What a Prostitution Survivor Taught Me About Joy, Part One

By Jay Stringer · November 5, 2015 What a Prostitution Survivor Taught Me about Joy

For the next two weeks, we’re featuring an article from Jay Stringer, an alumnus of The Seattle School (MDiv and MA in Counseling Psychology ‘09) who works as both a licensed mental health counselor and an ordained minister. Here, Jay writes about the devastating, paradigm-shifting stories he encountered working at a community mental health clinic, and about what the people there—including a prostitution survivortaught him about trauma, addiction, healing, and, somehow, joy. This post originally appeared in The Other Journal.

http://theallendercenter.org/2015/11/prostitution-and-joy-1/

 

I hope you take the time to read the full article, both parts. It’s *so* good!! But here are some salient excerpts: 

Without exception, each client had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and some type of chemical dependency diagnosis for cocaine, heroin, alcohol, or meth at some point in their life. For the first time that I can recall, addiction made sense. My paradigm for drug users shifted from a posture of condemnation to a hybrid of relief and lament that they found a substance capable of giving them a brief intermission from all the brutality they had undergone. Those who are traumatized do not choose drugs because they want to be rebellious teenagers or irresponsible adults; they are choosing a chemical that is powerful enough to address the powers of evil that have been unleashed against them and within them. How is it that we have become so judgmental of drug use and so blind to their trauma? **The tragedy, far more than the drug use, is the trauma. Woe to us who forget this.** ….

The angel of the Lord finds Hagar here in this unexpected place and asks her the best questions any friend, spouse, therapist, or pastor could ever ask someone about their life: Where do you come from? Where are you going? The voice of God is curious, and the ears of God incline to hear her trauma…

Hagar is so moved by this encounter and blessing that she is compelled to say, “El Roi,” meaning “the God who sees me.” This is remarkable. It is a stranger, a foreigner, who is the first person to name God in the Scriptures. Although her knowledge of Yahweh is exceedingly limited, Hagar recognizes that this God is concerned with her trauma and will move with compassion toward her.

What a Prostitution Survivor Taught Me About Joy, Part Two

By Jay Stringer · November 12, 2015 What a Prostitution Survivor Taught Me about Joy

In part one of this article, Jay Stringer, an alumnus of The Seattle School (MDiv and MA in Counseling Psychology ‘09), began writing about the devastating, paradigm-shifting stories he encountered working at a community mental health clinic:

“The absurdity and oddness I observed in these men and women were, I realized, not only characteristics of their trauma. They were also estranged because they did not have the access, ability, or desire to bow to our modern idols of capitalism, denial, and power. These gods allow most of us to maneuver our lives away from pain as we settle for surrogate sources of comfort. In spending time with this population, I began to get a sense of something out of a Twilight Zone episode—I began to think that maybe we, the stable ones, are actually the most troubled.”

 

http://theallendercenter.org/2015/11/prostitution-and-joy-2/

Again, some salient excerpts:

One Friday afternoon, I was covering the front desk after our receptionist went home sick when the most unusual woman came through the doors. Her walk, her clothes, and her face—they were all ancient in a futuristic, Star Wars sort of way. She leaned her arms over the reception counter and carefully examined my face for a good ten or fifteen seconds as she chewed gum with the tenacity of an iconic 1980s aerobic instructor.

She stopped chewing and said, “You must be new here. I don’t believe our eyes have met.”

I nodded with a smile and said, “You are correct. This is my third week. What can I do for you?”

She glanced at the clock. “Well I know you are about to close for the weekend. I just need to know where my party is and I will be on my way.”

I told her I had no idea what she was talking about. She looked at me with a bit of irritation. “Oh, of course you don’t know yet—but the city of Seattle throws me a party every Friday night.”

At this point, I was thinking almost exclusively about the appropriate clinical diagnosis for the woman. My internal dialogue went something like this: “Schizophrenia? Possibly, but not enough disorganization. Narcissistic personality disorder? More than likely—who in the world says something like that?”

I chose instead to be playful with my incredulity and asked, “Now why would a whole city throw you a party?”

Delighted, she stood straight up with a strong and playful dignity and proclaimed, “Well, I used to be a heroin whore, but now I’m clean, I’m sober, and I’m beautiful. Every weekend the city throws me a party to celebrate my life. You should come; it’s the best dancing in the city.”

I googled clean and sober parties in Seattle, and sure enough they existed. I wrote the address of her party on a card and she thanked me, spun around, and danced out of the clinic…

After declining another dance party invitation, I retrieved Stacey’s chart to write a progress note from our session. When I opened her file, chills ran through my body. I had read her file before. This was the woman who was sold into prostitution by her mother on her ninth birthday and had remained in that life for over fifteen years.

Stacey’s life and presence remain completely astonishing to me because I’ve come to recognize that she understands more about the nature of trauma, addiction, and healing than I could ever hope to learn. She knows that her lifetime of trauma and decades of addiction were not grounds for condemnation or alienation; she knows that they were the very events that formed her beauty and invited her to dance in the delight of God…

The mission many churches faithfully commit to year after year is one of service to a broken and hurting world. The complexity of this mission is that it often sets us up to believe that brokenness and sin reside mostly out there in the world and not in us. The result is a patronizing engagement with the people we make the focus of our mission or outreach. We refuse to see ourselves as the sick ones, and we therefore live as if we need no physician. A litmus test for whether or not your ministry falls into this trap is to discern whether you understand yourself to be more troubled and in need of the gospel than those you serve…

Christianity is fundamentally a faith in the trauma and resurrection of Jesus. The powers of evil believed their weapons of torture could defeat God, but paradoxically it is the trauma and death of Jesus that liberates the world. If we want to reveal the story of Jesus, we will be asked to confront the traumas that surround us…

But there are other seasons in which the trauma we confront is of our own doingthe recognition that our control has fractured the relationships with our spouse and children; the reality that we have hated ourselves for decades and it now contaminates everything, from our eating to our buying and the very theologies we embrace; of a gender that is responsible for so much of the degradation and violation of women…

The wonder and wisdom of the gospel is that God’s trauma addresses both these story lines. The atonement Jesus procures for us is the announcement that we are sinners who struggle with lust and anger but also the good news that this sin is {no longer} grounds for separation {because Jesus was our substitute in bearing God’s wrath for us, in our place} ; it is the very soil in which the work of redemption will grow forth.

 

First of all, I love Jesus. I am a wife to an amazing man, and mother of three: my 5 year old son Jeremiah, 1 year old son Judah, and my daughter, Tirzah, now 3 years, is waiting for me in the gardens of Heaven. I am also a Veterinarian. The goal of my blog: Creating community around an honest journey through the joy and grief of life. Blog Topics: Child loss and grief; Attachment Theory in Parenting; Mental Heatlh; Christian Theology and Ministry; Veterinary Medicine; and Community Stories.

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