Stories of Hope – Shannon Dudley
“By God’s grace and mercy, I made my way home to the women’s campus of the Extension on June 7, 2016. As a young child, my parents divorced when I was two years old. My mom and her parents, my grandparents, raised my sister and me. When I was eight years old, my mom remarried. My stepfather was a functioning alcoholic that was very abusive to my mother, both physically and mentally. He also sexually abused me. Over the course of their 16-year marriage, I continued to witness the abuse, and it became worse with each incident. I felt trapped and helpless—like there was nothing I could do to make things better.
My grandparents would take my sister and me to church with them on Wednesday and Sunday, and we would attend Vacation Bible School. I remember feeling so much peace when attending with them and knowing how much Jesus loves us. One Sunday, when I was around 12 years old, I accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior. I remember feeling the closeness of Him and knowing no matter how bad things got; He would always be with me. It wasn’t long until I would turn from my spiritual walk and begin walking in my own self-will.
At the age of 16, I took my first drink of alcohol and instantly drank like a real alcoholic, in the fact that I never wanted to stop until I was oblivious to what was going on. I loved the way alcohol made me feel, as it would numb all my pain, and it made me a lot more sociable because I was somewhat shy. I was very active in school and would have graduated as an honor student. In the beginning stages of my alcoholism, I would drink on the weekends by sneaking it in the house or sneaking out of the house to attend parties. By my tenth-grade year, I had dropped out of school and moved out of the house. My alcoholism was running my life. I was steadily building resentment toward the people who loved me the most, my family, and wouldn’t let them in when they would try to help me. At the age of 19, I was involved in a single-car accident where I totaled my car and by God’s protection and grace was able to go home from the hospital after three days with a broken ankle. At the time of the accident, I was also doing cocaine and methamphetamines. When I came home, I had about a 3-4-month dry time from everything before going right back out into my old ways. But this time was different—I was now bouncing from one drug house to the next. I began selling drugs and doing whatever it took to make sure I had them. This went on for quite a few years.
I was in some very toxic relationships that were even worse than what I had witnessed growing up as a child. Throughout the course of those relationships, I experienced physical, mental, emotional, and sexual abuse. My self-esteem and self-worth were at rock bottom. I didn’t love myself, and I had come to accept this was going to be the rest of my life. In 2005, I became pregnant with my daughter. I was excited and scared to death at the same time. I wanted to be a mother, and I wanted to quit using drugs, but I also wanted her dad to do so as well. We were not just using; there was an active meth lab at our house. Things continued, and nothing changed until Cobb County Police busted the door down and took both of us to jail. While back in the shower getting dressed out to be processed, I was wrapping my head around the fact I was going to have my daughter in jail when the officer called me out and told me I was going home. God continued to walk with me, giving me so many opportunities to come back to Him. At this point, about 5-6 months into my pregnancy, my mom finally was able to talk me into going to a doctor.
I was terrified they would take my baby if they found out I was using, so I told my mom to let me do all the talking. I am so grateful she didn’t listen to me, and she told the doctors the truth because my potassium was so low, I was on the verge of having a massive heart attack and killing both my daughter and me. They immediately admitted me to the hospital and began giving me potassium intravenously (21 bags). My pregnancy was high risk, and we were referred to a neonatal specialist who would monitor my daughter throughout the rest of my pregnancy. God saw us through, and I delivered a healthy, drug-free baby girl. When My daughter was four months old, I relapsed and went back out. My mom took temporary guardianship of my daughter and raised her. I would bounce in and out of her life when it was convenient for me and on holidays.
I finally reached a point where I couldn’t go on anymore the way I was living. I so desperately wanted to be a mom to my beautiful daughter, and I cried out to God to please help me and show me the way to a different life. He answered my cry, and I was given the number to The Extension by my mother. I had been to jail in Paulding and had to turn myself into Cobb County before I could begin treatment. Once again, God showed up and gave me the strength to go and turn myself in. For 22 years of my life, I had been on the streets and in active addiction, and I had no idea how drastically my life was about to change. I had finally surrendered my will and my life over to God. I entered the program and began to listen. I instantly realized that this was exactly what I had been missing the other times that I had tried to do it on my own. I attended the classes and had therapy sessions with Wynema Barber, who helped me realize that I had suffered from PTSD. She also reminded me that our Creator doesn’t make mistakes and that I wasn’t a mistake. She, along with the other staff and the volunteers, loved me until I could love myself. I learned that I am a survivor.
In therapy, I learned different coping techniques to deal with stress and anxiety. I began to work the steps with my sponsor and work at making living amends to my family. Forgiveness is a very powerful action, and in time I learned to forgive myself. I was able to pray for and forgive my stepfather for all the harm he had caused in my life. I was able to make amends with a place of employment that went out of their way to help me one of the times that I relapsed. The Extension taught me how to take responsibility for my actions, stand on my own two feet, and be a productive member of society. I attended Bible study during the week and on Sundays if my schedule allowed time. I reconnected with God and began to strengthen my relationship with Him.
I transitioned on April 9, 2017, and began sponsoring ladies that were currently in the program. Over the past four years, I got to go back and be a part of Sister’s in Sobriety, lead a small group, chair meetings, and be a part of other women’s journeys. It was never meant for us to do it alone—it is a “We” program. Personally, I needed everything The Extension has to offer, and I am so grateful that God placed me there. In May of 2019, my mother baptized my beautiful daughter and me. I have been blessed in so many ways, but my daughter is the biggest blessing of my life. Ultimately, she was the driving force in my life that motivated me to seek help. We are both working together on rebuilding our relationship, and she has one of the most loving and forgiving hearts. I have regained guardianship, and I am now a full-time single mother. I was rehired by Moore, Ingram, Johnson & Steele and have been a legal assistant for two years. My mother has had some health issues, and I have been able to be there for her wholeheartedly and help take care of her. Recovery is a lifelong process, and today, because of The Extension, I know what I need to do to continue this path to freedom.”