The first thing you’d notice about Ashley is her sweetness and her organic receptivity to the world around her. Her large eyes sparkle behind expressive lashes. There is a brightness to her and an inherent enchantment with the way she sees the world. She is more soft spoken in this moment as she reflects about her sobriety and her history at Landmark Community School. We have just been critiquing her latest art project- an extremely precise chalk drawing of symmetrical spheres with gradiated colors blended to a flawless perfection. She explains she was instructed to work with chalk and music, but the design is just what came out of her. “I was in a pretty harmonious mood that day. I was feeling pretty happy I think.” Her hair falls around her face framing the side of her thoughtful smile.

She was one of the school’s first enrolled students and remains with the program to graduate this May. She brims with gratitude, humility, and a little awe reflecting upon how she is back on schedule to graduate this May despite complicated years in toxic relationships and fighting drug addiction.

“Growing up, I was a star student. I loved school and doing a good job. Even after I started using, I kept a 4.4 grade average, but when I switched schools, I fell into some really tough relationships and experiences and I started using.”  Ashley first encountered opioids after an intense surgery. After experiences with abuse and trauma in a relationship, she explains that school began to be too much. The daily cognitive dissonance of trying to feel and be “normal” with the internal stress she felt, eventually lead to self-medicating. “I would find myself leaving school unable to stop sobbing… after awhile it just was easier to be and stay high.”

When she first heard of Landmark, she was urged by her family to attend orientation. Again she left sobbing, but after a few days, Ashley felt an impulse to try school in a recovery environment. After her first day, she didn’t leave overwhelmed and sobbing. “I felt like I was not being judged…I felt that somebody understood and that was huge.” Ashley talks about how trying to stay sober has been a process of reclaiming her identity. “You wonder, after using, if you are ever going to feel like yourself again… this has been a process of separating myself from my using. I guess I feel a return to my self.”

Ashley lights up immediately when asked about what she’s going to do after graduation. She is considering college for animal biology with aims to be a large animal vet. She plans to travel first, hopefully working in a program with elephants in Thailand. She has a warmth and sensitivity which enables her to feel almost immediately connected to animals. “I’m in a program right now where I work with horses.” She pulls out a picture of her with a beautiful regal chestnut; her look in the photo is serenity and joy doing this work and connecting with animals. It easy to see her future in this picture- bright and full of positive energy and compassion towards others.