Name: Gracie Lea Hayah
By Gracie Hayah
Hello, My name is Gracie Hayah, I am Native American. I come from the Hopi Tribe in northern Az. Although I am only 19 years old my past to current experiences with alcohol and drugs have been unfortunate. Although I’m not an addict of alcohol or drugs myself, growing up, they were all around me. I lived at Polacca in the small Tewa village on top of the mesa. Now you think that being all the way out on a reservation, you think what could possibly harm you? Well, where I grew up, the Hopi people are very traditional and we have a unique culture. Despite our community being peaceful and humble, alcohol and drugs have impacted our community to the extreme. It impacts our ceremonies in such a negative way, I could cry. It’s very sad that all I hear from home is “So and so passed away from overdose, alcohol poisoning, crashing because they were under the influence etc.”. I lived with my Mother and my three siblings. My twin sister Tracie, and my older brothers Gregory and Godfrey. We lived in a small house, it had a small kitchen area and a few feet away was the dining table. There were three doors, the back door, front door, and the bathroom door. There was no door to the one bedroom so you could walk straight in from the kitchen area. There was one bed, my mom slept on it. So my siblings and I slept on the floor. We had a wood stove in one of the corners of the bedroom, that was our heater during the winter. I always loved that house, despite how small it was. My sister and I did everything together, from playing outside to sticking together when at school. We were inseparable. Although I clung to my sister 24/7 I knew the feeling was mutual. She always complained and asked me “Do you always have to be by me?” I always said “Yes”. I knew it bothered her but I didn’t care. The reason I’ve always clung to her is because I always felt 100% safe with her, she is the only person that understands me and knows exactly what and how I feel. Although she went through the same experiences as I did, she always seems to protect me from everything and anything as if it doesn’t phase her. I greatly admire her. I could be in the most difficult and horrible situation but as long as she was there, I knew everything would be alright. My household wasn’t exactly the best but it was home. My mother drank everyday and my father wasn’t in the picture at that time. My mom made our income by selling homemade food, this concept was very common on the reservation in general so it was normal. Just about everyday after school we’d go door to door announcing our foods we were selling for the day whether it was baked goods to burritos. We did decent most days, managing to sell everything. Then we’d go home. Mom would use the money on bills, groceries, and last but not least, beer. I knew for as long as I can remember that alcohol had been my mom’s way of relieving her stress. Beer was everywhere, but I knew better than to touch it. When she was under the influence, she would usually have friends over. They all drank together, it usually resulted to violence. I remember this one time I was on the one bed we had with my sister, watching my mom fight one of her sister’s boyfriend’s friend while my eldest brother was helping her because the man had gotten too drunk to where he wanted to fight my mom. My mom and brother stopped him until he was blacked out laying on the floor. While the fighting was ongoing I remember yelling “Mom! Stop!”. I was scared so I turned to my sister with tears in my eyes and she hugged me and said “it’s okay, don’t cry”. I immediately felt safe. Another time I remember coming inside from playing outside in the hot sun, I was very thirsty and I saw a glass of what I thought was apple juice on the floor. Not thinking and only focusing on my thirst I gulped just about the whole glass… of beer. Once I realized what it was, I immediately spit it out onto the floor. I don’t remember the rest of that day. In a way, alcohol and drugs robbed me of my childhood. It almost caused my sister and I to be thrown into foster care, but we were lucky. But my brothers weren’t. My auntie Marissa moved us to Colorado temporarily to live with her and her two daughters at their apartment. My brother’s went to live in a foster home. So we were separated. My mother was in jail at the time. I didn’t really understand why we were separated, but at least I had my sister so I knew it would be alright. Fortunately my mother was able to get us back and then we lived in that small house until we moved to my step dad’s house on the Gila River reservation when I was in second grade. I then attended (GCCS) Gila Crossing Community School along with my sister and brother. My oldest brother was in high school by then. Being in a new house, school, and reservation I was scared. I wondered if anything would change. I was promoted from GCCS in 2015 and graduated from Cesar Chavez High School in 2019. I am now in the transition of becoming a freshman at ASU. The Gila River reservation is no better than the Hopi reservation, if not worse. Living here for the past 11+ years has been one life changing experience. Alcohol and drugs could not be more easily accessed. Alcohol and drugs have been a long time sworn enemy. I absolutely refuse to become a part of the problem. Addiction crisis is not strong enough to describe the ongoing epidemic we as a society are faced with. Telling my story is just a start of what is happening everywhere. There are millions who have similar if not extreme experiences with alcohol and drugs. Not only that it’s easily accessible just about everywhere you go, there’s no saying how many individuals take advantage of it. So many consequences come with this, ranging from deaths caused by vehicle, work, public, school, and home accidents. There is so much impact it can have on an individual. It affects your physical and mental health and can completely change the way you act in the workplace, at home, school, and even in public. It is very dangerous and quite often fatal if an individual keeps it on going. It can lead to suicide and cause harm to others who are around the individual. It can cause depression, anxiety, and many other disorders and worsen pre existing conditions one may have. We can address this problem by simply establishing a program that supports addicts before, during, and after the process of treatment. Rehab is an efficient way to help addicts recover physically but emotional support is just as important to help heal addicts mentally. I think creating a program to help addicts to recover mentally would be essential as emotional scarring can be permanent as opposed to physical. Taking into consideration both physical and mental health would not only help addicts recover but heal better. Even just having someone to talk to can help drastically as most addicts find themselves feeling alone and hopeless. We as society can help to bring down this pandemic, we just need to stick together.