My grandmother reaches up from her hospital bed and cups my cheek with her shaky hand.

“Be brave. Be very brave.” she whispers.

My almost five-year-old self can’t comprehend the final stages of breast cancer, but I know that something very bad is happening. I curl up next to her on the narrow bed, nuzzling into the warmth and love of my only caregiver and nurturer. The shadow of loss is looming, threatening to swallow me up in darkness.

“Be brave.” she whispers again, lips pressed against my hair.

***
I’m drifting alone in the world. I miss my grandmother so much. A giant chasm opened up inside me. Rejection and loneliness are my close companions. None of the adults in my life want me around.

“I tried to abort you! You shouldn’t even be here!” my mother screams as she hits me. Six years old and no place to call home. Six years old and no refuge from the abuse.

“Be brave.” I remember as I cry myself to sleep.

***

I sit in a dirty motel room, perched on the edge of an untidy bed. I’m waiting to see who will walk through the door, bringing the next round of assault to my body and spirit. I’m only nine years old, but my body has already been sold to thousands of johns. Evil embodied, these men pay money to my trafficker so they can penetrate and dominate me.

My existence is brutal and harsh. There is no end in sight. I’m not sure which part is worse- the intense horror of individual rapes or the mind-numbing torture of my body being sold over and over and over again. My entire body aches and my soul is numb from too much pain. I don’t feel human any more.

From deep inside me, I hear a tiny whisper.

“Be brave.” the voice murmurs. And so I hold on.

***
Being a teenager is hard and lonely. While most of my peers are fretting about dating and curfews, I struggle to attend school on the days when I’m not being sold. It is a constant balancing act- this tension between belonging to my trafficker and still trying to be me.

I care for myself as best as I can. Sometimes I sleep in my car, shower at school, and scavenge for food in dumpsters behind the grocery store. I do what I need to do to survive. I graduate high school at seventeen and fill out a college application alone. I keep trying to escape from being sold. I won’t live like this forever, I vow. Even when I’m down to the last trickle of hope, I refuse to let the darkness win. There has to be a way to freedom somewhere. I need a plan to get away. A scholarship to college offers me a ticket to a new existence.

I hear my grandmother’s encouragement from years ago, echoing in the core of my being, “Be brave!” I hope she’d be proud of me.

***

I stand in my garden, fighting back tears. Many years and many miles removed, the nightmares still follow me. Even though I am older and more whole, my body and spirit are scarred from what I endured.

Some days, the safe rhythms of my life soothe me. I’ve carved out a new life here with my husband, a place where my daughters can thrive, a space to explore and lean into words like “family” and “home” and “love.” I’m surrounded by a community of embodied love. I am wanted and known.

Yet, nothing erases the horror I’ve endured. I explore the broken pieces of my story in therapy and sometimes in church. It is not an easy task to battle my lifelong foe, Darkness.

I garden, nurturing beauty around me and partnering with Mother God to bring forth life. My tears flow into the dirt that my hands are working. The flashbacks come in tormenting waves. Remembering the past brings me to the edge of death, a place where ending it all seems like the only answer. I just need it to stop hurting. Is there any relief for someone like me?

The wind carries the scent of my roses and gently tickles my cheek.

“Be brave.” Mother God whispers.

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***

I wander along the beach, anger and rage rumbling around inside of me.

“Why me? Why does my life hurt so deeply? Why don’t I heal quicker? If God is my Father, I must be his least favorite daughter. Why didn’t he protect me?”

The loud waves pummel the beach in front of me. Father God roars in the ocean. A wail of heartbreak and loss flies out from my lips into the vast space of the Pacific Ocean.

I try to steady my breathing as tears stream down my face. Breathe in. Breathe out. I match my breath to the cadence of the waves. Breathe in strength and life. Breathe out the darkness.

“Be brave!” bellows the ocean, meeting my deep pain and grief with fierce strength and beauty.

I don’t turn away.

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Written by an annonymous contributor from Seattle. This woman is a mom, a wife, and a survivor of sex trafficking. She is in the midst of healing and learning to hold her own story with kindness. In her spare time, she is a seeker of beauty, especially through the arts and through nature.nb