Caroline Dotson, a co-owner of Downtown Books, is a school volunteer, college student, mother, wife and leader in two faith-based groups in Craig. Things, however, weren't always that way. She had to overcome a difficult past of crime and drug and alcohol use to get here.

Photo by Hans Hallgren

Caroline Dotson, a co-owner of Downtown Books, is a school volunteer, college student, mother, wife and leader in two faith-based groups in Craig. Things, however, weren't always that way. She had to overcome a difficult past of crime and drug and alcohol use to get here.

Almost something else

A past of pain and pitfalls leads to redemption for local woman

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— Mother. Wife.

College student. Business owner.

Addiction counselor. School volunteer. Faith leader.

This is Craig resident Caroline Dotson's life, and it came close to never happening.

A different life, a life she describes as ugly and destructive, almost took over.

Drunk. Junky. Vagabond.

Criminal. Inmate.

Instead of allowing that to happen, instead of staying on a nowhere run, Dotson did what many find difficult and some find impossible: She turned it around.

"I think she's pretty amazing," said Carol Jacobson, with whom Dotson co-owns Downtown Books, a Yampa Avenue store. "For all the people who say you can't do it, that it's impossible to beat (drugs), she proves to be the exception."

Today's life doesn't much resemble the one Dotson left behind three years ago.

There's work at the bookstore a couple of days a week and classes through Colorado Northwestern Community College.

There's volunteering each Friday at East Elementary School.

There's working with Young Life, an interdenominational youth group, and Celebrate Recovery, a faith-based group that helps residents overcome addictions and other problems.

But, mostly her life is now defined by what can't be found - drugs and alcohol use, crime and having no direction.

"She would not tell a person who needed help 'no,'" said Jesse Cramer, also of Celebrate Recovery, who met Dotson, and her husband, Chris, three years ago when they began working the program.

"Her life is about her family, (faith) and helping people. She's very active. I'm impressed with how she makes herself available to people."

Although these are kind words, they are the words of others about Dotson, words that stop short of describing how desperate things once were for her. She isn't nearly as shy about talking about the past.

"It is like," she said, "it's like watching a movie. It's bizarre when I think back about my past."

The thumbnail version: Originally from Apple Valley, Calif., she is a single child in a violent home where drug and alcohol use is "normal and accepted."

The inevitable happens: she has her first drink - "it was brandy and it was terrible" - at 12 years old. She begins using drugs - "ecstasy, cocaine : you name it" - in her teens.

Things spiral out of control. The drug use leads to methamphetamine. The meth leads to crime, and crime leads her to jail, and so on and so forth.

But, a funny thing happened on that path to nowhere - it lead somewhere, Dotson said, and more importantly, to someone.

In June 2004, she found herself in a Grand Junction jail for receiving stolen goods. She'd been drinking and using drugs, stealing cars and motorcycles and selling them to chop shops in Denver.

She wanted to change.

"I got on my knees and I asked Jesus to change my life," said Dotson, tears rolling down her cheek. "That was really a huge turning point."

Change wasn't overnight, however.

She struggled with her addictions for another five months.

Coming back from the bar one cold night in December 2004, Dotson found herself wearing someone else's coat and shoes, wandering downtown Craig toward no particular destination.

She had blacked out.

"I was really scared," Dotson said.

A desire to get clean and sober eventually led her to Celebrate Recovery, a group similar to Alcoholic and Narcotics Anonymous, reading the Bible and rebuilding her life around her family - including two sons, Caleb, 5, and Colton, 1 - and others.

It also led her to following pursuits she once only dreamed of.

February will mark two years since she began working and earning partial ownership of the bookstore. She attends CNCC and is taking business courses.

Someday, she hopes to be a writer.

Even her work at the bookstore is geared toward helping others, Jacobson said.

"I have a lot of faith in her," Jacobson said. "It's really a labor of love. We don't make a lot of money, but it's something we wanted to do because this is something the community needs.

"The amount of progress I've seen her make as a person, mother and friend is incredible. She's awesome. I would not be a happy person without her."

For all the past pain and pitfalls, Dotson, now 28, wouldn't change a thing. It led her to this point, and that's not a bad place to be, she said.

"I definitely wouldn't be here at all," she said at the store, her words spoken just above the Victorian sounds of classical music playing in the background. "I wouldn't be the person I am. I wouldn't be able to help people.

"God's going to use all my hurts to help someone else."

And to think this life came close, sometimes painfully so, to never happening.

"I didn't (drink or use) today," she said. "Not yesterday, either. Right now I feel I'm where God wants me to be. That's a very comforting thing. I can't see things any other way."

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