The weekend, no this whole week, has been AMAZING!! I have been so beyond blessed, and my life is so fulfilled I am absolutely overwhelmed with the wealth of knowledge and information and events I’ve experienced these last two weekends. Last weekend we [Sold No More] finally got to Walk4Freedom, and it was a phenomenal success. Over $30,000 raised, which is going towards prevention awareness and victim resources, and I am so proud! Becoming a volunteer for Sold No More has been a blessing, and my pride is beyond words!
This weekend I flew to DC for Shared Hope International’s Sharing the Hope Conference, and it was AMAZING!! I am overwhelmed with everything I experienced while there. I boarded a plane in Tucson Thursday morning, headed to Houston and caught a connecting flight to DC. I was greeted at the airport by my lovely grandmother, aunt and cousin, who all warmed my heart. I joined them and many others at my aunt’s house for dinner and conversation. My Aunt Paula, my father’s sister, and my absolute favorite person on this earth joined us, and so many of my cousins and aunts and uncles. I felt truly blessed to get that evening with them. It makes me truly excited about the future and getting to move back to the east coast and be closer to everyone I love.
After dinner I went back to my hotel room, unpacked, and got to sleep (what little I could get with all the excitement I was feeling). The next two days were filled with class after class, all filled an abundance of information and tools to use towards working with victims, how law enforcement handles cases, screening for victims, the brain process of victims, programs available to victims all over the country, and so much more!! There was a Gala event, which was a ton of fun, and a great opportunity to dress up and feel pretty, which let’s face it, as the mother of toddlers, I don’t get that opportunity often. More than anything, I loved being home in DC. The air was cold and crisp, the leaves were beautiful, and the city was amazing. I was initially worried being there would cause triggers, that I’d freak out, but it didn’t happen. I was just so happy and thankful to be there, it was impossible not to enjoy every detail.
There were so many talks and presentations, mostly informational, but there were a few truly inspirational speakers, and they really hit the tender spot in me, and have had me continuously thinking about what they said since. One of the many things I took away from this was a new perspective on my status as a “survivor”. There was a speech given by an amazing and inspirational and strong woman, and during her amazing speech, she said something that rang so true, I can’t get it out of my head. She said something along the lines of: too often, survivors are called survivors, and yet, that gives some idea that as survivor, all we’re doing is walking through life, “surviving”. Instead, she said, we’re champions. Overcoming, being proactive, that’s how we become Champions, and move past just surviving. It made so much sense to me, because in that moment, I thought to myself “does Survivor not sound like “survivor-mode”??” And it does!! It really sounds like,” you were a victim, who was in survivor mode, and now you’re a survivor, and you’ll always be in survivor mode.” If that’s what a survivor is, I don’t want to be one. I want to be proactive, I want to be working my ass off, I NEED to be working, not even with victims necessarily, but at least working towards programs and projects to put towards rescuing and providing services! The AWARE program is the perfect place to start.
I sat on the plane, on the way to Phoenix with the amazing people I’m so fortunate to work for at Sold No More, and we collaborated and planned and mapped out the beginning foundation to several projects and ideas, and my heart was full. I felt so empowered, and so happy to just be doing something! The inspiration we all walked away with this weekend was like walking away from a candy shop with the best candy in the world.
I also walked away from this experience with a few epiphanies, and even a little negativity to be honest. My two epiphanies are this:
As a “survivor”, I am consistently praised in….surviving! And typically, I soak that in, count my blessings, accept the love and praise, and gracefully accept the benefits afforded to me. And I always try and do so humbly, even when I’m SUPER excited. But this weekend, a thought occurred to me. I thought to myself…”If there are, on average, 300,000 children trafficked each year, and adults having a statistic I’m unaware of…that means there are at least 300,000 survivors each year as well. Maybe less, because the ugly and horrid truth is that some don’t live to become survivors. If that is the case, then I am 3.3% of the survivors of domestic minor sex trafficking in this country, just this year.” To me, this is a powerful thought, and one that not only humbles me further, but leads me to wonder…why do I feel so as though I’m entitled to ANYTHING?? I survived a horrific event; I went through some dark shit. But am I really, truly entitled to anything beyond the recognition of that and the support to raise awareness and work towards advocating or rescuing, or any other route I decide to take in my journey?? Or am I feeling guilty? And I do, I feel guilt constantly. I listen to or read other survivor’s stories and think “What the hell am I doing? What I’ve seen and done and experienced…it doesn’t even touch this shit! They were practically gutted of their souls.” I in no way have any intention of minimalizing a survivor’s experiences; I just feel that for me, this puts things into a humbling perspective.
My second epiphany, ran along the lines of religion. I’ve struggled with my faith for longer than I haven’t. It’s been a struggle since before my daddy died, and the last 4-5 years, I’ve desired to find it again. I beat myself up about this though, because I figure that if I’m not actively pursuing a relationship with Jesus, then I must not want it that badly. Recently however, it occurred to me that I was left with a bad taste in my mouth in my religious experiences. I grew up with the idea that religion, church, fellow members of church… it’s a family experience. I come from a good sized LDS family, all very tight, all very loving and accepting, and quite eccentric as LDS go. We were all (they still are) part of a good sized ward, loved everyone, was close to everyone. Even to this day, after not having attended church in over 12 years, there are STILL church members I am friends with on Facebook who consistently leave me beautiful comments and show me amazing support. And there’s nothing odd about that at all! I consider them family just as I do my aunts and uncles and cousins. These people have known me from birth, and continuing to know them from afar via Facebook is a true blessing. Unfortunately… none of this could prevent me from leaving the church, and doing so with hurt in my heart. Two events happened, and they are what ultimately led me astray from my faith. The first was being being approached by an adult man, at a church function, after I had found an empty room to sit and play on the piano. He approached me, and then he asked me to sit on his lap. I felt extremely uncomfortable at that moment, but fled after he asked me to kiss him. I was 10 years old. I’ve always blamed myself for the experience, because even as a young child, I consistently looked to gain attention from grown men. Looking back, I honestly don’t know why. I had a conversation about this very subject earlier today with my best friend here, and I couldn’t come up with a definitive answer. But I do look back at that experience, and I know in my heart that what that man did was so so wrong, and what he did was molestation. I’ve never talked about that experience, and I’ve chosen to allow it to slip to the back of my mind and be forgotten. One of the downsides of intense therapy however, it drudging up the past even if it hurts.
The second event was after “losing” my virginity. After the fact, and after moving in with my relatives, I went to my Bishop and told him what had happened, with the intention of repenting. At that point, I took full responsibility for the event because I believed I’d made a choice, knowing the consequences, and I should repent for the sin. Having been baptized at eight years old, I was told, as was every other LDS child, that at eight, you are responsible, and you know right and wrong. So I believed I’d been wrong. In reality, what happened, happened TO a 12 year old child who didn’t even understand sex. A 12 year old child who was pressured into doing something that she didn’t understand, that hurt her, and that would inevitably change her life. But here I was, 12 years old, repenting for a sin that I didn’t understand. I had spent the summer before this experience in the Bishop’s office in and out of Planned Parenthood getting pregnancy tests because I was terrified I was pregnant, and I couldn’t know that I wasn’t because I hadn’t even begun a period before my virginity was so harshly stolen from me. I was a child, repenting for an adult sin, and I didn’t know at that time that it would damage me so harshly.
So, now to the epiphany. I’ve been searching for my faith for years now, half-assly I might remind you. And recently, I believe, I’ve begun to find it again. And one might joke that “prostitutes” like to find Jesus after they’ve come out of the life. And this “joke” is one that is built on inappropriate humor and ignorance. There are an abundance of survivors who find love in Christ, and I believe I may understand why. It occurs to me that many people struggle with faith, some are so harshly against it they spend their entire lives debunking Christianity and bashing it at every opportunity. And I think they’re scared, or hurt. Has it ever occurred to anyone, it certainly didn’t occur to me until recently, but has it ever occurred to someone who so casually jokes about this particular subject, that if a Survivor of something so awful and horrific can find love in Christ, that the rest of the population has no excuse? Now, don’t begin attacking me, this may sound like I’m harshly judging non-Christians, but I’m not. I’m simply pointing out that, if a Survivor, who has seen the ugliest and most disgusting form of human kind can find their own faith, in something that seemed so far away from that in that moment of their lives, can’t everyone find faith?? Maybe not in Christ, maybe in Buddha, or Islam, or Judaism, or Paganism. If anyone who has been so disgustingly subjected to worst of mankind, and then finds faith in their maker(s), can’t anyone?!? I think the answer could be Yes. I think that this is not about me finding Faith or anyone else really, but can we stop letting “Hookers” be the butt of the joke? Maybe I’m not finding the right words to make my point, or get the thought out of my head and onto the screen. And maybe I’ll offend some with this thought, but there it is.
The last thing I’d like to share about this amazing experience is the true experience I felt. What was truly going through me in the few days I stood in the presence of some of the most amazing and inspiring people not only within the anti-sex trafficking movement, but in possibly the whole world. What I felt was alone. As a survivor, I felt like an outsider. I felt insecure, and I felt scared. As immensely as I enjoyed myself, I felt as though I stood there, and I didn’t know a soul. And this doesn’t include my Sold No More peeps, this doesn’t include my favorite detective in the whole world, or even the Survivor I was so fortunate enough to share a hotel room with and get to know in the wee hours of the morning the first morning of the conference. It was all the other survivors. And it was at no fault of theirs. It was truly my own. I felt alone because I was surrounded by a group of amazing and honest women. They were strong, and they were proactive. Each and every one of them was valuable and beautiful, and all had experienced something just fucking awful. I felt alone because they all knew one another; they all seemed to connect immediately. Some had been connected to others for years, and some seemed to be newcomers such as myself. But I stood to the back, and watched intently, scared shitless. I didn’t know how to talk to them, I didn’t know how to connect. They all seemed to be making massive strides in their own endeavors towards abolishing sex trafficking, and I could think was “Well…I have the blog…and the articles…and I have an awesome volunteer opportunity, but these women are fucking amazing, and I feel so small right now.” And as I said, MY OWN DAMN FAULT. I was terrified, I was intimidated, and I allowed my fear to keep me from making connections and networking and getting to know this amazing group. Some of them have been on my Facebook for some time, but I’ve never spoken to them. I don’t why I’m scared, or worried I won’t be well accepted, and maybe I’m just paranoid, but it sucks. I walked away from this experience lacking the right amount of what I should have gotten out of it. I can only pray I get another shot next year, and have the opportunity to try again. I’ll pull up my big girl panties, and I’ll march up to the group of them and say “Hi, my name is Liz, and I plan to know each and every damn one of you before the next 2 days are over!” Pray for me!!
Ok, LAST thing, I promise!! Ready for it?!?! MY ARTICLE IN GLAMOUR HIT THE PRINT!!!!!!! I am so beyond thrilled!! It was a major article, written by an amazing journalist, and one paragraph is more than I could have ever imagined!! I’m in fucking Glamour Magazine!!!! Full circle, truly, full circle.