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Rhea Johnson: Fighting to Forgive

Rhea Johnson: Fighting to Forgive 



Born in Dayton in May of 1989, Rhea Johnson was the first of three children born to a mother whose previous experience with street drugs left her fighting a substance abuse addiction. Rhea's grandmother raised her throughout her childhood.  As a result, of her mother allowing her addiction to consume her life and keep her too unstable to take care of two young daughters.

With her mother in and out of her life, Rhea became exposed to the tragic ways that addiction affected her and her family. Her grandmother was a strong woman who did her best to raise and guide Rhea with morals and beliefs, in which, she believed she needed. She had her involved in extra-curricular activities that included dance, piano, and band. Her grandmother even felt it necessary to make sure that Rhea was able to attend private school in order for her to receive a good education. However, Rhea still struggled with her mother's absence.

After her grandmother passed away from cancer when she was just 13, Rhea's life was never the same. Due to her grandmother's death, she lived with her mother's brother and his wife for a while, then her mother, and she finally found stability living with her father. Rhea's father pushed for her to go to college and pursue her dreams. Despite everything she had gone through in her childhood, she took her father's advice and did just that.

In 2012, Rhea graduated with a Bachelor's of Art in Psychology from Wright State University. She now works for MetLife in the Auto and Home Department and is currently applying for positions in her field of study. Rhea is also engaged and raising her beautiful baby boy with her fiancée.

We recently did an interview with Rhea Johnson. In her interview, she sheds light on how a young lady who grows up with less than ideal circumstances can overcome them and learn to find forgiveness.  


MDC: How would you descrie your relationship with your mom growing up? Your relationship now?
RJ:The relationship I had with my mother growing up was not your normal mother/daughter relationship. As a child, I considered my grandmother as my mother. I didn't know much about my mom as a person. All I really knew was that she had an addiction. I didn't know her favorite color, her favorite meal, or even where she lived. Becoming a teenager our relationship was forced because I had to live with her, and at that point we were more friends then her being my mother. She gave me little to no wisdom or guidance when a teenage daughter needs her mother the most. Now the relationship is very fine between friends and mother/daughter. I have achieved more than my mother has her whole lifetime, with that result there is not much that she knows to help me at this point, as a mother would. We get along, but we do not see eye to eye in a lot of different areas.
MDC: In what ways if any, did your mom's substance abuse and/or your relationship affect your self-esteem?
RJ: My mother's substance abuse affected my self-esteem greatly. As a child, I wondered how a mother could choose drugs over her child. I felt like there was something wrong with me, or she didn't want me. A mother is the person that gives you life, for nine months the mother is the sole provider of development and nourishment for her baby. And when the baby's born the only person that baby knows in the world is their mother. Babies look at the mother for safety. Safety in the sense of just getting a meal or breathing. I did not have that connection with my mother, although I desperately desired it and needed it. I had abandonment problems, culture issues from being raised by a grandmother of a different race, and trust problems. As a teenager, I never thought I was good enough, and I was very afraid to end up like my mother. My self-esteem was damaged from day one. And from day one I have been working to rebuild it.
MDC: Who has been the biggest influence in your life so far? Why?
RJ: My biggest influence was my grandmother. She never gave me a pity party for not having my mother. In other words, she never made life easy because I was born in a substance abuse situation. I thank her, because if I had had it too easy, I don't think I would be where I am today. She molded me to hold my head high despite my pain and suffering, and to be honest with myself and face reality. I'm not sure if that was something she was able to teach my mother. I do know that my mom cannot face reality a lot of the time. It may be because of shame or the lifestyle she has lived, but my grandmother instilled it in me. I wonder if my grandmother ever thought she failed her daughter, and that's what made her twice as hard on me. Whatever the case, it worked and I am truly grateful.
MDC: How did you find it in your heart to forgive your mom?
RJ: It has been a battle within myself to try to forgive my mom. One thing I have learned is that forgiveness is ongoing. Once you forgive you have to keep practicing forgiveness. At first, I look at my situation from my point of view as being a motherless daughter. As I got older and took a few classes on substance abuse, I realized I needed to come at forgiving my mom from a different perspective. My pain and hurt were too much to bear for forgiveness. I then began looking at it from my mom's perspective. I realized that substance abuse isn't a choice, it's a disease. No one would pick drugs over success, but something in my mom was broken to begin with for her to mask her problems with drugs. I found her substance abuse was a circle. It started as a coping mechanism with a problem she could not handle and then it deteriorated from there. All this meaning, maybe it wasn't truly her fault. It was the only way she knew to deal with life. It just happens to be a dreadful coping mechanism.
MDC:Does growing up with a mom who has chosen substance abuse over her own daughter for most of your life affect your role as a mom?
RJ:Right after I had my son, I had very hard complex feelings about being a mom, and how my mother was not there for me. First off, my mother had an incident when with drugs that put her in the hospital when my son was three weeks old. So, it was a very difficult time for me struggling as a new mom and not having a mom to look up to for answers. For me, being a mom came so effortlessly. The love, the nurture, the dreams of success, the safety, the protection, and the"connection" came so natural for me and my son. I began to wonder how could my mom not feel this with me. How could her maternal instinct be so shadowed with drugs that she did not act upon them? I began keeping my son from my mom. I wanted nothing to do with her, and I for sure didn't want my son to feel one tidbit of what I felt growing up. I hope as my journey being a mom continues I will not be so overprotective. I want my son to have everything I didn't, not material wise, but relationship wise. I find myself being a good mother without ever truly experiencing the mother-child relationship. Being that this is the first time that I've had a relationship like this, I'm at a disadvantage, not knowing the half of it.
MDC:If you could give advice to young girls/ladies who have, or are going through the same experience, what would it be?
RJ: I would like young girls today to know that; you are not a product of your environment. Just because where you came from is part of your genetic make-up or history doesn't mean that is who you have to be. Take a day at a time and realize that you are an individual, and you do not have to succumb to statistics. It may be harder or not as cool to be different from everyone, but at the end of the road you will look back and be happy. I have learned that being unique it not a downfall; it's a blessing. Know your inner strength and power, and use it to your advantage. Follow that gut instinct, even if it is different from the world around you.


Photo credit: Ariana Lynn Photography

Rhea is a young lady who seems to always find a smile. Her positivity is simply amazing and if you didn't know her growing up, you would never know the trials that she has gone through. So, we hope that reading her story has left you feeling inspired in one way or another.

Dayatra N. Towles

1 comment

  • Friday, 14 November 2014 09:45 posted by: brandi

    I've know Rhea since we were children, I remember the b-day parties, sleepovers over her grandma's house, and the majority of our weekends were spent at her dads house...as kids we were like the best of cousins because her dad; my cousin kept us super close. As an adult and new mom my words of wisdom come from my relationship with my parents and trails of life, Rhea is a terrific mother and always has been a great person inside and I know this through personal experience. So Rhea, mother to a mother you keep your positivity and keep doing a terrific job with your life...I love you cousin!


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