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Ashley’s Story: The Pain and the Promise

Who do you know who needs God’s promise in their pain? Maybe … you? Read on as Caroline Beidler tells a compelling story.


Ashley’s Story: The Pain and the Promise

Caroline Beidler, MSW

Ashley had cherub cheeks, the kind that women in their fifties, losing their elasticity, pay thousands of dollars to re-create, but never capture. Her chocolate eyes and purple-brown hair, her smiling, lip-glossed mouth, her innocent laugh—all of these pieces of her I wonder about when I think about what happened.

She was one of a handful of students in recovery that frequented recovery meetings, becoming by default a darling of recovery. Young women like her became your little sister or daughter, an innocence that needed protecting because with the years came an understanding that for us girls, things only get harder when you are an alcoholic or addict.

She liked to smoke the same cigarettes I did so we became fast friends. Ashley told me about her home life. The trailer that she was embarrassed about on the other side of the tracks. How hard it was that Christmases never came and birthdays went by unnoticed so that by high school, she and her siblings weren’t really sure anymore when the days actually were. She had adopted June 14th as her day and she would steal Laffy Taffy candy from the gas station and sit on the edge of her bed and dream about new, shiny things.

As she puffed smoke out her nostrils like I used to do at that age, she told me stories about her friends at the alternative high school.

Then one day she was gone.

Hope Waits

I saw on my Facebook feed the missing child photograph with her rose cheeks and smiling eyes. I couldn’t believe it and kept staring at the photo, clicking the link, re-reading every word. Gone? Ashley is missing for 24 hours and if anyone knows of her whereabouts, we need to call this number? My eyes froze on hers in the picture and I imagined the worst. Ashley, so young and naïve, so prone to insecurity and that dangerous hunger for affection and love that I knew well.

The days turned into weeks and I learned after contacting the school what the police think happened. One of the other girls at the alternative school was a recruiter for a prostitution ring in the city. The police and other authorities were investigating. It had happened before to other girls. They lure them with money and clothes and cell phones. Ashley was last spotted outside a hotel near a prominent highway in the city.

My heart ached for her. And I, with the imagination of a screenplay writer, mentally enacted every possible scenario. I thought of the time when my dad made me watch the movie Taken with Liam Neeson after I told him I wanted to go backpacking in Europe when I was nineteen. Did she go willingly? Was she drugged? Was she being held against her will? If the police knew where she was, why weren’t they rescuing her? Why wasn’t someone doing something?

Then one day she was back.

Still Hoping

Ashley walked into the meeting room and slumped into a chair near the exit. Her once bubbly eyes were sunken, with dark purple circles outlining them like floating half-moons. I was ecstatic and could barely stay in my seat. I noticed as each person shared or said “pass” and some cried as they opened up for the first time and proclaimed out loud “…and I’m an alcoholic” that Ashley remained unmoved. Her gaze was steady on the floor in front of her. As soon as the meeting ended, I bolted to her and waited as other women who recognized her wanted to say hello, too. There are no strangers in recovery spaces.

“Do you need a ride?” I asked, hoping that she did.

She nodded and walked with me silently to the car. She asked for a smoke and we drove away from the meeting space with men and women still lingering together like moths around a porch light on a summer night.

“We missed you.”


This is an excerpt from my latest book, Downstairs Church: Finding Hope in the Grit of Addiction and Trauma Recovery. I share a glimpse of Ashley’s story with you because too many women are living with the trauma of addiction. Too many young lives have been stolen. Too many women are trapped in a cycle of pain and darkness.

And yet, the good news is, we have reason to hope. We have reason to believe that all will be redeemed, including the painful parts of our stories and our loved ones’ stories, and the stories of women like Ashley. We know this (that despite all odds and evidence to the contrary), God’s promise remains. God is here.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

Lord of mercy and grace, surround your daughters with love in this moment. Stir the hearts of your people to respond in whatever way you might be calling them to respond. Help us all to see that we can play a part in walking alongside the captive, loving the broken, and showing up even when it is tough. Lord, bring Ashley - and all the women like her - home.

Caroline Beidler, MSW is an author, recovery advocate, and founder of the storytelling platform Circle of Chairs. Her new book Downstairs Church: Finding Hope in the Grit of Addiction and Trauma Recovery is available anywhere you buy books.


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