6 Things I Have Learned About Faith

“Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

Faith is the one thing that we need to please God as it states in Hebrews 11:6, “And without faith, it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."

In my experience faith is closely related to obedience and trust. I have been walking with the Lord for about five years. And I think the biggest thing that I have learned is the idea that faith and obedience are a must in walking out our salvation with God. It is funny that it seems so simple, but when push comes to shove, sometimes our own comfort and lack of trust seems like a way better choice than whatever God asks us to do because we can’t see what is on the other side of what He is asking of us.

I am going to get pretty vulnerable. My name is Devon Alexa. When I was 19, I was trafficked from Southern California to Las Vegas. Five years ago, I was introduced to the Jesus and for me, it took an encounter with His presence that convinced me of His realness. After that moment, I knew that I was going to give my life fully to the Lord, no looking back. And frankly at that point in my life, there wasn’t much to lose - I was just living to survive.

Meeting Jesus was the best thing that had ever happened to me.

Throughout my journey with God, I have had the best times in my life and some of the hardest. But through the ups and the downs I have chosen to never give up on Jesus - even in the times I haven’t been able to see the light. For example, the first two years of my walk with God were amazing: full of blessings and freedom. I was the happiest I had ever been in my entire life. I had amazing friends was doing ministry and loving life. About two years into my walk with God, I decided to pursue my first dating relationship with a Christian man. He was such an awesome guy and was intentional about pursuing my heart. I remember when he asked me to be his girlfriend although my response was "I’m scared," I was overjoyed at the same time. I couldn’t believe that someone like him could like me.

As the relationship progressed my heart for him and a vision for our relationship grew. Then one day before we were going to go on a date I heard the audible voice of God for the first time. In that moment I knew God was telling me that the guy I was dating was not my husband. Most people would have gone to their bedroom repented and broke it off. Right? Well, unfortunately, I doubted that I heard God’s voice and continued to date him. In my mind he was the best - I had never experienced someone treating me with the honor and respect that he did. As I made the decision to stay in the relationship I was bombarded with confusion and lies, like: It’s because of my past I could never be with someone like that, or it’s the enemy because we have a mighty call together. As I continued to doubt the voice of God and fight for the relationship, things got worse. I began to become jealous and spiraled into my first experience with depression. During this time I would pray and beg God that if He wasn’t the one to have him to break up with me. God whispered, "You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you." He was calling me to be courageous.

Eventually, I realized that things were not working and I finally obeyed. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my life - and I have been through some difficult things. It’s easy to walk around and say, "I trust God and He is the Lord over my life, etc.” But what happens when he asks you to surrender something that looks good to you?

Through this experience, I was confronted with my beliefs of God and who He was to me. If I truly, in my heart, believed that God had the best for me and that he was GOOD ALL OF THE TIME, then I would have obeyed immediately and saved myself and the other person involved a lot of pain.

Although hard, I am grateful for that season, because it prepared my heart to receive the healing that it so desperately needed and launched me into a deeper relationship with God.

As I have grown in my relationship with God I have learned to listen and obey quicker because as I have stepped out in faith God has always been faithful. It is scary at times but always worth it. I have never regretted listening to God. It’s funny because usually, the things He wants for me are the things that I truly want in my heart but are unaware of at the time. He knows our desires more than we do.

Six things I have learned from this experience.

1. Obey immediately (Even if you think you hear God step out in FAITH. God will reward you with a greater measure of peace and it’s an invitation for an upgrade in trust).

2. Know your values.

3. Believe God has your best intentions in mind (He knows you better than you know yourself).

4. Trust that God is good all of the time (He only knows how to be good, he is good all of the time, rain or shine, no matter what you think or how you feel He is good).

5. Abide in the God who says, “My peace is priceless.”

6. Become whole before dating (learn to love yourself and love what God loves - YOU).

My favorite verse is Philippians 3:13: “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead”. Not that I am perfect, but one thing I do is forget the things of the past and press forward to the prize of the upward call of Jesus Christ.

No matter what you are facing never give up. Remember that there is always something good on the other side of trusting God. He is faithful!  

My name is Devon Alexa, I am 26 and am passionate about people walking in freedom and life and finding the greatness that is placed inside of them. I believe that there is hope for everyone. I was trafficked when I was 19 and through Jesus, I have been set free. I love coffee, spicy food, and I love long car rides and plane rides. If the only thing I learn in this life is love then this life has been a success. 

3 Sides of FAITH

Whenever I hear the word faith, George Michael’s song “Faith” plays in my head, for the most part. Unless it’s been a challenging day, then it’s Limp Bizkit’s version of the song. Regardless of which rendition is going through my head, or the situation that I may be experiencing, the one thing that remains is I have faith to get me through the day.

What does faith look like?

For me personally, I have learned that it’s all about perception. Knowing that whatever way a situation, experience, or lesson plays out, is just the way it is supposed to give me a sense of solace. Obviously, we cannot SEE faith, which can make it difficult to embrace at times since it is not tangible. However, when you truly believe and are able to reach a state of having “blind faith,” staying reminded becomes just a tad bit easier.

“Faith does not make things easy, it makes them possible.” – Luke 1:37

I have not always been a believer in Christ. In fact, for so long I questioned everything. Thinking to myself, “If God was really real, then why would He allow me to go through so much suffering and trauma?” along with a slew of other negative thoughts. But here is what I have found out: God never intended for any of those bad things to happen to me, or anyone else. And I now know that despite all of the pain and suffering that I have endured, He uses that for His glory and to fight the good fight.

What does that mean?

All I can do is provide examples from my own life because that’s what I know. On June 3rd of 2014, my life was dismal and close to its end. Sitting in a cell, alone, in a city far from my family, and having nothing, I had finally reached my “rock bottom.” I decided to do something that I had never intentionally done before. I got down on my knees and prayed. I prayed to “whoever you are” to help me, guide me, and give my life meaning. Two days later I got the news that I would not be going to prison, and would be released after serving my remaining jail sentence.

Upon getting released I was scared. I was in a foreign place, with no money, food, or shelter. I only had the clothes on my back and some miscellaneous items. With that, I knew that I needed to figure something out, and quick. I had no resources or idea of how to do that. But I had this feeling inside of me, directing me and guiding me where to go. So I just kept going and doing what it was telling me to do.

Within hours I had found a place to stay - a faith-based transitional home and a support system to match. Within 2 weeks I was baptized in the Rogue River, and a week after that I had gotten re-enrolled in college. All of this was new, exciting, and slightly terrifying. But one thing that remained was this faith that I was doing the right thing, and it was working.

Fast forward to today, in 2017, and I am one term away from graduating with my Associates of Arts Oregon Transfer degree. I am a Life Coach at a homeless youth shelter. And have done a tremendous amount of work on myself. Most importantly, I have my family back and they get to have me too, as the person I was always been meant to be.

Faith for me…

Is knowing that no matter what I endure in life, I will be able to manage and conquer the complexities that arise… SUCCESSFULLY. I don’t always know what that looks like, and that’s half of the battle with faith - believing in what you cannot see. It is knowing that regardless of the pain and suffering I have endured, it is not for waste, and will be used in the most beautiful way. It is letting my faith be so much bigger than my fears could ever be. I feel like having faith is the simple most effective way to aid in combatting those fears that tend to cripple and defeat so many of us.

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.” – 2 Corinthians 5:7

With that being said, I challenge you. I challenge you to believe in SOMETHING if you don’t already. Whatever God you believe in, who or whatever your higher power is, latch on to that and believe with all your heart that it will guide you. All you have to do is listen. Listen to your heart, your feelings, and your senses. Wholeheartedly dive into your faith, because I can attest, that when you do, life becomes much more tolerable. And when confronted with the unexpected, unimaginable, unfathomable situations, you will already be prepared and ready because the battle will already be won. All that will be left is to navigate those situations, and when you are listening to your inner guide (gut instinct) life becomes a little bit more doable.

I’ve learned that God is just a prayer away. No matter what time it is, day or night, He is always there. I have that faith and that’s what I believe. What do you believe?

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Shannon Redline is a full-time student and works as a Life Coach at the homeless youth shelter, Hearts With A Mission. Shannon is a member of A.C.T. (Abolish Child Trafficking) of Southern Oregon, through which she has taught The Prevention Project curriculum to local high school students. Shannon is a survivor of sex trafficking and other traumas, which has given her a passion for helping youth and sharing her testimony whenever possible. Shannon is an advocate, volunteer, mentor, dog mom and lover of the Lord.

Complexities of Complex Trauma

For years, I had no idea why I behaved so horribly, why my relationships never lasted, why I kept going back to drugs, alcohol, unhealthy relationships…. why did I keep going back to The Game? It was always THEIR FAULT!!!!

Then one day while sitting is a training session, I got it... I was a VICTIM and suffering from “Complex Trauma”.

Allow me to back up for a moment, my name is Tammy, I am a CSEC Survivor, I am from Hawaii, I was born and raised on the Island of Oahu I am going to share my life with you and how I realized I have suffered from Complex Trauma.

What is Complex Trauma?

Complex trauma generally refers to traumatic stressors that are interpersonal, that is, they are premeditated, planned, and caused by other humans, such as violating and/or exploitation of another person. Child abuse of all types (physical, sexual, emotional, and neglect) within the family is the most common form of chronic interpersonal victimization.

For me, the abuse started when I was four years old, how you may ask do you remember back to 4 years old?  Well, that’s easy for me because I have seen the same incident in my mind for over 47 years.  You see my favorite aunt and my dad were the abusers and I could not understand how my favorite aunt would allow my dad to do those things to me. So, I relived the incident over and over in my mind.  The last time my dad abused me he violently raped me I was 13 years old.  All the years in between there was constant sexual abuse, some call that incest.

Rather than creating conditions for protection and security within the relationship, abuse by primary attachment figures instead becomes the cause of great distress and creates conditions of gross insecurity and instability for the child including misgivings about the trustworthiness of others. Whatever the case, the victim usually does not have adequate time to regain emotional equilibrium between occurrences and is left with the knowledge that it can happen again at any time. This awareness, in turn, leads to states of ongoing vigilance, anticipation, and anxiety. Rather than having a secure and relatively carefree childhood, abused children are worried and hypervigilant. The psychological energy that would normally go to learning and development instead goes to coping and survival.

I remember always dreading being alone with my dad.

Unfortunately, when such abuse is observed or a child does disclose, adequate and helpful responses are lacking, resulting in another betrayal and another type of trauma that has been labeled secondary traumatization or institutional trauma. It is for these additional reasons that complex traumatization is often compounded and cumulative, as well as becomes a foundation on which other traumatic experiences tragically occur over the course of the individual's lifespan. Research studies have repeatedly found that when a child is abused early in life, especially sexually, it renders him/her much more vulnerable to additional victimization. Such child victims can become caught in an ongoing cycle of violence and retraumatization over their life course, especially if the original abuse continues to go unacknowledged and the aftereffects unrecognized and untreated.

When I finally told about the sexual abuse I was taken away from my family, my little sister was just 5 years old, and now who was going to protect her from our abusive dad?

Occurring later in life, are often traumatic or potentially traumatic and can worsen the impact of early life complex trauma and cause the development of complex traumatic stress reactions. These adversities can include but are not limited to:

Ongoing sexual and physical revictimization and retraumatization in the family or other contexts, including prostitution and sexual slavery

To summarize: complex traumatic events and experiences can be defined as stressors that are:

(1)  repetitive, prolonged, or cumulative (2) most often interpersonal, involving direct harm, exploitation, and maltreatment including neglect/abandonment/antipathy by primary caregivers or other ostensibly responsible adults, and (3) often occur at developmentally vulnerable times in the victim's life, especially in early childhood or adolescence, but can also occur later in life and in conditions of vulnerability associated with disability/ disempowerment/dependency/age /infirmity, and so on.

Now in foster care without any therapy for the sexual abuse, I turned to drugs and alcohol to cope with the anger and pain I felt. Which led me to make poor choices, one that would change my life even more?  I met a pimp at age 15 and did not go home instead I went on the run for 9 months and was sold for sex in Waikiki and later Anchorage Alaska.

Although some individuals who were traumatized as children manage to escape relatively unscathed at the time or later (often due to personal resilience or to having had a restorative and secure attachment relationship with a primary caregiver that countered the abuse effects). For me my saving grace was my older sister she understood me, she helped me and encouraged me to do good. But when I was 16 years old she committed suicide. After she committed suicide I felt angrier and lost, my life spiraled out of control.

Aftereffects include the following: Anger and of tendencies towards self-destructiveness; dissociative episodes; ongoing feelings of intense shame; not being able to trust the motives of others and not being able to feel intimate with them;  "lesson of abuse" internalized by victim/ survivors is that other people are venal and self-serving, out to get what they can by whatever means including using/abusing others; abuse survivors may be unaware that other people can be benign, caregiving, and not dangerous; chronically abused and traumatized individuals often feel hopeless about finding anyone to understand them or their suffering.

Treatment

Exposing these patients too directly to their trauma history in the absence of their ability to maintain safety in their lives or to self-regulate strong emotions can lead to retraumatization, associated decompensation, and inability to function.

I feared ever seeking therapy or talking about any of my abuse or being with a pimp because I thought if I talked about it I would lose my mind.

The early stage focuses on safety, stabilization, and establishing the treatment frame and the therapeutic alliance.

The middle stage of treatment begins only after stabilization skills have been developed and are utilized as needed.

The late stage of treatment involves identity and self-esteem development and concurrent development of improved relational skills and relationships

The important consideration is that new and different approaches to the treatment of complex trauma are now available and effective. Survivors who were once confused by their symptoms and who despaired about receiving understanding and assistance now have the opportunity to receive effective treatment, to heal, and to get their lives back and on track.

I have never received formal therapy for Complex Trauma, I did, however, begin going to Church and found healing in forgiving others, found an identity in who I am because I have a Savior who is Jesus Christ.  The layers of my pain that I masked with drug and alcohol abuse were exposed and dealt with in a way that has allowed me to remain drug and alcohol- free for over 13 years.  I can now trust another and am in a healthy marriage of 10 years. During a training as I sat listening to the instructor I realized that I had suffered so many of the same symptoms he was describing as Complex Trauma, today I still contend with some symptoms but I am on my way to freedom.  I have done the Virtual Mentorship Program with RBI and learned more about who I am… There is hope! There is healing! There is a new normal for me and for YOU!

Do you know what Complex Trauma is?

Tammy (CSEC Survivor, Volunteer, Advocate, and Community Outreach Manager) is a wife to Jonny,  mother to Chad and her furry baby Frankie Boy, sister to Jo and many brothers. She is a friend to many & is a leader at her home church Legacy Christian Church located on the Island of Oahu.  She is a full charge bookkeeper for a prominent Honolulu law office. Tammy is a volunteer for Hoʻōla Nā Pua (A New Life for Our Children) a Hawaii-based, 501(c)3 non-profit organization whose mission is to provide renewal of trafficked girls who have been commercially sexually exploited (CSEC) through a comprehensive and holistic approach to Health, Education, Advocacy, and Reintegration. Tammy oversees the Annual Gala and Golf Tournament and as the Community Outreach Manager, she coordinates speaking engagements, awareness events, and fundraising events. In addition, she uses her powerful testimony to convey the reality and scope of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the Hawaii islands.

Unlimited Truth

This morning I asked myself, what major lie am I believing that’s holding me back? For me, God is a big part of my life and journey, so I asked him. As I listened and pondered, it came to me that perhaps my biggest lie is that I’m not good enough.

Interestingly, my mind doesn’t believe this lie. My mind knows the truth that I’m good enough and I live each day believing I can do anything I set out to accomplish.

My mind is smart, it’s analytical, it can figure things out; it knows the truth. But there’s a part of me that doesn’t know this truth. It’s a part somewhere deep down in the very essence of my being; a place that feels this lie deeply. I’m not good enough so no one applauded me when I first learned something new. I’m not good enough so my dad felt he could lash out at me in anger. I’m not good enough so it didn’t seem important to feed me, care for me or loved me unconditionally. I’m not good enough so my dad could leave me and my family without as much as a glance backward. I’m not good enough so my mom could intentionally ignore me while lavishing attention on my brother. I’m not good enough so others could abuse me. I’m not good enough so I would have to live up to the high expectations of others in order to receive any kind of recognition or acknowledgment.

Realizing the lie, I go back to God and ask him what the truth is. I’ve never been all that good at hearing God speak to me in words, but that doesn’t mean I don’t hear him. Sometimes he speaks to me with a picture, sometimes he gives me an internal understanding and once in awhile a word or two come into my mind.

Today, after I asked the question, I had a sense. A sense that I am accepted. A sense that God and his angels are dancing in joy when they see me. A sense that I am his daughter, dearly loved. This all spoke healing truth to that deep inner place inside of me and made me smile the kind of smile that only true healing can bring.

What about you? What thoughts could be holding you back? What lies are you still believing? What truths does God want to share with you?

Last Night in Jail

Originally posted on April 1, 2014, this blog is a chapter taken out of Rebecca Bender's new book. Join our emailing list to stay connected and hear about its release date .

We got out of the “paddy wagon” and stood in a line, waiting for the door to the jail to open. As we walked into the main booking room, rows of chairs lined an open area like a classroom. On one side sat men in cuffs, and on the other side sat women.

All the men turned to look when the “prostitutes” came in, smiling and winking as if any of us were interested. As we stood in a single file line on the wall facing the rows of chairs, a uniformed officer working that night patted us down. A heavy chain was belted around our waist. Handcuffs fell to each side of the belt and as soon as we were adjusted for fitment, our hands were cuffed to each side. Before we could sit down, we had to walk to the back of the room where the contents of our brown paper bag appeared again. The guard standing behind the plated glass window, documented all our belongings.

We were told to sit, starting in the back row, filling up each seat. The men were seated starting in the front row. They continued to gawk at us, turning around in their seats to stare. The undercover officers that arrested us were long gone, having given us into the custody of the jail, they went back for more busts. The new uniformed officers yelled at the men to face forward.

It was about 1am. The next two hours of booking usually went by faster than the remainder of the night, waiting in the holding tank. Our names were called one at a time to start our rounds through six different stations.

“Rebecca...” The first lady yelled, standing with a clipboard at the front of the room. I stood up cuffed to my waist, still in my brick red pencil skirt, brick red Christian Dior heels and black, low cut Gucci blouse. My $2500 Cartier watch clinks against the metal of the cuffs and I cringed hoping it wouldn't scratch.

She took my blood pressure and asked me a couple of medical history questions.

“Are you allergic to anything?”

“Do you suffer from any ailment?”

My health was great, so the last item on her agenda is the HIV prick test. She took my blood and labeled it with my name for processing. This is not because the LVPD cares about us whatsoever. This is so they could book us with attempted manslaughter if it came back positive.

The next station was mug shots. I stood on a white line facing forward and sideways while the flash goes off without warning. There are no-redo’s and they do not care how you look. I gave my fiercest eyes and flash a smile as if I were auditioning for America’s Next Top Model. This made the officer laugh and won me a bit of favor.

I am asked to sit back down in my row of chairs until everyone is through taking photos. From my experience, I knew that once all of us girls have had our “prick and pic”, we’d move to the next room together and finish the rest of the stations. This was my sixth arrest and little did I know but it would be my last.

As I sat there watching each girl get called, questioned about her medical history and tested for HIV, the time went fast. Suddenly an officer was standing in front of our row of chairs.

“Rebecca,” he looked right at me. “This is the one?” he asked another officer, who nodded to confirm.

“Yes, “ I answered slowly and confused.

“Come with me please.” He held a manila folder in his hands and gestured toward a private room. Girls started whispering. A shot of cold ran down my spine and my stomache turned. What is going on? I made my way toward the room carrying a confident face but trembling inside.

“Go ahead and take a seat.” He said nicely, sitting down. He set the folder on the table that sat perfectly positioned in the center of the concrete walls.

“So how long have you been in Vegas?” he asked.

I looked at him suspiciously. In all of my arrests, I had never been asked questions like these. I had never even seen anyone come in or out of this room. Most of all, what was in the folder?

“You’re in the game, obviously.” He continued to probe. “Do you have a pimp?”

He just crossed the line. Telling on your man was a big no no, THE biggest no no. Pimping and pandering carries a 7-15 year felony sentence. Prostitution is a slap on the wrist, a fine and a night in jail. I’ve heard stories of girls being murdered for telling on their man. If I told on my man, when he got out, he’d come find me. I stay quiet and look at the officer in the eyes.

“Lawyer.” Is all that came out of my mouth. That is the response I’ve been taught to say for years.

“I don’t think you can call your attorney right now.” He says smirking while glancing at his watch.

“I didn’t ask to call him, “ I reply smartly becoming defiant. “However, any further questions you have for me can be directed to him. Are we done here?”

I waited for him to stand. Calm down. Getting mouthy will only make things harder.

I was taken back into the main room. All the girls have had their pictures taken by then and they stood in line at the door big electric door that would lead us to the next room before holding. I got in line behind everyone as directed.

A small room, slightly bigger than a hallway separated us from the next area. It felt like a shower in a locker room, with a drain in the middle and no-slip mats lying on top of concrete. We sat down on a chair one at a time. A female officer gave us a thorough pat down and removed our handcuffs. We had to put our head between our knees while she shook out our hair checking for anything that could be used as a weapon, or contraband. We are asked to open our mouths while she looked inside. Then, depending on what we were wearing, we were assigned either an Orange CCDC shirt or pants.

This night, I was given a shirt, which I put over my black blouse. Other girls who are wearing very short skirts get pants. Our shoes and jewelry were taken and written on our sheet again. We’re all issued brown jail sandals, which look like something Scarface would have wore by the pool in the hit Mobster movie.

After the female officer is done checking my hair and mouth, I approached the counter as told. Another lady wass counting all the change at the bottom of my purse,

“$5.72. Sign here.” I scanned over the document list to make sure my watch and shoes are listed.

“Can I get some socks please?” I asked while signing my paper.

“None left.” The lady behind the counter replied without even looking up.

I couldn't tell whether she just dislikes girls like me or if she is annoyed having to count $5.72 in quarters, nickels and dimes. I was equally as annoyed. I loved having loose change in my purse, it was a quick and easy to pay a cashier without having to break a hundred dollar bill. When I left here, I knew they would not give my exact money back. All my change just went into their cash drawer and I will more than likely get a five dollar bill when I leave and seventy-two cents in change.

I stood up and waited by a double-sided plexi-glass door. The officer pressed the intercom button and I’m let through. Inside the next room, chairs again are lined up like the previous class style setting; men on the left and women on the right. At the front of the room is a wall of telephones that we were allowed to use one at a time after we finished the full six stations. But, there was no standing up front waiting in line. Around the perimeter of the room are cubicles for our next set of questions.

As women, we are instructed to cross our hands over our chest anytime we need to get up to walk either to a cubicle or to the phones. This must be to conceal anything from the men who continued to gawk at us, but I never could understand why; as if the full orange jail shirt didnt cover enough.

As soon as I sat down, my name is called. At the first station I was asked a series of questions: Name, address, phone number, employer, etc. I was taught to give “them” completely fictional information other than my name. At first I was concerned I would miss a court date or something. My pimp assured me that the attorney would give us all the details about court appearnaces and that we did not want the police knowing where we lived. He was right, the attorney always kept me up to speed on any information.

Unless someone would come pay my five hundred dollar bail, I am “released on own recognizance” or O.R.’d as we called it. The lady across the desk explained all of this to me again and handed me a pice of paper with details of my arrest, inmate number and false contact info I had just given her. I moved to the next cubicle like speed dating.

“Are you involved in any gangs?” The next officer goes over a checklist of questions they are supposed to ask in order to place us in the appropriate holding tank.

“No.” I reply knowing that we’ll go through all of these questions quickly.

“Are you a lesbian?”

“No.”

“Do you feel like killing yourself or others?”

“No.”

Onto station three... A nurse pricked me for Tuberculosis and we wait minutes to see if my skin rises. “Those bruises on your wrists look like finger prints.” She pointed out without a break in her routine. “Are you being hurt at home?” She looked up to watch my response. I’m startled by her awareness, no one has noticed yet. My bruises were faint and I had covered them up with make-up before I left. 'The concealer must have worn off' I think to myself.

“No.” I say looking at my forearms. I am sure she knew better, but she also knows that if I do not want to talk, that pressuring me will not help either. Little did she know that underneath my clothes were fist prints from my pimp. Two on my thigh and one on my side from when he punched me yesterday.

My skin where the TB test was administered did not rise and so I am sent to the final station: finger printing. I stood in front of what looked like an ATM machine. But, instead of a pin pad, it has a small touch pad. The next officer guided my hand and fingers across the delicate surface. My prints showed up instantly on the monitor. Little red dots scanned across the fingerprints. Like something you would see on the TV show CSI, my name and inmate number appear showing a match.

“Not your first arrest, huh?” the officer smiled kindly.

“My sixth.” I replied sweetly removing my right hand and preparing my left in the proper position. We went through the process a second time and he took the paper I’ve been circling the stations with and marked the name and inmate number with a check to ensure it matched the one on the screen.

“Alright, you’re all done. Go ahead and take a seat. You can use the phone now too, when it's free.”

“Thank you.” I crossed my arms across my chest and walk the long way behind the men and around to the phone. Girls who are attention seeking and disobedient always try to walk in front of the men to the phones and get yelled at by the officers. Not me. I know this sort of behavior makes the officers think less of us. The officers in the jail treated me with a bit of respect me as they watched my demeanor and behavior. They spoke to me kindly and without belittlement. It hadn't always been this way, I learned over the course of time what got me better treatment in jail.

I pick up the phone and dial “my man.”

“You locked up?” Kevin says after just a few rings. He must have known something had happened since he hadn’t heard from me in awhile. I usually checked in every couple hours. 

“Ya,” I say sounding disappointed.

“Well, try to get some rest. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He paused, “you alright?”

“Yep, I’m fine.” I did my best to sound cheerful so he wouldn't get upset.

“Ok, Poke. Call me later if you get bored.” I could hear his faint laugh through the phone.

“You know I will.” I laughed back.

I think about my nickname: Poc, pronounced Poke. Kevin gave all his girls nicknames if they made it a year with him. I remember when he started calling me that, it felt special; as if I wanted to be there and stick it out with the family. The term of endearment he chose stood for Pocahontas, because I was Choctaw and looked like her.

I sat back down in my seat and tried to close my eyes. There was no way anyone could sleep in this place. It was loud and uncomfortable. I didn't worry for even one second about my daughter. I knew Kevin has it handled. That was part of what our live-in nanny, Cecelia did. She woke up every morning and got my daughter ready for school. Because my daughter thought I worked nights in a casino, she was use to me sleeping while Cecelia got her breakfast, did her hair and walked her to the bus stop. I’d hopefully be out of jail before she came home from school and she wouldn't even have an inkling of what had happened.

Cecelia is from Chihuahua, Mexico and speaks no English. Our pimp only hired non-English speaking help because it was easier to keep them at bay of what was really going on. He also made sure to “take care” of my daughter, keeping up a family facade in front of her would make me feel guilty to leave the only family she ever had. He knew that and would play that card often if he could tell I was wanting to try to leave.

At 4am the officers finally took all of women into the holding tank. The single file march to the cell turns my stomach. Looking into each holding tank cell always made me rethink what I was doing with my life, even if the feeling and thoughts were fleeting. Women who looked hardened sat solitary on benches staring at us as we passed. Gang members grouped together in other cells making kissy faces when we walked by.

One man was brought from around the corner in what looked a wheel chair on the ground. His hands and legs were cuffed to it and a net bag was placed over his face. He was attempting to kick and scream and spit and wail his body in violatile motions, but the restraints were too much for him. “You stupid pigs!” He screamed as we stood still against the wall waiting for the group of four officers to pass by with him. One officer walked in front of them, taking backward steps while holding a video camera. I assumed that was to keep the incident on camera for evidence of their response.

We reached our holding tank- all eight of us locked up for soliciting prostitution, or in my case disturbing the peace. One concrete bench hugged three walls. A television was in a clear plastic case and was mounted to the ceiling playing the old 1990’s movie, “Space Jam.” On the fourth wall of our square tank, next to the door is the toilet and phone. A small wais-high barrier wall blocked anyone looking in, or walking by, from seeing us do our business.

A handful of women were already in the same holding tank. They were clearly not “working girls.” One woman was nearly 50 years old and looked homeless with unkempt hair and dirty socks and jeans. Another was an overweight black woman with cornrows, mid forties and clearly intoxicated: probably in on a DUI. The third woman was white, looked maybe mid-thirties with red shoulder length hair. It was hard to see her as she curled up in a ball under the bench trying to sleep. She stunk something awful and was having cold sweats while shivering. It was obvious to me that she was kicking heroin.

The tank was cold even with all of us crowded in together. I immediately grab toilet paper and sat in a corner on the bench. This way I can lean my head against a wall to sleep just as if I was sitting in an airplane. I started wrapping my feet with the toilet paper to make socks and slip my sandals back on to keep the mock fabric in place. Last time I was here we ran out of toilet paper and it took hours for the guard to bring any. We couldn’t wipe when using the rest room. I remembered it being so cold I had wished I had wrapped my feet right away, before the toilet paper became such a commodity.

Just as I laid my head against my paper on the wall, which seemed to me to keep a protective barrier from any germs that may have been on the wall, I heard someone vomiting. The heroine junkie under the bench was dry heaving and spitting out green bile right on the floor where she was laying. Her dirty red hair was greasy and sweat was beading up on her forehead. She laid there heaving, her body shaking while everyone stared at her in disgust. The smell from the bile was atrocious,` like rotten eggs and fresh laid linoleum. She pulled out a wadded up piece of dirty tissue that she clutched intensely in one hand and wiped her mouth.

“You sick?” one of the girls asked her looking frightened. The junkie just stayed curled up not responding. “I don’t want to get sick.” Another girl complained standing to pound on the window of the door.

“She isn’t sick, she is detoxing.” I finally speak up after hours of being silent. They all turned and looked at me. I have not engaged in their conversations up until this point. While they sat around the telephones joking about being locked up and swapping war stories; I had kept to myself until now. “So we can’t catch it?” one girl asked.

“No. She’s kicking, she’s a junkie.” I want to lay hands on her and pray, tell her how God can set her free from drug addiction, that I’ve seen it with my own eyes. But preaching the gospel up in the jailhouse is too hypocritical for me and so I sat and remained silent. ©

Crucifying Trauma: A Victim on Repeat

It took me over a decade to identify myself as a survivor of sex and labor trafficking. This has made the navigation of my trauma recovery tricky. I always knew there was a root cause; a diagnosis related to my crippling anxiety and deep anger, but for many years it had no label. Although I am a survivor in every sense of the word and have taken numerous steps in the name of health and well-being, there were many things below the surface that I just couldn’t unravel. Long after the panic attacks subsided, I was still executing my life in a way that kept me in this perpetual role that I just could not emancipate…

Why am I always the victim?

Freedom from my traffickers, a beautiful marriage, and a decade of therapy, recovery groups, and bible studies later, I was still chronically anxious and depressed. I knew I was not being true to myself and I still felt exploited. Something had to change. I had to figure out why I was always the victim.  

I was continually re-exploiting myself due to poor self-boundaries - an unmistakable result of trauma and abuse. In my professional life, I was allowing clients to treat me unjustly and pay me scantily, I was contracting jobs that my intuition protested, and was working for people who were unwilling to pay me fair wages. Even with twenty years experience in my chosen profession, I spent most of my career underbidding vacancies and receiving compensation that is below the industry standard.

These situations left me feeling apprehensive and sick to my stomach, yet I allowed this corruption to continue. At one time I thought the answer was to become self-employed. If I was independent then no one could take advantage of me anymore!

This lead to two short business ventures. In both cases, my establishments did not close due to a meager location, lack of leadership, stewardship, or talent. It was due to the constant devaluing of my time. I was terrified of rejection and embarrassment. “What if I’m not worth that?” I based the price of my production off of shame and insecurity, not off of my aptitudes and experience. I believed I could gain acceptance by overworking for an undervalued rate and as long as no one knew about my past I could stay afloat and manage my anxiety. I had become my own exploiter; I was a victim who kept hitting the repeat button.

These are all symptoms of complex trauma that tend to stay undercover. They exist behind the veil of “I’m ok,” and “I’m just a really generous person.” It was time for me to accept the responsibility that it was something internally that had to change…

Embracing Responsibility

The day I confessed that I was a survivor of human trafficking, everything started to change. I had been seeking resurrection, while continually crucifying myself and never experiencing death. The victim in me had already been crucified and needed to die in order for me to resurrect into freedom! In this resurrection, I learned that the manipulation of trafficking and abuse had been a root cause of my lack of self-boundaries. I learned to say NO. I learned that not everyone is willing to pay me for my experience and expertise. But more importantly, I’ve learned that it is ok. It has nothing to do with my value as a person and I did not need to sell myself anymore. That girl was dead and gone. Essentially, I started to understand that my past has nothing to do with the price tag on my life or my identity. Complex trauma can annihilate you, it will keep you in the crucifixion and never get you to Sunday. I had spent twenty years sequestered by my wounds rather than embracing them as a victory…

Jesus was Wounded and so are We

In John 20:27 Jesus said to Thomas, "Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe." At this point, Jesus had been resurrected but was using His wounds to identify himself to Thomas who could not believe that Jesus was standing before him. So here we see that even in Jesus’ resurrection,

there were still blatant signs of his crucifixion and suffering. A resurrected victim that still has heart and head wounds, this is the definition of a survivor! Our wounds, just as Jesus’, tells a story.  Just as our wounds and trauma may still be apparent at times, it does not have to control us. Traumatic symptoms may act out occasionally and there are still parts of us that are not healed, but that is ok. I own my trauma today, it is mine, I am working through it. There may be times that I don’t like the outcome of my life because I preceded by my anxiety, fear, and the disenchantment of my past. I embrace the responsibility of my actions and I learn through every process how to grow, how to heal and become more than my story and live the intentional life that God has for me. It is all possible, Jesus’ story is proof of this and so is yours.                                                                                           

Tara Madison is a published author, speaker and a full time college student whose chief aim is to educate the public on the dynamics of human trafficking. She has been a tattoo artist for two decades, who owns and operates Inflicting Beauty Tattoo Studio with her husband in Florida.

New Highways

Our body is such a fascinating working unit. Let’s consider for example how it deals with complex trauma, which entails long-term, chronic trauma. This is not a trauma that is just acute in nature, but it has become a way of life. There are also dynamics that impact complex trauma, such as age, the relationship to the abuser, and the use of love and violence.  In understanding the depth of trauma, it is important to talk about the brain and neurophysiology of our body.

When we respond to trauma/stress our bodies produce certain excitatory neurotransmitters that function in a way that gives our bodies energy to get out of the situation. This response is due to the sympathetic system which functions as our ‘fight or flight’ system. After stress or trauma, the parasympathetic system kicks in and releases calming hormones or inhibitory neurotransmitters that allow our body to rest. This is what creates homeostasis or balance in our body. When our body is chronically under stress, our parasympathetic system becomes tired out and drained, and eventually is unable to keep up with our sympathetic response. This result can have a long-term impact on our overall health and can lead down the path of autoimmune diseases.

The way our brain is programmed for survival is incredible. Our brain stores away memories that are too intense for us to uncover. This fragmenting is a programmed protective function that is used to help us survive circumstances that would otherwise be too overwhelming to process. This adaptation to trauma can shut down part of the brain that processes emotions and visceral feelings. There was a study done by Ruth Lanius MD, that tried to uncover what happened in the brain of trauma survivors when they were not thinking about the past. She did a brain scan on “normal” individuals and those who struggled with chronic PTSD. The findings were that there was almost no activation of the medial prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate, parietal cortex, in trauma survivors. And the insula did not light up at all. The area that showed slight activation was the posterior cingulate. What this means was there was no activation of the self-sensing areas of the brain, the part that did slightly light up was that which is responsible for basic orientation in space. The conclusion,

what we witnessed here was a tragic adaptation: In an effort to shut off terrifying sensations, they also deadened their capacity to feel fully alive.” (Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD).

Complex trauma can affect someone every minute of every day. It has a way of sabotaging us. This is because our brain stem is constantly firing that we are in danger, which is also known as a hypervigilant state. Even though cognitively we can reason that we are safe, our body does not understand this. Our body holds onto the cellular memory of trauma. The brain stem does not understand time or logic. Its primary function is to alert us to danger and keep us alive. Because it functions as a smoke detector, it will keep alerting us to danger until our body can tangibly feel safe. In understanding complex trauma, it is important to remember that this trauma left an imprint in your body. When this trauma was repetitive, this imprint left a clear pathway for your body to respond to any senses coming into the body. This imprint is experienced in the present as physical reactions to the senses, which is also known as triggers. Triggers can be anything that is felt through your senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing). The senses are typically filtered through the thalamus and then sent to the cortex to be processed. The olfactory sense, which is smell, actually goes straight to the limbic system. This is why smell is so important. These senses can sabotage us at any moment of any day. It is our present physical reminder of our past. Here is a great quote that I came across by Bessel Van Der Kolk, who is the founder and medical director of the Trauma Center in Massachusetts regarding trauma.  

“The essence of trauma is that it is overwhelming, unbelievable, and unbearable. Each patient demands that we suspend our sense of what is normal and accept that we are dealing with a dual reality: the reality of a relatively secure and predictable present that lives side by side with a ruinous ever-present past.”

The beauty of our brain is that it really is organic.  What I mean by organic is that it can heal. It has neuroplasticity. Scientific discovery has demonstrated that we can actually create new neuropathways to our brain. These are the pathways that information gets channeled through to alert us when danger is present. Through these new pathways we can begin to access the executive functions of our brain, rather than going straight to our limbic system. I can personally attest to our body’s capacity to heal as I have personally experienced much trauma in my life.  We will always carry those scars, but we can find healing for our mind, body, and soul.  We have to remember that we are all unique individuals. We cannot just cookie cutter a path of healing from complex trauma. There are certain principles or stages we must go through, but there is no 5 step program.  Understanding the brain and all the intricacies of how our body functions helps us to understand one another on a deeper level, which can help fulfill our desire to be loved and known.

“We all want to live in a world that is safe, manageable, and predictable, and victims remind us that this is not always the case. In order to understand trauma, we have to overcome our natural reluctance to confront that reality and cultivate the courage to listen to the testimonies of survivors.” (Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD)

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Rebekah Meyers is the co-founder of United1Front. Passion and experience drives Rebekah towards empowering people to make a difference. She is a registered nurse and a core specialist in the Masgutova neuro sensory motor reflex integration. She has undergone extensive holistic training from Finding Freedom and TCU under Dr. Karyn Purvis. She has spent time locally, nationally, and internationally bringing hope and restoration to all those she meets. She very much enjoys (possibly survives off of) coffee and meaningful conversations.

3 Relational Toxins

This powerful blog was originally posted by Lexie Smith on her personal website on May 8, 2015, and is shared today with the same authenticity.

This post is for my fellow single peeps hoping to find that special someone and avoid the wrong ones.

There are 3 things that will destroy any relationship you get into loneliness, baggage, dependency. All three of these things have one thing in common: lack of self-wholeness. And sadly, most individuals walk into a relationship with all three. It does not mean that the relationship will not work if either of you struggles with any of these things, you are not human if you do not. The relationship will just leave you dissatisfied because you are placing expectations on someone to fill a void you can resolve only within yourself.

1) LONELINESS is something that everyone faces because we were made as relational beings, but does not have to control you. A romantic relationship is not the answer either, genuine friendship is. Dating someone will not give you the intimacy you long for. Sure snuggling with someone might make you feel better, in that moment.

What if I told you that you could feel that fulfilled and content all the time, not just when you are with someone of romantic interest. That is the kind of feeling we all long for: to feel complete.

This last year I have seen how irreplaceable solid friendships are. The kind that is there for you in the hard times, but refuses to leave you there. Friends who you can send stupid emoji stories to and also get a good kick in the butt from. People that make you better and challenge you to be the person that you want to be.

Instead of dating someone for romantic interests, date your friends, so to speak. Be spontaneous, do not wait to travel, and stay up all night talking. What we are really wanting is for someone to know and accept every single part of us, but for whatever reason, we tend to feel like we cannot do that in a friendship because it will strain it. That is what friends are for! To help each other out with the burdens of life and be that safe place to let it all out. Start by becoming transparent, the right friends will reciprocate and the bond will be inseparable. Suddenly your “need” for a significant other, will become less significant.

2) BAGGAGE is something we all have to a degree, but the problem lies in how much it influences you. Everyone has been banged up along the way and bears scars, but that baggage is not meant for anyone else to carry other than Christ. No human being was meant to deal with the various levels of pain, trauma, and confusion that we all face, accept Jesus Christ. That literally was his purpose, to bear the sins of men as an atonement for our salvation.

Salvation is life without all of those things, so if you are walking with baggage you are not walking in your salvation and freedom. It is no one’s job to make you feel better, that is between you and God. It is a process that has to happen within your heart. Giving up all of the past, hurt, and pain to the one who wants to replace all of that with joy, love, peace, and true freedom in a life reclaimed.

The healthier we become as individuals, the healthier a romantic relationship will be. Sure relationships are meant to bear the burdens of life,  but those burdens are current affairs. Pile on yesterday’s stuff with today’s and both will drown in the sea of tomorrow. You cannot put your hope in one person, no one was meant to be a savior other than Jesus. Check your baggage in with Him and your relational travels will be much easier.

3) DEPENDENCY is different than trust and support. Those who are dependent on another are not independent on their own. These people have not explored themselves enough to know what their passions are, and that is huge. A passionless person is a purposeless person and we were made with a hole only filled by purpose. This looks completely different for everyone and can shift throughout life, but it is essential for you to feel happy, whole, and complete. Without a purpose, we feel restless, and that will quickly frustrate any relationship. On the other side of the spectrum, the thing with your purpose is that once you figure it out, you are locked in. People who jump around from dream to dream, have not found it yet, or have a deep level of internal discontentment that they are trying to compensate for.

Restlessness translates to discontentment and when you are in love with someone it can drive you mad. If you feel like you cannot live without a special someone, because you literally do not know how to live and work without your identity wrapped up in another person, you might be in trouble. Not that you would want to live without your significant other, but I think you get the picture. I have seen this unfold in marriages even as the unfulfilled spouse is on a wild goose chase so it seems. One idea or “dream” after another.

Another symptom of dependency is that you conform to another person's likes and dislikes when in a relationship. If football is an interest, well you become a fanatic of their favorite team. If they do not like your style of music, you start listening to theirs to accommodate your tastes in hopes to be more attractive. You are enough as you are. If someone does not see that, then that person is not the right one for you.

There are plenty of relationships with one or all three of these things, I have witnessed a few. From what I have seen those relationships aren’t terrible necessarily, they just have quite a few rifts and can become easily frustrated. The couples who I have seen, and even experienced relationships with these things, they struggle more than they should or end up failing. The internal collateral from a failed relationship with these issues can be detrimental because identity development is at the core.

You never stop growing, but you have to at least know who you are before you get into a romantic relationship otherwise that development shapes around someone who may or may not stick. Find relationships that will help you explore and discover all God has for you while protecting your heart, it is the only one you have.

Lexie is a graduate and guest trainer of Elevate. She received a BA in Psychology from Lee University and currently resides in Nashville, TN as an active member of The Belonging Co. Church and Marketing Coordinator at Dave Ramsey Solutions. 

Love: Myth or Majesty

The month of love is fast approaching. The vibrant red of heart-shaped boxes and pink Cupids with insipid declarations of love eternal will surround us. Retailers will taunt us with sales on everything from two dozen roses, to diamond pendants, to sports cars; all of which are guaranteed to prove our undying love to our Significant other. Bleh!

That's not love! I want no part of that. Love is not that easily understood. It can't be packaged, bought, or sold. It's anything but cliché, frivolous, or fragile. Showing our love for each other must never be commercialized, or forced. Summarizing it in the exchange of a card or gift will never be possible. No, love is realized in the everyday, long suffering, all-encompassing acceptance it provides the receiver. Love is never the fairy tale because the fairy tale never shows the effort that goes into genuinely loving another.

Happily ever after is possible, for sure, just not the way it’s normally portrayed. That is a myth.  Loving another is easy-peasy in the beginning - when everything is new and exciting. When the object of your affection is still being pursued, and the novelty of their uniqueness hasn’t yet faded into “normalsville,” it feels like you could continue like this forever….. HAPPILY EVER AFTER.

At some point along the path, though, the “new” wears off, and the reality of living and loving another broken human hits. Love becomes tougher, the glitter flakes off in a few places revealing the rawness beneath. It is in these times, that the Majesty of real love begins to show.

You see, true love is for warriors. For people with hutzpah, and grit. It is definitely not for the faint of heart. For true, enduring love costs. At its core, love loves no matter, whether it’s reciprocated or not. It longs to be rewarded with the mutual return of itself, but in the face of that lack, love still exists.

Love flows, and it ebbs. It struggles but always wins. It is real, vibrant, strong and connecting. Love is always sincere, never cunning, never deceitful. Love withstands the storms of life, never withering in the face of adversity, rather it fights courageously to overcome.

Real love is deep and abiding. It always invests in another. Encouraging them, supporting, and walking alongside. It's always action, but not always a feeling. It's never letting go of the value of another. Never giving up, walking out, or caving when it's tough.  It’s humble, kind, and enduring. Loving another means you never envy them, but rather build them up and encourage them any way you can.

Love says you are as valuable as I am, and probably more so, at least in my eyes.  Love serves, never demanding. It heals, rather than wounding. Love sees you, down deep, even when you try to hide. Love is simultaneously safe and scary, but in a good way, because in it you will find true acceptance for who you are right in that moment. And that same love that accepts you also strives to leave you better than it found you.

Love is paradoxical. It is fierce, yet gentle; protective, but freeing. Love is deepened when it releases itself. It never holds another back, but always honors liberty. Which in turn binds us to it all the more, because in it we find freedom. The gracious act of being allowed to be free makes us appreciate the giver of that love, creating within us a deeper desire for them. Some say love is terrifying, but it’s not the love that terrifies, it is the fear that it won’t be found, that we won’t be accepted, or enough, that makes us quake.

This love, though, always believes and is faithful - even amidst faithlessness. It inspires; passionately emboldening one with a fire that cannot be quenched. Love chooses to remain, to sacrifice for the object of itself. It brings life in its richness and leaves the deepest void imaginable, with its absence.

Love never controls!  Never manipulates! Ever true and strong, even with buckling knees, love applauds accomplishments and aspirations, sharing an opinion when asked, while not demanding it be followed. It is warmth, light, life, and hope; love is good and pure.

Love is loving another as much or more than ourselves, in all circumstances. It doesn't celebrate wrongdoing, rather it loves, regardless. Quietly acknowledging the truth of a situation, but choosing the righteous way. It doesn’t disparage or pull down. Love in all of its complexity is truly a simple thing. We just try to complicate it with brokenness and expectations. Love will always put another first, acknowledging - no - celebrating their right to be, and to be loved.  

So, as this season comes upon us, I encourage you to celebrate the love you receive in your life and celebrate the ones you are blessed to love.  Because, after all, true love is the most expensive, the most precious gift, and it should be celebrated 365 days a year!
 

Kathy is a speaker, trainer, mentor, survivor leader and currently serves as Program Director and speaker team member for RBI.

Learning to Love After Trauma

I will always remember the first time Ronan smiled at me. I was 19. It was a star-lit summery night amidst drunkards and party people in a town well-known for the collegiate party experience. After my second pimp (Tate) had abandoned me and left me desolate and starving, I needed someone nice who might have had enough heart to buy me a meal if I gave him my body in return. But there he was. We locked eyes across the party and I became overrun with warmth and desire. I kind of liked him already, but he was out of my league. Ronan could never love me for who and what I had become.

Not an hour later we were lost in each other’s arms. This time felt different, right from the start. He was so easy to be around, so genuine and kind. Eventually, we ended up going back to my place and he spent the night. It was good. And afterward, I talked and he listened as I shared just a snippet of what I had endured, just that one night when my section leader sold me to be raped and tortured by people who had sworn to defend our country and our freedom. I told him about my continued struggle to overcome the trauma and gave him the G-rated version of my issues since. I don’t know why I told him so early into our time together, but it just felt right. There was no pity, no shame. Just empathy. And maybe love? I wasn’t sure, but I felt something more than friendship. He left the next morning.

You see, I had already given up when Ronan came along. So I guess the lesson here is to not get discouraged and remain hopeful that your love will find you. When you find it, you’ll know what to do.

The next day, I was just coming off the lifeguard stand for a break when I received a text asking me to go on a date. What I didn’t know was that I would soon be on the world’s most awkward double date ever. However, we genuinely enjoyed each other’s company from the time he picked me up in his tiny car, to the kiss at the end of the date. Maybe it was because I had never known a romantic partner who was so kind and so wonderful, but I was fast falling head over heels. That was a relief because I was terrified that I was losing my ability to feel anything.

Over the next year, we grew stronger together. It wasn’t always rose gardens and honey buns, though. Some days were harder than others. The triggers fast became overwhelming for both of us. As soon as we thought we had it figured out, the preverbal onion peeled off another layer filled with additional triggers and problems to deal with. I tried going to therapy, but the therapist tried to tell me that I had hallucinated each and every rape I had endured, especially when I revealed the high-profile tricks and the partnerships between celebrated establishments in town and my trafficker. I kept trying because Ronan believed in me. I believed in him when I couldn’t believe in myself. Each time I had to switch therapists, we talked about it together and made decisions together.

Ronan is the one who told me that I should turn my pain into a way of helping others. He knew I had it in me the entire time. He knew that the hurt I endured would serve as a powerful catalyst for brilliance to create a visionary and world changer. For the next two years, he cheered me on and supported my launch of the student movement against sex trafficking at the university we both attended. He supported me and my work to co-launch of a ministry that would eventually exist to serve women who have been trafficked by providing long-term support and sustainable recovery tools. He awakened my ability to trust and renewed my sense of self-worth. We were married in my dream church on June 9th, 2012. That was the day I vowed that if I couldn’t overcome my trauma for myself, I would do it for him. I would do anything for him.

Sex was a battlefield. But it was never awkward to talk to him about it. That was our key. When we did have sex, a majority of the time ended with me becoming an emotional mess, freezing with fear and dissociating back into my state of protection when I was being raped. Ronan respected the triggers and began experimenting to figure out how to bring me back to him quicker. We found that his ring helped, as well as the crystal he bought me on one of our dates. He would press an object into my hand, curling my fingers around it until my body began to relax. Eventually the triggers would only last a few minutes using the grounding techniques and the objects were always nearby. He could always sense my bodily response to a trigger immediately. He would stop, use the object, and ask, “you good?” and wait for my response.

I wish I could draw you a roadmap of suggestions and tools for sustaining a long-term relationship after your ability to trust others has been severely mangled by wretched bear face chinchilla goblins. The map would end up looking ridiculous and there would be treacherous paths and quicksand holes. And probably snakes and spiders. My best advice is that a relationship doesn’t work with only one person doing the work. You can’t expect to find that one person who is going to fix everything and the world’s pile of crap will suddenly begin to smell of daffodils and glory. It takes both people equally raising each other up and embracing true acceptance and critique, when necessary, to promote growth in each other.

Trust is the ultimate goal.

 

K.T. Wings is an advocate for survivors of human trafficking with almost a decade of serving marginalized youth and adults, developing programs, and educating the public on the indicators and red flags of human sex trafficking. K.T. is an artist, a dreamer, and a visionary. She is a respected member of the Human Trafficking Survivor Leader community and continues to empower, provide support to, and collaborate with Survivor Leaders from around the globe. K.T. is renewed through relationships with friends and family, especially her Husband and their two Jack Russell Terriers. K.T. enjoys painting, singing and dancing, and yoga. K.T. has been nationally recognized for her artwork, providing two paintings for the world-renown Pathbreaker Award at the Shared Hope JuST Conference.

All names have been changed to protect the identities of all persons listed.