From Pom-Pons to PRISON

And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 1 John 5: 11


Susan was the youngest of three children from a typical middle class family, but everything changed when her older brother David committed suicide.

“After his death we shut the doors to his room and never spoke of him again. We pretended he never existed,” recalls Susan. This began a long unhealthy cycle in Susan’s life and a chain of events that would ultimately destroy their family and almost destroy Susan.

Her sister Kathey no longer lived at home, so Susan was alone with her parents, who turned to alcohol to cope. Her memories were vague until about 8th grade when she noticed something wasn’t right.

“My mother wouldn’t pick me up from school and when I would finally find a ride home she would be asleep. I wasn’t sure what was happening; all I knew is my dad stayed out later and later and my mother slept more and more. Fear began to grow within me, but I kept it hidden, making sure to wear a smile. No one suspected the dysfunction that was growing out of control,” said Susan.
School became a place of refuge for Susan. She was popular and elected cheerleader, which eased the pain of neglect by her parents.

In high school, Susan’s mother’s drinking intensified and her father moved out leaving Susan to care for her. When her mother ran out of vodka she would drink anything with alcohol in it, including perfume, rubbing alcohol, Nyquil, and mouthwash. When those were gone she would go through DTs and Susan would take her to the hospital to detox. This happened countless times. Still Susan kept the secret secure.
Susan was an honor student and head cheerleader her senior year. She graduated with honors, yet no one attended her ceremony.

“I was completely devastated after the ceremony; my friends were hugging their parents and taking pictures, but there was no one to greet me,” Susan recalls. “I arrived home to find my mother very drunk,and barely able to stand; I hated her. As she grabbed the door frame of my room I told her to get out, and that I wished she were dead. I then shut my door and went to bed.”

The next morning, Memorial Day, 1979, Susan found her mother’s lifeless body. She was only 49 years old. Susan’s shame and guilt were overwhelming.

Eventually Susan moved in with her older sister, Kathey. “Kathey’s home was the first place I remember experiencing unconditional love; she became my rock and anchor,” said Susan. “I stayed in the area and went to West Texas State University where I earned my BS and a teaching degree.”

Susan then met her husband and had three beautiful children. Life seemed good on the surface but all the pain of her past lay dormant. Susan taught 6 years in Amarillo and then became a Special Education Coordinator in Dallas. Things were going well until her sister was diagnosed with terminal cancer. “I was overcome with hopelessness and could not pretend anymore; when I thought of her being gone forever I felt a physical pain in my heart. Trying to numb my pain I turned to drugs; first the diet pills that my doctor had prescribed; then I turned to something stronger, METH,” she said.

Ironically, Kathey died on Memorial Day 1999 at the age of 49, 20 years to the day of her mother’s death.

Susan spiraled into a deep, dark drug addiction. She lost her job, but got another one in another district. Her life was a mess and in 2001 her husband was arrested for manufacturing meth. CPS took her children. Susan fled to a hotel, but called the district office where she worked. She poured her heart out in desperation. The stranger named Mary on the other end of the phone was so compassionate. She told Susan that she wasn’t a bad person, but she needed to get some help. “She was just nice to me,” Susan said. “We can change a life by just being nice and by speaking life.”

Susan was arrested, indicted and sent to a rehab for 6 months. Upon her release, she went to live with her dad. “He was an alcoholic. He would get very drunk and throw vodka in my face telling me he wished I would have died instead of my sister Kathey, his favorite,” Susan said.

She then learned that her teaching certificate had been suspended. Hopelessness set in again and she relapsed. Within a month Susan was arrested again for possession. Her probation was revoked and she went to prison for a two year sentence.

Prison was tough. The first inmate she talked with told Susan she was in for murdering her children. Another inmate saw the exchange and motioned for Susan to come over, “You’re not in summer camp here, these women are doing hard time,” she said. She then told Susan about dozens of horrific crimes. Susan felt certain that as a non-violent drug offender, she was in the wrong place; but these women were to be her roommates for two years.

One day in commissary she heard someone say, “Mrs. Washington”. It took a minute to register, but then Susan turned to see who had called her name. Some of her former students were there and they were more than surprised to see her. She learned that she couldn’t hide. Her first job in prison was a librarian; her next job was slopping pigs and cleaning slabs on a pig farm. It was a humbling experience that Susan smiles about today.

Susan made parole after a year. She lived with her family but felt very disconnected. She hid her past from fear of rejection; she worried her kids would be ostracized. God intervened in Susan’s life when she witnessed another family lose their son in a tragic skiing accident. Instead of falling apart, the family grew in strength and courage.

“I didn’t know where that came from but I knew I needed that in my life, I just wasn’t sure how to get it,” Susan said. When her daughter started using drugs, she went to church and sought help from the pastor. He instructed me to join a small group so I could form healthy relationships. In one of those group meetings the father of the boy who had died began sharing some of the guilt he felt about his son’s accident and how God showed him guilt was not from Him. As he shared, a picture of her mother’s face came to mind and she remembered the words she spoke, wishing her dead. Susan started crying hysterically, she shared her whole life story with the group, from David’s death to the present time. She found not one person rejected her, they surrounded her with love and acceptance. “That was the night I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior and started seeking him with all my heart. The truth set me free and my life was transformed,” she said.

“Doors started opening for me to share of God’s redemption and restoration in my life. I began writing a book. The dreams God placed in my heart were becoming reality. Then on June 7, 2012 my 20-year old daughter, Alexis, was killed in a car accident. I was devastated, but this time I had a choice.” Susan continues, “When we have pain in our life we can walk in bitterness and self-pity or love and compassion. My choice this time has been to walk in love and compassion, trusting God. I’m celebrating 12 years sober and I am still sharing my story of hope and God’s grace as I walk through my grief.”

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