Survivors cannot cannot be “rescued” or “fixed” by others. Although we are not responsible for our trauma, we are responsible for our healing. No one can do that for us.
Stopping presenting behaviors and/or circumstances (addictions, abuse, etcetera) is only the beginning. It clears the way to the beginning of Owning our Story, Finding our Voice and Speaking our Truth; it allows us to hear our thoughts, feel our emotions and reflect on our choices and the patterns in our lives. It paves the way to a new vision for our futures and gives us the clarity to clearly see what no longer serves. This is where true recovery from trauma begins …yet it is often where most survivors are left to work through things on their own. This is because their inner chaos is no longer reflected in their external lives for others to see. It is all internal work… of the hardest kind.
Recovery is less about stopping presenting behaviors and/or circumstances and more about processing the trauma that made you vulnerable to that behavior or circumstance in the first place. It is about accepting who you are today – including your flaws – with compassion, grace and hope for a better tomorrow. Recovery is taking each day as it comes – good or bad – and trusting that, as you do the work to grow, you will become wiser, stronger and more confident.
Recovery is not an overnight experience; it happens in stages (peel that onion) and, as we recover, we are always discovering new aspects of ourselves that need our attention and growth. If it is complex or developmental trauma that you are working through, I believe the process can be more challenging because the trauma is “rooted” (your identity and/or defense mechanisms and way of seeing people and the world has developed around the trauma) and “unrooting” takes time, patience and self compassion. Recovery from trauma can take a LONG time (I have NOT arrived lol)… but it gets more comfortable to walk through the process as our self compassion and self acceptance grows.
I had the honor of being the first guest on Emancipation Nation, a podcast devoted to providing advocates, and those that want to be advocates, ways to competently fight various forms of human trafficking. Below is the link to my podcast interview with Celia Williamson. Please enjoy … and be sure to check out the rest of the informative and inspiring Emancipation Nation podcasts!
I have spent many years watching the strong women around me, learning from them, admiring them, aspiring to be like them. And I know that there are many people in my life who look up to me and do the same thing so I wanted to share this with you: It is okay to be weak as well as strong. Years of trauma; sexual abuse, domestic violence, physical violence and family dysfunction do NOT just disappear. Even when you are sober. Even when you are healthy and well. Even when you have an education and a career. Not everyday will be a good day. Old tapes will still play. And that is when you need to stand your ground and use your faith – whatever it is – to fight back. Sometimes, allowing yourself to grieve, to feel, and to “be weak” is the strongest thing that you can do…as long as you don’t let yourself stay there too long.
PS. Pain is not weakness, vulnerability is not weakness, sharing yourself with others is not weakness. It is courage and it is strength.
So many of us who have been exploited in the sex industry struggle to find love. We have limited models of what that even is. We cling to those who make us feel wanted and give us a sense of belonging… But often we are clinging to unhealthy relationships with no real intimacy outside of sex, relationships that hurt us and make us believe that we need to change who we are in order to be worthy. As we heal and grow, as we learn to love ourselves, as we witness others experiencing the kind of love we thought only existed in the movies… We begin to notice that what we have isn’t healthy, isn’t really working for either of us, isn’t really what we dreamed of despite the incredibly and profoundly deep love we may feel for them. We begin to notice that actions rarely or inconsistently support words and, as a result, we develop a greater understanding of the term “Promises are comfort to a fool”. We get honest with ourselves and accept the FACTS despite our FEELINGS. We stop settling for potential and become willing to let go.
Ladies, when a guy disrespects you or fails to be consistent in his affection for you (especially when he’s being an obvious a–hole), block him. You don’t need to accept being spoken to or treated like that by anyone. Block. Delete. No looking back. Trust me. I’ve had to do it myself. It’s not always easy, either. You can have really strong feelings for someone even though they aren’t what’s best for you. It’s up to you to decide what you’re worth… and then stand behind that decision. Being a strong woman who treats herself with love, dignity and respect can often mean cutting people out of your life that hurt you, insult you or make you feel small. Gotta get all the weeds out of your garden if you want it to grow healthy and strong.
There will be someone else. Someone who treats you like the Queen you are.
Sometimes it’s hard to know where and how to draw the line. I think, often, we get caught up in asking ourselves how much more we can take instead of asking ourselves how we want to be treated, Many of us have been conditioned to give, to “take it”, and focus on the needs of others to prove we are good people… good enough to deserve love. Drawing the line means putting ourselves first and we have been taught this is wrong and selfish. We may even FEEL wrong and selfish when we do it. But, it must be done. Sometimes, we must draw the line. Drawing the line is how we honor our truth. This is one of the ways we love ourselves. It can be a hard line that we draw; a non-negotiable dealbreaker. Or it can be a soft line; a boundary that you might set aside but that still needs to be respected and followed up on. As an example, a hard line needs to be drawn when something/someone hurts my kids; a soft line needs to be drawn when my son forgets to do a chore. We get to decide what kind of line to draw and when, based on how we want to be treated. Next time you are tempted to ask yourself “How much more of this can I take?”, I challenge you to ask yourself instead: “Is this how I want to be treated?”
I think that, as survivors of sex trafficking who are now professionals, we forget to let ourselves be human. We get so busy supporting the healing of others that we forget to support our own healing. We may even start to believe that, because of the work we do, our healing must be finished and we must be strong and whole all of the time. We forget that it is our pain that led us into the work we do… and shaped/equipped us to do it. We must learn to treat ourselves with the same compassion we do our sisters.
Often, our strength has been born in adversity, pain, self-doubt and discipline. Becoming strong is not gentle; it hurts, it takes work.
Never forget that it is pushing through it all that has gotten you to where you are: disciplining yourself to keep moving FORWARD, loving yourself even when it’s hard (letting go of people you love, adopting healthy habits/routines, speaking to yourself with love and compassion…), soothing yourself through emotional days, speaking your truth even when it is not what others want to hear, honoring your vision for your future (not settling even if it means going without or living with less for an indefinite period of time) and looking back only to identify what you could do differently next time. And getting back up – with a heart of forgiveness and compassion towards yourself – any and every time you fall (or fail), trusting that you WILL see your vision for your life and your relationships become a reality … in time.
Hang in there. This too shall pass. We are ALWAYS exactly where we are supposed to be in our journey.
Trauma, addiction, codependency… Some of the many areas survivors lives are impacted by. As we step into recovery we find a Pandora’s box of old tapes, internalized messages that we have unknowingly allowed to define our Truth.
There are so many old tapes that play on repeat in our minds. Damaging self talk, rooted in childhood trauma, that has been hardwired into the neurological pathways of our brains.
We must learn to really look at and challenge these thoughts with our new truths about ourselves.
Interestingly, as we practice this we often find that, when we have identified the thought that needs to be addressed, we struggle to find an alternative way of thinking. Or, we struggle to believe (feel, act on, reflect it in our attitude).
Understand that rewiring the brain is a long process. We have to learn a new language and consistently notice when our old tapes are playing and replace them with our new truth/thought. It takes a lot of practice and intention.
Sometimes the tapes take control before we notice, sometimes we get stuck… But we are learning and growing each time. Recovery is forever. Be patient with us
Relationships are a huge part of recovery and, as we evolve, so does our “love” life. Our connections to friends, coworkers, family… they all change. Some grow, some go, some need space, some we are still reflecting on. Those we loved deeply… we still love, just in a different way now. Some closer, some farther. Our inner circle shrinks. It takes shape. We learn who we can trust and what we can trust them with. We discover what makes us feel safe (and what doesn’t) and begin to pursue that safety in all of our relationships.
Relationships heal us.
Good ones build us up and allow us to thrive. Bad ones teach us who we are not (or don’t want to be) and show us where we need to heal. This is the most important part for survivors, I think. Healing ourselves. Being in our bodies. Being present in the moment. Trusting the process. Paying attention to our needs, thoughts and emotions. And discovering ways to love ourselves through meeting those needs, avoiding situations and people that trigger big stuff, connecting with those who inspire us, trying new things…
I think this is the most important part for survivors because relationships heal us. And our relationship with ourselves is the most important. During the times that we are ready to include ourselves in our “love” life and allow our relationship with ourselves to evolve, we will find ourselves having the kinds of relationships we want with others as well.
Labels have the potential to uplift or limit an individual. In work with women and children who have been sexually exploited I have often heard survivors defined as victims. The motive behind this has been to draw attention to the plight of sex workers; it has been been done with positive intent but it has potential for great harm.
To identify a woman with experience in the sex trade as a victim delays her healing; it magnifies a perception of her as helpless that she may internalize and puts emphasis on the fact that her vulnerabilities were taken advantage of, potentially causing an increase in her distrust of others as well as of her own sense of judgment. Identifying a woman as a survivor is both recognizing and emphasizing her resilience, strength, courage and perseverance. It is saying to that woman that she is worthy and capable; she is whole and adequate. One approach fortifies the confidence and competence of a woman; the other undermines it.
Survivors of the sex trade, whether actively involved or exited, are survivors. Period. They are survivors of childhood abuse and neglect, survivors of violence in intimate relationships, survivors of violence in the industry, survivors of loss, survivors of poverty, survivors of homelessness and of many other forms of trauma. Given that the average age of entry into the sex trade is 13 to 14 years old, many of these individuals have survived these intense and complex traumas for over a decade. And they are still here. They continue to function; to look for and experience love, to care for themselves and others and to seek out the resources that will help them meet their needs. This is not helplessness. This is strength. This is the ability to carry on and persevere. This is not victimhood; this is survivorship.