So the problem I find myself coming up against time and time again is this: how to live with these horrific images and memories which are burned into my brain? I'm clean and sober, this week it is four years.
The images remain.
If I'd hoped that getting clean and sober and working a programme would somehow magically erase that shit I'd be sorely disappointed. Sobriety enabled me to remove myself from that situation, and every day sober adds a little distance timewise from that place. But the phase I'm finding tricky is the next phase: the cleanup operation. An oiled seabird rescued from drowning won't survive if it's simply pulled from the sea and dumped on the beach, covered in toxins, its warmth draining away through soiled feathers. Similarly, simply being out of prostitution, even out and clean and sober, isn't enough for me to survive in any meaningful way unless I can get the toxic crap left behind by years of abuse and being sold out of my system. I've spent the last 4 years trying to work out just how to do that because until I can change this, it's always there, smothering me, threatening to engulf me at times when it's particularly raw.
This is my Achilles' heel.
Just to clarify: sobriety gives me a hell of a lot. Every day I'm grateful to be in recovery, out of physical danger, not revisiting groundhog day with the terror and the shame and the degradation of being an addict in prostitution. One of the many things sobriety does do is give me a chance to try and work this thing out somehow.
The thought of speaking this stuff aloud, naming things, putting words to the images and sharing them with another human being scares me. But the thought of not doing, and continuing with this stuff rattling around me head, affecting everything, is more scary still.
I have come, as they say, to a jumping off place.
It's incredibly difficult to tease out the truth of what's really going on in your life at the present moment when the past intervenes and tangles everything into one big thorny knot. Every interaction, every response, is informed by my past.
I guess I'm struggling to feel connected to 'normal' life, although I go through the motions. I feel anything but. Nothing devastates trust or intimacy, nothing separates one quite so much as the experience of extreme pornography - being made to watch it and perform in it - and violence. When people have trampled all your boundaries, it's hard not to create boundaries everywhere afterwards physical and emotional to stay safe. They're not hurting me again! They can't get in, can't get close. But neither can you get out. You get trapped. You feel a sense of loss and loneliness, knowing what you know. The pictures in your head remind you you where you've been, what people are capable of, where these things lead, these things you see people laughing and joking about, defending everywhere as harmless. Because they can't, won't acknowledge the damage - the damage done by pornography, the damage done by prostitution - they won't acknowledge you. Your experience makes you invisible.
They've changed the language, see? if something's harmless, and it's a woman's right to be able to do it, then it stands to reason there can be no casualties of it. You're a victim of the language game and of a system which denies women their human dignity by silencing the victims of the system, the exploited, and framing in their mouths the justifications of the pimps and pornographers - she likes it, she chose it, she is responsible for it. End of, no exceptions. Women who will say things that support the sex industry are allowed to remain, courted by the mainstream, paid to tell their 'saucy' stories in women's magazines and in chatshows.
Women who tell a different story are outcasts. Not only have you been abused but you're told that you weren't, that what happened is ok, merely adult entertainment. I have to tell you, being used and abused as entertainment is inhumane.
People who say 'just get over it' are uttering a curse. I want to scream 'how, exactly?' at them but I don't because often these people just mean shut the fuck up up get on with your life which I do: I am clean and I am sober and I get on with my life. The fact that I am suicidal because of this stuff and struggle with PTSD on a daily basis is a matter of supreme indifference to them as long as everything looks good from the outside.
I refuse to shut the fuck up though.
For me, the images remain, the memories remain, reappearing in dreams, and when triggered in everyday life, often with little warning. Healing requires gentleness and the possibility that when you or I speak our story, it may be believed. Currently our society simply doesn't offer that to the survivor of the sex industry.