If you know me, you know that one of the things I say quite frequently about getting sober and starting to heal is that I had a number of women in my life who ‘taught me how to live again.’ The reason I want to talk a little bit about the strong women I’ve been so blessed to have in my life, is because this past week the world lost a huge woman rights activist- Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Now, I didn’t know her personally by any means, but she fought so hard for so many women. She was co-founder of the Woman’s Rights Project at the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) in the United States, the second-ever female US Supreme Court justice, fought for equality against gender-based discrimination and ensured that laws were passed making it impossible for women to lose their jobs due to pregnancy. She was a feminist icon and role model. The world will be a different place without her activism.
When I was younger, I never really had any solid role models to look up to. I had teachers and other adults in my life, but I had a hard time connecting with people or identifying what or who I wanted to be like when I got older. When I ended up on the streets and started getting trafficked, finding someone to look up to was the last thing on my mind. I would see women around, probably going to work, out in the city, living their lives- and I found it absolutely mind-blowing. I remember thinking that no one was actually sober, safe or enjoying life. I thought they were all just acting like they had their lives together, but on the inside, they felt just as dead as me- something which I have come to learn is untrue. The women I met on the street weren’t kind. They were hurt just like I was. There were one or two who tried to look out for me whenever they saw me, but they’re definition of trying to be a good support was showing me how to shoot heroin into my forehead. Not the best, but they were doing the best they could. We all were.
I was never taught how to live properly, manage my days, function like an adult, have emotions, hope or be a good person. The only things that I knew how to do were use drugs and get high, manipulate to get what (I thought) I wanted, be quiet when I had to, stay still when I had to, and other survival skills that go along with being trafficked. I didn’t know how to live life without drugs or being involved in an absolutely chaotic lifestyle, but I also knew that I couldn’t keep living the way I was living. Either I was going to get killed, or I would kill myself- whether on purpose or by accident. This left me in quite the predicament, a predicament in which I was entirely alone.
When I got sober, both in 2016 and this time, this changed. Like a lot of girls on the street, I didn’t get along with other women or girls- but something happens when you make a decision to heal, the people you start to surround yourself with change. Now I’m not saying that my journey was the same as everyone’s, but I was so blessed to find a number of women over the past several years who have absolutely changed my life. These women are absolute forces of nature and refused to let me fall through the cracks. They saw something in me that neither myself nor the rest of society saw, and they refused to give up on me. They taught me that I am a sober woman of value and worth and they showed me how to live with dignity and grace.
I have women in my life who have been through their own life challenges and circumstances and who have refused to be broken by it. They have taught me that I am worth more than how the world has treated me, and far more than how those who have hurt me in the past have priced me. They have helped take care of me at some of the worst times of my life and some of them have been able to keep me safe when no one else could. From my traffickers, drug dealers, and from myself. They taught me what unconditional love was and showed me how to come back from the darkest places I didn’t know existed (and when I say ‘unconditional’ I mean it, there were some pretty wild times). They taught me how to live. How to get up in the morning and have structure in my day that didn’t involve using drugs or getting hurt. I was taught how to have values and uphold them. I was shown how to be honest, how to have integrity, be kind and compassionate, fair, loyal and brave. I was shown the possibilities of a future and how my life no longer was held in the hands of people who didn’t care about me. They have done so much for me and all they have ever asked for in return is that I take care of myself, try my best and pay it forward when I can.
I’ve never had a good relationship with my family, but some of the women in my life have become just that. Family. I now have strong women to look up to. Women that, if I could turn out to be half the kind of person they are, I would’ve turned out okay. There are so many things I wish I could tell these women, but so many times it feels like words aren’t enough and I wonder if they even know the kind of impact they’ve had on my life.
If there is something that I could tell all the women who’ve come before me, I would want to say thank you. Thank you for your courage for getting up each day and dealing with life on life’s’ terms- despite everything that is going on- and still being an absolutely fierce role model for so many people. Thank you for everything you have done and continue to do for me. I am who I am today because of you and you inspire me every day to become better. I am still working on myself, but I have come so far from where I first started- and am getting better every day. I have so many goals for the future and want more than anything to be able to help people the way that you have helped me. Thank you for helping me change my life and get out of the situation I was in. Thank you for keeping me safe, time after time, and for giving me the space to learn to be strong. You taught me what hope was and how to have faith. Thank you for believing in me until I could believe in myself. Thank you for showing me how to be happy and reminding me that there is still so much good in the world. Thank you for showing me how to take care of myself and helping me grow to a point where now I’m able to be a role model for other young women- something that I never thought would be possible. Thank you for showing me that vulnerability is a strength and that it’s okay to cry. Thank you for (literally) holding my hand when I needed it and telling me that everything is okay. Thank you for teaching me that nothing is impossible and that I am capable of anything. Thank you for teaching me that it only takes one person to change the world and that I can be that person.