Cuddled up on the couch in their warm, barn-style apartment in Heber City on a rainy day in September, Ashly and Jesse Stone and their 18-month-old daughter look like the perfect family.
Jesse, 32, is broad-shouldered and ruggedly handsome — his athletic build hasn’t changed since his days as a college athlete.
Ashly, 27, has thick, chestnut hair that tumbles down in perfect curls around her face. She is tall and thin, with big, warm brown eyes.
Looking at them now, you might guess that they met at work, or in a college class, or through mutual friends.
Actually, Jesse and Ashly Stone met in 2008 at a LDS 12-step addiction recovery meeting in St. George. Ashly was 18 years old and Jesse was 23, and they were both struggling with abuse of alcohol and pain pills.
Though they stayed in touch occasionally, their paths wouldn’t cross again until five years later. In the meantime, both of them were occupied fighting their own drug demons.
As their addictions worsened, they graduated from pills to black tar heroin. Both were in and out of rehab and served time in jail for drug possession charges.
Jesse had been a gifted baseball player who made the Dixie State University team in 2003 as a freshman. He seemed destined for a professional career but was undone by what he describes as a deep-seated insecurity.
“I couldn’t stop drinking or using drugs because I was so uncomfortable with myself,” he remembers. “I had no coping mechanism, and the answer to any sort of social anxiety or obstacle was to use drugs.”
Ashly describes her dependence as coming from a void inside herself. “I loved the (LDS) church as a young girl, but everything changed when I started middle school,” she remembers.
She was overwhelmed by feelings of insecurity and anxiety and her self-confidence evaporated. She stopped being active in her church and began smoking pot and drinking with her friends.
“I had a God-sized hole in my heart,” she explains. “I couldn’t stay sober because there was something inside me that was empty.”
Ashly went to detox five times and had four unsuccessful stays in rehab. But her family never stopped trying to help her.
“I kept wanting to get sober, calling my dad and saying ‘please help me and take me to treatment,’” she remembers. “And he always came to my rescue. Most people would have given up, but he never did — if it wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t still be alive.”
Ultimately, to overcome their addiction each of them needed to focus on a new life.
“I was always talking about drugs or being in rehab talking with a group of people about getting off drugs,” she remembers. “I had to break free of that world in order to escape my addiction.”
Ashly found that freedom through The Church of the Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She made up her mind to get her temple recommend, which would require her to quit using drugs, stop smoking cigarettes, and turn her life around.
“What worked for me was setting a goal for myself that had nothing to do with drugs, but that required me to get off drugs in order to accomplish it,” she says.
She got her LDS temple recommend in December 2014. Two months later, Ashly was scrolling through her Facebook feed when something caught her eye. Jesse had posted inspiring quotes from church leaders speaking in General Conference, indicating that he, too, had returned to the LDS Church. She messaged him, and he told her that he had finally been able to overcome his addiction, and was now working in a treatment center.
They decided to meet to share their stories that year. They married Sept. 25, 2015 in the Bountiful Temple.
Drug abuse cost Ashly and Jesse dearly. Jesse lost his chance to become a professional baseball player. Now a mother herself, Ashly regrets the thousands of dollars her parents spent on rehab programs, and the countless hours of sleep they lost worrying about finding her dead of an overdose.
But instead of dwelling on the past, Ashly and Jesse choose to be grateful for the gifts they enjoy in the present, like their beautiful 18-month-old daughter.
A sense of shame had prevented the couple from sharing their history of drug abuse with others, but they recently decided to open up and talk about their experience.
“I feel like it’s our duty to share our story so that other people going through this believe that they, too, have the power to change their lives,” says Ashly.