Pink Sweater Weather and my Project

It’s dark when I wake up and use my underfed limbs to strategically climb over my snoring Mother in order to find my smelly, stained pink sweater. Living in the Arlington apartments where the mound of hand-me-downs was one big rotted out mountain full of clothes we would wear for a month strait before their stank finally saw the inside of a washing machine. I would tell my little sister Amanda to hop into the heap (probably smashing our toes into our mothers eyelids) and find something to wear. We had to catch the bus. Still enrolled in private school thanks to the generous family who took us in while Mother had to ‘go away for a while’. Again.

‘Arlington // Self Portrait 2016’

No one told us what to do or guided my sister and myself for most of our lives. As far as we knew the grown ups were in a consistent state of sleep because that’s what Mother did. If we had breakfast it was because it was doughnut day from the bus driver otherwise there was no food in the mornings, in fact, there wasn’t any food in our kitchen, either.

I know alot of individuals who raised themselves like us. How did we do it? We just…. did it, man. Kept our tiny bodies alive, though we were grumpy and foggy from malnutrition, we kept going, never knowing what to expect, where we would land.

(In our adult lives we still keep going. 
So you see how although this may seem like a very sad story really it’s a story of strength, and how resilient AND capable small children are)

I remember the pink sweater vividly because this was the day my teacher realized something wasn’t quite right about me. The other kids at private school looked clean, their hair was not matted like mine, and they wore different clothes every day. I was probably drawing flowers or hearts on a piece of notebook paper and daydreaming my second teacher tapped me on the shoulder.

My excitement quickly faded to disappointment when I realized I was not headed to the library with the rest of class I was in what felt like trouble as I was ushered out into the hallway, isolated from other people and kids.

I felt like the most humiliated second grader as my teacher privately commented on the reason I was wearing the pink sweater….. again. This was the third day in a row and she knew, and I felt like I was in trouble. Or I knew my Mommy was and I didn’t like that feeling.

I was sent to the principals office and I could not wrap my tiny stinky mind around what was going on but the looks my tiny green eyes caught from the grown ups in the office were ghostly, I could see disappointment. I just wanted my Mommy so I could hide. What had I done? I stared at the ground. I rarely looked up anyway so this was comforting. I started to daydream.

I dissociated and don’t remember what happened next.

When you grow up caring for yourself it is inevitably difficult to imagine any other human showing any kind of affection or responsibility for your being. You have little to no worth. And worth? That’s a very hard attribute to attain on your own. At least for me it has been very hard to view myself as ‘loveable’.

Let’s fill in the gaps in later posts okay? I would rather fast forward to 27 year old Alyssa (me). Roughly three years ago now I would wake up in some hospital in Waterloo, Iowa. My mouth would feel like sandpaper and I would be confused as to how my behavior had lead me there because I definitely wouldn’t have knocked on the door. This would be the very first of many, many ‘hospital hotel stays”. I landed mostly in the Emergency room, One detox in Kansas City, & one ICU visit. If the ‘Sands unit’ stands out to you then cheers- our journey’s have crossed paths. Also, two stints at Powell. All of this in just 3 years time.

So anyway, people kept throwing me in the hospital! They had no idea what to do with me. This really didn’t make me feel good but what the hell else to do?

Maybe I liked it. In some sick way, I was finally getting the attention and care I had never received as a small girl in these rooms. I recently wrote a narrative on my ‘life story’ where I was able to outline many traumatic events as well as ones that brought me joy. All of them accumulated made me the the ‘creative thinker’ that I am, but I also was able to connect the dots regarding my early adolescent training and most important developmental years with my behavior patterns as an adult. I was astonished to find just how intertwined they really were.

There was a lot of HELP for my Mother and I. People always there to catch us when we were falling. Sure, we would be homeless for a minute if Mother would think ‘people were out to get us’ so we would abandon apartments and places often. Oatmeal cream pies were a fancy dinner when we lived in a stark room, sharing showers with the other homeless women and children at the YWCA.

What I needed most as a small child was prevention — I have repeated many of my Mothers mistakes based on my reactions to life- and the whole

“But this is all I know how to do” attitude.

What if I was exposed to not only help in times of need, but why I am there in the first place? What is my environment like compared to what it could turn it into? I don’t have to live that life just because I was raised like that… I am *not* that.

When I got older and my drinking and using became a lifestyle that interrupted what was most important to me, people started taking notes only to evaluate my position as ‘someone who drinks too excess”. Being as they were UN-educated on the topic of addiction it started to make me feel guilty, and shameful because of how I was responding to life.

People kept whining and crying over my insatiability and obsession with booze and whatever else gets me off this planet and outside of myself so they could sleep at night. I had a very big resentment towards many of these people who instead of researching what was going on with me, they judged me as if I was aware-

I wasn’t awake to any of it, yet.

After a while I just wanted the heat off of me. I wanted people to shut up! I was still a scared little girl and they were frightening me with their critical eyes like the office people did back in second grade because of the gross pink sweater. These people were eating too many cheeseburgers and cheating on their spouses and here I am doing something legal and I’m ostracized.

I used to think I had found lots of solutions to my unstable child hood and I concluded that I deserved a way to cope and I chose to dissociate from this reality by drinking.

I am apart of the ‘lost children’s club’.

I am looking to be found now not saved, not given unnecessary attention. If I can help all the other tiny souls on the planet crawling over nodded and passed out parents like I did just by being me I am willing to take the bullet. I am looking to CONNECT with humans, mentor them, allow them to mentor me, and relate. Not fix their world. I understand that they have a path and I am not in charge of it.

So let’s get down to business. I have been a successful fine art photographer in my area, and I have met hundreds and hundreds of souls and more so I have connected to them, yes I was always hiding behind my camera… literally… never speaking up about my struggle, never told my truth, only internalizing. I have had the chance to present myself to kids on a spiritual level & getting healthy would provide me the opportunity to start my project.

You would think I would have made many connections and friends, but when you have a habit and you feel shameful, you are always hiding. I really thought people didn’t know my troubles and that I did a great job of hiding it- but I didn’t. I wouldn’t return e-mails, I missed a few gigs. I fell apart and in those moments I hit the ground.

But I never stay down for long and I always, and this is certain, I always get back up. And that is more important than falling. The falling is just the pain to let me know something else needs changed.

My project will involve going into the inner city communities and interacting with all those little kids… that are just like me. I am just a little older now. A survivor of my circumstances most definitely. Addiction prevention is something I hope to outline someday! Let’s face it, kids are much more aware than what we wish to think they are and so why not inform them in a more detailed way? They become exposed to adult issues and visuals at such a fragile age- I know for certain if properly articulated, they could understand the GRAPHIC NATURE of addiction as well. Planting seeds leads to prevention. Who better to bring it to the community other than the girl who is from it? ME!

Alyssa S.

Re-visiting one of the apartment complexes we lived in. This one lasted a few months, and it seemed like we had lived there forever. A few months was ‘long term stability’ for me.