The couple behind a viral Facebook post about addiction opened up about their journey to recovery — sharing a photo of the day they decided to quit to where they are now nearly three years later.
Brent and Ashley Walker each began struggling with substance use at around nine years old. However, now at ages 30 and 31 respectively, the Tennessee couple dramatically turned their lives around.
The couple shared a photo of their transformation on Facebook, with the hashtag #CleanChallenge. The post garnered over 200,000 likes and had been shared more than 143,000 times.
“I just have never been happy in my life,” Brent told INSIDER. “And now that I am [sober], I smile about every day, and I just have a good time.”
Ashley echoed the same sentiment, saying that she’s a “a lot happier, more outgoing.”
“I want to do more things. I’m rebuilding my relationship with my family, and I never really had a good relationship with my family, so I’m slowly starting to build that back up,” Ashley told INSIDER. “I’m just realizing the mistakes that I’ve made before and thoroughly working to try to turn them around.”
Brent said that he began smoking cigarettes at nine years old. At 12, he started smoking marijuana. At 15, he was selling drugs and doing acid, ecstasy, and mushrooms — he went through a little “hippie stage,” he said. At 20, Brent said that he began to do harder drugs like meth after his 19-year-old brother got in a fatal car accident while driving under the influence.
Ashley’s childhood followed a similar arch — she started drinking at nine or 10 years old, smoking marijuana and using morphine at 13 or 14, and began doing harder drugs like mushrooms, acid, and meth at 18 years old after she moved out.
She soon found herself in an abusive relationship, during which her drug use worsened, she explained. Ashley ended up leaving her partner, with whom she had children. Through the period of addiction, she lost custody of her children twice and was in and out of rehabilitation.
For the next several years, Brent said he found himself in and out of jail, escaping police, and constantly violating his probation. He was in an on-and-off relationship with Ashley at the time, and the two would often meet up to get high together.
In December 2016, when he barely passed a drug test while out on probation after serving two years of a 10-year sentence, Brent said he knew it was time for a change.
“I started freaking out of my head, and my heart was racing, thinking they knew I violated my probation, and I was about to go back to jail for eight years,” Brent said, describing his feelings in the moment. “But they passed me and let me go.”
“I just turned to Ashley and I said, ‘I can’t do this anymore,'” he continued. “I almost lost eight years of my life, and I haven’t even been out of jail for three months.”
So the two ended up quitting cold turkey on Dec. 31, 2016. To celebrate one month of being sober, the pair got married on Jan. 31, 2017.
However, the path to recovery wasn’t as simple as stopping drug use entirely. Brent said the couple had to cut ties with friends who used drugs, and they found solace in their church and faith.
“We really got into church programs, any recovery programs, anything we could find to meet new people and make new friends,” he said. “I know what got us through it was giving ourselves to Christ.”
The couple also said they would set small goals for themselves as they tried to overcome their addiction and “keep our minds busy.”
“On days that were really hard, sometimes you just have to shoot for staying clean until lunch, then staying clean until three o’clock, then staying clean until dinner, and then make it to bed,” Ashley said. “When you wake up in the morning, you know, it’s easier, and it gets better.”
“And you know that you’ve made it through that tough day, and it’s always easier in the morning,” she added.
Now several years into recovery, the pair has found themselves in a drastically different position. Brent went back to school and got his GED just two months ago. He now works in a steel plant and works with HVACs on the side with his dad. Ashley also went back to school and now works as a nursing assistant in the ICU at a local hospital.
The pair just bought their first car, and they are trying to get custody of Ashley’s children from her past relationship, and working to improve their credit to buy their first house.
After being able to transform their lives, Brent said that he would tell people to not give up on recovery.
“It seems like it’s fun at the time, but eventually, everything that you’re doing, you’re going to have to pay consequences for it,” he said. “You don’t realize at that time that all you’re doing is digging yourself [into] a hole. The further you go, the further you’re going to have to dig yourself out eventually.”
“You have to start just bringing yourself back up, but you can’t give up,” he continued. “You’ll get there eventually, and it’s well worth it.”