Prior to my start in recovery, hope seemed impossible. Hope was a nebulous ideal-- something that others spoke of, but which I had never possessed for myself. I had been trafficked for eight years, more than a third of my life at that point. I was convinced there was no way out, and clinging to hope was a foolishness that I could not afford if I wanted to survive. I had resigned myself to the understanding that I would die in trafficking, and it still did not click that I had a chance to change that.
During that first year after I had left trafficking, amongst the long slog of time in a safe house, my trafficker being arrested, bouncing back and forth between medication management visits, doctor’s appointments, and therapy sessions, I felt as though I spent a lot of time waiting. I kept waiting for everyone to give up on me and for my life to utterly collapse. None of the survival mechanisms I knew from my life in trafficking really worked to keep me alive anymore, and, in fact, they were actively harming me.
I could not have known then what I do know now: hope was there, and it was waiting for me to find it. The first glimmer of hope shone out to me four years into recovery, just as I was about to start school again. I remember looking for a backpack that would fit my laptop; this stunning realization that I might do something meaningful with my life suffused me, and I had to stop and catch my breath. I was so unused to the feeling of hope that I actually confused it for the beginning of a panic attack at first! I shied away from the warmth of that feeling, and it subsided for a while, but I noticed it began cropping up again and again. It was a small feeling at first, easily pushed aside, but over time, it would linger for longer and longer.
I still remember the day I woke up and realized I had gone an entire week without a panic attack. For the first few moments, it did not seem completely real. The more I thought about it, the more I began to try and quantify what had changed and what this meant for me. In my process of dissecting the changes happening in my life, I made a massive realization -- over time, the severity of my trauma triggers had begun to lessen. Slowly at first, not noticeable in the moment, but over time the results were undeniable. I was … getting better? Surely not. And yet, here it was, incontrovertible proof that things were changing for me, for my benefit.
Here are some of the other pieces that I could not have known during that first year in recovery: others were holding onto hope for me. Others saw progress when I just saw myself stuck in the same overwhelming feelings and impulses and inability to just “be normal.” I was condemning myself for still having debilitating feelings related to my trauma, but those around me could see that I was incorporating coping skills in order to lessen the self-destructive behaviors brought on by my PTSD. Other people were rooting for me to survive and be successful; they could see all of the little successes that I could not. Those direct care staff that I thought would eventually abandon me did not. People were standing by my side and able to see the pieces that I just could not in my traumatized state.
Where am I today? Well, hope and I still wrestle from time to time, as it nags me regarding things I don’t necessarily want to accept for my future. I still have triggers, but my responses to them are significantly less. Some of the things that used to trigger me don’t even provoke an emotional response anymore. All of those skills that I spent time learning in therapy? Though I never would have believed it back then, I have been able to integrate them into my life to a point where they have replaced my previous dysfunctional default patterns. The healthy responses have now become what I default to in moments of crisis. I have worked very hard on my existing safe relationships. Through those, I’ve learned to evaluate what comprises a healthy bond between people, and I can make more fulfilling choices about what relationships I want to engage in. I have been able to move forward with my life to places that I never could have imagined.
I have hope, and you can too. If you are reading this if you have experienced traumas in your own life, and if you feel as though you can’t hold onto hope for yourself--- I want you to know that hope is out there, it is for you, and it can be yours too.
Sarah Hall is an emerging leader in the field of human trafficking and began consulting with The Wild Hope in 2020. As a trafficking survivor herself, Sarah is passionate about equipping anti-trafficking organizations to provide quality care and develop best practices through consulting, writing, and training. Sarah’s degrees include an M.A. in Professional Counseling, a B.Sc. in Mathematics, a B.A. in Anthropology, and a B.A. in Government. She is currently a Licensed Professional Counselor Associate in the State of Texas. In her spare time, Sarah is an avid reader, a compassionate animal enthusiast, and a food science devotee.