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What is love?

Where do I begin? How can I begin to define something when I’ve never really witnessed it myself? We live in a world that is filled with societal impositions and expectations. Love is portrayed in movies as this miraculous thing that takes your breath away, sweeps you off your feet, and gives you butterflies in your stomach. If your love is less than that, is it really even love at all? What is normal? When the media is full of only the exaggerated good in peoples false lives, how do you differentiate the real from the fake when you encounter it? It’s almost impossible to define something when you have no examples. The media ruins the word love, they use it as a marketing tactic, they plaster it on billboards, in magazines.

I thought I found love a few times. I had never been taught what a “healthy” relationship was. My parents fought a lot in my childhood and adolescence. Loads of screaming and yelling and smashing things. We moved so much it became normal to me, just picking up our stuff and relocating whenever things went wrong. So when I met this guy who was always travelling, I thought nothing of it. I thought nothing of it when we screamed at each other and argued and went through highs and lows in our relationship because my parents had done the same. I got introduced to strip clubs at 17 years old and I loved them. It was exhilarating to me to be somewhere I wasn’t supposed to be. I was such a good child when I was younger, always reaching for perfection, getting straight A’s in school… so when I became a teenager I longed for excitement. I was bored with being good all the time.

Stripping turned into escorting, and all my money went to this guy, who I thought I was in love with, and who I thought loved me. I don’t even know how I started giving him all of my money, it just happened so naturally. That’s the scary thing about traffickers – they’re so good at getting inside your head, they’re amazing at making you think something is your idea when all along it was theirs. It took three years and so much abuse for me to finally realize I didn’t want to be there. He stomped on my face countless times, left scars all over my body, and finally I had had enough. He knew I wanted to leave but he wouldn’t let me. He held onto my passport, social insurance card, bank card, health card, everything. He, of course, had all the money. He wouldn’t even let me go for a walk by myself for fear of me leaving him. Eventually, I booked it out the door wearing no shoes and no jacket in the middle of winter and managed to get away… but my story doesn’t stop there.

Almost a year later, I met another man. Revictimization is so common among survivors because we bury our trauma and don’t deal with it so we end up falling for it again. This man was kind and loving toward me, he bought me makeup and complimented me frequently. He always wanted cuddles and hugs and love. I never expected him to turn out to be just like the last, but there are different types of pimps. Nobody tells you this. Nobody tells you the gorilla pimp will beat you and the Romeo pimp will win you over with affection. How was I to know? I fell into this mans trap because I just wanted to be loved. After three years of abuse with the last one though, I was more aware this time around. I only gave him part of my money and held onto some for myself. I had my own apartment and refused to just give my apartment up and live with him (that’s how the last one had trapped me). After only 5 months but what seemed like an eternity of emotional manipulation and gaslighting, I managed to get away from this man, too.

Here’s the thing though… it doesn’t end there. It actually only begins there. Getting away from the trafficker is the start to a long and exhausting journey, one that seems like it is never going to end when you’re in the midst of it. By this point in my life, I was addicted to alcohol, marijuana, and percocets, and dabbled in other drugs occasionally. I smoked weed and drank liquor from the time I woke up to the time I went to sleep, I barely ate due to depression, and alcohol and drugs were basically my only coping mechanisms at the time. I bounced from shelter to shelter to friends houses to my parents’ apartments, but my drug and alcohol dependency became problematic and caused many arguments with my family and friends. My mum fought to find a recovery program for me and she thought she’d found one when I ended up tased in the neck by police because the program was understaffed and not trauma-informed. Come to find out it was actually only a transitional housing program. What I needed was so much deeper than housing.

I ended up on a waiting list for a program in British Columbia, when suddenly a bed became available at SafeHope Home. It wasn’t even a choice I had to make. All of my family and friends were in Ontario, I didn’t want to be in a different province entirely and never be able to see them. I was so grateful a bed opened up closer to home. With Toronto being such a major hub of human trafficking, you’d think there would be more recovery programs in Ontario for survivors. Unfortunately, this is not the case. There are very few beds available in Ontario for survivors. I was gifted with one of these beds.

SafeHope Home is literally heaven-sent. To describe what they’ve done for me would take all of the words in all of the human languages. The way this program views every individual who comes into the program as just that – individuals, it’s amazing. No other program does that, they just see you as a number. SafeHope sees us as people. They have built my confidence and happiness from such a dismal place that seemed like it was all I had in me. I thought I was a lost cause. Now I know what I’m worth. The process was tiresome and sometimes almost too much to handle, but I did it, with the support from the staff and all the girls in the house too. But that’s for another post.

My life should be made into a movie. The trials and tribulations we go through as survivors would be enough to kill any person’s hope or faith, but certain ones come out the other side better, stronger, and wiser because of our past. The problem is so many women are left without a recovery program. There needs to be more SafeHope Homes. This program changed my life, and I am forever grateful.

Until next time. x.


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