ashley is just who she wants to be
If you have the chance to meet Ashley, you’ll get the feeling she was destined for good things from a young age. Given her optimism, outgoing nature, and always-on smile, it’s not a surprise to learn she was an honor student, a cheerleader, and an athlete in school. When this oldest – and “the boss” – of four children from a wonderful family faced an unplanned pregnancy with her first boyfriend at age 17, she finished high school at home and studied to be a Physician Assistant (PA). The youngest person to graduate from the training program in her state, she passed her board exams at age 23 in the top 4% in the U.S. – all while raising her daughter.
Now, with a hand from the Anacortes Family Center, thirty-something Ashley is on track with plans that make her grin. But for several years in between, life was challenging.
Life in Texas
While serving as an emergency room PA in Texas in her early 20’s, Ashley met a nurse and fell in love. They were together five years and had two children, a girl and a boy.
Ashley’s partner was a functioning alcoholic who filled prescriptions for himself illegally, she discovered. Soon he began piling on emotional abuse. He manipulated her in classic “gaslighting” fashion – convincing Ashely she was the problem. He dictated what she wore and scraped food off her plate to control what she ate. Always a petite woman, Ashley eventually dropped to 85 pounds. “It was a slow progression,” she remembers, as her self-esteem fell. She finally thought, “maybe I deserve this.”
The two split up and began sharing custody of the two children. Then, with almost no warning, Ashley found out her ex planned to move miles away and take the kids to live with his wealthy, new wife in a beautiful home. Ashley fought for her children in court, but she and her attorney never had the chance to present a case. She doesn’t know if it was due to the photos of the mansion or because her partner had registered the kids for a local school without her knowledge, but after a 10-minute hearing, a stunned Ashley learned she had lost. She would only get some weekend, holiday, and summer time with her children.
Devastated, she began drinking heavily to cope with the pain. Ashley’s ex continued to be in control by limiting and monitoring the children’s phone calls with her. “It’s called parental alienation,” she explains.
A New Relationship
Ashley eventually met another man who seemed nice; his domineering nature wasn’t obvious at first. He had two boys, so when Ashley’s children were home, she was raising five kids. She recalls having fun in those first years pitching tents in the back yard. She’d quit drinking and had another daughter.
Her new partner’s cruel side began to show itself, leaving Ashley increasingly isolated. “He would have rages,” she remembers. She never knew what he might do next to hurt her. One time, he bought her a car, then turned around and sold it.
When her new daughter was seven months old, Ashley and her partner had a terrible fight about money. He took the baby, left the house and said, “You will never see her again.” Ashley says she “drank for a month straight.” Then, with encouragement from her mom, she checked herself into rehab.
Partly as a strategy to get her daughter back, Ashley reunited with her partner. But his behavior worsened. He kept Ashley from working and took her phone away. “He treated me like a child,” she says. Finally, he took their young daughter to a neighboring state and left her with family. When he returned, he screamed at Ashley to get out. She packed two suitcases and tried to locate the baby, but was unsuccessful.
Coming to Anacortes
Friends helped her leave the area “with just quarters in my pocket,” and come to Anacortes. The friend she stayed with here ended up treating her just as badly as her exes, and Ashley found herself alone in a town where she had nothing and knew no one. She finally called the police who connected her with the Family Center.
Ashley was initially dismayed to realize she would be going to an emergency shelter – for two reasons. She considers herself a strong, independent person. “I’ve always been the one that helps,” she says. And she wasn’t sure what it would be like. The shelters she’s seen are “cots and drugs.” Ashley says, “They don’t have anything like this where I’m from.” She gratefully attended every class and program offered.
Today, with four years of sobriety to her credit – minus one night of despair over her daughter – Ashley says, “I’m proud of how far I’ve come.” She has much to be happy about. Her oldest daughter attends a well-known university on a scholarship. The other kids are doing well too and Ashley is in frequent contact with them.
Ashley has a good job now but wants to get her Washington State PA license and work in the ER at Island Hospital. She plans to stay in Skagit County, but save enough to get a small place in Texas so she can travel to see the kids when they can’t come here.
“If they asked me to give a one-to-five rating for the Family Center,” she says, “I would give it 10 stars.” With a little help, Ashley can now “be who I want to be.”