For celebrated Orlando Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, life was not always as ‘together’ as it looks when she is on the field. Even now, she says, it takes effort every day. Working with a therapist and later a chance meeting with a friend at a local coffee shop helped transform her life. Now she uses her visibility to help make a difference in other people’s lives.
The difference, she says, is not drawing a map or doling out advice to people with the same challenges she has faced. To her, it is all about real human connections, having someone to share your story with and someone to really listen.
Ashlyn’s Young Life Set a Course for Trouble
Far removed from the persona people see when they watch her play soccer, Ashlyn was born into a low-income, at-risk family on the Florida Space Coast. Addiction, mental health issues, and anger were her norm, an environment that she escaped as often as possible.
Surfing, going to the local skate park with friends, and playing soccer gave her something better to think about and something better to do than hide inside blanket forts in her home. However, the same problems that plagued her family eventually found her, too.
She tells the Orlando Sentinel, “I was a bully. I was bullied. I was aggressive. I was physical. I fought a lot.”
As much as she had wanted to avoid it, the addiction and anger problems that factored so prominently in her family came calling for her. Many people struggling with addiction have an underlying condition, a co-occurring disorder, that needs attention. Aggression took a prominent role in her life. Soccer, she says, was a way to escape, and she was good at it.
Therapy and a Chance Encounter Proved to be Life-Changing
Although soccer gave her a healthy outlet for anger, it was not a cure. Life at home was still challenging. Instead of getting communication and support from her family, she routinely looked for a way out. She played aggressively. She punched goal posts if she made a mistake, says the Sentinel. She found herself in therapy.
Sports psychologist, Trevor Moawad, began working with Ashlyn when she was still fairly young. She tells the Sentinel that they got off to a rocky start.
“I was like, you don’t know me, I don’t know you. I’m not going to walk in here and tell you my problems and all of a sudden walk out and feel better.”
She was right. Aggression continued, and she developed a destructive addiction to Adderall. A slow building of trust helped her manage aggression and take better control over her addiction. It was still a struggle, and one that affected her on and off the field.
Then came one of her most life-shaping events: a chance meeting with an old acquaintance—Jamie Tworkowski, founder of To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA)—at a local Starbucks. TWLOHA is a non-profit focused on helping people who struggle with addiction, suicidal thoughts, depression, and self-harm.
Watch as Ashlyn shares her story in this video published for U.S. Soccer:
TWLOHA and Soccer Help Ashlyn Help Herself, Which She Shares with Others
Becoming involved with To Write Love on Her Arms helped Ashlyn understand that she was not alone in aggression, addiction and a generally troubled background, and that there were other people who shared similar struggles and wanted to hear her story. And so she shared.
Excelle Sports explains, “Harris saw how liberating it seemed” when Tworkowski shared his own struggles with her. She felt “protected and safe” sharing hers because she was not alone.
“If I can tell people that I have gone through these things and that I’ve had some serious woes, it might help someone. I found a big purpose in life.”
Part of that purpose is connecting with fans. As a TWLOHA advocate, her position as a prominent soccer star affects more people than she realized it could. She receives letters. Fans walk up and meet her after games and even in restaurants. They explain how her openness about struggling with addiction, anger, and depression helped them realize that they are not alone. Like her, the human connection helps them find a reason to get up in the morning, a reason to live.
Ashlyn will be the first to tell anyone that she is no therapist. In fact, she makes no bones about it. She only wants to help people with the same struggles by showing them that she understands and she cares.
That is part of how drug rehab in Florida can help transform lives. Sharing strips away every facade and puts you in a vulnerable position, so going it alone might not feel safe. Ashlyn and so many other people who struggle with addiction and other issues have felt the same way, but connecting with real, caring human beings who understand what you are going through does make a difference.
If you are struggling with addiction, let today be that positive, transformative day. Contact us to learn about medically-assisted detox, residential care, co-occurring disorder treatment, and therapy that will help you reclaim the life you were meant to lead.