Photograph by Nicholas Kevin Corey (1971-2012)
February is not my favorite month … for many reasons. I don’t like the cold and snow unless I am skiing. And since I am not yet independently wealthy, I don’t ski for the entire month of February.
I don’t love Valentine’s Day. This is not because I am single. I have two mini-Valentines. I am just tired of love being defined by those who should not define it. Love was always twisted and manipulated in my family. And Valentine’s Day feels like another manipulation of what love is supposed to be.
February also happens to be the birthday month of many people from my past, most of whom I don’t want to remember. It tends to bring up the ghosts of childhood.
But there is one anniversary with more significance than the others. February is the month that my ex-husband committed suicide. So while everyone is thinking about love, I am thinking about death. I am thinking about the seemingly insurmountable pain that makes death seem less painful. I am not thinking about this because I don’t understand it. I am thinking about this because I do understand it. I understand it a little too well. I know that pain. I think all abuse and trafficking survivors know that pain.
Recently, I was sitting at a table with some of my favorite people. They were all trafficking survivors. Some were victims of sex trafficking and some labor trafficking. Some had been trafficked for ten years and some for a month. When someone asked who had tried to commit suicide, every person at the table raised their hand. It was a spontaneous question. It wasn’t planned. The conversation had turned in this direction quickly, but it certainly got interesting.
We started discussing the deep desire that all humans have to relieve pain. We discussed that moment when there doesn’t seem to be another way to do it. This moment happens in slavery.
In the other world, adults have ways to stop the pain. An adult can make a conscious effort to stop doing what they are doing. They can decide to leave their relationship. They can decide to leave their job. They can decide to have a drink or take some recreational drugs. I am not trivializing these things. They can be extremely hard decisions. Our mental chains can keep us from making the right decision no matter how physically free we may be.
However, in slavery, when we have been told that we will die if we leave, when we have been beaten, when we truly don’t see a way out, death by our own hand can seem like the better choice.
As a recovering survivor, I am not afraid of death. I am afraid of what would happen to my children if I died. I am afraid of not having more time to get my message out to victims and other survivors. But I am not afraid of death itself. If I was, I would not be speaking out. There are too many death threats that I am defying by telling my story.
But I think all survivors have a different relationship with death. During my recovery, I have agonized about my options, and death seemed easier at times. It seemed like a lot less work. When I feel that way, I am resorting back to those old feelings of being trapped in a life I could not change. When I am aware of that, I can remember that I am not that person anymore. I can remember that I can make changes, so that my life is better, happier. It is hard to remember that I have power over more than just my own death. However, it is critical that I remember that my power is limitless at this point. Death is no longer my only choice.