In 2016, Aaron Bottorff was facing tough times.
He’d been an addict for two decades. He’d been in and out of treatment facilities and jail. He’d slept in his car.
And on April 13 of that year, his wife — who also struggled with addiction — walked out of the door.
“She got into the car to go back to treatment and I just knew I was telling her goodbye,” he said.
That’s when Bottorff started on a new path with a prayer.
“I hit my knees and begged him (God) to take the desire to use away and I haven’t had to use since,” said Bottorff, who lives in Fremont with his son, Levi.
Today, Bottorff is the operations supervisor at LifeHouse (formerly Care Corps Family Services) in Fremont. He supervises the desk staff, coordinates volunteers, plans meals and does maintenance, data entry and minimal case management.
This Christmas season, the single dad is grateful for so many things — his home and Levi, sobriety, his relationship with God and the fact that his bills are paid.
“We have food,” he said. “I have a job that I love. I’m motivated.”
That wasn’t the case years ago.
“When I was young, we were pretty poor and I was kind of an outcast kid. No one wanted to accept me. So, of course, the group that partied accepted me. I started drinking at an early age — like 12 — and I found harder drugs at age 16,” Bottorff said.
Bottorff was 15 when he moved out of his parents’ house and in with his girlfriend.
“That’s when my life of partying started,” he said.
He’d see the consequences.
“I did plenty of stints in jail,” he said. “The first time I went to jail, I was 22 and I kept partying until I was 35.”
He went to treatment multiple times.
“My last — what we would call a run in the drug world — was in Omaha and Council Bluffs (Iowa),” he said. “I was sleeping behind Walmart in my car with my now ex-wife.”
Bottorff’s mom had helped him get hotel rooms, but decided to try tough love. Instead of paying for a hotel room, she suggested her son call 211 — which is the United Way agency in Omaha.
That agency connected Bottorff and his then-wife to LifeHouse.
“We were a married couple and they knew you could stay together there,” he said.
LifeHouse accepted the Bottorffs.
Both got jobs at Applebee’s restaurant in Fremont.
“We stayed clean for a while and then a holiday came up so we decided to go drink again,” he said. “We got evicted from the shelter because we didn’t follow the guidelines. Two weeks later, they let us back in. They’re a place of second chances.”
And it was a place where he’d find uncommon support.
“This is the first place that’s never given up on me,” he said.
The Bottorffs went through LifeHouse’s transitional housing program.
But at the beginning of their transitional housing, the Bottorffs decided to use drugs again.
“We were going to get kicked out of the program if we didn’t both go to treatment,” he said. “We went to separate treatment centers.”
His now-ex-wife returned to their home and used drugs within the first 12 hours and got kicked out of the program.
“I finished my treatment and I went back to the house and re-entered the transitional housing program,” he said.
His life would begin to change.
“The last day I ever had to use, I also lost my wife — not to death — but I knew I was never going to see her again,” he said. “It was a pretty hard day.”
That was April 13, 2016 — the day Bottorff got on his knees and prayed.
“It was a sad, but beautiful moment at the same time,” he said. “I lost my two best friends — drugs and my wife — in the same day, but I was given the best gift I’ve ever been given — my sobriety.”
More good gifts would follow.
Bottorff re-entered the transitional housing program and began volunteering at LifeHouse, teaching the “Positive Aspects of Change” class.
“It’s the way you change your thinking,” said Bottorff, who describes himself as a positive person. “Instead of looking at the bad aspects of life, I always can find the good, the silver lining.”
How did that happen?
“It was all God,” he said.
Besides teaching the class, Bottorff worked as a server at Village Inn and attended Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings regularly. He is still involved with those groups.
He also got a sponsor — an accountability partner — through the groups.
“Before you make any big decisions, you kind of ask them,” he said.
Bottorff had been clean and sober for 95 days when Levi’s mom asked if he could take the child. Bottorff called his sponsor for advice.
“Go get him,” the sponsor said. “We’ll help you if you need it.”
So Bottorff got Levi.
The first thing Bottorff did was take Levi to LifeHouse.
“I introduced him to my favorite people in the world — all my co-workers,” he said. “I love them and I love that place.”
Bottorff was hired at LifeHouse for a weekend shift. He continued to work at Village Inn and began taking classes to become a certified personal trainer.
He earned the certification and started a job at an Omaha gym, while still working at the restaurant and LifeHouse. He discovered he didn’t like being a personal trainer, which he said didn’t pay enough to drive that far.
He took a full-time job as a weekend and evening responder (desk staff) at LifeHouse and quit working at the restaurant.
Bottorff later got his current job as operations supervisor. He’s dedicated to the job and the people who work there.
“They’re the only people who never gave up on me,” he said. “They believed in me and they still believe in me today so I give them my all.”
He noted that family supports him, too.
Now, with almost three years sobriety, Bottorff said he loves the LifeHouse people and could see himself working there for the rest of his life.
“We help so many people and we get to see people’s lives changed. If I get to be a part of even just one of those, it just makes my day,” he said.
He’s also a leader in Celebrate Recovery, a Christ-centered, 12-step recovery program for anyone struggling with pain or addiction of any kind, at Fremont Nazarene Church.
Bottorff said he loves his church, where he’s a Celebrate Recovery worship leader and helps run the sound system and is on security.
He added that Celebrate Recovery leaders must go through an extensive-step study, which consists of four books and 26 lessons and takes at least nine months. He now helps lead the second-step study.
“I went from a hopeless addict to a man with purpose and drive,” he said. “God gets all the glory.”
He has many future plans and dreams.
He’d like to keep moving up at LifeHouse and wants to see Levi and his other children excel in school and sports.
“I’d love to buy a house one day, but this (where he’s living now) is fine, so I’ll keep renting until that happens,” he said, adding, “I just want to be able to keep giving back what was so freely given to me.”