- January 15, 2020
Before Colleen Goldrick’s life fell apart, there was a time when she had it all.
She had a nice home in New Jersey, a fulfilling career as a hospital nurse and a loving family. But it wasn’t enough to thwart the progression of events that led to drug addiction and homelessness.
Goldrick, now 57, remains shocked at how it all happened so quickly and recalls that time of her life with emotional struggle.
Born and raised on Staten Island in New York, Goldrick grew up in a happy household. However, she had been exposed to an environment of alcohol and substance abuse from an early age.
“I grew up in a Roman Catholic Irish family,” Goldrick said. “Drinking was just normal for my family. I was making drinks for my dad probably when I was 5 or 6. I had really good parents, and I went to a Catholic school, but there was always a struggle with drug abuse. My father was an alcoholic. My mother also had problems with substances. But we lived in middle-class America, and we had a good life except for those times when alcohol got in the way and made things crazy.”
Goldrick eventually found herself following the same pattern of alcohol abuse. But at about age 19, Goldrick’s father decided to get sober after her mother attempted suicide several times. Her mother ended up in a treatment center, and Goldrick started attending the same center. The family also began going to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings together.
Goldrick and her parents recovered. And it was at the meetings that Goldrick met her future husband. She enjoyed a 15-year marriage and had two daughters, Noel and Kathryn. She later became a nurse, and life could not have been better.
Then, it all unraveled. Following a neck injury she received at work, Goldrick was prescribed pain medication. She became addicted.
“I was working in the ER, and I had a patient come in who was a drug addict,” she recalled. “He was upset and just wanted his drugs, and he literally threw me across the room into the code cart. I hurt my neck pretty bad, and I had two surgeries. And so I started taking pain medication, but (because) I had a history of addiction problems, after a while, I just started abusing it, and things went really downhill. It was just a mess.”
Her addiction eventually contributed to the dismantling of her life as she knew it. She refers to that period of her life as the time she lost everything: Her marriage, her job, her house, her car, her parents and, the most painful of all, her eldest daughter, Noel.
“I had lost my job, and I was in the process of losing my house,” she said. “I lost my car. I was up in New Jersey with my daughters, who were 19 and 25, and then my mother got diagnosed with leukemia. She moved to Florida with my father, so I came down. I literally left everything I owned in New Jersey. I just walked away from my life. That’s what it was like. I just couldn’t handle everything that was going on there.”
Her youngest daughter stayed in New Jersey with her father to continue college, and Noel followed her down to Florida about a month later. Despite the new living environment and circumstances, Goldrick’s addiction remained.
“As a nurse, I knew how to talk to a doctor and get the prescriptions I wanted,” she said. “I hate saying this stuff. Sometimes, I don’t even realize how sick I was until I sit and think about it. But when you’re in that addiction state of mind, you wake up and all you can think about is that next drug because your body is so used to it.”
Eventually, she was able to wean herself off the pain medication. But when her mom died, she started drinking to cope. Her father died shortly after, as well.
Then, the unthinkable happened Sept. 23, 2017: Noel died from a drug overdose at 31 in St. Cloud.
“When she passed, I just started drinking even more,” she said through tears. “I didn’t care about anything. I just wanted to make the pain stop. I don’t think I ever hurt so bad in my life.”
Noel’s death finally forced her to seek professional help. After selling her parents’ home, she got a job as a live-in caregiver for an elderly couple. But once that couple passed, she found herself with no place to live.
“It was just one thing after another — one loss after another,” she said. “But if you had told me I was going to be homeless. ... I mean, I still have a hard time saying that word today. I came from middle-class America. I had a nice car, a nice house in a nice neighborhood, but then some things happened, and boom. And it doesn’t have to be addiction, but for so many people, it is because of addiction. It’s not a choice. It’s never a choice to be homeless. It’s not a choice to be a drug addict.”
For four months, Goldrick stayed in the homes of friends and strangers when she could, but she relapsed again and struggled with drug addiction. With the $8,000 she received from her father’s inheritance, she funded her addiction. And in two months, the money was gone, she said.
Eventually, a friend took her to a rehab center, and Goldrick went through a 28-day detox. There, she learned of New Beginnings of Central Florida.
New Beginnings provided her with housing and counseling, as well as life-skill and Bible-study classes. It helped her learn how to lead a healthier lifestyle and strengthened her relationship with God.
She now works at the Winter Garden Thrift Store, but she hopes to obtain a job as a hospice nurse again soon.
“Hospice nursing is what I love doing, and that’s what I, eventually, would like to get back into,” she said. “But I need to make sure I’m strong enough before I do that. But I guard my sobriety like a lion now because I’ve had so many blessings in my life. I went to my daughter’s wedding and got to be a part of that. I might even be a grandma one day. And I just want to be there for all the blessings that are yet to come.”
Goldrick said she thanks New Beginnings for giving her a chance at a new life. In 2018, the nonprofit served 4,594 families, and 13,339 individuals, distributed 5,148 bags of emergency groceries, and housed 70 people, including Goldrick, said Erik Segalini, the organization’s community relations director.
“Homelessness is not what you think it is,” Goldrick said. “It’s people who experienced a series of unfortunate events that led them there. They’re just people, and it’s little acts of kindness that can help so much. And New Beginnings does amazing things in people’s lives. They’ve helped me find joy again. I never thought I’d see another happy day in my life. I have no doubt they saved my life. But it’s up to me now to keep it going.”