Gracie’s Emotional Rollercoaster

Some say that nothing in life is harder than having a family member or close friend who suffers from addiction. The worry and emotional stress is exhausting. I saw its toll a few years ago in my neighborhood.

After the housing bubble and crash, many of the modest 1950’s ranch style homes in my neighborhood went into foreclosure and were sold by banks to individuals able to pay cash. Some buyers fixed them up and re-sold them; others used the houses as rental units. Today’s story is about Gracie’s family, who rented a home down the street.

With out-of-state license plates on their car, they moved into the home late one summer. They appeared to be a young couple with one child, Gracie. As I pulled into my driveway after work one day, Gracie followed me on her bright yellow bicycle. She introduced herself and asked if I had any kids her age. I said, “I’m sorry, I don’t have children, just cats.” She said she had two cats of her own and pedaled down the street in search of new friends. Gracie was a frequent visitor. She’d see us outside and stop by to say hello, sell items for the school fundraiser or, I believe, simply to alleviate boredom.

I didn’t meet Gracie’s parents until Halloween. They walked around as she went trick-or-treating, introducing themselves to neighbors. Gracie’s mom said, “hello, I’m Carol and I’m in recovery.” I was surprised by this…was that her “costume” for Halloween or was this for real? I responded with, “it’s nice to meet you Carol, how long have you been clean?” Two years she responded, congratulations I said, keep it up, never revealing that I work at a substance abuse treatment center.

Carol didn’t keep it up; she relapsed. Gracie was sent to live with a grandparent and her father, whose name I never knew, attempted to work full time and care for Carol. Still, I never told Carol where I worked; I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate for me to say something or mind my own business. I left some treatment brochures in their mailbox. As time went on, I noticed he became thinner and thinner. It seems that all of the energy he had once had been sucked right out of him. He looked almost frail. I worried he was using too. For a while, things seemed quiet at the house. I didn’t see either around and hoped Carol and gotten back on track. I believe she did because Gracie returned…and pedaled down to my house to visit. We talked about how she was, where she’d been and the new school year that was just starting. Her visits became more frequent, she liked helping me with projects in my yard and doing crafts. She seemed to crave one-on-one attention. I asked about her family from time to time, but she’d get quiet. I suspected whatever was happening in her home was not good. She never had obvious signs of abuse or neglect, such as bruises, and always appeared to be clean and well dressed. I’d offer snacks during her visits, but she never accepted unless ice cream was mentioned. Still, my heart ached for this girl. I could see she was lonely and hurting and maybe afraid. I feared her life was a never-ending emotional rollercoaster of highs and lows completely out of her control.  My home provided a short respite from the things at her home.

One late November morning, my husband and I awoke to find our street filled with emergency responders, an ambulance, fire trucks, police…they were all at Gracie’s house. A few phone calls to other neighbors confirmed my worst fear; Gracie’s mother had died from an overdose, and to make matters worse, Gracie found the body. It was a few days before I saw her again. Eyes swollen and puffy from crying, Gracie hugged me and said she was going to her grandmother’s home for Christmas. She never returned. Her father packed their things and in January, a new “for rent” sign appeared in front of the home.

Did Gracie’s rollercoaster ride end with her mother’s passing or does she simply have a new normal? I’ll never know. Does she receive the love and emotional support she craves from her grandmother and father? What is her new environment like? What does she comprehend about her mother’s death? I will always have these questions since I have no way of locating Gracie.

Pathways provides 28-day and extended care treatment programs for adults with substance use disorders. In addition to engaging clients in the 12-Step process, the program also focuses on setting boundaries, developing coping skills and handling trauma. If you, or someone you know is in need of substance abuse treatment, contact Pathways for more information at 855-349-5988.