HOLLAND — Everything looked thrilling for Ashley Overbeek.
She was one of the best basketball and soccer players in the state. Her future couldn’t have looked much brighter.
But that is what everyone else saw on the outside.
On the inside, Overbeek had suffered sexual abuse, was battling multiple mental heath issues — bipolar, borderline personality disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and severe anxiety — and turning to drugs and alcohol to escape every layer of her situation.
It was a tremendous load on a teenager and spiraled into uncontrollable addictions, leading to overdoses, suicide attempts and a grip on her life that she couldn’t overcome.
“I finally got there. There are only three ways out of addiction, death, institutions or getting clean,” Overbeek said. “I looked at my choices. I got pretty close to going to jail multiple times. I didn’t want to die — for a while, I did because I was in such a dark place I felt like the only way out was death.”
Overbeek spoke out during Mental Health Awareness Month, hoping her story can help others out of similar situations — or, hopefully, help others avoid the dark road she was on.
“I don’t want the same thing to happen to anyone else,” she said. “It just takes getting curious one time and you blink, and you are doing it every day.”
Instead of playing elite college basketball, the all-state performer at Hamilton, was getting high and hating herself for it.
The more her mental health issues affected her, the more she turned to substances, a circle she just couldn’t break.
One in six teenagers deals with some form of mental health issue. The average delay between onset of mental illness symptoms and treatment is 11 years, according to mentalhealthfirstaid.org. Two-thirds of teens with addictions have dealt with some form of mental health issues, according to childmind.org.
But Overbeek sees people not talking about it until things are too far down the dark road.
“Everyone is so ashamed to talk about it and you don’t have to be ashamed to talk about it,” Overbeek said. “It is real. It is a real issue and if you bring it to light, other people can help you. You speak up about it, you might help someone – including yourself.”
It started after mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder from being abused by an extended family member.
“In high school, I started fooling around with pills and alcohol,” she said. “I had a lot of dark days in high school, the PTSD was so bad and other mental health issues, that I couldn’t fall asleep until 4-5 in the morning, then I had to get up at 7 to go to school. It stressed me out to the point that my senior year, that I couldn’t have two full days in school without dealing with an issue. My junior and senior years were pretty dark, and I don’t really remember it.”
Somehow, she was able to become an all-state basketball player, becoming Hamilton’s all-time scoring leader.
Offers began to pour in for basketball scholarships, but it was something Overbeek couldn’t deal with on top of everything she was going through.
It would only get worse.
‘Definition of insanity’
Overbeek avoided college, instead started working, but addition was too tough of an adversary.
“Things got really bad,” she said. “I met some friends that weren’t the best influences. I started smoking weed every day, along with the pills. Then I started experimenting with other things like cocaine, acid and Xanax. I was using every single day.”
Addiction’s grip tightened with every use.
“After two years, I was using heavily every day until I blacked out,” Overbeek said. “I wasn’t talking to my family at the time. Then the mental health issues became worse. I had four suicide attempts that landed me in the hospital from overdoses on pills. I went into the hospital 11 times within two years.
“I had a really bad overdose in Detroit. My heart stopped and they had to bring me back to life. I finally was able to admit I had a problem.”
“I was in rehab in Florida, then another that focused on mental health. I came back and started using again immediately. Then I went to California for another rehab. I left and got picked up at the airport and was high in the airport parking lot already.”
Addiction’s grip just wouldn’t let go.
“I just got brought back to life and I went back to it. It was insane,” she said. “That is the definition of insanity. I played that game of rehabbing and getting high.”
After her sixth rehab stint, Overbeek finally was able to shake the drug use. But another battle was about to begin.
From drugs to alcohol
As Overbeek slowly pulled out of the grips of drug addiction, she still struggled with mental health issues and found it hard to cope.
Her best friend overdosed and died.
She then turned to alcohol.
“I started drinking because I needed something. I started drinking really heavily. Wake up — drink. Go to bed — drink,” she said. “I started drinking the minute I woke up. I was back living with my family at this point. My mom got me to admit I had a problem and took me to the hospital. I came back with a set of rules from my parents. They were in charge of my medication. I couldn’t leave or have anyone over and someone had to watch me at all times.
“It worked. That was Oct. 13, 2018, and I have been sober ever since.”
Overbeek said she didn’t want to stop getting high because she enjoyed it.
Making it more difficult during the dark days was the group she surrounded herself with.
She was not talking to her family and was hanging around other addicts.
Those combinations made it extremely difficult for her to admit to herself that she had a problem.
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It started with pushing people away.
“Nov. 7 of her junior year, it came out about her abuse. We didn’t really know what was going on,” mother Leane Overbeek said. “Then we feel guilty looking back because we should have seen the signs. We have people say that all the time to us, asking how could we not know. Freshman year of high school, we tried to talk to her about things after she threatened suicide in school, and that was a nightmare. Sophomore year, I had CPS called on me. CPS figured out it was false. Her senior year, I had someone tell me I should kill myself because I wasn’t worth anything as a parent. I had a nervous breakdown after that all happened.”
Leane said she felt helpless and alone trying to do what was best for Ashley.
“Rehab is not a cure. It is a tool that helps them. But if they are not willing to get that help, it is not going to matter. Each time, she brought more back from there. I want parents to know you have to support. People are starting to realize that this stuff is happening. I had to go through it alone, but you don’t have to,” Leane said.
Slowly the bridge was built from both sides.
Overbeek was living with roommates and got kicked out because of using. She went to live with her grandparents.
“They were very patient and understanding and we had a great relationship,” she said. “But I still wasn’t talking to my mom. We had a lot of issues going back to high school.”
No family holidays, no family dinners. Nothing.
“I thought that we were beyond repair,” Leane said.
But she eventually moved back in with her parents.
Overbeek was still drinking at the time until her parents confronted her about it.
“Moving back with my parents saved my life,” she said. “It wasn’t easy. It was terrible for a while. I was so pissed off they had a babysitter come and sit with me during the day. I was 23. It was so embarrassing. I felt like I didn’t need a babysitter — but I did. I really, really did. It saved my life.”
While she was reconciling with her parents, another key factor was put into place.
“I found God,” she said. “I had a moment in the hospital when they were doing a church service on a Sunday. I felt this feeling, this calming feeling that I had never felt before letting me know things were going to be OK. My mom and I got baptized together.”
Overbeek began to go to church reconcile with her family and frequent Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. “I had to build relationships again. All of those friends I thought I had, left and I had to start over,” she said. “I lost all of my friends.”
Meanwhile, her boyfriend, Austin, who was also an addict, got sober with Overbeek.
“He has been a huge piece because he saw me at my darkest, and now here,” she said. “My family has just been a huge help.”
“By the grace of God, we have gotten through this,” Leane said. “Don’t give up on your kids and don’t give up on yourself.”
What could have been
After a dominating career in two sports in high school, the future in athletics was bright.
Overbeek could’ve played basketball or soccer at a high-level college — or both sports.
But her career ended up being the first casualty of addition.
“I know what I missed. I think about it all the time. It breaks my heart. I watch a lot of sports, and know I could have done that,” Overbeek said. “I think about where I would have been. I would have been on a team with focus and making friends for life with a college scene. I just have so much regret that it eats me up.”
Overbeek doesn’t want anyone else to go through a situation like hers. The most important thing is speaking up.
“It is OK to have mental health issues, and if you speak out, people can help you,” she said. “That took me a long time.”
— Contact Sports Editor Dan D’Addona at Dan.D’Addona@hollandsentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanDAddona and Facebook @Holland Sentinel Sports.