Blog Post – Louise Grant:  When Emptiness Comes  — 

Watching relapse occur is so hard emotionally.    I couldn’t stop thinking about a woman’s recent drug relapse when I was enjoying a cookout last weekend with my mentee Miranda, who I voluntarily mentored, through nonprofit Leaving the Cocoon, for two years during her imprisonment.  I’ve been graced to be active in Miranda’s life since picking her up at the prison gates upon her release last Fall.  During our meal with my husband Frank, I marveled at the brave and beautiful life Miranda has been creating for her 29-year-old self: a life free of pills.  A life with a dependable job; independent housing; new, healthy relationships; recovery groups; and a spiritual community.  She lost her mother and seldom has contact with family on the other side of the State.  But she’s making it on her own with pure will, commitment, belief and hope.  Her eyes are filled with infinite possibilities of life.  I’ve worked with many incarcerated women in the past eight years, and in my experience, the odds are small that a woman will create the type of safe, sufficient life that Miranda has built in such a short time. 

What happens to a woman who doesn’t create a safe, sufficient life after release?  To me, it seems it’s typically because drug relapse occurs.  Going back to that boyfriend, back to that neighborhood, back to that “stinking thinking” that says, “I’m not enough, and this is going to be too hard.” 

A relapse occurred recently with a formerly-incarcerated woman, and I watched my co-founder partner, Malinda, work so lovingly, so assuredly, filled with such determination to assist a woman who had reached directly out for help.  Malinda took her to a safe place to stay.  A warm bed, healthy food, new clothing and hygiene were provided.  Support was given. 

And for a brief moment, it seemed to us that things would be okay.  That she’d be back on the new path she says she deeply desires.  But then she left.  Without a word.  Her safety net is gone.  Malinda, Amanda and I, and our team, now are left to worry.  Not that she would want us to worry, because I know she is incredibly grateful for the support that’s been provided.  She would feel guilty and sad that we’re worrying.  But that’s what we’re doing.  Left to wonder in our worry:  Is she homeless? Is she physically hurt? Is she alive?  And even if she’s alive today, will she be alive next week, next month?  What else could we have done?

I’ve thought to myself how many times over the years Malinda, Amanda and others in my circle who work with formerly-incarcerated women – like Trina, Vicki, Linda, Jeaneice and their devoted teams – felt the emptiness I feel when a relapse occurs. 

The emptiness hurts.  It’s like we are mothers who don’t want our children to be placed in harm’s way.  You know you must let them move and grow on their own path, but it’s just so hard to see the jagged path they keep treading on – it’s like a desert road with broken glass and sharp rocks and they forgot to wear shoes, bring water or food, or wear a hat.  And you just know things aren’t going to go well on that journey…

As I drove Miranda home, I shared with her my emptiness, and she fully understood because she herself became one of those worriers when she saw women from her recovery community pick up that poison one more time.  And that mental scoreboard of days-in-recovery flips from triple or double digits down to zero.    

“When I’m in the prison or jail, I see the women at what I believe is their best,” I told her.

She looked confused at my statement.

“When I’m with them in the prison or jail – working on the purses with DreamWeave or teaching a writing, reentry or communications class – the women are active in their recovery,” I explained.  “They are very proud of their sobriety and are grateful for another chance.  Their eyes shine with hope for life.  They believe independence is possible.  They dream of their new and improved roles as protective mothers.  They actually can feel a future drug-free.  Their connection to a Higher Power has been strengthened.  They are willing to speak words of gentleness to themselves.”

“Ahh,” she said, nodding.  “I get it.  I know exactly what you mean.”

It’s ironic to me.  These women are locked behind bars, but they often feel more free than they have before in their lives.  Even if it’s just for moments or hours or days, they often have periods of full inner freedom.  And I’m fortunate to be able to see them when they are in this space of heart and mind.

To me, they are connected with their own Higher Self, and it’s beautiful to see them becoming Full of themselves in a most healthy and beautiful way.

Too often, though, the reality of fear and doubt takes hold when those jail and prison gates open.  The responsibility of life hits very hard if they don’t have the safety net of a recovery community and reentry strategy.  This young woman who relapsed had chosen to not use either of those life tools upon her release.

And so for me, emptiness comes.  And I worry.  But, thankfully, I always have hope.  Because if she reached out for help once, she may reach out for help a second time.  And help will be there.  Help is always there.