Before-and-after images are popular on social media. From weight-loss transformations to beauty makeovers, people "like" and comment endlessly. Yet one particular before-and-after photo seems to have struck a nerve across the country: A Tennessee couple shared two images, one while they were addicted to meth and another, featuring the pair today, almost three years sober. It has been shared over 140,000 times.
“It blew our minds,” Brent Walker, 30, of Cleveland, Tennessee, told TODAY. “I had a bunch of people who told me that our story has encouraged them to get help and check into rehab.”
Walker's experience with addiction began when he was only 9 years old and started smoking. By 12, he was using marijuana and drinking. Three years later, he tried acid and other drugs.
While he dabbled with pot and alcohol, his addiction didn’t become serious until a tragic night 10 years ago. He and his brother, Jess Marshall, 19, were partying and Marshall, who was drunk, asked Walker for a ride home. Walker declined. He had to rush home to sleep before work. When Walker woke up the next day he received a call that changed his life: His brother drove home and was in a fatal car crash.
This sent him down a dark path.
“That is when I went to the hard drugs and tried meth for the first time,” Walker said.
About nine years ago, he said he met Ashley, now 31, when he began selling her pot. After two years of friendship, they began a rocky on-again, off-again relationship, where they used meth together and fought until Walker would take off for months at a time or he ended up in jail.
After serving two years of a 10-year prison sentence, Walker was released in 2016 and met up with Ashley. The celebrated by using meth.
“Me and Ashley started getting high again,” he explained. “I was trying to juggle getting high and getting sober for my probation for my drug test.”
That December, he barely passed his drug test and worried he would be sent to prison again if he failed. He knew he needed to stop using drugs.
“It scared me,” he said. “I said to Ashley ‘I want to build a life’ and I asked her to come with me and she said, ‘Yeah I’ll go.’”
For the last time the couple got high, then quit cold turkey.
“We never touched it since,” he said.
A new life
Staying sober was difficult, especially during the first year. But the two supported each other.
“We just fed off each other. If I was having a bad day and craving she would help talk me out of it and vice versa,” he said. “We blocked and erased every friend we had who did drugs.”
That made quitting even harder because they needed to rebuild much of their lives.
“We had times where we got bored and we would want to get high. We just had to talk each other out of it,” he said. “We had all of our clothes in garbage bags. We walked to work and the grocery store and carried all our grocery bags back. It was really rough. We eventually got a car and got our own place.”
After 30 days sober, the couple married and soon after began attending a local church and making new friends, “people who really cared for you and not just because you have drugs.”
Having friends and a strong faith makes it easier for the couple to stay sober. At the same time, they both returned to school. Walker earned his GED diploma and now works at a local steel plant and does heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) work on the side. Ashley received her nurse's assistant certification and works at the local hospital’s intensive care unit. Walker hopes to get his HVAC certification to work in the industry full time, while Ashley wants to continue her education to become a registered nurse.
The two are trying to rebuild their credit, which suffered from years of doing drugs, and buy their first home together.
“It got a lot easier. After the year mark we didn’t even think about (using drugs) anymore,” he said.
Walker hopes that their story inspires others.
“Whenever I was an addict I thought that because I had ruined my life there was no way to turn it around. It just had to stay that way. You don’t have to live like that forever,” he said. “You can have a better life.”