Have you ever noticed that society frowns upon telling your story? Your real story? Especially if it’s full of pain and bad choices...
If it’s not polite dinner conversation or professional scuttlebutt, we’re not really supposed to share. So it stays stuffed inside, whispering in your ear every moment.
On top of that there’s this urge to protect yourself from judgement or pity. To present an outward shell. So even if you had someone close enough to share with, there’s this massive resistance to open up.
But all that just gives the pain more power. Burns it deeper into your subconscious. And it sure doesn’t do a damn thing about the destructive behaviors that unaddressed trauma can lead to.
Recovering from trauma starts with telling your story
I stand here as a testament to how powerful it can be to find the courage to tell your story, out loud, and face your experiences head-on as part of the healing process.
It took me a long time. I didn’t want to examine those parts of myself. Or burden anyone with the horrors. But that just meant my pain had nowhere to go except right into my bloodstream, controlling my every move and adding more terrible experiences to a very long list.
What a relief it was to finally start telling my story. To finally unravel all the horrors so I can make room for new exploration of this imperfect and rare person that is me.
Nowadays I take inspiration and solace from the tagline of Erin Mahone’s If You Could See Me Project: “It’s not my job to stay quiet so you can stay comfortable.”
And let me tell you how transformative that mindset has been.
Classic nightmare come true
When I was 13 years old, my best friend’s older brother was a drug dealer who ran with a pretty bad crowd.
He started sexually abusing us, and eventually got his friends involved, and they decided to expand their enterprise to sell drugs—and us.
Before long we were being trafficked for sex along with 15 other women. Sometimes we’d be all together. Sometimes separated into small groups. They’d feed us pills to keep us calm and submissive.
We had to stay in school to avoid suspicion, acting like we were living a normal life. Sometimes that meant wearing longsleeves or sunglasses indoors so no one would notice the marks. Sometimes we’d be gone for a month—after telling my parents I was staying with a friend. I know my parents cared about me but they weren’t present enough to notice anything unusual going on.
These traffickers are very good at what they do.
By that point I knew the drugs they were giving us. Heroin, benzos, xanax. Numbing us to the parade of motels, houses, alleys, cars, and old brick warehouses they took us to. Numbing us to the experience of watching women we knew go into those places and never come out.
That was my life for almost 5 years.
Then one day I was in my car driving to a job on this narrow road, when some random dually pickup truck appeared barreling toward me, taking up the whole road. I veered into the ditch and my car rolled 9 times.
I broke so many bones I was in MCV hospital for 2 months. And it was a year before I could walk again. During that time I was of no use to the traffickers, so they left me alone. And after that, I was too old for them to be interested.
I’d just turned 18.
Some reckless driving asshole nearly killed me and it basically saved my life.
Darkest before the dawn
After the crash, I didn’t have any friends and no mental health support. No one in my life thought to suggest that I seek counseling or therapy for the traumatic car accident. So I just simmered in that aftermath for a couple years.
And no one in my life knew what I’d been going through before that.
I was on my own, filled to the brim with resentment, anger, vindictiveness. My mental health a mess. Wracked with nightmares, guilt, anxiety. I wanted to die.
So once I could walk again and get out on my own, I began my downward spiral.
I didn’t want to kill myself, but I wanted someone to kill me. I would put myself in dangerous predicaments with random men, hoping that I would die—like so many of the women I’d known. I’d go home with 2 or 3 guys, or get wasted at some random party in the woods, making myself available for any willing candidate who might do the job for me.
Meanwhile the pain and anguish stayed bottled up, building pressure.
I was on a short road to ruin.
The first step: accepting you can’t do it alone
Someone somewhere along the way mentioned a group called Sexaholics Anonymous (SA). I called them up and talked for a while. Then I met someone from the group and attended a meeting.
And I never left.
The support group changed my life. It gave me a safe place to tell my story. To release the negative pressure crushing me within. To hear other people’s stories and find common ground.
I made new friends and saw the humanity and the pain of people suffering from sex addiction in various forms. And I saw another side of the registered sex offenders in the group. One of them became my best friend.
These were men who’d lost wives or jobs, who’d maybe done time in prison or were in danger of going there soon. These weren’t spiteful, violent, evil men. They were people in pain who were driven by compulsions they couldn’t control. They didn’t want to be like that. They wanted to fight it.
They were willing to give up anything to change.
My insights in SA inspired me to go to school to become a forensic psychologist, so I could testify in court about the psychology of sex offenders. I wanted to be an expert who was not just educated in the science—but who personally understood their pain.
After so long on my own, it was such a relief to share the burden with these people who knew how deep pain can lead to destructive behaviors, whether you intend it or not. It was such a relief to accept that I needed help.
Step 2: seeking professional help
Through SA and the trauma therapy that the members suggested I start (it’s never too late!) I finally managed to begin my healing process.
Therapy helped me open up and expose parts of myself that had been hidden for years, just festering in my memory and haunting my subconscious. Ongoing trauma work with my therapist helped me understand the psychological scars from the horrible sexual traumas I experienced day after day for years. And it’s helped me begin to cope with the disappearance of all those women I once knew.
Trauma therapy is an ongoing process. It can be painful and difficult. It can be overwhelming and staggering. You’ll have good days and bad days. You’ll feel like you’re climbing mountains with no rope and crossing deserts with no water. And no matter how much you practice your coping skills, you’re going to be triggered and you’re going to face internal crises.
Trust me. I know this from experience.
But I also know that with enough time, intention, and practice, you can trim down those bad days. The more of your story you tell and untangle, the more internal space you free up for personal growth.
Trust me when I say that a more positive future is possible.
Telling your story as a trauma coping skill
The freedom I began to feel after sharing my story with people who felt empowered by it, helped by it, connected to me through it—awakened something vibrant in me that had been dormant for a very long time.
Slowly but surely I began to regain a sense that life was worth living. That my story was bleak and dark, but it wasn’t over. That anxiety, depression, and hypervigilance aren’t permanent conditions—but can be redirected through practicing things like mindfulness, sensory grounding, and cognitive reframing.
My experience with the power of trauma-informed therapy inspired me to again go back to school, to become a trauma counselor specializing in helping sex offenders one-on-one—who often suffer from their own trauma and complex PTSD. And who often have a hard time finding mental health professionals willing to work with sex offenders.
Coping with serious trauma starts with sharing your story. A trained counselor or therapist can help by asking encouraging questions and prompting deeper reflection—in a safe, judgement-free setting dedicated to helping you tell your painful story and start to grow into your next chapter.
Are you ready to accept that you need help?