No Longer a Victim

Updated: Jun 24


| This is the 476th story of Our Life Logs |

People used to look at me and see nothing more than an addict who couldn’t keep a needle out of her arm long enough to take care of her kids. I was a hot mess that no one wanted to deal with. But no one ever bothered to understand the “why.” Why I was addicted to heroin, why I was so broken, why I couldn’t process my emotions. Maybe if they had, things could have been different.

My life began in 1989 in Turlock, California. My parents separated when I was a toddler, so I was always jumping between houses.

My mother was always a caring woman, but to keep us afloat, her job was more of her home than our own. As a kid, you don’t realize that adults have to work. To me, it just felt like my mother would rather work than spend time with me.

My father moved on quickly, and it was evident every time I went over there that there was little space for me in his new life. I could also tell that my stepmom did not like me nor have any intention of loving me as a stepdaughter. Kids can sense when they’re unwanted; it’s in the air all around them.

And this feeling of being unwanted lingered in my psyche and led me to search for attention in all the wrong places.

By the time I was 13, I wasn’t seeing my dad anymore and my mom and I moved to Livermore.  Even in a new city, Mom worked a lot so, with her gone so much, I had time to do whatever I wanted. I’d gotten in with a rebellious crowd and together we used to go on phone chat lines and find older guys to party with.

One day, I went on by myself and made plans to meet up with a guy whose gangster lifestyle enticed me. He offered to take me shopping if I chose to spend the day with him. As a 13-year-old, I saw this as a wonderful gesture. I said yes.

When the day had come to an end, I told the man I was ready to go back. That’s when I saw his face change and a moment of fear passed through my head. I realized I could never outrun a guy like him.

“You’re not going back,” he said as he dragged me away.

That day, I was forced into prostitution.

I joined the ranks with six other girls whose ages varied. It all happened so fast that I barely had time to process it all. I was given a script, fake ID, and a whole new wardrobe. I was instructed on how to properly walk in stilettos, flirt, and do my duties.

My pimp told me I was sitting on a gold mine. He said I didn’t need my parents. I could make my own money. And I did. I was going on daily shopping sprees with the girls and driving a Cadillac at 13. I was manipulated to believe that I was doing myself a disservice by not selling my body sooner.

Meanwhile, my mom was working with the FBI to find me and bust my pimp for trafficking. After a month of being in forced prostitution, my mom did find us and got me out of there. In the blink of an eye, I was back to my old life. Unfortunately, I had memories that could never be erased.

Before I was home, I was stripped of all the clothes and make up and things I had worked for. While this makes sense, it also meant I had nothing to distract me from the reality of it all, the reality that I had been forced to have sex with strangers for money, that I was treated like an object, a product.

Meanwhile, my parents didn’t want to talk about what had happened. They wanted us to just forget the whole thing. How was I supposed to just be a kid again? I was furious. I screeched in anger to my mom that I wanted to die. Fearful of me, my mom sent me away to a mental institution within a week of being home.

After a month of being around people far less healthy, I was shipped off to Montana for a behavioral program where each day felt like a prison regime more than it did a place for therapy. I began to feel very isolated. I felt like I wasn’t allowed to feel anything or to speak about my trauma, so I pushed it all down.

I fell right back into my bad habits when I got home. Within the first few days, I stole my mom’s car and went out for a drive. When that happened, my mom gave up on me completely and sent me to live with my dad. I hated the atmosphere that hung in my dad’s home so I ran away pretty soon after my arrival.

I was 13 years old and living on the streets, shacking up with older guys when the opportunity presented itself. I had always felt unwanted, but now I felt overwhelming guilt and shame over what had happened to me. I was robbed of my soul, thrown away by society because I couldn’t instantly assimilate back to my old life. I was never given the help I so badly needed. These were all the perfect ingredients that blossomed a raging drug addiction. By 14, I had a 22-year-old boyfriend and an addiction to methamphetamine.

At 15, I began dating a man more than twice my age who, while we were together, got busted for car-jacking. I was so desperate for love and so eager to please, that I took the fall for him. Because of my age, I was given probation, sent to Narcotics Anonymous meetings and juvenile hall. From there, I jumped from group home to group home.

I tried to get sober a handful of times, but I kept relapsing. When I was on something, I could forget about all the shame and guilt I had inside. I could be a different person. My emotional pain was numbed by the high.

My life became like a seesaw. I’d decide to get sober then the call of the highs made the lows unbearable to face without drugs. I had a baby girl in 2007 and that same year I got busted with a friend for running a meth lab. My friend was kind enough to take most of the fall, and I just went to a treatment center.

After that, I stayed clean for three years. But then I started experiencing chronic shoulder pain that made moving unbearable. My doctors did not ask about my history with drugs and I did not offer up any information. I was prescribed 120 narcos, 100 somas, and 60 Xanax a month; a jackpot for an addict.

It wasn’t long until I was messing with my doses, overtaking so I could be on an opioid high most days. I had another baby in 2010, but he wound up with his father’s family.

In 2012, my pain meds got unexpectedly cut off when they discovered I was juggling doctors to get more prescriptions. Still, I wasn’t worried. I’d been on the streets most of my life. I knew where to go to get an alternate fix. But nothing was strong enough, so I turned to heroin. But I couldn’t just take a little. I had to push myself to the brink. I overdosed 11 different times and each time I was brought back.

In 2017, I got pregnant with a baby girl. In the wake of the news, I decided things would be different with her; I wouldn’t take drugs while pregnant. But no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t keep a needle out of my arm. By the grace of God, my daughter wasn’t born addicted. However, knowing she turned out fine only fueled my addiction.

Eventually, my body had been worn out. I developed a severe case of sepsis while driving with my baby in the backseat. I was taken to the hospital where I was given help just in time. When asked if I was taking drugs, I was honest. Honesty was not in my favor in this case, and CPS was on me as quick as heroin shot to the veins. They took my youngest from me and placed her in foster care.

After my youngest was taken, I was devastated. It forced me to take a good look at my life. My other two children were being cared for by other families and I rarely saw them. My youngest, a new chance to be a better mom, was just taken from me. I’d put drugs before my kids. Hell, I put drugs before everything. I let that sink in.

I thought back to what had happened to me, how no one was there for the little girl with trauma, how society threw her away, and how it led her to drugs. I had thrown my own kids away like I’d been thrown away. But as I thought back on that little girl who needed love to the woman I was now, I realized something.

Just because I was victimized as a kid did not mean I had to continue being a victim.

I had the power to change how I dealt with my trauma. For years, I used drugs to cope with the emotions I didn’t want to face. I allowed myself to be the victim, to feel sorry for myself, to let my shame consume me. But I couldn’t do that anymore. I couldn’t keep falling into the same cycles, or I’d never stay better. I had the power to live differently.

The first step to doing that was accepting that I had a problem, well, a lot of problems, and that I needed help. The next step was making the choice to get treatment.

I got a therapist, attended support group meetings, and joined a rehabilitation program to get myself back on track. I’ll never forget how light I felt after that first day of therapy. In time, I learned positive self-talk and recognized that what happened to me was not my fault. Finally, I was talking about my past, my trauma, my guilt, and someone was there to listen. I found that the more I talked about my experiences, whether it was to a therapist or a support group, I felt stronger, like I was taking back control for the first time in my life. When I released the trauma from the confines of my mind, I felt like a new person.

Since I started going to therapy, I’ve been pulling it together. I make sure I call my eldest a couple times a week to talk. My cousin took my youngest out of foster care, and I am able to visit her often. I hope I can be a better mom to them in the future.

Visiting my daughter in foster care, 2019.

As many recovering addicts know, there’s always the risk of a relapse, but I’m stronger now to face those temptations and say no. I’ve gotten a job, I started going to school, and I even started managing a sober living facility. Through all of this and talking about my trafficking experiences, I feel like I’ve found another reason to stay sober; I want to help trafficking victims like me by building a home for them to get services and help they need. This dream comes with many roadblocks given my criminal history, but I have written to the governor to see if I can be issued a pardon to begin this work. I think I can only go up from here, and I hope I can begin this dream to keep up my momentum.

Be brave. Stand up for yourself.  Never let your past get the better of you.

This is the story of Ashley Juanita Castillo

Ashley resides in Merced, California, where she is managing a sober living facility and working as a server. At 13, Ashley was forced into prostitution after she was lured out through a phone chat line. After her abductor was captured and prosecuted, Ashley was expected to go back to her ordinary life without getting the proper resources to cope with what had happened. This led to a long life of drug addiction. It wasn’t until her youngest was put in danger because of her that she realized she needed to get sober and stay sober this time. Since then, she has been making plans to open a home for sex trafficking victims. In the meantime, she’s helping others battling addiction. She is just a couple semesters away from obtaining her associates in business. In her free time, Ashley likes to cook and listen to rap music. After years of making drugs her life, she is discovering herself and her interests now that she’s sober. She hopes to get her youngest back in her custody soon and continue to rebuild a relationship with her two older children.


This story first touched our hearts on December 18, 2019.

| Writer: Kristen Petronio | Editor: Colleen Walker |

#USA #California #humantrafficking #drugabuse #motherhood #therapy #addiction #sextrafficking #kidnapping #drugs

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