As told to G. Looker & S. Barker
The alarm clock blared from the side of my bed. I rubbed my eyes, trying to wipe away the blurry 5:30 that stood on the face of the clock. Gently, trying not to wake up the boys, I tapped snooze.
Nope. Not today. Today’s not going to happen.
We usually don’t sleep like this — all bundled tight under warm blankets — but Bryson had been having night terrors, so he and Brennon slept with me. It was my favorite part of the day; there in bed, with the two people I love most right next to me, nothing else mattered. I dug in deeper and let the ocean of blankets cover us all as I held my two boys tighter. Thirty minutes would have to be enough.
The clock stared at me, telling me it was 6:00. I should have known that this day would turn out badly, just like every other day, I choose not to stay with my routine. I’m full of good decisions, now more than ever in my life, but I swear, it seems like for every one good decision I make, I make two bad choices.
I texted my boss and said I wasn’t coming in. I felt bad … but not bad enough to check my phone to see if he read it. This was the bad decision I made that morning.
But just two years ago, my bad decisions were different. Much different.
There is a void in me. It consumes me. It claims everything I have. Everyone must fill this void with whatever they can: with love, with family, with God.
For six years of my life, I filled the void with heroin and painkillers.
At 6:15, I told my kids that we were playing hooky that day. They jumped up and down and yelled with joy. They didn’t want to go to school as much as I didn’t want to go to work. Then, I remembered my old decisions that I would make. I remembered the void I fed with addiction a few years ago.
I still remember the day, years ago, when I was in a relationship with the boys’ dad, when we were driving home from their grandparents’ house. The kids were in the back seat of the car. We pulled over to the side of the driveway, and he shifted into park. We had some money then, and we had bought heroin.
Separating the back seat from the front seats with a thin sheet, we shot up in the car next to the boys. The sheet, I thought, would keep me from swallowing them into my void.
Now, I looked over at my downturned phone, which read 6:30. I need this job. They’ve already dismissed me twice. It’s been two years now since I drove under the influence, was arrested, and relinquished control of my kids to Child Protective Services. Two years since I relapsed. They knew how far I’d come, and how I was finally putting my life back together.
Even though I’m 26, I’m not much of an adult yet; however, I made a very adult choice.
7:00. Get ready for school, I said. We’re going in late.
The uphill, everyday battle called addiction is still with me. It grabs me and pulls me down. It pulls me away from what I love.
I feel it most when I look at my kids. How could I have done the things that I did?
There in my living room, in a house that I haven’t called home for longer than six months, is a dry-erase board that hangs on a wall by the kitchen. The board keeps track of the boys’ behavior, with a meter on either side that fills up more for each instance of good choices. At the bottom is a list of mom’s responsibilities: mow the lawn, clean the kitchen, laundry. In this way, I measure my boys’ success coinciding with my own and how our progress as a family is a team effort, driven by myself.
I love my boys with everything I have and more. They’re growing up now, and finally I’m in the picture. But with every day, with every good adult decision, I’m growing up too. I’m figuring it out as I go.
I think about my life, of where I came from, where I’m going, and what made me who I am. For a while, my past, present and future was addiction.
On my way out the door, I see my great-grandfather’s mug on the counter. It fills me up with memories and feelings from the past, a time when things were different. I read my own childhood handwriting — Grandpa — scrawled out on the face of the mug.
I remember his other half, my great-grandma, about how perfect of a couple they were. I revel in stories about how they met while he was overseas serving in the military. I remember how she would wake up early, sit on the porch and read scripture as the morning sun greeted the horizon.
I keep all of the things from them that I can hold and touch that was a part of their lives. Even now, part of my morning routine is a modified version of what my great-grandmother did. I’ll read a book, usually a devotional, on the front porch and smoke a cigarette.
My past reminds me that I have a history greater than my void. I want to be how they were. I want to find that simplicity and honest goodness in my life. I don’t want to entertain the void.
For years, my life didn’t have the type of balance that my great-grandparents’ had. I came from a broken home: a father in jail and a mother who was lost in herself. For years, I filled my life, my void, with instant gratification that took away the pain but poisoned me and ate away at my future.
Once I tried to quit, guilt and shame toppled into the void. I look to my children and feel the responsibility for them and for myself, weighing on my heart.
I love these boys. They are my world. They are my life. I failed before, but I will not fail again. They fill my void today.
Every day I wake up, usually around 5:30, but some days it just doesn’t happen. Regardless, I always do one thing. I pray. I speak to my God, my faith in the world. I speak about my life, my children and my love. I look to Him now — not to drugs.
Every day, multiple times a day, I affirm to myself and to God that I’m doing well, and that I have His support.
I have an overabundance of perseverance and self-control. He who lives in me is greater than he who lives in the world. Blessed is she who believes in the fulfillment of the promises the Lord has spoken to her heart. And I am beautifully and wonderfully made.
My name is Ashlee Dotterer. I am 26, and I am the mother of two wonderful children. My journey has been long, but it is not over. Today I choose to fill the void with my own life, with love and with my God.
This story originally appeared in Facing Addiction in East Central Indiana, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Dr. Adam Kuban and the Louis E. Ingelhart Scholars at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.