Mother-daughter duo speak candidly, courageously on abuse

Ashley Doctolero and her mother Ada Coyle pose in their traditional regalia. Doctolero sewed her own clothes. (Hillman/KSKA)
Ashley Doctolero and her mother Ada Coyle pose in their traditional regalia. Doctolero sewed her own clothes. (Hillman/KSKA)

Like 37 percent of women in Alaska, Ada Coyle experienced sexual violence. She remained silent. Years later, the same happened to her daughter. But now, the mother-daughter pair are speaking up and trying to stop the cycle of abuse.

Download Audio

Ada Coyle says when growing up in a village near Kodiak, she had no idea what a healthy relationship was. She saw drinking, infidelity, and abuse.

“And so when I grew up to be a young woman, I had a distorted image of what a relationship would look like. So when I was dating, I was in bad relationships.”

Coyle says she turned to alcohol and drugs to deal with domestic abuse, just like she saw adults doing when she was young. Eventually she gave birth to her daughter, Ashley Doctolero. Doctolero went to school in Kodiak but spent her summers in the village. She loved learning to fish and going to dances. She didn’t love seeing the adults falling down drinking and leaving the kids alone.

“It was really hard witnessing all that because I thought that was normal,” she recalls. “And it was scary, too. It was something that just wasn’t talked about.”

Doctolero says when she was about seven years old, one of her relatives locked her into a bedroom after a celebration and left the house.

“I remember somebody climbing into the window and sexually abused me. And I don’t know who it was. And I tried talking about it to my family member, about what happened, and they didn’t want to believe that it happened.”

So Doctolero shut down and didn’t talk to anyone. Her mother says she was too busy using substances to pay attention to her daughter.

“I was too much into myself,” Coyle recalls. “I was Ashley’s mom by title, but in the home, we were just existing and not having a mother and daughter relationship.”

Doctolero starting cutting herself because she says physical pain seemed minor. She began dressing in black and dying her hair, trying to repulse the people around her.

“I figured that if I looked different I wouldn’t get abused again. I didn’t want to be attractive to anybody.”

But she was abused again. By 11 she started drinking. A few years later she was admitted to the hospital for attempting suicide. Coyle says watching her daughter’s pain just led her to drink more. She felt guilty and responsible and couldn’t handle it.

Nothing changed until Coyle’s health conditions forced her to become sober. She found faith in God and moved with her daughter to Anchorage.

After Doctolero’s second suicide attempt, the mother and daughter finally started talking. Coyle was open with Doctolero about her own past and her sense of responsibility for her daughter’s experiences.

“It wasn’t fair for her to suffer in those ways as a result of the decisions and the parenting style that I raised her in,” Coyle says, bluntly.

“There needs to be a generation where it stops,” Doctolero says. “And I’m that generation. And hopefully when my kids grow up, they won’t have to live that life. They’ll know a healthy lifestyle. They’ll know healthy boundaries.”

Doctolero says her relationship with her mother has changed completely. They support each other through sobriety and speaking out.

“People are like ‘You know, you’re 18, how come you and your mom are at the hip?’ But what I tell them is, our lives haven’t been like that. It’s a huge blessing to have my mom by myself because there’s been so many times in our lives where we could have lost each other.”

Doctolero says she doesn’t want her future kids to think that trauma is normal. From the strength she’s drawn from her relationship with her mother and from dancing and drumming, she’s trying to stop the normalization of abuse. She’s speaking out about the issue through cultural pageants hoping that this time, people will listen.