My first decade was confusing. We went to church twice a week. Sunday school and the Awana’s Club were both major themes in my life. I was home schooled using Christian Curriculum which reinforced lessons of the Bible. My parents didn’t “punish”, they “disciplined” using the guidance of Dr. James Dobson. There were church camps, missions trips, and lock-ins. Everyone I came into contact with seemed to know God on a real and personal level. This was confusing because I felt nothing. They had safety and security; I had apathy and detachment. For as long as remember, I felt different from everyone around me. I was the only kid at summer camp that didn’t get homesick. I was comfortable with my lack of friends. I didn’t seem to form attachments well, and I eventually wouldn’t form them at all. As a child I experienced one of the most unfortunate things 1 in 4 females will experience in their lifetime- sexual abuse. I was too young to process these things, so they took root and later manifested as a variety of unhealthy behaviors.
When I was 14, I had my first real boyfriend. He was older and also damaged, it didn’t take long for the relationship to be become unhealthy and violent. My adolescent brain told me this was normal, so the threshold for what was unacceptable in a relationship was set low. By high school I was extremely rebellious and self-destructive. I had a few friends, I was a cheerleader, and I could blend; however, I was still very disconnected from those around me. I drew the official line in the sand between my family and myself when I left home at 17 to live with my boyfriend. We completely cut ties. Even after the relationship ended and I was completely on my own, I kept my distance from my family. I knew my lifestyle would still collide with their worldview, so I continued down the path of unhealthy relationships, heavy partying, and complete disregard for my well-being.
Miraculously, I survived years 17-20 of my life and, by my standards, I was doing alright. I had food and shelter. But by 21 I was in debt and barely able to pay rent. I was offered a job dancing at a local strip club and it seemed liked and easy solution to my money problems. I took the job without hesitation and spent about 8 months as a stripper. By this time, I was so empty, that the work was easy. Because I felt like I was no one, I could be anyone. I compartmentalized and numbed myself with drugs and alcohol. It felt like my entire life had lead me here.
My path began to change when I began to date the man I would one day marry. Chuck was different. He inspired authenticity and I felt an actual connection to him. Our relationship was a catalyst for healthy decisions. I quit working at the strip club and enrolled in college to study Psychology; I also re-connected with my family. Our relationship was normal. For the first time I had a sense of the safety and security I had been needing. I thought this was my official turning point, the “big change” that would eventually make me into a healthy, adult and a good Christian. I thought about how I could use my future degree to research sexually induced PTSD to help other victims of rape and sexual violence. Everything was perfect, until Chuck received orders for a 12-month tour in Iraq. I was devastated. Our relationship had become my identity and once Chuck was removed from the equation, I was empty again. The loneliness, and depression was too much for me. I drank a lot. Though self-medicating was not new for me, it was not something Chuck was prepared to deal with along with the pressure of his deployment. But, by God’s grace, our relationship survived.
During my 2nd year of college, I learned about sex trafficking. I was immediately drawn to the cause. As I educated myself, I began to understand my time as a stripper was possibly meant for something bigger than paying the bills. I realized half the girls I worked with were being trafficked and I either didn’t know or didn’t care. Then one afternoon in January of 2011, I was reading about the process of recruitment- how a pimp or a trafficker approaches an easy target to lay the groundwork to make her a “prostitute”. I was flooded with fear when I realized how close I became to being victimized by sex trafficking. A few seconds later, I felt the deepest gratitude possible. I immediately realized even though I had never felt God’s presence, He had been protecting me my entire life. I now realized I was actively being recruited three times in my life. This revelation brought me to a real, personal relationship with Christ and gave me a mission to fight sex trafficking. The last five years have taught me the true meaning of redemption, because I have been transformed into a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, and a friend. But, most importantly I have an identity in Christ which cannot be taken from me.
Author: Elizabeth Van Dine
Revised Version: August 4, 2016 Original Version: August 8, 2014