldn’t give her child the life she deserved if she didn’t find the strength in herself to stop.

She is currently in treatment at Alvis’ Amethyst program in Ohio. Evans is receiving intensive long term behavioral health services at the facility, where Olivia will be joining her on February, 15. The program is “one of a handful in the nation that allows children to live with their mother while the mother is in treatment and recovery housing,” according to the program.

Don’t Give Up

Evans wants family and friends of addicts to realize that there is hope.

She wants people to understand that they are not alone.

“Don’t give up on on your family, friends who are addicts,” she said. “Stay near them and educate yourself on the disease of addiction. People don’t understand addiction. They want to run from what they don’t understand because it’s easier. But there’s so many people who are dying because nobody wants to understand.”

“Do everything you can to fight it and save a life – believe me it’s possible. I’m one of those people,” she said.

NOTE: If you are seeking information and help for yourself or someone you love from addiction visit the Substance Abuse And Mental Health Services Website.