I rarely share this experience, as it haunts me today in a variety of ways. It is not like the physical trauma that haunts me, such as some of the violence I endured, or the mental anguish of starvation, or the sheer exhaustion of being homeless and the need to continually be on the move. No, this is so different for me.
There was a time in the early ‘90s in Kansas City when I attempted suicide. I was back on the streets, hopeless, and in despair. This was one of my last attempts before I realized I just couldn’t take my own life.
I joined an outpatient treatment group. As part of this program, I would be given an apartment if I went and stayed in a mental health respite home. As you can imagine, drug addiction was really the least of my many demons.
It is difficult to be off the streets yet not have money to get a soda or eat. When providing for yourself is within the scope of your ability, it is hard to refrain from exercising that ability. I had dealt with hunger for such a prolonged period of time because of drugs and poverty. I had lacked the freedom to eat whenever I was hungry, so hunger was something I wanted to avoid at all costs.
I wanted to feel free. I now had a place to sleep and shower daily. Even though meals were provided, having even a couple of dollars in my pocket felt empowering. Just knowing I could buy a soda if I wanted to, or purchase a snack if I was hungry, felt so, so good. It was natural to turn to what I knew so that I could have those dollars that gave me that freedom. For me and others like me, the ability to buy even little things for yourself is a new freedom that, when denied, becomes a trigger, making you desperate to keep that freedom and the ability to choose.
Plus, my value as a human being had been tied to the money I earned as a prostituted person for so long. My only sense of validation of worthiness came from the purchase of my body. As I tried to move beyond shame and find other things to validate my existence, I faced a twisted, deep, internal battle. People wonder why a prostituted person would willfully turn a trick when she finally has food and shelter at her feet. Yet the world of commercial exploitation is multifaceted, and leaving it is more complex than most people could ever possibly imagine.
“Love your neighbor, all of ’em.” -Christine Clarity McDonald
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