Photo | Mary Catherine Grayson
She would have celebrated her 28th birthday this week — on Dec. 29 — but Mary Catherine Grayson’s life was cut short on March 27, 2015, after a nearly eight-year battle with drug and alcohol abuse. Today, there are photographs to look at, journals to read and conversations to recall, but her parents, Marcia and David Grayson of Fairhope, are on a mission to keep Mary Catherine’s memory alive by educating others about the disease of addiction.
Marcia is self-employed and he is an advertising executive at Lagniappe, but elsewhere in the community, you’ll often find them standing side by side, holding photos of their daughter and speaking to whoever is within earshot at events hosted by the Drug Education Council. The day after federal prosecutors indicted more than 40 defendants in an alleged drug trafficking organization in Tillman’s Corner in October, the Graysons were in Government Plaza, alongside other parents and survivors of an opioid epidemic that kills more than 60,000 Americans per year.
U.S. Attorney Richard Moore said at least four deaths were tied to the alleged drug ring in Tillman’s Corner. And to the Graysons, that was a familiar story.
“She was the youngest of five, and her closest sibling is two years older,” Marcia said during an interview last month. “Mary Catherine was in a Catholic school in Atlanta, and she just was the easiest kid; I didn’t really have to worry about her. She was happy almost all the time. There was, you know, just 5 percent of the time that she’d have a meltdown and then she’d get herself back together and it was all good again, and I noticed she loved people. She wasn’t the best student, but she wasn’t the worst student. And she had a lot of friends.”
Marcia admitted the family has a history of addiction, and the daughter she called “MC” started showing hints of depression in the seventh grade.
“There were always things going on, and I think if she was depressed or she felt bad, that’s the first thing that she wanted to do, was just escape. She told us that,” Marcia said. “When she first started drinking and she was using pot and acting out, she was only 13, turning 14. We intervened because she had run away a couple of times and we sent her to a wilderness program just to protect her. We were living in Atlanta at the time and she was a 13-year-old, pretty girl, walking the streets at night, totally not understanding what kind of danger she was putting herself in. And so we put her in a program for a period of time and then she came home, and she was in and out of programs for the next eight years.”
The Graysons moved to Fairhope, and MC was also briefly enrolled at Bayside Academy. But by the time she was 16, MC was using heroin. She overdosed and was sent to an inpatient treatment program in Phoenix. Marcia read passages from MC’s journals from the time, as an example of the emotions with which addicts struggle.
Nov. 14, 2009, 10:34 p.m.
Dustin OD’d on heroin this morning and died. F*ck my life. When I first heard I started freaking out, crying and hyperventilating. It was horrible. I knew it was coming but all I wanted to do was just go get high. And I know I would have if it wasn’t my last chance to stay in this group. I went through so many emotions tonight from extremely sad to scared to angry to now, I’m just in shock. I can’t believe this keeps happening. Next, it’s going to be Alex, I know it. I can’t deal with it anymore. I really can’t. I just want to shoot dope and forget about it.
But weeks later, MC had a much more optimistic view on life and recovery, although once she was released, it would prove hard to carry through.
Dec. 6, 2009, 1:36 a.m., 29 days sober
Things are seriously starting to get so much better and I can tell I’m changing a lot. It’s just a taste of how things are really going to be as time goes on, everything is going to be alright. Thank God. Literally, I am so, so, so grateful that I’ve been really trying, and I’m in Step Two and in outpatient again. I’m really starting to see God again too, at least in my life. I’ll definitely keep trying and talking and learning and I know I’ll be so much better off than I have ever been in my life.
“To me, that just speaks so loudly about how your emotions go all over the place,” Marcia said. “One day it’s horrible and all you want to do is use, and the next day you’re feeling like you’re doing so much better. And suddenly you feel like you can keep it together and keep moving in that direction.”
But as soon as Mary Catherine left the program in Phoenix, her old drug dealers were calling her. Ten months later, she overdosed again. In August of 2010, paramedics were called on Mary Cathrine’s behalf, but when they arrived, they couldn’t find a pulse or a heartbeat. Someone saw her eyelids flutter, Marcia said, so she was administered the medication Narcan.
“She came back, but that’s how close she was at that point,” she said.
Frustrated, her family tried monitoring MC’s detox themselves at one point, but found her using drugs in their home. They tried tough love, locking her out, but never saying she wasn’t welcome back, while also encouraging and enabling her to continue treatment in professional facilities.
“Everything that you as a parent are geared to do, we had to do the exact opposite,” Marcia said. “The counselors kept telling me, ‘She’s got such a powerful story.’ And finally, I asked, ‘What do you mean a powerful story?’ And the counselor said, ‘Well, she tried so hard to get and stay sober. She went to so many programs and really tried but she couldn’t do it.’”
Mary Catherine moved to San Diego, where again she was admitted into a treatment program. But this time she didn’t complete it.
“She had been in a program for a few weeks but left early with another girl on a Sunday,” Marcia said. “She died the next Friday, of an overdose, at the drug dealer’s.”
Marcia said the counselor’s words about MC’s story were indeed prophetic, because she’s since heard from friends of her daughter who were inspired to get sober after her death. One travels the country as an addiction specialist, teaching lessons he learned from his relationship with MC. David and Marcia will continue to talk to anyone who will listen.
“It’s hard to do, but it’s a journey I want to take,” Marcia said. “Our daughter really wanted to help people and it’s a way we can continue to do what she wanted to do for her.”
Marcia said as opioid abuse has spiked in recent years, it’s encouraging that it is now being treated as a disease, and the stigma surrounding it is dissolving.
“The best thing we can do for each other is get rid of that stigma and not be afraid to talk about it,” she said. “Addiction is a really insidious disease because it plays games with the individual’s mind. Part of what happens is, when they’re in their disease, they steal or lie or do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do, to get the drugs they have to have. And then, when they’re in recovery, they feel bad about what they did, because that’s not who they are. And it’s a vicious cycle. I’m not saying it happens to everyone, but a lot of addicts, when they get better, they start thinking about what they did and they feel bad about it, so they go out and they use again.”
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