In the Know
This month’s In the Know: A Survivor’s Perspective blog is from Julia Anderson, and is a beautifully vulnerable piece that explains the long road to recovery for survivors and the need for understanding, tangible help and support. Truly, this is a must read!
We Are the Houdini
In the world of sexual exploitation, asking for help or letting someone know that we’re in trouble is almost unheard of. Fear of retribution, shame, judgment and rejection bind and gag us like full-bodied
straight jackets. The would-be Houdini in this scenario that might break those restraints in the name of hope and freedom is the belief in our potential value, a possible future.
Survivors of human trafficking and sexual exploitation — We are commended, admired, encouraged and sought after for our triumphant stories by audiences, both small and large, who are captivated by the gruesome, yet victorious, ultimate real-life battles of good versus evil. With the glory of survival comes an invisible cast-iron cell. We’re exploited once again, as we learn it’s not the survivor that’s celebrated, but the morbidly fascinating story. Eager to be heard none-the- less, we’re quick to the publisher and race
to the podiums … the need to never again be faceless or voiceless driving the still-broken soul. Longing just to be seen in our own home, we strive to maintain the balance of keeping the healing process private while appearing to have “arrived,” in the hopes of not being seen as a burden, merely tolerated, or…discarded.
Survivor recovery is a complicated journey — Exiting ‘the life’ isn’t the same for every survivor. Somemay enter a program ranging from simply a bed and brief respite to a full residential home, offering a
gamut of resources, skills training and rehab for up to a year. Many have never received services and managed their own recovery since day one of their freedom. Neither scenario is more preferable than the
other; at the end of the day, the journey remains the same.
Image — We come out of “the life” searching for our own identity after having it dictated to us for however long. But because our healing turned into a stumped recovery, we settle for others’ image of us
instead. This sacrifice of our soul and freedom triggers the same responses engrained in “the life.” Image is how others see us from that small glimpse of a window they may have into our lives. Discarding the
full identity of who we completely are in order to exist within this small glimpse, this image, is to be confined to only a fragment of who we are. To have escaped one prison in exchange for another keeps us
in survival mode … until we’re ready to shed the image and risk authenticity. The survivor community plays a critical role for every single one of us. The longing for that sacred understanding — the knowing — of this particular brand of trauma is met here. We are family. We can find “our kind” here: those who were exploited the way we were, those who are doing the kind of work we are, those who choose not to work in the movement, those who have been “out” as long as us or at a similar place in our healing. We can connect on many levels with many individuals here. We also meet division here, hurt people here, compete with each other here, replicate “the life” here.
When survivors are silently dealing with different recovery issues, trauma residue can’t help but contaminate relationships and connections; our trauma improperly addressed or abandoned produces broken pieces, which are protected the best way survivors know how. In our humanness and brokenness, we hurt each other, feel scared, or even threatened; we don’t yet know how to work through these things. As survivors, we protect and we isolate.
Fear of retribution, shame, judgment, rejection — If I tell someone I’ve been hurt by them, what will they do? Blacklist me. If I’m not visibly doing well with my work in the movement, what will they think? Outcast me; I’ll be alone. If I say I’m having trouble at home or in my personal life and ask for help, what will happen? Gossip, slander, ignored, isolated. If I talk about difficulty I’m having dealing with mytrauma (regardless how long I’ve been out of the life), will anybody stand by me? No. I haven’t accomplished my healing. Come back when I’m well.
If I feel like I have no reason left to live … will anybody hear me? No. But we’ll light up the sky for you.
Survivors have a heart cry to be loved, accepted, seen and heard. After being devalued, marketed and sold as merchandise, it makes perfect sense to desperately want (and need) to be known for our personhood.
The complication deep within each survivor’s trauma is the “me first” factor — the survivor instinct. It’salso no longer needed. However, very few of us have delved this deeply in our personal trauma work to
address “me first;” therefore, it makes a contribution in everything we do as a “guarantee” on our behalf, should things go awry.
The result? Division. We cry UNITY! But we stumble over ourselves at every turn. The mindset: if I help you, if I accept that it’s ok that you’re in a slump right now with your work, if I acknowledge that I hurt
you, if I say it’s ok that you’re having trouble with trauma (and actually I am too) … then who’s going to be there for me? All that just makes me look weak, and I can’t afford that. I have to BE somebody.
And when you say you feel like you have no reason to live. What should I do? Lie? I don’t want to live either… But if I listen to you, and if I admit that out loud, then that means leaving the life was pointless … and I’m not ready to face that right now.
Facing the brokenness in others means that we also face the brokenness in ourselves. The feeling of helplessness is powerful and uncomfortable. In the midst of one’s tragedy, we may say comforting
phrases on Facebook, but then gossip behind the scenes, speculating as to the hows and whys of the specifics. A few survivors may make a promise or two to be there for a person, and then spread untrue
rumors. Many might limit their support to social media only, but what happens when that depressed soul deactivates his or her account? What does their friends’ list look like now? If a survivor is having trouble and needs help professionally or personally, why are we so quick to stick our leg out to help them trip rather than lend a hand up? If we hurt someone, why do we apologize conditionally? Why are we, as survivors, so afraid to admit to the same truths in ourselves by actively acknowledging those truths in fellow survivors?
Real survivor recovery … there’s no more time. Why is it that we can raise enough money to bury someone, but we can’t manage enough to keep them above ground? When you’re deeply hurting, do you prefer a social media post or a phone call? When you say I have value or to know that I’m loved, how will I know that’s true? Is it possible for you not to be scared of me, and I not of you?
Survivors, ironically, are the only ones who can heal our own. We mirror the damage, but also the worth.We walk the journey never-ending, admit it or not; walk alone … or struggle together (“There’s nothing wrong with you; I feel that way too.”). Stop scrolling, stop (“I don’t really know you, but I’ve seen you’ve been struggling. Here’s my phone number if you need to talk. I’m here, I see you.”). Dare to speak out; dare to respond. We don’t trust “outsiders” and most likely never will, especially if we can’t get it right with our own.
We’re losing ourselves back to “the life” of drugs, alcohol, death. Which ones are expendable? Why is that acceptable? My sister, my brother … you and I … we are the Houdini to make this great escape, on behalf of each other, in the name of a new kind of hope and freedom. Reach out, break the restraints, reach back.
Being a survivor of human trafficking, Julia Anderson has seen the darkest of evils, spending years intimately involved with societies’ deepest secrets. “I know what no one wants to know.” She believes she survived eleven years of exploitation to use her experience through different platforms to aid efforts to stop human trafficking and improve recovery/rehabilitation for survivors across the board.
Though raised in an affluent family, Julia’s struggles started early in life with an abusive childhood. She went on to become a mother at age 17 and a flight attendant, soon followed by her years as a trafficked person.
Repeat trauma over the course of her forty-plus years has resulted in complex PTSD, which is a silent but very real disability.
Today, Ms. Anderson relies on her psychiatric service dog, Allie, who helps her manage that along with other physical and mental residual ailments from her ‘time in the life’. She feels mental illness is an overlooked issue strongly connected to trafficking.
Survivorhood is a lifetime journey, one that is misunderstood with unrealistic expectations; the traumatic truth experienced in secret. It was during Julia’s personal dark dance with death that the hashtag #ChooseCoffee was born, she was able to pull through because two survivors had the courage to be her lifeline. As a part of her commitment to the survivor community, she has started the #ChooseCoffee Lifeline where survivors in need can connect with survivors willing to be a support.
Julia is the author ‘Dear john, The Diary of a Prostitute’s. In addition to speaking, she develops trainings and curriculum with a counterintuitive approach. Speaking and writing are her gifts. Sharing her story by doing what she loves makes surviving worth it. Julia lives back east. juliaandersonwriter.wordpress.com
“Many people are guarded because they’ve been HURT. Trafficked victims and survivors are guarded because someone PROFITED from it. ” –Julia Anderson
To learn more about the #ChooseCoffee Lifeline or how you can become involved, email: ChooseCoffeeCrisisLine@gmail.com