How Not to Healthcare in America

We all know our healthcare system is not great, along with all else in this country at the moment. As a trafficking survivor, informing my doctors of such is something that seems pertinent to a healthcare provider especially given my specific experiences. My primary care doctor took the information and uses it appropriately, to make informed decisions about my care. He occasionally asks how I am doing with self-harm as it is one of the things that is important to my care. And he asks due to real concern and desire to support in the best way possible not for any malicious reason. This is the same doctor that has filled out all of my paperwork for short and long term disability though my job since my strokes. And the same doctor that is temporarily handling my pain due to issues with my pain specialist that I will discuss. My primary care doctor, is by far the best doctor that I have ever been seen by. He has been my doctor for about 2 years and will be until he no longer practices.

There are several things that work against me in terms of healthcare aside from being a trafficking survivor; I am a woman, I am plus-size, I am gay, and I had strokes at 25 years old. The only thing in my favor is that I am white, my whiteness gets me to be listened to even if not necessarily heard. My whiteness gets me to a room in the ER whereas the black woman across from me who’d been there for hours with a VISIBLE ailment was still in the waiting room. Our healthcare system was built by middle aged white men FOR middle aged white men.

Rewinding a bit to being in the hospital with my strokes for most of July 2017. While in the hospital I spent one night in the ICU (intensive care unit), 5 nights in the IMCU (intermediate care unit) and several in the stroke/neuro unit. During my stay I saw several neurologists as they do rotating shifts and they all thought I was being dramatic, if not for the scans I do not think they would have believed me at all. One neurologist in particular, ordered a psych eval because she literally thought I was crazy, this is what she told the psychologist. The psychologist and I had a good talk though, about my history being a trafficking survivor and with self-harm and my mental illnesses. We talked about the fact that my anxiety is a contributing factor in my pain and vice versa, which I stated not the psychologist. I think that is when he realized the neurologist was being judgemental and not professional. This is also the neurologist that withheld all of my medications for almost a full 24 hours including the blood thinner that I was put on because I almost died. This is when I was labeled drug-seeking because I was in pain. As if a tear in ones artery isn’t painful!

As someone with chronic pain, I learned quickly that you almost have to play dumb when it comes to medications otherwise you are seen as drug-seeking. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia originally in 2011. This was the beginning of my journey with a diagnosis of something that, at the time, I didn’t know was not seen as a real disease. Since then so much has happened resulting in many other diagnosis, a multitude of ER visits, and several specialist visits. I taken about 100 different medications through the last 7 years, most of them not working. Each time I’ve seen a new doctor, it’s been the same introduction, leading with my trauma history, into the laundry list of diagnosis, my current medications and providers, and lastly what I’m seeking from them. This last part is where you have to watch what you say. You can’t go into a doctor and state you need pain medication or even an antibiotic. This request has to be thought about, refined, and stated in a ‘correct’ way. If you get upset, cry, or seem anything but calm, cool, and collected you get labeled as dramatic, drug-seeking, and crazy.

The dreaded pain scale. Anyone who’s ever been inside an ER knows what scale I’m talking about. This 0-10 pain scale is what is standard in our healthcare system, 0 bring no pain, and 10 being the worst pain imaginable. First off, as humans, I don’t think we ever have a 0 level pain, not this day in age at least. Secondly, they define worst pain imaginable as someone sobbing not being able to make out words and curled up in the fetal position. Yet, if you present like this you are told to calm down and use words and if you don’t talk to them they can’t help you etc. Then you are labeled as dramatic, drug-seeking, and crazy as mentioned above. So here we are at this crossroads of a no win situation. When you factor in chronic pain, you have to take in consideration the definition of chronic which is something that is never ending or relentless something that has lasted for more than a few months. When one lives with this pain, they develop a higher pain tolerance the longer they live with it. That being said their pain scale changes, when comparing the pain of someone with chronic pain to the pain of someone without is not only unfair but also unrealistic. Those of us live with a pain level that is higher than most people could function with. For example, my average pain level on this arbitrary scale is at 8 but in reality when compared to someone who doesn’t have chronic pain it would probably feel like a 12-15.

Navigating the healthcare industry is a minefield already, and then you throw in Donald Trump’s election, the healthcare “reform” he’s done, and the laws he’s set in motion in terms of discrimination make this an impossible task. This has given doctors the ability and validation to be jerks. This has allowed them to label us as these things and corner us because of the things we have no control over with no legal recourse. Slugging through this broken system is dangerous, anxiety inducing, and costly. Please take someone with you when at all possible so you not only have a witness but also someone to help you remember what was discussed in terms of treatment.



What Does Freedom Mean?

Freedom is a funny word
By definition it means independence
By definition it is the lack of oppression
The absence of restraint
It is privilege
Freedom is a fleeting sense of self
It is the illusion of control over fate
Freedom is a lethal weapon used when all else fails
It is the destructor
Freedom is the deceit of your nightmares
There is a girl I used to know
She could wake up before anyone else and make breakfast
And clean the whole house in one day
Go for a walk with her dog without feeling like she would pass out
She used to work a normal job
And advocate for her fellow survivors
She took advantage of her freedom
And then it was ripped from under her
With no warning at all
Out of her control
That girl is who I used to be
Today I am a prisoner in this body
My brain is screaming
My heart keeps beating
And my lungs keep breathing
But my body doesn’t keep up
It needs to rest
It tells me to stop and take a break
I don’t want to rest
There is work to be done
There is a life to be lived
There is a calling to fulfill
I had a plan
Damn it, I had a plan
I am free from my traffickers
And from the life that enslaved me for so many years
I am free from the addictions that plagued me
The self-harm
The drugs
the eating disorders
I am free from the oppression of the “church”
I am free from so many things that used to weigh me down
But I have this ball and chain
This ticking time bomb
Restricting my every move
Don’t eat the following list
Don’t do A, B, and C
Don’t live your life
Take this medication
And this one too
Eat a specific type of meat
Don’t eat to much vitamin K
Take it easy
You can’t work because *insert reasons*
I didn’t sign up for this heavy ass burden
I didn’t accept these terms and conditions
Freedom is a perspective
It is one’s ability to make the best of their situation
To gear up and fight even when they are tired
Freedom is a beautifully placed means to an end
It is where strife and fate collide
It is when the universe bestows a glimmer of light
Freedom is a perspective


To Live or To Mold

As many of you know in July I had a series of strokes which was the first domino in a series of ugly events. My strokes left me unable to work and while I have used this as an opportunity for going back to school it has left us with only one income. School has been great for me and I have done really well in my classes with the best GPA I have ever had. I am even looking into grad school which is something I only dreamed of doing previously and now it is becoming a real option. At the end of September we not only moved to a first floor apartment but downsized as well. The move was doctor’s orders but also we were down to one income so a cheaper apartment would allow us to allocate that savings elsewhere in our budget. It also allowed me to have an easier time leaving the house as I didn’t have to navigate the stairs with less than one eyeballs vision and a cane.

From the moment we moved into the new apartment though, all three of us had been sick. We honestly didn’t think much of it due to the stress of my health issues and then the move. We know stress can cause illness. Then my wife got a horrendous rash from head to toe, which we initially thought was due to our recent switch from liquid fabric softener to dryer sheets. After a voluntary trip to the after hours doctor with a steroid and anti-itch medication prescription in hand, we went home. The rash decreased to a somewhat manageable level for a couple weeks until Thanksgiving break hit. When it flared up again it was much worse. Bad enough for my wife, who HATES doctors, to wake me to go to the emergency room at midnight on a work night. Upon arrival at the ER and speaking with the doctor, we were asked if we had been exposed to meth or mold as the rash looked like a chemical burn. This sent us on a hunt for the problem, convinced at this point it was our apartment that was the culprit for her rash. We dove into Google looking for some answers and we found them alright. We found more than we would have liked to find. Our apartment was either a previous meth lab or infested with toxic mold. I’ll save all the gruesome details of at home testing and the going back and forth with the apartments and sum it up with our apartment is infested with toxic mold.

We tried for 2 weeks to get our apartments to do mold testing with a certified mold inspector before they went in and did any kind of cleaning. They refused. So we called lawyers who were no help as they don’t take mold cases in Texas any longer if you live in apartments. Several did tell me however to watch out because it’s common in Austin for apartments to go in and ‘treat’ and then do the testing so they can say it’s negative. Great. We called the Health Department and low and behold they do not take these complaints any longer and referred us to the Austin Tenants Council. Yes you read that right…the Health Department does NOT take toxic contamination cases any longer. They did warn us through that if we take anything out of the apartment and contaminate another place we are then at risk of being sued for contamination. This is awesome news! The Austin Tenants Council told us we had to have 25 square feet of CONSECUTIVE VISIBLE mold for them to step in and help. An apartment doesn’t have a wall that is 25 feet! Similar to the Health Department, they warned us about not taking anything out of the house either do to the risk of being sued for potential contamination and for our own health as you cant clean toxic mold. Mycotoxins are terrifying for the record. We called an independent mold inspector, the best in Austin, and they quoted me a very decent price to come out and inspect so we were going to hire them ourselves. That was until they got the address from me and then I was told, “Oh we don’t work with your apartments, they don’t do what they’re supposed to do. You are not the only people who’ve called us to come take a look. Also, it is against your lease to have an independent contractor come out it all has to go through your corporate office.” This is when we knew we had to get out of there.

We lived in that apartment for two months to the day. It only took two months for us to lose LITERALLY everything we own. Books, photos, clothes, furniture, family heirlooms, dishes. Everything. We had to walk away completely. Luckily my wife has family who has opened their doors to us in this time of need. We have had some amazing people from the shelter we adopted Charlie from come around us and help with some things like a bed big enough for Charlie, some dog food, and some clothes for us. We have found this wonderful room to rent to help us get back on our feet, it just so happens that the man has a dog who Charlie was instant friends with which will be a good transition for Charlie. We had to break our lease to get away from the toxic environment that was going to continue to make us sick and could easily kill me with my autoimmune conditions which will follow us for a while but it is worth it if it means our health and lives will not be continually at risk.

This has been a super overwhelming time. Everything has suffered. Our physical health. Our mental health. The health of our dog. At a time when we are getting hit again and again by life, we are also surrounded with support and things just happening to work out at the right time. It is extraordinarily difficult to walk away from everything you own. A lifetime of everything you have built. Furniture handed down from family. Things you bought with your first paychecks for yourself that you love. A home built lovingly piece by piece; blankets, artwork, photographs, kitchen needs,book by book and walk away from everything. From yearbooks and family photographs. From odds and ends that mean nothing to anyone but you. A strange little Knick knack given to you by a dead relative. Souvenirs of traveling. The flowers from your wedding. Crystal glassware from your grandmother. A odd little wooden pig given to you by an old friend at a hard time in your life. Years and years and years of collecting hundreds of books. Gone. In an instant. Then dealing with all the people around you second guessing your decision, telling you that you are wrong, that you are overreacting. When you are doing NOTHING of the sort. It was an agonizing decision made out of nothing but sheer desperation and need. A decision that could LITERALLY be the difference between life and death. It is absolutely the most difficult decision we have made in our married life. It isn’t easy. It wasn’t made lightly. To realize how little people actually know you if they think you could make this decision without a second thought or a care. To be anything but calm.

To live the tragedy over and over and over again as you remember little things that you’ll never see again. Things linked to memories sometimes forgotten that you get to smile at and remember events long past that bring you joy. A funny little keychain from Mexico that goes with a story of a funny event that you never think about until you see that keychain. A book you read on a road trip that brings back memories of your family. A picture of a time forgotten except in that photo. All of those big little things are gone.

How do you grieve such a huge loss all at the same time? Honestly, a fire would be easier. A fire would destroy everything the same way but a few things would be different. One, insurance would cover it. Two, you wouldn’t have to make a decision to walk away, that decision would be made. Three, people would actually understand your grief and not blame you for it. Four, no one would question your pain. You would just get to feel it. I wish it had been a fire. Instead….mold has stolen a part of us that we will never get back.

As someone who comes from trafficking the way I have…it stings even more to once again not have control over my life. To have things like this just happen to you is even worse because it is triggering on so many levels. To walk away from everything into the unknown. But I’ve done it once. I know I can do it again. With my wife at my side, I have faith that everything will work out. That we will recover from this. That I will survive as I always have, like the Phoenix. I am born from the ashes again and I will rise.

~Sarah, Co-Authored by my wife



When working with survivors, a few things need to be clarified. Unfortunately some of these should be a given such as respect but the are not always. When it comes to survivors (of all kinds of trauma) it takes more work than usual to build and establish trust, the 10 things listed below are not the only things, just the foundation of trust.

  1. Respect – In reference to [survivors], respect means to treat with esteem, kindness, and equality. We are not glass antiques. We are not a pet. We are not your guinea pig. We are human, just like you.
  2. Say what you mean. Mean what you say. – This comes in for me when people say they will always be there for me. This has only been true for a select few people that I’ve known ever. Many survivors have also felt this over and over; weather its our families, the others we worked with that were sold, killed, or left behind  when exiting the life. Moreover those that decided to leave for no reason without an explanation. All this to say, refer back to respect; if you do not think or do not know if you can commit to something DON’T. If you say you’ll be there: BE THERE. If you need a minute or 7: SAY IT.
  3. Be intentional – We survivors know we are/can be a lot to handle. We know what we’ve been through is sad and angering and scary and a lot of other things. But we also need to talk about it. Being intentional means, if you ask a question, be ready for the raw, real, and honest answer. Going back to #2; words mean things, be thoughtful and compassionate with your words.
  4. Show Up + Be Present – While we understand things in life come up and needing to reschedule; its important to keep your word when you say you want to meet up. As with any relationship, the other important thing is to be present and engage. This is especially important because we (most of us) have not had people in our lives who really care and want to know us for a long while. If ever.
  5. Listen, acknowledge, and validate – Listening is something we, unfortunately have to ask for as survivors. Many of us have been burned this way by ‘advocates’ all too many times. Please listen to us, actively. This goes back to #4 and #3, show up, be present, be intentional. Acknowledgement, I feel should be a given, but it is not. Acknowledgement is done in many ways from showing up, to asking questions, to having appropriate reactions to the things we say. The combination of these things are what create validation. It doesn’t hurt to tell us that our feelings, thoughts, etc. are valid.
  6. When a survivor confides in you, thank them. – A lot of us are very open about being a survivor, but keep details to ourselves for the most part. Those that know more than that are privileged; if we feel comfortable enough to share our pain. Please thank us. This leads into the next factor.
  7. Never use a survivor’s story without EXPLICIT permission. – Our pain, feelings, experiences etc. are not yours to share. Period. If/when we give you permission to share something. It is for that specific thing only and for that one time. We have the right to know when, why, how, and where our story will be shared. We have the right to place restrictions on or revoke your ability to share at any point for any reason. Even if the reason is not forthcoming. Our stories are just that, ours.
  8. Don’t assume or compare – Just because we share characteristics of some/many kind(s) as another survivor, does not mean we deserve to be compared. We do not deserve to be expected or assumed to follow suit of others. Just because I grew up in a ritualistic cult gang does not mean I will have experienced the same thing or will heal the same way as another survivor who grew up in a ritualistic cult gang. Or anyone else for that matter.
  9. Ask before giving advice or touching – Not only is this polite, but also crucial for survivor relationships. We have had a lot of unsolicited advice over the years, it is a big thing most of us use to gauge a person’s safety level. The same goes for touch, we’ve had way more than our fair share of unwanted and/or unsolicited touching. If you want to build our trust, please, PLEASE ask.
  10. Survivors are more than our trauma. – We are more than our abuse. Our stories don’t begin and END with the things that have happened to us. We are human. We exist outside of our circumstances. This is something that is a huge factor for probably most, if not all of us. We are told in the life that we will never be more than a ho. We are striped of everything. Literally. We are lucky to be alive. To have escaped, if we have. If we are still in the life ALL of these are that much more important.


Sometimes you see
And you can never unsee
Sometimes you hear
And you can never unhear
Sometimes you feel
And you can never unfeel
Chemical wall color cans. Midnight tarp. Rusted restraints, bolted to the wall. I try to move, to get up. But I’m stuck. My eyes close, and it’s dark inside. Opening my eyes is hard, they must have given me the sleepy medicine again. I’m tied, arms at my side, legs together. They put me in a sitting position against the wall opposite where today I know, he was to be mistreated. Beaten. Injected. Penetrated. Murdered. Disfigured and put in garage bags. Disposed of; never to be found again.
Sometimes you see
And you can never unsee
Sometimes you hear
And you can never unhear
Sometimes you feel
And you can never unfeel
Flashes remain today. Flashes of the last moments of his life. His screams. His plea’s for freedom. For mercy. For pardon. The sound of her fist meeting his flesh. Her screams for me to watch. Keep my eyes open. Or I would be next. Blood seeping from his eyes. His mouth. His nose. His ears. I’m pretty sure he is dead. I don’t dare make a sound. I don’t dare plea for her to stop. I don’t dare look away. These images burned in my life forever. His blood chasing my feet. Running faster. As if asking me to save him.
Sometimes you see
And you can never unsee
Sometimes you hear
And you can never unhear
Sometimes you feel
And you can never unfeel
Many bags. Dark like her soul. Each tied off with little air left inside. Jars with fluid. With organs. She will sell these. A liver goes for $500+ nowadays sweetie. Especially one as young and healthy as his. She is a different devil now. Happy. Smiling. Calling me sweetie. This always happens after nights like tonight. It won’t last long. It never does. I could be next.
Sometimes you see
And you can never unsee
Sometimes you hear
And you can never unhear
Sometimes you feel
And you can never unfeel