Written by Sosha Lewis
We can choose many things in life, but our families aren't one of them. As a child of drug addicts, local blogger Sosha Lewis has turned a childhood filled with addiction, uncertainty and loss into a series of uplifting and inspiring stories of healing and growth. From being a child to having a child, join Lewis on her journey in this guest blog.
When Mom Goes to Prison
My mother left for prison a couple of weeks before I started my sophomore year of high school; August 1992. I was 15. My sister, Angie, was six and starting first grade. My brother, Zack, was three.
My anger was palpable and I lashed out at those that I shared a home with. I yelled and screamed at my siblings. I would even spank them on occasion. If I was going to be forced into mothering them, I was certainly going to teach them a thing or two. I vowed that I would never have children...I had had enough parenting for several lifetimes before I was 16 year old. Angie and Zack were so sad, confused and hurt that my mom was gone. My grandmother was overwhelmed. She had always relished her role of fun-loving, free-spirited gran. Suddenly she was both mom and dad. She was the breadwinner, the disciplinarian, the teacher, the cook, the driver and the emotional wound soother for three children who were crumbling under the weight of the parents bad choices.
In an attempt to provide stability and structure to our lives my gran threw herself into being a Jehovahs Witness. We had family members that were Jehovahs Witnesses and my grandmother had been an on-again, off-again member of the religion for decades. We were expected to attend services three times a week, have once weekly personal bible study and participate in door-to-door preaching.
Basically, I had both parents in prison, we were poor as church mice, and just to add a little flair to that we were part of a religion that didn't celebrate any holidays, didn't salute the flag, and went around banging on doors.
Although I was an indignant, spoiled tyrant around my gran and siblings, I was fiercely determined to be fine, just fine, around my friends. I had started climbing the social ladder of Bluefield High School. I dated a senior and my best friends were two of the most popular girls in my class. We nicknamed ourselves Triple Threat, with our official name being Triple Threat in Full Effect (this is, by far, the most embarrassing piece of my life that I have ever shared).
Furthermore, my hometown, Bluefield, is a town where the type of drinking and partying that was done by the local teenagers has only been accurately showcased in movies about Texas high school football. We partied and we partied hard. I was a great partier. I excelled at partying. Alcohol was a great equalizer. It allowed me to forget my awful home life. When I drank, I was just like all the popular kids. What I failed to realize was that I was, in many ways, just like my mom.
I realized how much I was like my mom the day I promised to help my little sister with her solar system project. The day before it was due, my friends and I skipped school and spent the day drinking on top of a mountain. I came home to help her, but was fairly incoherent. The project was a mess. I was embarrassed that I had done that, but rather than apologize I puffed up and yelled at my sister. I then stormed out of the room and slammed my door when Gran confronted me. It was Angies fault. It was Grans fault. It certainly wasnt my fault. I was fine. Just fine.
When Visting Mom in Prison
The gates of Alderson Federal Prison slid open and the hunter green Buick Riveria stuttered slightly, knowingly, as we, the family that remained, continued down the tree lined road. The lawns were immaculately kept and stalwart brick buildings peeked out from behind the colorful fall leaves. A beautiful, even idyllic campus. Even the razor wire seemed to cooperate by blending in.
I shrunk down in the seat and crossed my arms angrily on my chest. My much younger sister and brother, Angie and Zack, could barely contain their excitement. Glee. I swiveled my head around and glared at them. Until. Until Gran told me to cut that nonsense out.
With some parting daggers I turned around. Sulked.
My teenage face, twisted with a mixture of disgust, angst, bitterness, betrayed my true feelings. My practiced mask didn't show that I too was excited. Filled with glee. Tempered. But, glee.
It had been two months since we had seen her. Since I had seen her. I wanted to be mad. I was mad. But, I wanted to see her. Needed to see her. Feel her put her arms around me, wrap me up like a favorite sweater, and let me believe, for that moment, that everything was fine.
Gran parked the car and Angie and Zack pushed on my seat and begged me to open the door. I took my time. Gran opened her door and ushered them out her side. Angie twirled in her new dress. Zack stood patiently as Gran smoothed his hair.
I checked my eyeliner. Untied and tied my shoes. Gran stuck her head in the door, gave me a quick dirty look, then softened. C'mon darlin', let's just go do this.
Angie and Zack ran ahead, holding hands, always holding hands. Gran with her long, graceful strides quickly caught up with them. I lagged behind, shuffled, kicked a stray rock, sighed, rolled my eyes. I looked up at the sign hanging over the door of the brick building that would have looked completely at home on a college campus - Alderson Federal Prison Family Center.
Mom walked up to us, slightly ashamed, nervous, but happy to see us. She had put on some weight. She looked better. Healthy. It would only be seconds until I felt her again. Breathed her in. Went home.
Zack and Angie ran to her. Screaming, deliriously happy. I lagged behind, using Gran as a barrier. My conflicting emotions waging a brutal internal war. I wanted to cry and throw my arms around her. When she made her way to me, I remained stone faced. She hugged me - tight. I wanted to fall into it. I stood plank straight. Only bending my arms and patting her on the back when I caught Gran's side eye.
We stayed most of the day. I grew bored. Surly. I wanted to go home to my friends, my boyfriend - all of whom thought I was being forced to visit a great-aunt. Zack and Angie were both weeping when we climbed back in the car.
I should have hugged them, joined them in their anguish. I looked straight ahead. I refused to look back. I was fine. Just fine.
It was the only time I visited.
When Mom Comes Home From Prison
My mom served around 10 months and returned home in the middle of the summer in 1993. We were all excited.
She was home, she was clean, she was happy. We were happy. She got a job at Western Sizzlin'. She got a small portion of the confiscated money back. She bought a car, some new furniture, wall-to-wall carpeting, and some Janis Joplin and Willie Nelson CD's.
As I started my junior year, life was better than it had ever been. I had great friends, I went to the best parties, mom always had plenty of cash from tips, I didn't have to go to the Kingdom Hall very often. It was the best of times.
I had no idea how fleeting these times were.
My great-grandmother passed away a few months after my mom returned home. For the first four years of my life, I had a great-great grandmother, a great grandmother, and two grandmothers. To cut down on the naming confusion, I started referring to great-grandmother Conley, simply as Conley. It stuck. Although she had a multitude of children and great-grandchildren I was the only one that referred to her as this (she is my daughters namesake). Given that Conley and I had always had a special bond, it was bittersweet that we gathered for her viewing on Superbowl Sunday. I was born 17 Superbowl Sundays before that one. My great-grandmother had a full life. She was loved like few people have ever been loved. She also loved like few people have ever loved. When she died the world became a little less lovely, and I was a little more lost without her guidance.
It was only a few months after Conleys passing that I had become suspicious of my mom's behavior. When she first came home everyone was just so happy that she was back that all they expected out of her was to be happy and clean. However, as time wore on, and she was expected to just deal with life, she got bored or despondent or both, and started using again. I found syringes hidden on top of the bathroom cabinet. It felt like I had been punched in the stomach. However, I didn't say a word. I did not confront my mother. I got drunk. I was fine.
Sosha Lewis is a former buttoned-down corporate executive turned running shorts and t-shirts wearing stay-at-home mom. She and her husband, Tony, whom she has known since Kindergarten, are the happy, albeit tired, parents to a talkative, energetic, extroverted four year old, Conley. Between playing the "bad guy" to Conley's Batman and answering approximately 4,756 questions a day, Lewis maintains a blog, Its Not Sasha, and volunteers for Promising Pages. Her writing has been featured in Charlotte Magazine and the anthology Robocup Compendium 2013.Its Not Sasha is a blog about overcoming. Sosha has turned a childhood filled with addiction, uncertainty and loss into a series of uplifting and inspiring stories of healing and growth. By shining light on the darkness that comes from addiction, Sosha throws out the shame and offers up hope. Sometimes funny, other times gritty the stories on It's Not Sasha are filled with honesty, forgiveness, and most of all, love.