GIFTS OF HOPE
BY: JENNIFER HARDY, CMPS
Peer Support Coordinator
Hope is defined as "to want something to happen or be true and think that it could happen or be true" or "to cherish an idea with anticipation". It's crucial for someone in the grips of commercial sexual exploitation and addiction to be able to have hope- being somehow able to foresee a different future gives a person strength to fight for it and take steps toward it.
There was a time when I didn't have hope. I believed I had crossed some sacred line and that I was beyond the reach of forgiveness. I had resigned myself to the beliefs that "this is who I am," "this is all I am good at," and "I will never be able to do anything 'normal' ". I felt trapped in my life. I didn't see any way that I would be able to provide for myself or my kids other than continuing on in the things I hated so much. It was a desperate cycle of hating it, doing it, hating myself, self-medicating, and pretending all was well; exhausting to the extreme.
For me, the first light of hope came in the form of a friend. She was the first real friend I had in a very long time. She showed me genuine interest and concern when others had not. She was visibly sad to see what I was going through. She said, "I won't watch you do this to yourself any longer. If we are to remain friends I want you to quit this, move home with your parents, and, when we are able, I will help you build a life." It took a lot to trust in her support, but she meant it.
And that is exactly what happened. That was the first time in my life I had a friend care enough to offer to walk beside me through the changes. The foundation of trust was built when she followed through with what she had promised and this gave me space to see possibilities ahead. She ignited in me a spark of hope. I learned to take a risk and try something different. I learned that I was not only capable of working a "normal" job, but I was pretty good at it! I learned how to make a tiny bit of money at a time and save it. Most importantly, I learned that I could be loved for who I was and not for what I had to give.
A second light of hope came when I saw that it might be possible for me to live sober. Although I was no longer working in the clubs, my chemical addiction was still alive and growing. About a year after leaving the clubs, I had a coworker-someone who barely knew me at the time-tell me that she thought I may be an alcoholic. She shared that she also was an alcoholic and that she knew a better way to live. I wasn't ready to hear it yet, and we lost touch, but she planted a seed of hope that returned a harvest a few years later when I began really losing the things I had worked "real" jobs to attain. I couldn't manage money right anymore because I was spending too much of it on booze. I couldn't even go to work without a drink. I thought heavily about returning to the clubs. I was physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually sick every single day.
I came to a point where there was nothing left to do but return to my old "life" or ask for help with my addiction. Thankfully, I chose the latter and God returned this former coworker to my life. I was eager to learn from her because I knew she had been in my shoes. It made all the difference. She helped me work through the hurts and pain of my past and present circumstances. She taught me some tools to cope with life on life's terms and how to live in community with others in recovery instead of in isolation. Through the program, I was renewed in the deepest hope of all, my faith in God as I now understood Him.
Hope is found when we realize someone really cares about us, when someone notices how bad it is and really listens, when we realize we are not alone and the hate we are feeling is overcome by love; Hope is found when we are able to hear our own voice say, "No more! I have fought so hard to survive - I will not give up now! There is beauty in me!"
Hope continued for me as sober days began to build up, one day at a time. I developed some helpful coping skills and a positive way of thinking. When an old way of thinking begins to creep into my head and put me down I have learned to "catch it, check it (against reality), change it (to a positive truth)." And it works!
Today I feel explosive hope every time I am able to share my story with someone who is struggling. When I can tell them, "If it happened for me, it can definitely happen for you!" When I can look them in the eye and say this and mean it with all of my heart, I know some part of them hears this when they are looking back at me. Today, my hope comes from being able to show one person at a time how much infinitely better living is over here. On the days I began to doubt just how beautiful this life is, I can look back and really remember where I was and how I felt and the way I used to think. WOW. A normal day today is simply amazing! In this new year, this time of change, I pray people everywhere will come to find this beautiful hope that I have been so richly blessed with. I pray that we will each one learn to enjoy the moments of our days. I "cherish these ideas with anticipation." I hope.