Hello, my name is Ashlie King-Bratton and I am 21 years old.
If you told me six years ago that I would be standing here speaking about my life and its experiences…I probably would have asked you “what are you smoking?” and then I would have asked you “could I get some of that.” I never thought that I would have made it this far, in fact, at times I didn’t even want to make it this far. Some people say that I am a strong person, going through the things I have gone through, and still being able to share my story, but I just think of it as my way of giving back and using my experiences to educate and empower people. Let them know that there is a “light at the end of the tunnel”.
I was born in Chester, Pennsylvania and raised pretty much in the Delaware county area. I had a pretty interesting childhood, an amazing mother, an annoying little brother, and two loving grandparents. My father……..well that’s another story….he was there…..and then he wasn’t…and then he was…..and then……well you see where this is going. Kind of a “show up on Christmas and your birthday kind of guy”
As a child I witnessed a lot of abuse from my father to my mother, which ultimately led them to divorce around the time I was six or so. From there on… people …(meaning men) came in and out of my life.....but the hardest thing to see was just my mom struggling at being a single mother, however she did a pretty damn good job at it…... We always lived in a nice house, me and my brother went to a great school…and oh….by the way…..we were spoiled rotten!
I attended Lansdowne Friend’s School from kindergarten to 6th grade and from there headed on to Beverly Hills Middle School. Lansdowne Friends was a school in which I was taught to have respect and accept each individual for whom they are. Somehow, though, in the transition from private school to its complete opposite... public school; I forgot how to have respect for myself.
If you talked to anyone who knew me at that point of my life they’d probably tell you I was a sweet girl, very artistic, creative, bright, unique, not the least bit shy…….just positive things…..but little did they know….I literally was living something like a….double life….. At a very young age I found myself engaging in some “risky behaviors.” With these behaviors came a tremendous amount of guilt and embarrassment. The innocence that I once had was gone. I’ve recently (meaning in therapy just last week) realized that this is mostly like where I began separating the real me from the person that I was being perceived as. I went on with my days pretending that everything was great, that I was still this sweet, bright young girl, but deep down I was feeling something extremely different.
In middle school I began the search for “who I was”. I was doing anything just to “fit it” and get out of the “new girl from private school” rut that I was in. I eventually found the crowd that I best fit into, I guess you could say we were the “the grungy/hippie/punk/ indie kids.” They accepted me for who I was and I was okay with that.
Just when things started to look up, I found myself facing one of the hardest things that I child ever has to hear: my mother has cancer.
My mother has cancer.
I couldn’t wrap it around my head.
I repeated it….over and over and over again……hoping that it just…. wasn’t real.
I remember just lying in my bed……sobbing…..repeating it in my head. Cancer.
Somewhere in the mix of all of these emotions, I picked up self-harming behaviors, anything just to get a release of these emotions. I found myself spending most of my days in the counselors office, and functioning in school became almost mission impossible.
Life went on and my mother was showing some positive signs, her cancer had gone into remission, and once again things seemed to be looking….a little better.
High school rolled around and I thought “this was my chance to recreate myself.” I started getting into some really bad things, pierced my nose, dyed my hair blue, wore crazy outfits, and wouldn’t leave the house without my fishnets. I was finally cool, I had friends…we were bullied because we were different. But we were bullied together, so it wasn’t so bad...but things started to take a turn for the worst, I began engaging in even more risky behaviors, started smoking and experimenting with drugs. My mother’s cancer had come back, and things just began spiraling downward. In the midst of all this going on with my, the hardest thing to do was to NOT tell my mom, I didn’t want to hurt her, I had kept so much from her that to tell her now the things I was doing, would have broken her hurt. She was so sick. She couldn’t hold anything down, she began losing weight, she was in and out of the hospital, and she was fighting for her life.
My freshman year of high school is now a complete blur. May 24th of 2005, I made my way to school with a lot on my mind. My mother was to be transferred to a different hospital so I figured I’d go see her during my lunch break. My guidance counselor walked me down to the hospital…. My mother could not speak. She was in so much pain. I told her I loved her and that I would see her later. That afternoon my mother passed away and my world….came to an end.
I spent the next two years of high school in and out of outpatients, partials, IOP’s, counseling, therapy, you name it….I’ve done it. Many failed suicide attempts landed me in inpatients a couple times. Things eventually led me to getting kicked out of my home at 16. I moved in with my grandparents, which was a bittersweet experience. They loved me, they provided support for me….but I had freedom. Too much freedom. I began using many drugs regularly, and fell dependent on my then drug of choice: cocaine. I was extremely promiscuous, letting people take advantage of me, and all I wanted to do was fill that empty space that remained in my heart.
I had hit rock bottom. And I did not want to live. I’ve tried everything. There was nothing to help me. However, The Student Assistance Program was not giving up on me, even when I wanted them to. I worked closely with Ms. West-Noltey and my counselor, they came up with a plan to help just maintain, to focus and navigate through my day. I was allowed to leave from class five minutes early to avoid crowds in the hall way. I had my own “corner” in the counselors office to do my work when I was feeling overwhelmed in class, just things to help me stay on the right track. Even with all these accommodations, though, school ultimately became too much and my addiction to cocaine was increasing to something beyond my control. I dropped out in the beginning of my senior year and decided that partying, hanging out with friends and just living on the street was a lot more important than school.
At the beginning of 2008, something in me changed. I was in a relationship with someone who really loved and cared about me and I wasn’t alone anymore. They provided the support that I needed to get clean and start making positive changes. I was tired of living the life I was living and I came to the conclusion that I wanted to finish school, for my mom, for him, for myself and later to find out….for my soon to be born child.
I was pregnant... 17 ... Pregnant... Dropped out of high school... No money... No job. This was my opportunity. I had nine months to get myself together, if this wasn’t motivation, I don’t know what was.
I found a little job as a grant researcher for a young women’s mentoring group and attended GED classes regularly to help me regain the knowledge that I thought I had once lost. I passed my GED test and through the program I was in, they provided a graduation ceremony for its students. My graduation gown did not fit around my belly, but I was just happy to have made it to this point. I gave birth to my child in November of 2008... a strong and healthy baby boy named Jaylen. That same year I enrolled myself into Community College of Philadelphia and began taking classes toward obtaining a degree in behavioral health and human services. My grandparents helped me get my own apartment and I found another job working as a receptionist at a behavioral health agency in Center City.
My son was growing bigger and smarter by the second. I was a part-time receptionist, part time student and a full-time mother, and even when times were getting hard, and I felt like giving up, I still pushed through. I decided to set some goals for myself. I refused to become another statistic. I wanted to be someone. I needed to share my experiences in hope that I could help someone, anyone…just make it through another day.
While still taking classes regularly, I went on a mission to find my purpose in the competitive world of employment. I wanted a job... a career in which I could use what I have learned to make a difference.
I made …literally …like 100 copies of my resume and emailed it to anyone and everyone, just hoping someone would give me that chance. Little did I know, there was a company out there called Child and Family Focus who were looking to hire someone just like me.
I am now working as a Youth Support Partner. My sole job is to share my experience and story with other youth to support them with their own struggles, to give them the encouragement, the strength and support to speak up for themselves and let someone know when things just aren’t “OK.”
Don’t get me wrong, I still struggle day to day with my anxiety, my depression, parenting , finances …everything…but now I have the resources to get through those things and everyday I’m learning new ways to cope with the stresses that life has to offer . I love where I am in life, and when times get rough, and I feel like there is now where to go…. I just try to look back at where I have been and I remind myself….
I am a strong... I am intelligent... I am Fabulous!
I am a great mother, and a good friend and I have a lot to offer to this world and if I made it before I can make it again... and this time I won’t let anything stand in my way.