My name is Ashley Kesner, and I grew up in a small town in the state of Pennsylvania. I had very supportive parents and one brother at home, living a happy life at high school with lots of friends and passion for cheerleading. I had experienced a ‘wobble’ emotionally at the age of 12, which was put down to me ‘becoming a teenager’ however it was one comment at the age of 15 that created my body image issues.
I was a competitive cheerleader, training hard throughout the week, so to be told that I was now “too heavy to go up” for the lifts within the routine knocked my confidence. I became obsessive about my exercise and documented my food intake to the point where I was running 3-5 miles a day to burn off my calorie intake. I am a small girl at 5ft 2’, so large baggy clothes allowed me to hide the weight loss and living a busy lifestyle of school and training meant I could become anorexic without people knowing. It was exhausting! I missed eating but by doing research on the internet I realised I could eat more but purge it out. This resulted in me becoming Bulimic, eating large amounts of food before going upstairs to my room to vomit it all into a bag.
My mum was cleaning my room one day and came across my bag full of vomit and realised something was wrong. She confronted me about it and was really worried about me, however there wasn’t the mental health support and understanding about this back then, so she really didn’t know what to do. I ended up going to a Psychiatrist, where I was diagnosed with depression. It did clear up some of the ‘fog’ for me, explaining why sometimes I was so upset, however at the same time I didn’t want to accept it.
I saw college as a fresh start, and whilst being medicated on AntiDepressants, I looked forward to a new beginning and an opportunity to discover who I really was away from the boundaries of home in a small conservative town. However, I decided that after settling in, I no longer needed my medication so weaned myself off them and combined with the party scene I began to use alcohol as an escape. Looking back,I think what a ‘big mistake’ that was, but I arrived at college and just thought ‘wow’ I can really let loose and escape. I was struggling with body image and insecurities; however, alcohol gave me confidence. I was consumed by it: dropped out of school, got arrested with a DUI and one night I told my friend I no longer wanted to live.
Over the years my drinking got more severe. I hid it in my handbag, hid it in my wardrobe but it was when I was pregnant with my daughter that I managed to stop until she was no longer breastfeeding. It escalated and I continued to use it as a mechanism to numb my brain. My anxiety was through the roof, so I would drink to help myself but, then I would wake up and feel exactly the same and the only thing that would help is more alcohol…. But by the end I was so upset with myself getting into this position that I would be drinking out of shame because I couldn’t stand to be me.
My husband got deployed to Poland as part of the national guard, so I quickly became a student in full time employment, a full time mum and also a full time alcoholic. I was ‘Zombieing’ my way through life just putting one foot in front of the other. But by this stage the drinking at night wouldn’t ease things, so I began self-harming by cutting myself. Towards the end of his deployment last September, things got too much, and I made my plan to kill myself.
I woke up in the hospital feeling ‘disappointed’.
I was signed in as an inpatient and I can remember pleading with my Mum to tell the doctors to let me die. As an inpatient I was in a room with very little stimulation other than books, and it was reading Alcoholics Anonymous, where I can remember realising “ahhh yes I have a problem”. It was a ‘wake up’ call and at a time of my life when I really needed it. I had been through a continual cycle of trying to give up, failing, feeling guilty for failing and therefore relapsing.
I had started to write a journal as an inpatient and decided that if I shared my story with the world then it would help me become accountable. I created my first blog post. The rest is history.
I had always found confrontation hard, with my Grandma saying I had a “bladder behind my eyes” so writing a ‘breakup’ letter with alcohol was a great way to remove this possessive hold over me, just like a bad relationship with a partner. I found that by removing alcohol, I realised that I could work on my issues with body image, anxiety and depression to really improve myself. By becoming self-aware and better in these areas, I didn’t need alcohol to suppress my underlying issues.
Since I started the blog “ghost in my bedroom”. I realised that this is a really serious issue and lots of other people have taken an interest. I have been really transparent with my story and use memes and self-deprecating jokes across my social media platforms to get my message across. I am now trained in supporting recovery and I will be offering my help, with my team of volunteers, to other people who face their own challenges. I look forward to sharing other stories via podcasts and aim to get as deep into the issue as possible to support others with mental health issues and addiction. My whole world changed when I stopped trying to impress the world and decided to impress myself, and I really want to keep being vulnerable with my story to show recovery is “very real and very baddass”.