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 fianc√©e.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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