Teen rises above homelessness, addiction

By VIRGINIA HOLST/Montana State News

Priding herself on six months of sobriety from all hard drug use, Ashley Grey Allsop is considered by her peers a success story, to say the least. If you’ve interacted with her, you may know her as the friendly face at McDonalds, or the helpful frequenter of the Warming Center.

I struggled to find an appropriate place and time in which to interview Allsop amidst all the bustle of the seasonal shelter, which is all too busy despite its outdated facilities. We attempted to step aside into one of the quieter but still in-use areas of the Warming Center.

I assumed Allsop would request some privacy before delving into my questions, but she unashamedly began, without asking the two other volunteers in that area to leave the room. Needless to say, we all got wrapped in her story relatively quickly, and soon, I wasn’t the only one asking questions.

18-year-old Allsop is a homeless resident of Bozeman who describes her life as having experienced “pretty much everything up to now,” but she does so with a hopeful spark in her eye, that she claimed would not have been there only three months prior. Since then, her outlook has shifted from bleak to an acknowledgment that there is still more to come.

As she begins to tell us her history, from the top of a small stool, Allsop youthfully picks up her legs and crossed them, Criss-Cross Applesauce style. She was wearing black slacks and shoes, the lower half of her McDonalds uniform, I assume, which contrasted the simple white, somewhat stained T-Shirt she wore on top.

After having been entrenched in alcohol and drug abuse at a young age, Allsop admitted somewhat regretfully that she, “never would’ve done that…never would’ve spiraled out of control.” That was, until her mother passed away from mixing substances when she was only 12.

With her arms crossed and a solemn honesty, she went on to explain her coping during difficult phases such as this one, “I turned to alcohol because I had seen it calm my parents down before and I needed that.”  Six months later she was addicted to nearly every substance available.

My once empathetic demeanor jumped to shocked when Allsop abruptly announced her unexpected pregnancy at 15-years-old. I released a breath I hadn’t even noticed I was holding when Allsop proudly assured us that as soon as she found out about her pregnancy, she quit substance abuse cold-turkey.

This was obviously not an easy process for her since she unknowingly made a point to include that this meant withdrawals and all. This included morning sickness, and the fact that “it is overexerting for a woman’s body to be pregnant at that young of an age.” These factors caused her to drop out of school before High School was even in full swing.

However, the smile she bore after the description of this struggle was unparalleled. Her son, Grayson was born in December 2014, healthy and loved by many.

A few months later, Allsop found herself homeless.

She and Grayson began living out of her dad’s car or his shop, and scraping by thanks to the food bank. “My son wouldn’t be alive if it weren’t for my dad.… he would’ve starved.”

In September 2016, Grayson was sent to live with his father and paternal grandparents since Allsop could not confirm stable housing.

Allsop still faces struggles daily, including, but not limited to, the seizures that prevent her from acquiring her driver’s license. They are a result of a combination of her Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and her drug abuse.

She continually finds a way to persevere, thanks in part to the help of the community. Her entire mood improved, her body going from slouched to upright and almost bouncy when she began to rattle off a list of things that have helped her recover thus far. One such thing was the Streamline, “I wouldn’t be able to get anywhere without it.”

She has a desire to become involved in helping people as well, according to a new volunteer at the warming center, “Ashley seems interwoven within the shelter community, whether it be in her interactions with other frequenters or her willingness to help.”

When she describes her successes – the top of which is her recent sobriety, which she makes a point of mentioning on four separate occasions – she radiates a sense of excitement for the future and all that it holds. She clearly couldn’t be happier that Grayson has such a loving and caring environment in which to be raised, a responsible father with two jobs, and a bright future.

Excited about her own child’s possibility, she slowed her speech and turned just slightly, acknowledging a new presence in the room. With a proud and perky gesture, she announced her dad, the one who had helped her through it all.

When she asked him if there was anything he’d like to say, he, obviously a man of few words, simply said, “Yep, she’s a good girl.” They then began to poke and punch at each other in a playful, father-daughter but also best friend kind of way. Chuckling, he rounded the corner once again.

As the questions progressed, I glimpsed for myself Allsop’s bright future. Her recent recovery is a step towards stable housing and education. Her demeanor shifts to confident, and with that, her criss-cross applesauce feet find their way back to the floor. Her aspirations become vividly clear to me: to be an OBGYN, have a house, a car, and to live with her son and his father.

At this point, it is written all over her face that she can visualize so clearly, reaching out and touching the nearly concrete and magically attainable goals she has set for herself. Thinking back on her addiction in contrast to the future she just presented to me, she explained her next goal, that she wants to help others recover from addiction since she’s “been on both sides of the fence.”

Her hopefulness only continues to grow explaining her current situation: “things are getting better for me because of HRDC and programs like the warming center… their people go up, beyond, and above their jobs to help others succeed.”

She is taking steps towards her ideal future such as Narcotics Anonymous, which she says, “helps you truly want to recover because it is self-motivated and rewarding.” She plans to get her driver’s as she is medicated for her seizures. She will also work with the HRDC, Youth Development, the Adult Learning Center, and financial representatives to gain an education, a career, and stable housing.

Allsop claims that now more than ever she is, “highly motivated to do good things.” And suggests to us all to do nothing more than simply “take one day at a time.”

– edited by Tyler Barton

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