GREENFIELD — Kristina Carlock had been awake most of the night.
Her parents had been fighting, yelling and slamming doors. Then came the rattling noise from their bedroom. She remembers thinking her dad must be snoring, sleeping it off.
When she found him that next morning, he was cold, dead — smeared with his own sick.
That gurgling sound, paramedics told her; he was drowning in his own vomit.
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The man who raised her, who cracked jokes and taught her about computers, was gone. He swallowed those painkillers until his body gave out. Carlock was 14.
The night before he died, she’d argued with him. She might not have remembered the argument had that night not ended how it did. But she’ll never forget it now: She told him she hated him — one of the last things she’d ever say to her father.
‘I had no hope’
Her father’s addiction changed the trajectory of her life long before that night seven years ago, Carlock said. The conflict within her family, the pain of watching her father decline into a shadow of who he’d been, consumed by the search for his next high, spurred depression and anxiety within her from an early age.
At 22, Carlock of Greenfield looks back on a decade-long battle she wasn’t always sure she’d win. She fought first with anxiety, depression, then with self-harm and drug use.
She began feeling alone, isolated even when surrounded by family or friends, as early as age 10. She constantly battled a sense of fear and worry, which affected her grades — so much so, she was held back in the third grade.
She’d known for a long time her dad was struggling with a pill addiction. She can remember hiding her mom’s pain medication — she had health problems and several resulting surgeries. She tucked those capsules away, out of sight, anywhere Dad might not look.
The depth of the problem really sank in one night when she was 12, Carlock said. The whole family was in the car, her dad driving them home from the store. As he pulled into the driveway, still reeling from the effects of whatever drug he’d taken last, he smashed right into the garage door.
It would be just a few short years before it was all over, before the drugs took him.
She and her siblings were the ones who stumbled upon the lifeless body in the bedroom, expecting to rouse their father from slumber. But he would not wake. His skin was cool.
It left her broken, she said.
“I was never the same after that,” she said. “I had no hope for myself.”
Numbing the pain
Carlock began drinking and smoking pot, which numbed the memories and hurt but only served to make her feel worse later. She swore she’d never take pills, never become the person her father was in his final days.
But she found other ways to hurt herself, sometimes slicing her skin as she desperately tried to escape her thoughts.
By the time Carlock was 15, her mother had her admitted to an Indianapolis mental health facility after a suicide attempt.
She went to group therapy after that, took medications that helped for a while, but things went downhill again.
Then a friend from group therapy invited her to The Landing Place, a Greenfield center where at-risk teens and young adults are invited to share their stories in a group setting as they take steps toward healing.
Carlock didn’t want to go.
She knew the program had a Christian component, and she was no believer, she told her friend.
He countered that — if nothing else — there was free pizza.
They were always struggling with money and food at her house back then, she recalled.
“So I said I’d try,” she said.
The first meeting wasn’t enough to encourage her.
It was the people she met through the organization that brought her back. They were far kinder to her than she was to herself, she said.
Despite her tendency to have negative feelings toward herself, her friends and leaders at The Landing helped her come to a place where she didn’t want to hurt herself anymore.
She admitted herself to a mental health facility, where she learned there were names, diagnoses and treatments, for what ailed her.
She had major depressive disorder, anxiety, PTSD. After she was released, she became one of the first people to complete the 12-step recovery program offered by the Landing. She’s been clean since June 2015, she said.
Carlock still struggles with thoughts of self-harm. She said she thinks she always will, but she tries to remember the people who care about her. If nothing else, trying not to hurt them helps her keeping from hurting herself, she said.
‘She didn’t have the tools’
Linda Ostewig, director of The Landing Place and Carlock’s sponsor, remembers the unsure teenage girl who came looking for help three years ago — and sees how far she’s come.
She’s had to learn a lot of things most kids pick up along the way as she dealt with the loss of her father and the resulting mental illnesses. When she first came to the group, she’d never worked a job, didn’t have her driver’s license, Ostewig said. She was stuck in so many ways.
“She didn’t have the tools,” Ostewig said. “She wasn’t taught that stuff.”
Ostewig worked to build Carlock’s trust, making sure she had what she needed. Sometimes, that was a ride to the food pantry; others, guidance through the next portion of the 12-step program.
The pair forged a bond, the kind that lets Carlock know her support system is larger than it once was.
Carlock is trying to improve her life. She’s a manager-in-training at Walmart, and she’s thinking about trying to earn her GED, she said. Such goals would have felt out of reach just a few years ago.
She lives with her aunt now. It’s a good place for her to be: she doesn’t have to worry if there’s food in the cabinets, and she can be near her mom without the strain of living together.
She’s working on her relationship with her mom. She doesn’t know if they’ll ever be really close, but she uses her lunch breaks from work to go and visit her, Carlock said.
Meanwhile, The Landing Place has become somewhere soothing and safe for her. And her story has become one she shares in hopes of helping others.
In it together
In the fall, Carlock spoke about her journey at Rise Above It, an event that aimed to help county residents learn to cope with life’s challenges and feel more comfortable discussing them.
She admitted things that once brought her embarrassment, talking about mental and emotional health issues that sometime still plague her.
It wasn’t easy, taking that stage, 200 pairs of eyes staring back at her.
You aren’t alone, she told the crowd. No matter how deep you’ve sunk, what mistakes you’ve made, there is someone out there willing to forgive, to extend their hand.
And the bravest thing you can do, she said, is take it.
The Landing Place, 18 W. South St., offers a safe place for county teens to learn recovery principles and teaches a faith-based component. The free weekly events pair worship with a recovery program for the troubles teens face, including addiction, anger, depression, anxiety or family problems.
The Landing is a yearlong, group-based recovery program trademarked by Celebrate Recovery, an adult, faith-based addiction course utilized in thousands of churches across the world, according to its website. The Landing came to Greenfield in 2013 as a branch of the county’s Life Choices Care Center.
Wednesday nights at The Landing feature an open-mic night, dinner, small-group counseling sessions and guest speakers. Additions to the organization include art night on Mondays, a Tuesday night meeting for parents and young adults struggling with addiction, and a bus for students from the Mt. Vernon schools district to attend meetings.
The passion to help those in recovery developed while founder Linda Ostewig watched her daughter, Kara Ostewig, struggled with addiction for about 10 years. Kara Ostewig is now sober and healthy.
For more information about the Landing Place, visit thelandingplacehc.com or call 317-477-8483.