(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) Ashley Grippando has been clean for more than three years. But it hasn’t been easy.
“A lot of people would say that I have done it with grace,” she said. “But they don’t see all of the struggles. Graduating from nursing school was hard.”
She and her husband Sean Grippando, have three children and a baby on the way.
“We just found out we are expecting a baby boy in February 2020 so we are super excited about that,” she said.
The young mother has lived her entire life in the St. Joseph area.
Ashley shares her story of addiction in hopes of showing someone else that recovery is possible.
This is Ashley’s first pregnancy clean. She battled addiction from 2010 until 2016. During that time she and Sean had three children. Her youngest, Caleb, tested positive for drugs when he was born.
Before her addiction, Ashley graduated from Elwood’s High School with Honors, she played sports, and she was involved in the school.
She and Sean’s drug addiction snowballed while their relationship blossomed.
“We fell into some bad things together,” she said, recalling that she was introduced to opioids by a friend.
On her feet all day at work, Ashley’s back ached. The friend gave her Percocets to help her get through the day.
What started as recreational use of pills, rapidly spun out of her control.
“I was addicted before I knew it,” Ashley said. “ I didn’t realize it until I ran out. My body would be in so much pain it would ache. I couldn’t get up out of bed.”
Sean and Ashley took pills from 2010 to 2012. Ashley got clean about six months into her pregnancy with her firstborn, Carson. Then her drug addiction exploded.
“About three months after he was born, I started using meth,” Ashley said.
While on meth and still using pills, the Grippandos found out they were having a second child, Rae-Lynn. This time it took about 8 months for Ashley to get clean.
Shortly after Rae-Lynn was born, she got pregnant with Caleb. Ashley was unable to quit drugs during her third pregnancy.
Kansas Social Services intervened when Caleb tested positive for drugs after he was born. The State took her babies away.
“They actually brought my older two into the hospital,” she said. “Let me see all three of them, and then removed them.”
Ashley said losing her children pushed her over the edge and towards shooting meth intravenously.
“I was done. I didn’t think I had anything else to live for.”
It pushed Sean to get clean and seeing that motivated Ashley to do the same.
“We got clean March 1, 2016,” she said. “He went to my dad’s actually and I followed. We’ve been clean ever since.”
Two of the Grippandos children live with them full time, Carson and Rae-Lynn. The foster family that took in all three of her children, adopted Caleb. He lives just down the street.
The Grippandos and the foster family have formed a giant support unit, supporting each other and raising happy and healthy children.
“In my eyes two is better than one,” Ashley said. “The more love your kids have the better they are and I didn’t want to move them again.”
Ashley and Sean have fully committed parents to their three children. But they feel guilty about missing a crucial time in their children’s lives. The time they can’t get back.
That guilt made graduating nursing school difficult for the young mom. She was accepted into a nursing program at Highland Community College in 2018 and graduated in May 2019.
Ashley said that many people tell her she made it look easy but she wants everyone to know she struggled each day.
“I questioned whether I was doing the right things for my kids,” she said. “I already had missed so much. I went back and forth about losing time with them and giving them a better future.”
Ashley graduated and now works at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, in Wathena, Kansas. She helps others in their recovery. She said it is her non-traditional education on drugs that helps her relate to her patients.
“I know where they are at,” she said. “I can connect with my patients on a really high level.”
Ashley was accepted into a Registered Nursing program at NAME. She has deferred enrollment until after she gives birth.
Looking to the future, Ashley is mindful that her addiction is not a problem of the past.
“I keep my addiction in front of me,” Ashley said. “I talk about it at high schools and I meet with a group of parents that struggle with addiction.”
Ashley believes that the key to stopping the opioid epidemic and other drug addictions, is education, sharing experiences, and support.
“You hear a lot that addiction is a family disease, but recovery is family too,” she said.
After she and her husband shared their story on the news last fall, they’ve had four family members quit drugs and get clean.
“It’s become an amazing family experience too.”