Ashley’s Story

ImageIf I lay out my life, it may be easy to draw out hardship, but attitude mixed with action has birthed solutions.

Seven years ago I suffered hospitalizing, life-threatening trauma to my right femoral artery, and damage to my femoral vein and nerve. I am now left with reliance upon mobility devices. My leg hasn’t been the same since. My life hasn’t either. This initial injury was a direct result of my intravenous heroin and cocaine addiction. I have been clean since October 31st, 2010. Rebuilding my life meant going to school, but my struggles with poverty, mobility, and homelessness have been barriers seemingly impossible to overcome.

Homelessness has given me great challenge. Near the end of my first year sober, I had surgery and lost my housing. A good friend took me in, monitored my medication, helped me dress, and even bathed me. After ten days, I went to the next couch, while I paid daily visits to the holder of my meds to get my prescribed dose. In order to stay clean, I had to be accountable to somebody besides myself.

When school started, I didn’t know which alley or doorway I would sleep in; or, if I was lucky, whose couch I would sleep on, and if I’d be safe. I had to choose a use for my good shoulder: a backpack weighted with school supplies, or my cane? Still wearing a sling, I left behind my cane in exchange for the backpack and my heavy limp. Every day while traveling, at some point, the pain would become too much to bear. I would have to stop to rest, to cry, to pray.

Recovering from addiction and the condition of my leg has taught me how to succeed. Patience was a lesson I learned. It is a tool I keep hold of, for it brings me peace even when everything in my life seems to be a morass.

Every fall and winter, crosswalks daunt me. On my way to school, I’ll begin to walk across a crosswalk, depending on my walker to enable my journey to the other side of the street. Halfway through the crosswalk, the light usually changes, but I’m unable to move any faster. Each step promises pain so severe, it’s like an electrical cloud that radiates from the insides to the surfaces of my leg, and reverberates up my spinal cord. Shoulders tense. Eyes squint. Heart pounds. Tears trail. Everything tells me to stop walking. But I don’t. Displeased drivers wait for me, edge close to me, a silence louder than any horn. I feel powerless, but not hopeless. On and on and on I edge, until my goal (the street corner) is met. To make it, I have to look down at what is relevant: my next step. If I look up, an overwhelming distance will distract me from my path, for I can’t get to the corner in a leap. Instead I must take painful baby steps. The result is a perception change, a reminder of how to live: set long-term goals and focus on progression, not on a utopia that is yet out of reach. If I focus on where I am not, then I might lose track of where I am.

I would not have gotten across any crosswalk if I didn’t have a ground to walk on. My independence depends on something outside of me. 

Seattle Education Access (SEA) became that supportive ground. I worked with SEA to go back to school. I began attending South Seattle Community College in Winter 2011, and then transferred to the University of Washington in fall 2013. When I started, I didn’t have any money, nor did I have any place to live. But I knew that moving forward was so much better than what was behind me. I couldn’t have done it alone and I knew that there was support out there. Seattle Education Access helped me get a home and helped me get food. My Education Advocate, Danika, even took me to the store and went grocery shopping with me. SEA also got me special shoes, which allowed for less time walking with my walker. They were like walking on clouds! I’ve learned that it’s important to be humble and ask for help, for the people I have seen succeed are the people who are willing to ask for help.

I graduated from SSCC with a 3.99 GPA and earned the President’s Medal. I have earned all 4.0s in my first quarter at the UW. The UW is a big school which has been physically challenging. Every day, I walk and sit through pain, but all these are irrelevant to the big picture. Though it hurts, it’s just another step to reaching my potential. The pain is worth it. I’m truly fulfilled. Today, I’m really studying what I want. That’s why it’s worth it, I get to wake up and read the books I really want to read. It’s so exciting. I’ve found a passion.

Linguistics and writing are my edifications. I am fascinated with language, how it works in the brain, the evolution of language and how meanings of words change, and mostly, the affect language has on one’s perception of reality. One of my long-term goals is to become a college professor so I may pass on my ardency for the academia of language. Another goal is to finish writing the book about the life I used to live. The intent to write this is for its cathartic process, and most emphatically, it’s something I want to accomplish to reach out to at least one other person who is as hopeless as I used to be. I was a street hooker strung out on crack/cocaine and heroin, destined, or so I had chosen to believe, to die as a result of that lifestyle. This is far from my truth today. Socrates is often quoted with, “An unexamined life is not worth living.” I understand this because for most of my life I didn’t live. Language allows me to live.

I have a passion for letting people know that they are worthy of a chance, too.  As Seattle Education Access, the disability resources at school, my educators, friends who have lent me nights on their couches, and those who’ve shown me that I could recover from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body have helped me, I aim to do for others as well. This is why I volunteer my time as an English tutor. This is why I yearn to write my story. This is also why I desire to become a professor. It’s because working with others is the sustenance of my growth, fulfillment, and success.

For living, passions were born, and gratitude for them has propelled me through adversity. 

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