Sarah Blackwell has struggled with disability, physical abuse, and drug addiction since she was a teenager.
Through it all, she relies on faith. In the fifth installment of our series on homelessness, WMRA’s Kara Lofton has Sarah’s story.
At the corner of Sarah Blackwell’s right eye, a small heart is tattooed like a perpetual tear.
SARAH BLACKWELL: I’m not really a crier, I’m tough, but I’ve been broken, so that’s my heart that I’ve cried out. And I love everyone. I’m very loving and I really think that if we all worked a little more as a team and we all realize that we are brothers and sisters, we’ve got to stick together and if one of us falls, we’ve got to help each other out.
Sarah and her two children, a 12-year-old boy and a 15-year-old girl, are three of the 78 people staying at Valley Mission in Staunton. Although currently sober, Sarah struggles with chemical dependency and a diagnosed disability. Her husband, to whom she has been married for 16 years, is serving time in jail for failing to pay child support from a previous relationship.
For Sarah, life has seesawed between self-sufficiency and succumbing to her addictions and disabilities. Staying at Valley Mission gives her the time and space she needs to stay sober and figure out her next step.
Sarah’s faith is very strong, and throughout our conversation she repeatedly emphasizes how much she believes that what she is going through is a test of faith. If she stays faithful, Jesus will see her through her struggles.
BLACKWELL: My father was a preacher, a Christian, we’re believers, I lived in a church.
And then the church closed down, for reasons unknown to Sarah. Perhaps the church caught wind of her father’s physical abuse toward his family. Her mother left her father when Sarah was 16, and took Sarah and her sister with her. It was at this point that Sarah first started getting into drugs.
BLACKWELL: I was already a little wild and kind of a runaway, got in some trouble, met back up with my dad, went to a place called the Christian Training Center, got my GED, tried to get my life on the right track, went back to doing drugs, that’s when methamphetamines really came in the picture, so I was dibble dabbing with that.
At 18, Sarah took a Greyhound bus from Florida to North Carolina to live with a boyfriend who was also abusive. She left him soon after arriving in North Carolina, though, to be with the man who is now her husband. He introduced her to cocaine. At 20, she was married and pregnant, and she was able to stay off drugs for the duration of her pregnancy. Shortly after her daughter was born, though, she began to use again.
In an effort to remain sober, she and her husband moved back to Florida to live with Sarah’s parents, who had reunited. The move helped and both Sarah and her husband were able to remain sober through Sarah’s second pregnancy and the birth of their son. For the first time in her life, Sarah had a stable home and was financially comfortable. It lasted three years.
Slowly, she said, the drugs began to creep into her life again. Within three months, everything they had built was gone, including her husband. Sarah said she still loves him but it is harder to remain sober when he’s around, and so they’ve been split up for some time, although they remain legally married.
Sarah is now 36 and said she lives day-to-day. She said the hardest thing about her addictions is the desire to provide for others, including her children, and yet barely being able to support herself.
BLACKWELL: Everybody’s asking what’s wrong with me. Why was I the drug addict? Why was I the one that was abused? We see women with different baby daddies, why didn’t just one baby daddy love me? Why did I have to keep searching? What was wrong with me that the one person I loved and decided to have children with—all these things. My kids have the same dad and I’m married to him, but I can feel the questions they might ask themselves because you see it a lot. People are searching for love, searching for something within, not being alone, and you have to have faith that God will fill that loneliness.