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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Department of Health and Human Services
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration

Last Updated: 6/5/2013

SAMHSA’s Resource Center to Promote Acceptance,
Dignity and Social Inclusion Associated with
Mental Health (ADS Center)


Sharon D. Wise's Story

Got to Find Me an Angel

My name is Sharon Denise Wise but my family called me Angel, as well as some other awful names. I was diagnosed with a mental illness at a very young age.

As a little girl, I was resilient and creative. My parents absolutely didn't know what to do with me. I knew early on that there was something in my artwork that made people feel happy and sad at the same time. I remember being hospitalized for the first time at the age of 5 years old. I was taken to a hospital in the evening time and remember lying on the back seat watching the trees go by and then seeing tall buildings.

I began running away from home at 9 years old. I didn’t know what I was running to but I knew what I was running from. My home was filled with abuse and violence, and I never felt loved so I would run to friends’ homes and to the streets. It was in the streets that I learned how to take care of my personal hygiene and how to be resourceful. I would eat scraps off the tables of outdoor restaurants and sleep in abandoned buildings and cars. I would rather sleep under a bridge with other addicts and trash than go home.

At 18 years old, I was a teen mother of two, living on the streets and by then, I had been hospitalized for depression, anxiety, and three suicide attempts. I also had become a drug addict and remember smoking drugs while pregnant with my daughter until my water broke. I still didn’t want to go to the hospital because I didn’t want to stop getting high. Both of my children ended up in foster care.

I felt hopeless and full of despair. I didn’t feel that anyone loved me and used to intentionally seek people out that would not care for me and that would abuse me. My family and friends called me “Angel” but many times I felt I needed an Angel.

My childhood was filled with traumatic experiences, molestation, and neglect. As an artist child I would turn to drawing pictures and painting to try to tell the world what my world looked like. People responded differently to what they saw in my artwork. Some thought it was beautiful but my mother called it “evil” and said I drew monsters.

After 15 hospitalizations, jails, and other institutions, I was relocated by force to the Washington, DC metropolitan area. I found myself homeless and battered again. I ended up at a shelter for Battered Women called My Sister’s Place. It was there I had a rebirth. I got clean from drugs and alcohol and settled into a mental health center that offered a glimpse of hope.

Unfortunately in a couple of the hospitals I ended up in trying to address my trauma history I was secluded and restrained three times, and two of the incidents ended with me having broken bones and bruises. Although I was disappointed and hurt by getting beaten up by those that were supposed to help me, and it was no different than what happened to me as a child, youth, and adult, I continued my path to recovery.

Art saved my life and my vibrant-colored self-portraits illustrate my traumatic experiences and journey. I also use the butterfly to tell my story, coming on stage draped in a cocoon, struggling to break free from the confines. When I come out of the cocoon, I spread my wings and become a beautiful butterfly. I then dance a ballet of freedom significant of recovery. Many of those who have watched the dance tell about their emotional experience of weeping as the butterfly moved around the stage.

As a testimony to my recovery, I have earned a master’s degree and want to continue my Ph.D. studies in psychology or neuroscience. I also travel around the country speaking to government officials, educators, legislators, students, and others in the community, sharing my experiences, strength, and hope. I am also studying to be an independent filmmaker and documentarian.

I have won several distinguished awards, one of them being the 2008 VOICE Award in Los Angeles. I am also the recipient of the 2008 Joy Evans Award, Legacy Award for Community Services, and most recently the 2010 Consumer/Crisis Intervention Team Award. My love for the arts has helped me recover and survive on my journey to peace. The Pillows of Unrest, which is a traveling work in progress, keeps me grounded. Presently I consult with the National Center for Trauma-Informed Care and I am writing my third book. I now have both of my children back in my life.

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This Web site was developed under contract with the Office of Consumer Affairs in SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services. The views, opinions, and content provided on this Web site do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or policies of SAMHSA or HHS. The resources listed in this Web site are not all-inclusive and inclusion on this Web site does not constitute an endorsement by SAMHSA or HHS.