By Ashley Barrow
Just show up, and the rest is cake. Ashley Coffey sincerely expressed this to a new member at the Plymouth County Outreach event on July 23. She moved to Plymouth about four years ago from Holbrook, Mass.
Coffey leads the Boston Bulldogs runs a couple times per week for those in recovery, but just a little more than eight months ago she was struggling with alcohol and cocaine substance use.
It took one event of tragedy for her to recognize this void and and propel it into a passion instead.
It’s been a life changing four and a half months for Coffey of being sober and she dedicates this to The Boston Bulldogs Running Club.
“I was missing substance in my life, and I substituted it with substance use. I never ran before in my life – I had no activity like this. I showed up very scared. I was seeking anything to fill my time and there was a huge void in my life,” said Coffey.
Coffey described herself in a way in which most individuals can commonly relate to whether recovering from substance use or not.
“I think anyone who ever met me would tell me that I am a very happy person but behind closed doors I can be different. Anyone who ever sees me or loves me like my girlfriend or my mother knows this. There are some dark, dark allies that we find ourselves in that we don’t have to be in. You’re not aloud to see past the shadow and the doubt and the anger and the hurt and you build these resentments that you live by and you don’t even notice it,” said Coffey.
She was apprehensive about her first day at the running club.
The club is a co-ed non-profit established to provide an anonymous and safe community of support for all those adversely affected by addiction – those in recovery, their families and friends, and the community at large.
The bulldogs don’t have an official slogan, but Coffey has observed one that relates to her recovery and her new-found accountability. “Just show up, and then rest works itself out. That’s kind of the slogan for us. I didn’t want to show up and I didn’t’ want people to judge me and I didn’t want people to be like what kinds of problems does she have. Everyone was just like I’m glad you’re here,” she said.
Being a part of the Bulldogs has allowed Coffey to speak at different places such as Boston College where she went to college. “I would much rather prefer to spread the message to other men and other women–the same message and the same hope that was given to me when I started running in this club,” she said.
It was a cold, snowy day in February when Coffey decided to step into her first Bulldogs run.
“I remember I was ripping cigarettes like crazy, and I remember ripping a butt right before my first mile run. Went like half a mile, stopped, smoked a cigarette and went ‘I don’t know if this is for me.’ I was just afraid, but they opened me with open arms. You understand you’re around like-minded people, and there’s safety and security in that for someone like me who continues to be early in my sobriety,” said Coffey.
She still has an occasional cigarette here and there, but she doesn’t smoke around a pack per day like she used to. “Alcohol is a depressant, so naturally I was depressed. I felt like I was on a roller coaster and never could climb back up to the top,” she said.
Now she feels like she is in a much better place in many different ways. She eats well, and her running helps her control her mindset. She still has her off days though. “If you’re not careful relapse can creep up on you,” she said.
One mile led to five miles and finally 13.1. It all became clear to her when she ran the Run to Remember this past May. “The Run to Remember through Seaport, the Financial District, Cambridge, and back was unlike any experience I’ve ever had,” said Coffey.
She felt like she was running beyond her past – through all the memories and the flashbacks. “It helped bring everything full circle for me, because essentially I repaved my way through a city that means so much to me. It helped me accept the past is the past and to look forward and not backtrack. I ran through my bullshit,” she said.
Now she is the main contact for the Plymouth chapter and reaches out to those in recovery who are looking for a healthy outlet. Just a few months ago she couldn’t imagine holding herself to this level of accountability.
“My old stomping grounds turned into my biggest accomplishment in my recovery so far,” she said.
Before she found her love of of running she was in a major car accident. “I was hopeless,” she said. She didn’t know what happened to the other person. “By the grace of God that person was okay.”
It was the morning after she woke up from the car accident that she knew she needed an intervention.“I was binge drinking and I couldn’t stop, and then I would do cocaine to get to the absolute maximum,” she said.
Her mom, sister and brother are also in recovery. Coffey laughed, “My mom actually joined the Bulldogs because she wanted to keep an eye on me.”
They are all very supportive of her recovery.
Her brother is four and a half years younger than her, but she looks up to him in a lot of ways. “He not only helped me find the sober house, but he picked me up and brought me to meetings when I needed a ride. He calls in and checks in on me.” She also has a sister 13 and a half months younger than her.
“We’re all very different. My sisters the opposite of me. My mom is all of us at once. She’s kind, she’s loving, she’s direct, she’s compassionate and she’s passionate,” said Coffey.
Coffey likes to be around people who share the same motivations and goals as her. She said one of her best friends who moved to Hawaii had a very different recovery approach. Both Coffey and her friend share having faith and referring to a higher power as part of getting better, but they have very different outlets.
“We are about a month apart when it comes to our recovery date. Her outlet is surfing and nutrition. Mine is running,” she said.
Coffey spends a lot of time encouraging others to join the Bulldogs because she knows how much it’s helped her mindset and she sees the parallel between recovering from an addiction and getting better everyday while simultaneously hitting a new mile time and becoming a faster runner.
“We have extra pairs of running shoes,” she offered to someone who walked up to the Boston Bulldogs running table. “Anything you need – just show up. We usually run around 7 am on Saturday.”