BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - It was early January in 2014 when WAFB's Elizabeth Vowell met Arielle Butler and her mother, Donna. Both were exhausted and constantly fighting.
Arielle was 26 at the time and in the grips of a heroin addiction. She was measuring her sobriety in minutes and sharing her story then on the condition of anonymity. The interview was Donna's idea. She wanted to show the human toll of addiction and how it had trapped her family in a dark tug of war for Arielle's life.
Before the interview ended, we asked Arielle what she wanted while she worked to get sober.
"My goal is to not become powerless over heroin anymore and to make my family and everyone around me trust me more and to live life to the fullest again," she said. "At one time, I could do that. I want to go back to that."
"Do you believe you can," Vowell asked.
"I do believe I can," she said.
Unfortunately, the path out of addiction rarely runs smooth. For Arielle, it was rougher than most. Without insurance at the time, she was going at it with only her mother and family as guides. Donna is a former drug user herself, and was fighting tooth and nail to save her daughter. The task consumed the Butler family in a tense schedule that revolved around avoiding triggers. Later, Donna said she worried the next interview she did would be about Arielle's funeral. It almost was.
"After I interviewed with you guys it really opened up that I wasn't ready. I regretted it a great deal after," said Arielle. "I left. I wasn't ready."
Arielle left home not long after our 2014 interview and said she lived on the streets for nearly a year, shooting up and bouncing from house to house. Though she doesn't remember much, she knows she overdosed several times and was arrested at least twice.
She then got involved in an abusive relationship with a man she said was also a drug user, and gave birth to their son. At one point, Donna ended up with custody of the baby boy. Nothing, it seemed would dull Arielle's addiction.
Soon after, Arielle got pregnant a second time and ended up in the hospital after she was beaten. She said lying in the hospital, a little girl growing in her womb, hurt, and detoxing, she had to make a choice. "I was giving up on life. I gave up a long time ago. What I did was I grasped for air. I woke up and I grasped for air and I wanted to live," said Arielle.
"She was lost. She wasn't her. I was looking at a shell of a child that I gave birth to," said Donna. "She had nowhere else. As a mom, she's my responsibility."
Arielle returned home to her family, and once again, tried to get clean. She locked herself away in her bedroom and forced herself through a brutal detox. She said she wanted to feel every painful moment of that transition so she could remember the cost of using again.
Donna said her family did everything to help her, never shutting her out. "It still had to be Arielle's decision. When she made that decision, we all jumped on it. We all did our part," said Donna.
After a lot of tough love, she found a therapist and with help, her sobriety grew from minutes, to days, to months. Now, Arielle's days revolve around her 17-month-old son and 3-month-old daughter. "I knew this time was different when she was born. To see her look at her little girl, you could see it in her eyes. You could look at Arielle's eyes and see, 'I don't want this for you,'" said Donna.
For Arielle, the stakes have never been higher. "If I go put a needle in my arm, I will lose my daughter. That's what I tell myself. If I put a needle in my arm, I'm going to die," said Arielle.
After nearly nine months of sobriety, Arielle has also found a new purpose: speaking publicly about her addiction. She hopes to shed light on the heroin epidemic in Baton Rouge, and the need for more resources and help.
"That is the biggest blessing out of all of this. Seeing everything you put into someone come back and come back 20 times more than you could ever imagine," said Donna. "To come back so strong, to come back so hard, to see her stand up in front of people in Ft. Lauderdale and say, 'I'm sober. I'm clean,' and to know she really is."
Sharing her story also forces Arielle to relive the painful things she's done. She tearfully talked about driving off, leaving her newborn son behind as her mother begged her stay. "She believed in me and I let her down every time. Every time I let her down," said Arielle. "I feel like for them to forgive me over anybody else, I know that's true love. That's a love that will never be broken ever."
It's that pain and love that Arielle said reminds her what's at risk when addiction tries to tempt her again. "This is something I deal with every day. I'm going to make it. I'm going to do it. I'm going to do whatever it takes," said Arielle.
If you are a loved one is struggling with addiction, you can reach out to these organizations for help: