Dear Trauma, I Refuse

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I don’t know how to write this. This is my third restart. I have softly wanted and vehemently not wanted to write this down for years. I still don’t think I have it in me to write the entire story because it’s emotionally exhausting and I could be harassed at best or sued at worst – and I’ve got dreams that flat out don’t have time for that shit. So I’ll start here. I’ll paint some pictures. I’ll give the trigger warning. I’ll tell as much truth as I can.

I worked in the porn industry for 6 years.

No. I didn’t f*ck on film. I came along side the women who did and the men who couldn’t get enough of it. But I was dubbed an “honorary ex porn star” by my companions because I guess I looked the part. That’s what they told me anyway. Tiny, pretty, and much younger looking than I really was. That’s what sells.

The first porn convention I ever went to was in Las Vegas in 2009. I was 25. I’d just graduated college 3 years earlier, just started following the teachings of Jesus 6 years earlier, and just left my first abusive relationship that primed me for the work 7 years earlier.

We’ll start with him.

He was my first boyfriend. My first kiss. My first porn addict. My first taste of trauma as an 18 year old “woman.” He treated me like the women he saw on his computer screen. It got graphic. The only thing that kept me somewhat “safe” was that he wasn’t willing to go all the way because of his religion and the 2 year mission he was required to go on by the Mormon church.

I’d found my own path to the Christ a month after we broke up, grew in my faith – and in wanting to understand what the hell I had just lived through – and eventually had two choices ahead of me upon graduation. I could either move to NYC and pursue a gig writing at a major magazine (a dream come true) or become a missionary.

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I became a missionary.

Though I believe it was ultimately for beautiful, divine, purposeful reasons, this was my first choice to say no to my dreams.

After raising my own salary for 9 months before I could report to my field, I moved over 600 miles from home to work for a creative arts nonprofit that worked with college students. In my 2 years there, I booked bands, secured housing for their tours, worked with venue hosts, sang, played guitar, and toured in a student band, wrote for the marketing department, mentored college women, and tour managed.

I took mandatory classes on conflict resolution, intentional communication, and speaking from stage. I went to church. I lived, worked, and played with other missionaries 24/7. I was poured into by older staff members every single day.

When that chapter ended and I stepped foot onto the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo floor in Vegas for the very first time, the bubble I stepped out of burst in a bigger way than I was ever prepared for.

But I was thrilled. I wanted to be there. I loved it. I craved it. I later learned in therapy that my desire to jump head first into the trauma of my work was my own extended trauma reaction to attempt to retake control over what I lived through in my first relationship – much in the same way many women who survive rape make sexually destructive choices after the fact to try to regain some semblance of power and personhood that was taken from them during the assault. It’s all extremely psychological and subconscious and it’s all extremely real.

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The very first time I ever saw someone who was demonically possessed was at this first porn show in Vegas. It wasn’t just some-ONE. It was a family. A father, mother, and son had come to the convention together. I was behind the booth when I saw them. They had their backs to me.

I stepped out from behind the booth and approached the mother. She must have felt me coming because as I did, she slowly turned around to face me.

She looked like a bloated, walking corpse.

Under her makeup, her face was a shade of grey I’d never seen on a living human being before. Her eyes were sunken, creamy, and expressionless. She said nothing. Her husband and son slowly turned around after she did and they looked exactly the same.

I began talking to her despite feeling jarred inside, explaining that my team and I were there to educate the fans about what goes on behind the scenes in the industry and be there as a support for the women and men in the industry when they wanted to leave.

And then I said the name Jesus.

I brought Jesus into nearly every conversation at the 15+ conventions and thousands of conversations I’ve had on the porn show floors over the years because that’s why we were there. Most of the time, the mention was a sidebar to let whoever I was talking to know that I am a Christian and was there to shower love upon love onto anyone who wanted it and even pray on the spot if they needed it. The majority of the conversations were about porn and their personal lives.

But when I said his name this time, long before I had the experience of the countless shows that were to come under my belt, it was as if she’d sensed it coming. The second his name left my lips, she had already started to turn away. But her eyes stayed locked on mine as she turned – empty, and yet somehow challenging.

Her turn was so slow. I didn’t know what was happening at first. I was just running through the first part of my spiel like normal. Her husband and son turned just as slowly and shuffled away. Not one of them had said a word. I was much too green to understand what had just happened and what I’d just come face to face with. All I knew is that I felt extraordinarily unsettled.

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There was another time in Vegas where a girl in porn came up to our booth and ducked behind it immediately. She crouched on the floor with us, tugging on her mini dress in an attempt to make it longer and cover herself more, talked so quickly and quietly we could barely make sense of it over the blaring music, and told us she wanted out but couldn’t let anyone see her talking to us.

If her handler saw her, she’d be in deep shit. We invited her to our hotel room the next morning before the convention to talk in a safe place, but had no idea if she’d show up because she was so afraid.

She did show up.

I sat in a hotel room with her for 3 hours listening to her speed talk through how terrified she was even though she had her tough girl swag down to a damn science. She hooked and shot porn and wanted out. She had a gun in her purse because she didn’t know who she could trust. At the time, I remember silently praying she’d trust us – because we didn’t know if we could trust her either.

At one point, I got down on my knees in front of her as she sat on the edge of the bed crying and asked her if we could pray over her. I made myself physically smaller than her because I wanted her to feel bigger than someone else for the first time in her life and know that she was safe.

I’m getting emotional now as I write this. I remember thinking that no matter what, the love of God was bigger, badder, stronger, and sharper than any trick, agent, producer, or industry. And it sure as shit was more of a threat than any damn piece of cold grey metal.

I put one hand on her knee, held her other hand, cried, and prayed. I’m crying now. She wept. She said no one had ever done that for her before. She hugged us. She left with a little light in her eyes that hadn’t been there when she first showed up.

Her first name meant “manifestation of God.”

She never left the industry.

Most don’t.

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At the end of the night of another show, I was alone at the booth. A girl I didn’t know staggered up to me, obviously wasted, and told me she wanted a picture with me in front of our sign that said, “Where addicts find healing and porn stars find hope.”

She was much taller than me naturally, but was also wearing impossibly high heels. She wanted a selfie. She also wanted to stand on a folding chair so the sign was directly behind us. Picture for a moment a tall drunk girl in stilettos climbing onto a folding chair and trying to pull me up there with her. I’m 5’2″ and at the time, probably weighed 105lbs.

I managed to steady her and jump up on the chair with her for half a second just to appease her. I don’t think we ever got the shot because as soon as I got her back down on the floor, she started telling me how she was a contract girl for one of the huge porn companies. This meant that she didn’t do nearly as many films as the majority of women in porn who shoot more gonzo style hardcore pornography and shoot a lot of it. She was one of the girls who was paraded around to make the industry look glamorous and got paid more for doing it.

She told me her real name. It was the same as my best friend’s. Her wobble slowed and she began crying. She told me she couldn’t have children anymore and that she had to have her cervix removed because of how hard she’d been pounded on film.

She was 24.

I found out later that two other team members ran into her in the bathroom in the hotel we were all staying at for the convention and saw the pink bag with resources in it I’d given her spilling out from underneath the stall. They spent multiple hours with her in her hotel room to make sure she was safe that night and she wept about her family and brother and dad and their strained relationship. One of them held and rocked her in bed and sang Twinkle Twinkle Little Star to her until she fell asleep.

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Another time, I walked a convention floor with an ex porn star team member to hand out gifts and hugs to the women signing at their booths and to make our presence known. We approached one huge booth that had multiple women signing and posing for photos with fans that was owned by a pornographer who’d orchestrated and filmed a scene of a woman being rammed with a pair of scissors. I know because we helped her recover.

We stood in line at his booth and waited to reach the girls. He recognized us, approached us, and asked what we were doing. We told him we were just there to give the girls gifts and that was it. He told us that we weren’t welcomed, threatened us, and told us that if we knew what was good for us, we’d leave.

My teammate had already been through the war that is the industry – and is from Chicago – and very politely and articulately told him to f*ck off. In so many words.

We went back to the booth later when he wasn’t around and handed out our gifts. But we didn’t forget what he said. He had a reputation for being a guy you didn’t mess with, and just like you don’t mess with a pimp’s “property” for their own sake and safety, we didn’t want any of his girls getting our backlash.

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I was behind the booth again at a show in LA educating fans and praying for self-confessed addicts. They always let me. A young, real live woman offering her undivided attention was an even more powerful hit than the digital drug they were addicted to and I knew it.

I used this for their own sake every single time. I’ve had grown men cry in my arms, hand me their bags full of porn that they’d just spent a small fortune on, and recommit to both loving their wives and honoring other women, themselves, their faith, and their family.

Asking men, “What if she was your daughter?” was a consistent show stopper. Daddy heartstrings are some of the most tender heartstrings in the world. Especially daddies of little girls. Especially daddies of little girls who’d already told me their names, showed me their pictures, and spent the last few minutes raving about them. At a porn convention. It’s not hard to make a point after this. The dots connect themselves.

But at this show, it was different.

I was ordained as a chaplain by this time, so I’d told the middle-aged guy I was talking to just that. After listening to his story and what brought him to the show, I asked him if I could pray for him. He said yes. I also asked if it was ok to put my hand on his shoulder. I got into the habit of always asking people if it was ok to touch them because there were a lot of men who were so isolated in their addiction that they’d have a physical reaction. Some would wince and pull back, some would lean in and get too close.

This particular man got too close.

I stood side by side with him, my hand on his shoulder, my eyes open – because that was a simple safety measure – and began praying. Initially, he had his hand on the middle of my back, which was totally fine. But by the end of the prayer, his hand had migrated to the small of my back and then directly to my ass.

While I was praying. After I told him I am a chaplain.

I was trained to remain professional in all circumstances, so was gracious, backed away, and didn’t miss a beat. But inside, I felt violated. Because I was.

Other team members had experienced sexual harassment from members of the public in much more severe ways than a hand on the ass. One team member had a naked guy in a trench coat open his coat on her, hug her, and rub his bare penis on her leg.

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At that very first show in Vegas, I didn’t know that we didn’t allow fans to take pictures of us posing alone.

So when an older gentleman my grandfather’s age approached me with his giant professional lens and asked me if he could take a picture of me in front of our sign, I said yes. It was clear why we were there, what we stood for, and I was fully clothed, so what was the big deal?

In the middle of him taking more pictures than I was comfortable with or expected, a team member walked up to him and interrupted his shooting to redirect his attention. So much of interacting with men on the convention floors was about redirecting their attention.

Once he left, she pulled me aside, put her arm around me, and said, “Sweetie, I know you’re new and there’s so much to learn. You’re doing great. But we don’t take pictures by ourselves for anyone. If anyone wants a picture of you, you are free to say yes or no, but if you say yes, pull some other team members in.” When I asked her why, she looked me square in the eye and said, “He is going to take those pictures home and masturbate to you.”

I stood there slack jawed.

What in the actual f*ck? No way.

Wouldn’t you know, about an hour and a half later, the same old man approached the booth, zeroed in on me, and physically handed me the photos he’d just taken of me as some kind of bizarre peace offering because he knew what he was doing and felt bad about it. Of course, he had his own copies. He’d printed them at a 1 hour photo joint somewhere on the strip.

I glanced down at them. The photos were blown up to focus on my face and breasts.

He smiled.

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At another show, two young guys were passing the booth. One had a rubber horse mask on, the other had a pair of tightie whities on his face with plastic crustacean whiskers underneath, a giant blow up tentacle on one arm, and smaller rubber finger-puppet tentacles on his other hand.

Not one to pass up a challenge (or a walking circus), I walked up to them and said to tentacle kid, “So. Tell me about this. What’ve you got going on here?”

What I got was a loud, grandiose explanation of, “Well! These are for the laaaadies! This here tentacle is to tickle the p*ssy and theeeese tentacles are for the anus!”

I stared at him blankly for a second and said, “Oh. What’s your name?”

He balked and said, “Uh. Um.” I said, “I’m Heather. Really though. What’s your name?” “St… Steven.” “Ok, hi Steven.” I smiled. “Can I shake your hand?”

He took the big blow up tentacle off and shook my hand. Then I turned to horse head and stooped down to peer into his rubber mouth. “And what about you in there? What’s your name?” He took the entire damn mask off, stood there bare faced, shook my hand, and softly said, “Andrew.”

From there we proceeded to have a small lesson on what goes on behind the scenes in the industry with both of them staring at me with their mouths hanging open. “Whoa. What? Wait. WHAT?!” Before they went on their way to see what the convention had to offer, I told them to make sure they look into the girls’ eyes as they walked through, met them, and took pictures.

About an hour later, Andrew came back to the booth by himself, horse head in hand, and somberly said, “You were right.”

He paused and wouldn’t make eye contact with me.

“Their eyes are so sad. They just look so empty. You can tell when they think no one is looking.” I nodded and said, “I know that must have been really hard for you to see. How are you feeling?” He looked down and said, “I don’t really want to be here anymore. We just came for our friend’s birthday. But… oh my God… their eyes are just so sad.”

He stood with me for a while and asked a lot of questions, then said he better go find his friends, thanked us for being there, and walked off.

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One time I saw a huge muscular man walking a next-to-naked girl in a g-string and pasties through the crowd.

She was on a chain. It was around her neck. She had the word SLAVE scrawled in black paint across her chest.

He was fully clothed and wearing a t-shirt advertising his porn company. I don’t remember the actual name of it, but it was something along the lines of Punish Her.

People pointed and took pictures.

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Another time, I was at a BDSM convention. I rounded the corner and stopped dead in my tracks trying to make sense of the scene unfolding in front of me. I felt like my brain was glitching because what I saw simply wasn’t computing.

20 feet in front of me, a man had an infant slung over his shoulder. He was talking and laughing with other adults dressed in fetish gear. His baby was staring wide eyed and fixated at 3 giant screens blaring hardcore BDSM torture porn.

No one seemed to notice. No one seemed to care.

I froze. All I could do was stare.

I’ve learned over the years that in trauma situations, there is a vastly under represented third option in the fight or flight survival scenario. Freeze. I am a freezer. That image has never left me. Only recently – literally within the last 2 months – have I gotten freedom from the shock and trauma of that specific memory.

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The television screens at porn conventions are the most assaulting thing there. Not the pornographers who leered at us. Not the fans who groped us.

Giant screens that flashed scenes of fisting, vaginal, anal, and oral pounding, crying, screaming, slapping, gang bangs, bukkakes, and huge hands around tiny necks were everywhere. And it wasn’t just visual. The audio was on blast. The images and sounds are etched into my memory.

The shock of watching giant groups of men from the general public gather together to watch a woman “look like” she’s being raped – you don’t forget that. You internalize it. Even if you don’t want or mean to.

I personally know a handful of these women who’ve left the industry and I know that every single one of them actually was raped – on set and off.

I sat with them and held them in my arms. I heard them weep about their abortions and miscarriages and drug abuse to get through the scenes and rape after rape after rape. I’d heard about the friends and family members who wanted nothing to do with them, the children they were desperately trying to provide for, the knives and guns that were pulled on them when they did privates, the STI scares and realities, the ripped vaginas and bleeding, inside out assholes. The alcohol. The pills. The isolation. The suicide attempts. The complete and total lie of making it all seem so hot. The desperation to hear the voice of God and the fear to listen because of how hard they’d been shamed – not by him, but by everyone else.

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There’s a verse in the bible that talks about looking after victims of abuse as if what happened to them had happened to you. It’s a verse about justice and its intended meaning is strong and beautiful.

But I took it literally.

I didn’t know what vicarious trauma and secondary PTSD were at the time, or that I had them. I didn’t know signing up to love people would nearly ruin me. I didn’t know it would change my belief system, my hopes, my dreams, or my faith.

When I left my previous career, I was a shell of a woman.

What I’ve shared isn’t even a fraction of what I’ve experienced. It didn’t end there. There were extreme issues in-house in my nonprofit that contributed just as greatly to the trauma as everything from the industry. When I was in it, we weren’t allowed to talk about it and the destructiveness continued long after I left.

Even now, I’m more comfortable opening up about the spectacle of trauma from the industry itself than I am about the heartbreak from behind the scenes. I still very rarely talk about this side of the story unless it’s to my therapist, best friends, parents, or boyfriend.

I went on to work with women dealing with severe drug abuse who were prostituting themselves to get high and being raped repeatedly. Women I’d known from the industry wanted my continued support and counted on me to show up at the ER and psych ward. Men who’d followed my work over the years confessed their addictions and shockingly dark habits long after I said I quit.

I couldn’t take it anymore.

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I was traumatized, clinically burnt out, suffering from depression and compassion fatigue, experiencing the effects of secondary PTSD like hyper arousal where I was on HIGH alert at all times and any loud noises or surprises would shift my heart into my throat, my adrenals were near shot from all the stress, my hair was falling out, I didn’t want to get out of bed, had no semblance of hygiene, couldn’t hear God clearly anymore, and unwaveringly believed that all men were porn addicts. Every last one of them. I’d seen too much to have a hope in hell of believing anything different.

I’d just moved an hour south to Huntington Beach from Hollywood. I got extremely lucky to find a woman whose home would become my safe haven and healing ground for over 3 years.

The first year, I left my room to see a therapist once a week and that was it. I found her online, chose her because she reminded me of Brené Brown, and was a Christian who didn’t seem like she’d throw bible verse bandaids at me. I gave her a taste of what my previous profession was in our first pre-appointment phone call and she agreed to see me at a third of her regular rate.

I was a support-raising missionary my entire adult life and didn’t have a pot to piss in. I also didn’t talk with her about what I’d lived through concerning my previous career for 9 months. 36 50 minute sessions and I’d talk about anything but. I wasn’t ready. I couldn’t do it.

And then one day I did. But only after she said to me, “You know we need to talk about this.”

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It was excruciating. I heard words like vicarious trauma for the first time. I learned what codependency was. Narcissistic abuse was confirmed. What I survived finally had language around it, which meant I could finally start to process it.

I eventually took myself to see a naturopath because I knew it was important to treat my whole person, and that included my physical body. She was also a Christian and also gave me a price break after hearing part of my story. It was there that I learned that my adrenals were near shot and that I needed to get on adrenal supplements pronto. I’m still on them to this day. I also learned that I had a major gluten sensitivity and that all the comfort food I was eating was literally and uniquely hurting me.

I started doing life coaching with a dear girlfriend who I’d worked with in my first nonprofit working with college students before the shit show of the industry. She gave me a price break too. She was also the first person I talked to about starting Hiya Tootsie!.

I began a Brené Brown art journaling course on her book The Gifts of Imperfection.

I started learning about yoga and stretching just to get into my body and ground myself when trauma reactions flared. I met a woman who taught Holy Yoga classes in the city next door and she invited me over to her home for a free one-on-one lesson and afterward, let me talk and cry on my mat.

Another long-time girlfriend, former ministry support partner, and massage therapist met with me weekly to give me free massages and pray over me for an entire year.

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I started getting better.

I also started a personal journey to reclaim the sacredness, purity, and joy of my own sexuality that I’d so sharply cut off in order to protect myself while I worked in the industry.

This looked like making my bed into a place of beauty – adorning it with cotton candy pink satin sheets, decorative pillows covered in jewels and pearls, and creating a whimsical art instillation piece directly overhead.

I indulged in Victoria’s Secret by myself for the first time, got measured correctly, realized that push up bras were a game changer, and reveled in the femininity of having cleavage for the first time.

I began working through destructive belief systems with my therapist and softened into healthy behavior patterns.

The healing process was slow as hell. I had a previous boyfriend between leaving my work and beginning my relationship with Keil who compounded all the trauma and reinforced my addict and abuser theory.

I even had a trauma reaction – my first big one – to a joke Keil had repeated to me on our 2 month anniversary – 3 years after I left the industry. It was awful. It could have ended us. Trauma reactions have the power to do that. But by that point, I knew what I was dealing with and we worked through it together.

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Before Keil, I remember kneeling on my bedroom floor on a prayer mat I’d bought off a girl in Portland, weeping and begging God to bring me a man to marry who wouldn’t be like everything I’d seen. I’d gotten so much healing under my belt, but one of the major things I absolutely could not shake was the belief that all men were porn addicts. And if they weren’t, they were casual users, and because of everything I’d seen and experienced, that was just as bad. A user was an abuser and that was final.

That night is vividly etched in my memory. Just as vividly as all the abuse scenes on all the big screen TVs at all the shows.

I begged God to take this belief away. I knew it wasn’t true. But knowing something intellectually and actually believing it in your bones are two wildly different things.

I prayed for the man who would one day be my husband. That wasn’t new. I’d been praying for him for over 10 years. But that night I heard the Lord ask me to get specific. I finally started to hear his voice again. He told me to tell him exactly what I wanted. The important non-negotiables and the wouldn’t-it-be-nice-ifs.

I told him I wanted a man who loves Jesus. I wanted a man who is kind, emotionally present, treats me like a queen, loves extravagantly, prays, and is financially, mentally, and emotionally stable. I told him I wanted him to be outgoing and funny. I told him I wanted a musician. I wanted tattoos. I told him I wanted him to be hot – flat out Jesus-be-a-fence sexy as hell.

He told me to tell him everything, so I did. It’s not like he didn’t already know. He just wanted me to talk to him. That’s when I began to weep.

I wanted to tell him that I wanted someone who wasn’t addicted to porn. I wanted someone who didn’t even want to look at it casually. But I didn’t believe that man existed. Every single boyfriend I’d had was that guy. All the men at the shows were that guy. How could I pray for something I didn’t believe was possible? I know enough to know that kind of prayer is just unbelief masquerading in robes of holy bullshit and would get me nowhere.

So I told him that. I told him that I wanted it and didn’t believe it. I wept and pounded the floor with my fist.

And then I felt something physically lift off of me. My eyes are blurring with tears as I write this now.

I don’t know how to explain it other than that I felt physically lighter and could tangibly feel something leave me. All I knew in that moment was that I didn’t believe it anymore. I knew it and I felt it.

Feeling was something I had to relearn and it was a steep learning curve after numbing out for so long in an attempt to protect myself.

During that first year of healing, I heard Amanda Palmer’s Killing Type and watched the video for the first time. The line, “I’m not the killing type/ I’m not the killing type/ I’m not/ I’m not/ I’m not the killing type/ I’m not/ but I would kill to make you feel” undid me.

And that night, I was undone again. Literally unbound and set free.

I’m crying again.

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A huge part of my healing journey was allowing myself the freedom to say, “no more” and to step out of ministry, away from trauma, and into work that actually gave me life – when I was ready and not a moment before.

I decided to write.

I’ve been a writer since I was a little girl. And as much as I knew I didn’t want to continue doing anything even remotely similar to what I’d done in my previous career, I did know that my heartbeat to love and inspire other women into who we are uniquely designed to be only intensified because of my work in the industry.

I also decided I wanted the freedom to do exactly what I wanted creatively. I’ve been one of the weirdos since high school and I like that girl.

Hiya Tootsie! began as a blog about dream chasing in part to remind myself that it’s possible. Even Candy Ass is a project that reminds me that who I am and what I create is a creative backlash in the face of what was. It’s a triumph of the aroma of gladness. I needed to remember who I was. I needed to remember what my joy felt like, what my laugh sounded like, what my excitement looked like, and what my voice and presence loved like.

It’s so easy to refuse to love anymore after you’ve experienced trauma. Love makes all of us so vulnerable.

But I love my work. It makes me vulnerable in a good way. It challenges me to walk the talk and live into being a writer and creative. The unapologetic East Coast broad in me can’t get enough of that shit.

People don’t dump their trauma on me anymore. They allow me to live my life on full blast and speak into their lives by proxy. It’s both incredibly humbling and ridiculously fun.

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I also love Keil. I love him. Adore him. Am mildly nauseating over how gaga I am for him. I got what I prayed for because God is good. He is the lifter of heads and gives good gifts that are immeasurably better than we could ever ask for.

And about that fist pounding, tear-drenched prayer?

Keil loves Jesus. He is kind. Emotionally present. Treats me like a queen. Loves extravagantly. Prays. Is financially, mentally, and emotionally stable. He’s a musician. More than that, he has a call on his life to lead worship. He’s outgoing and hilarious. He has beautiful tattoos. He is sexy. as. hell. AND? He doesn’t watch porn.

Keil is my very own mother f*cking unicorn. He does exist.

A month into our relationship he said to me, “I can say with certainty that whether or not to allow porn in my life is going to be an easy choice. It comes down to choosing you or it. And I’m gonna choose you every time. I give you my word on that. That’s not something you should have to worry about. And if I’m gonna be your man, I’m gonna BE YOUR MAN.”

I burst into tears on the spot when he said this to me. There are parts of me that still can’t believe it. I still get goosebumps and teary-eyed about it – about him. Now having heard the backstory, you understand why.

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The bottom line is that trauma doesn’t win. And if there’s one thing I’d like to say to trauma, it’s this:

Dear trauma, I refuse.

I refuse to believe I’m someone I’m not. I’m not broken. I’m not f*cked up beyond repair. I’m not unhealable. I’m not weak.

I refuse to allow you to dictate my future. I can – and did – choose to get help. I can – and did – choose to heal. I can – and did – choose a different life path without your influence or shadow.

I refuse to allow my faith to be shaken. F*ck you. F*ck you. F*ck you. There’s a Rage Against the Machine song called Killing In The Name that shrieks, “F*CK YOU I WON’T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME!” over and over and over again. That one’s for you. That one’s for trying to convince me that God didn’t see me. That one’s for stealing years of intimacy with the lover of my soul. That one’s for being dangerously toxic and yet painfully outmatched. You don’t get to touch my faith anymore.

I refuse to believe the worst of men. Men are astoundingly beautiful, complex, cherished children of God. Every single one of them. Even the ones who are hurt people who hurt people. And MY man is a testimony of triumph. Ha! F*CK YOU and your bullshit lies.

I refuse to not run with my dreams. You do not get to hold them hostage any longer. Take your confusion, depression, exhaustion, and fear, and GO THE HELL HOME.

Even when you rear up and show up, I will walk through your land mines with dignity, grace, and support because now I know how.

You have been the most brutal of all teachers. And for the part you played as teacher, thank you.

Thank you for teaching me to love harder than I ever thought possible. Thank you for teaching me about boundaries. Thank you for teaching me about self-care. Thank you for teaching me to demand what I’m worth. Thank you for teaching me empathy – for others and for myself. Thank you for introducing me to grace, who is so much stronger than you’ll ever be. Thank you for showing off God as healer, Jehovah Rapha, my Abba daddy. Thank you for setting the stage and giving me a platform to do what I do now. I couldn’t produce the caliber of this kind of work without you. Thank you for the grit. Thank you for the wild belief in the impossible being possible. Thank you for doing your part so I can do mine.

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To anyone reading this who can relate in any way possible, this is for you too.

What’s available to me is available to you.

Please do not write me with your stories of trauma. I can’t hear them. I’ve heard too many of them. But I can hear, “me too’s.” I can stand with you in solidarity that there is life and life abundantly after trauma. I will be that example for you if you’re not there yet. I will tell you over and over again that the dreams that are both budding in and blasting from your chest were given to you by a God who is wild about you and who never wanted or planned for you to live through what you have. The shit of this world we live in is awful, but he is good.

Also, it’s ok to be mad as hell at him for not stopping it. Lord knows I was. I was angry at him and angry at everyone. But don’t make your home there. Bitterness is the most destructive parting gift trauma has to offer and why in the hell would we accept gift-wrapped bullshit?

We can do hard things.

Thank you for allowing me the time, space, and freedom to share my story. This isn’t all of it, but it’s a start. I want you to know what shaped me and prepared me for my work now. I want you to know exactly why I give such a damn – about you, about this, about all of our dreams. I worked for too long with too many women who didn’t know they had what it took to be who they were designed to be. I lived for too long being blind to the exact same thing myself.

To my sisters who don’t believe in the God that I do – I see you and I love you. Take from this whatever is for you. I swear to God I have enough faith for all of us to completely slay every damn piece of this dream chasing journey.

Every single one of us is in this together. When one of us hurts, a piece of all of us hurts. When one of us heals, a piece of all of us heals. This is my healing piece that I’m holding out for all of us.

I don’t know how to end this. So let me just say thank you again.

Thank you for holding the sacredness of my story with care, tenderness, and respect. I knew when the day came to share these stories the floodgates would open and they have.

Thank you for being cleansing, healing, rushing water with me.

I am washed, sisters. I am washed.

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Images from: Natalie Shau, Hugo V, RankinKavan Cardoza, Mario TestinoLaura Makabresku, Ben HassettEkaterina Belinskaya, Ben Hassett, McKay JaffeMert Alas and Marcus Piggott, Entheto, Natalie ShauPaola KudackiHuainan Li, Ben Hassett, Ben Hassett, McKay Jaffe, Keil Elkins, Lucie BrémeaultSherstin Schwartz, Keil Elkins


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