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…
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.