It was an honor and a privilege to have received a copy of, “The Sky Isn’t Visible From Here,” by Felicia Sullivan. I emailed Felicia and thanked her for two sleepless nights where I could not sleep because I was thinking about her book too much. I also, very boldly, asked if she would let me do an interview with her after I finished the book. I was pleasantly surprised when she said she would welcome the opportunity to share with our readers, and I am so happy to share it with you.
“The Sky Isn’t Visible From Here,” is Felicia’s memoir of her childhood. It is the story of the neglect and abuse that is inflicted upon her by a mother who is heavily addicted to cocaine, and then a journey through her own addiction and recovery.
Felicia lived through experiences that no child should ever have to go through and then later battled her own demons with drug abuse later in her life. Now in recovery, she shares her personal story of overcoming abuse and, in the end, she shows you the strong and resilient woman she truly has become because of her difficult past.
Your memoir shared a shocking story of abuse and neglect that was inflicted upon you by your mother. How difficult was it to write about such a personal experience and how were you able to cope with reliving it through your writing?
When I embarked on this journey, I thought it would be an impossible one. For years the concept of people knowing about my past terrified me. I thought I would be judged because of my humble background, the fact that my mother was a drug addict. I felt as if I would be judged not for the person I was, but for the environment from which I came.
However, over the past few years, the most amazing thing has happened. Once I let go of the burden of shame and finally mourned losing my mother, it became easier for me to tell people the truth. My mother always told me that vulnerability is a weakness, a disease, and for the great portion of my life I wasn’t actually able to cry (unless I was drunk), and when I finally let my guard down, when I was finally honest with myself and with my friends, something entirely magical happened. All of these incredibly supportive friends emerged, and they listened and supported me without judgment. And this made crafting this book easier because I knew I had a supportive family behind me, even when I’m reliving horrific events or hearing my mother’s voice in my hair. The love and support of my father and friends made this journey easier.
In one scene in the book, you share that your mother rips up some of your stories in a rage and it seems that you are always writing or talking about being a writer. Was this your ultimate goal? Did you see this as a way to get out of the poverty you were living in?
That’s a wonderful question, although I can assure you that a career in writing alone doesn’t afford you a fabulous lifestyle! As a child books were my escape. I would sit on my fire escape after finishing one of the many books I devoured, and dream of cities, countries, characters– places and people markedly different from the ones who inhabited my Brooklyn neighborhood.
My mother’s voice was always the loudest sound and I often felt silenced growing up in her wake. Writing gave me a means of communication when there was none. I could shout! I could cry! I could be angry at the world and everyone in it. And committing these events, my life lived to paper, made inconceivable events that much more vivid and real.
Someone asked me if I didn’t have the upbringing that I did, would I still write books? I thought about that for a while and responded that I would indeed be a writer although perhaps my work wouldn’t be so dark.
Your mother never calls you by your real name in the book and only calls you “Lisa.” In some ways did it feel like you were telling Lisa’s story? Do you feel like Lisa no longer exists now that you have detached yourself from your mother?
Oddly enough, you are one of the very few to ask me about this, and it’s such an integral part of the book!!! How does one find their identity when one has no family history? When a parent routinely gives you different answers for all the same questions? When the person you are is different than the person you want to be? For me, my memoir isn’t about embracing one identity over another, rather I see this story as my journey in realizing that the woman I am today is due, in part, to the life I lived with my mother and her distorted half-truths, but that’s merely a fraction of who I am. My book celebrates the fact that my mother is no longer my “author” (as she so often claimed), while I sit silent taking dictation.
The most painful stories to read were times where your mother was using you to get what she wanted, and it is often repeated over and over again. Would you say that this is one of the worst things that your mother did to you?
One of the cruelest things a parent can do is deprive their child of that small span of time when the world is simple, beautiful and utterly innocent – before time passes and the child grows into a teenager and begins to question this terrific fiction. I never knew this time, and the worst thing I can think of my mother having done to me is this: she stole my childhood from me.
Was writing the story of your life therapeutic for you in any way? Are you now able to close a chapter on your relationship with your mother?
Absolutely! Although, I’m afraid that writing this book has made my view of her and my upbringing more complex. When I started Sky I viewed my relationship with my mother in definitive black and white terms – I didn’t love her and I was never
going to forgive her for stealing my childhood from me, for always putting herself before me, for choosing men over me. Meanwhile I had also been drinking heavily, continuing my decade-long affair with alcohol. However, over the past year, I got sober and have had the advantage of clarity that sobriety can bring, to wholly understand our relationship in a way that I couldn’t have before. It was as if I had been sleeping for a long time and I suddenly woke up.
I don’t forgive my mother for the choices she made but I now understand why she made them. As an addict your choice will always be the drug. And part of me feels an unbelievable amount of sorrow for her – a single parent who never had it easy, a woman who lacked role models and support. It was us against the world, and it was a war she always had to win, but soon grew tired of fighting. Drugs made the land mines, and their inevitable explosions, easier to bear. However, my refrain is this: before the drugs she had a choice and she always chose her over me.
And as I grow older, I get a twinge of sadness when I hear friends talk about their meddling, overprotective mothers – stalwart, lovable women who are their very best friends. I ache for that maternal figure and guide, and although professional mentors, a terrific father, and friends who have served as my surrogate family, comfort me, there is nothing like that intimate mother-daughter relationship. So while I don’t miss my mother, I long for the idea of one.
I understand that memoirs are often very difficult to get published. Did you have any difficulties getting your story published or heard by others?
Not really. I’m privileged to say that my path to publication hasn’t been a difficult one. What’s proved more taxing is publication itself – more difficult than I had anticipated.
What has been the most surprising thing to you about writing this book?
I could actually write Sky and not fall to pieces.
Do you wonder if your mother has read the story?
I do wonder if she’s alive, if she’s living in New York, has read my book. But I’m more focused on the here and the now: my well-being and sobriety. I’m focused on cultivating healthy relationships and strengthening existing ones. I’m focused on being a present and loving friend, daughter, significant other.
What would you hope others to gain by reading your life story?
I wrote this book as a testament to my strength, as a celebration of my survival and recovery, to demonstrate that alternative families are possible, and that love – the most sacred of emotions – is not unconditional. I hope, really hope, that people take comfort in shared experience, and be inspired to live their best life. I also hope that it makes wonderful parents hug their children a little tighter, and, for children who have tenuous, dysfunctional relationships with their parents: you don’t have to carry their shame for it’s possible to create a new family if your current incarnation is an altogether too painful one.
What are you planning to write next?
I’m very excited about returning to fiction!!! Ideas are brewing for a novel tentatively titled Women and Children First. It’s a satire of our technologically evolved, access-hungry society. I tell people it’s White Noise meets American Psycho without all the gore.
For more information about Felicia Sullivan and her book tour, please visit her amazing blog!