Post Traumatic Stress Growth – Beyond Trauma

The value of the perspective of successful survivors of trauma cannot be underestimated. Trauma changes us. Looking at, processing, and evaluating our traumatic experiences changes us. Post Traumatic Stress GrowthDeciding to intentionally mine the lessons out of our past and using those lessons to create personal and professional success (essentially taking the good from our experiences and discarding the rest) changes us. The result of all this is what Dr. Lawrence Calhoun of the University of North Carolina calls Post Traumatic Stress Growth. I call it succeeding because of what we’ve been through.

In trauma, we develop characteristics and coping mechanisms that can make us valuable in the workplace, in our communities, and in leadership. Abandonment teaches us self-reliance. Abuse teaches us empathy and instills in us a desire for justice. Poverty teaches us resourcefulness. Successful Survivors Foundation LogoExisting in the center of chaos and dysfunction teaches us situational awareness and creates in us the ability to multi-task. Living with unpredictable people develops in us the ability to shift from fear, which is passive, to coping, which is active—a skill necessary for first responders, emergency medical professionals, and combat soldiers. I could go on and on, but hopefully I’m creating a picture for you of what’s possible with successful survivors. We are NOT too broken to be fixed. Conversely, we are stronger, more resilient, and more determined than the average person. The characteristics and coping mechanisms that helped us survive are the very things that qualify us to succeed in life.

For survivors of trauma to become successful survivors, we need someone to help us to see what’s possible, and then to help us to begin to believe it’s possible for us. When we begin to believe that we have value, we make better choices, which lead to better results, which make us even more determined to do well. We yearn for that acceptance, recognition, and celebration.

Rhonda Sciortino PhotoRhonda Sciortino, author of Succeed Because of What You’ve Been Through and Chairperson of the Successful Survivors Foundation.

http://www.rhonda.org

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Can You See Yourself Successful?

The first step to creating personal and professional success is seeing yourself that way. If you don’t believe it’s possible, it will never happen for you. On the other hand, just visualizing success doesn’t guarantee that it’ll happen.

So, what does “success” look and feel like for you?  A happy marriage? Healthy, well behaved kids? Great friends? Feeling terrific? A peaceful life? An exciting life? Laughing? Having plenty of money?

If you break true success down into the five facets of real, genuine success, you may be better able to consider what success looks like for you. Fill in the blanks below:

Good relationships:

 

Good health

 

Peace:

 

Joy:

 

Financial provision:

 

Since I was a young, emancipated former foster kid, I have written down my goals. I recently found a box filled with old journals of long-ago goals. I sat on the floor and unpacked that box and read through my goals of the late 70’s, the early 80’s, and on up until about fifteen years ago when I started using a computer to write out what I wanted my life to look like. Remarkably, I found that every one of the goals I’d set for myself all those years ago had been fulfilled–except for one. I’ll tell you about that in a minute.

My early goals had to do with having a roof over my head and food to eat. It was a terrific reminder for me to see how my desires changed as I achieved goals, reached for new ones, and matured along the way.

As I read through those old journals, I saw how my material goals became spiritual ones. The convertible Mercedes I had wanted had come and gone. The house on the beach in Malibu was bought, enjoyed, and sold as it was no longer necessary to keep me happy. The businesses I wanted so badly and nearly died building have been sold. The only goal that I set that I did not achieve was to have a son. I never wanted my daughter to be an only child. But I never had that son. Thankfully, I now have two boys in my life, my grandsons.

Goals that get written are far more likely to be achieved. So, regardless of what goals you’ve already achieved, set new ones for every area of true success, and then work toward those goals, setting new ones when these are reached. To give you an idea of what my goals for true success are now, here’s a glimpse into what I am working toward:

Good relationships: I want to be encouraging to everyone within my influence, and to be a good friend and emotional support to everyone close to me. I know that in order to have enough energy to be that to the ones closest to me, I have to be careful not to spread myself too thin and to take good care of my own physical, emotional, and spiritual health.

Good health:  I want to feel good, have a good, positive attitude, and have the energy to fulfill my Career Assignment and Life Assignment. To do that, I eat lots of fresh vegetables, drink lots of water, and avoid sugar, fatty foods, and packaged/preserved foods. I walk a mile or so 3-4 times a week, and as a result, I will weigh 135 pounds and feel terrific.

Peace:  I value peace above all things, so I avoid useless anxiety by giving my cares to God immediately and trusting Him to take care of them. I avoid arguing. I do not have to have the last word, and I do not have to have others agree with me or acknowledge my points. Where there is a disagreement, I give my opinion and I know that refusal to adopt or accept my opinion is not a rejection of me.

Joy:  I zealously hold onto my joy. I refuse to allow my joy to be stolen. In order to maintain my joy in the midst of work that involves the fight against child abuse, human trafficking, and other profoundly sad issues, I read the Bible, I pray, and I choose to trust that there is a Good God who hears our prayers and delights in responding to our faith.

Financial provision:  I’m grateful for what I have, yet I ask for the financial provision to do more, to help more people, to encourage more people to find and fulfill their Life Assignments. I have a clear vision of the amount of money it will take to do what I would like to do, and I work toward and believe that I will receive whatever I need to fulfill God’s good plan for my life. I subscribe to the old African saying, “When you pray, move your feet.

I hope this is helpful in seeing yourself successful. If you see it, you can achieve it. –Rhonda

About the author: Rhonda Sciortino, author of Succeed Because of What You’ve Been Through, used the coping skills from an abusive childhood to start her own business and develop it, along with her other investments, into a multi-million dollar balance sheet. Through her writing, speaking, and media appearances, she shares how others can use the obstacles in their lives as stepping stones to a great future.

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Ten Keys to Good Relationships

Many people don’t know how to start and cultivate good relationships. I was one of them. I was completely clueless about what it took to have a good relationship. I’d never had one, and I had only been exposed very briefly to one.

That was many years ago, and I’m grateful to say that I now have wonderful relationships with quality people who have enriched my life in ways I couldn’t previously have even understood.

I’m not an expert on relationships, but I want to share what I’ve learned in hopes of helping others to cultivate this very important element of success. (My definition of true success is good health, good relationships, peace, joy, and financial prosperity.)

Relationships are one of the most important things in life. Good relationships enrich our lives and make them worth living. It’s not an overstatement to say that bad relationships can destroy us. So, how do we “do” relationships?  Here are some thoughts…

  1. Find something good to say about the other person. If the person has rarely heard a positive word spoken to or about him or her, he or she may dismiss your compliment. If that’s the case, say it, say it, and say it again. Eventually he or she will begin to believe you and will begin to see that good quality in him or herself. When we see good qualities about ourselves, we make better decisions. When we make better decisions, we get better results. This one suggestion of pointing out the good in another can set off a positive chain of events that can be literally life changing!
  2. Before you say anything, THINK about how your words may make the other person feel. Make a deliberate attempt to be the most encouraging person around.
  3. When you have to bring correction or give advice, FIRST earn the right to do it through sincere and genuine friendship. People are far more likely to take your advice or admonition seriously and to act on it if they believe that you genuinely care about them and have their best interests at heart.
  4. Always bring correction in private. There is little more humiliating than being corrected in front of others. This is especially true with kids. Criticizing, joking about, or punishing in front of others can leave a bruise on the soul of a child that lasts for decades. When you humiliate someone, you destroy your right to positively influence that person in the future.
  5. Recognize and celebrate every accomplishment. This cannot be overstated. Manage your expectations. Don’t wait until your child has a Ph.D. to celebrate. Recognize every good bit of homework, every passed test, every story read, etc.
  6. Bring praise in the presence of others where possible. Make your praise vocal. Some people have the mistaken idea that praising another will lead to him or her putting in less effort. The converse is true. When you praise behavior, you’ll typically see more of the behavior you want to see repeated. Praise good character, and you’ll see more of it. For example, comment on the honesty, integrity, fairness, and other good qualities of others and you’ll be planting and nurturing seeds of those characteristics.
  7. Keep your opinions of others to yourself. People think less of others when others in their lives think less of someone. For example, if a mother-in-law criticizes her son-in-law, her daughter (the wife) is going to think less of her husband. She may not want to. She may not agree with her mother. In fact, she may defend her husband. But the seed of discontent has been planted, nevertheless. The mother-in-law may have a valid concern. But rather than openly criticizing the son-in-law, when she may not have all the information, she could be planting the seeds that ultimately destroy the marriage. If correction, advice, or help are needed, the mother-in-law would be better to earn the right to bring it (privately) directly to the son-in-law.
  8. Timing is everything! This is true whether bringing up a delicate situation, bringing correction, asking for a raise at work, or making a big change in the relationship. In other words, you wouldn’t launch into a discussion about a delicate or potentially painful situation the minute the person walked in from work or the moment their eyelids opened from a night’s sleep. You’ll always get better results and limit potential damage to the relationship if you wait for the right time to broach a subject.
  9. Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it. If people know they can count on you, you’ll have greater influence with them, more opportunities will come your way, and you’ll be much closer to all five points of prosperity.
  10. Give others an extra dose of dignity. You do this by making eye contact with people when you speak to them. For example, when you are with others, put the electronic gadgets down, look others in the eyes, and ask how they are doin—then be quiet and listen. Really listen. Ask questions. Repeat things you don’t understand. Care about what they’re going through and how they’re feeling. This is a basic foundation to good relationships, but is often lost. You can also give dignity by giving opportunities rather than hand-outs. For example, if a child in your life wants a new bike, give him or her an opportunity to earn money to enjoy the satisfaction of having earned the money to purchase his or her bike. One last way you can give dignity is by supporting others in their endeavors both verbally and practically. For example, if someone you know just got a job at a restaurant or retail store, congratulate him or her, and if possible go while he or she is working and patronize the business. This shows your support in a practical way.

Of course, there is much more to say about developing good relationships with quality people. And there are people far more skilled and talented than I at doing this. I’d like to hear YOUR comments and advice on developing and nurturing good relationships.

For more detailed information, download my free eBook, Success Tips, or get your copy of Succeed Because of What You’ve Been Through book and workbook.

 

About the author: Rhonda Sciortino, author of Succeed Because of What You’ve Been Through, used the coping skills from an abusive childhood to start her own business and develop it, along with her other investments, into a multi-million dollar balance sheet. Through her writing, speaking, and media appearances, she shares how others can use the obstacles in their lives as stepping stones to a great future.

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You, a Role Model

The truth is that we all influence those around us whether we’re aware of it or not.

To illustrate that point, I heard recently from a young lady who had been making some very bad choices and who had been going full speed ahead down the wrong road. I was surprised to hear that she was working full-time and was going to school as well. A very pleasant surprise!

I asked what happened that caused this huge shift, and she explained that she was sitting in Starbucks waiting for a friend when she saw this well-dressed woman walk in. The woman sat down behind this young lady and began talking to the person she was there to meet. Although the young lady was facing the other way, she couldn’t help overhearing the conversation. She was so impressed by the way this confident, professional woman spoke and carried herself that she decided right there that she wanted to be like her.

The woman who walked into Starbucks that day had no idea that she, just by her presence, was influencing a young lady who desperately needed a good role model.

We all influence others in our living, in our daily conversations, and in every choice we make. So when you leave your bed in the morning, understand that you are influencing others for good or for bad with every step you take. Being the best YOU possible is the very best thing you can do for others.

 

About the author: Rhonda Sciortino, author of Succeed Because of What You’ve Been Through, used the coping skills from an abusive childhood to start her own business and develop it, along with her other investments, into a multi-million dollar balance sheet. Through her writing, speaking, and media appearances, she shares how others can use the obstacles in their lives as stepping stones to a great future.

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Just Do It!

Lots of people want to “do something” with their lives. They want to feel a sense of purpose, do something good, help others, or have that incomparable feeling of accomplishment. Yet, they seem to stop with “want.” There’s just one step between “want” and “do.” But there’s no one in the world who can take the step for you. And if you really think about it, there isn’t anyone who can stop you from taking at least one small step toward your “do.”

So ask yourself, what would you really like to be doing? Would you like to be helping others in some way? If so, look around to see who you can help today. Chances are you won’t have to go far to find someone who could benefit from assistance you are able to provide. Would you like to get more education? There may be a community college near you where you can sign up for classes that will enrich your life without tearing up your wallet. Would you like to go into business? That may be a lot easier than you may think.

It used to be that if you wanted to go into business, you had to save up or borrow the capital, find a location, pay for supplies and equipment, pay to print up business cards, flyers, letterhead, invoices, etc., etc., all of which cost a healthy chunk of cash. But nowadays, you can go online on the computer at your local library (at no cost), set up an eBay account (at no cost), set up a PayPal account (at no cost), clean out your closet or garage (still haven’t spent a cent), clean up or spruce up the nuggets you’ve found around the house (maybe spending a few dollars on cleaning supplies), photograph your items (if you don’t have a camera, borrow one), and voila, YOU’RE IN BUSINESS!

OK, I concede that going into business may not be entirely that easy, but it isn’t as complicated as many people make it out to be. I know something about this because I’ve done it many times. You may make mistakes, but whether you have no business experience whatsoever or you have a Harvard MBA, you are likely to make mistakes. It’s okay. When you hit a bump in the road in business, you assess your situation, make adjustments, and try again. It’s not failure until you quit.

So consider what you want, and then rather than do nothing, jump in and do something.

 

About the author: Rhonda Sciortino, author of Succeed Because of What You’ve Been Through, used the coping skills from an abusive childhood to start her own business and develop it, along with her other investments, into a multi-million dollar balance sheet. Through her writing, speaking, and media appearances, she shares how others can use the obstacles in their lives as stepping stones to a great future.

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Seven Reasons Why a Scientist Believes in God

A. Cressy Morrison, an accomplished Ph. D. chemist who was once president of the New York Academy of Sciences, published the following statement in 1944 under the title, “Man Does Not Stand Alone.” Readers Digest Books published a condensed version under the title “Seven Reasons Why a Scientist Believes in God”(1962). I’m including this in my blog this week because it’s as relevant today as it was in 1944.

I’m not a scientist. There is nothing I can add to this work, except to quote Crystal Lewis in saying, “Only fools believe in only what they see,” which is probably an adaptation of Psalm 14:1: “Only fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.’”

Seven Reasons Why a Scientist Believes in God
By
A. CRESSY MORRISON,
Former President of the New York Academy of Sciences

WE ARE STILL IN THE DAWN of the scientific age, and every increase of light reveals more brightly the handiwork of an intelligent Creator. We have made stupendous discoveries; with a spirit of scientific humility and of faith grounded in knowledge we are approaching ever nearer to an awareness of God.

For myself, I count seven reasons for my faith:

First: By unwavering mathematical law we can prove that our universe was designed and executed by a great engineering intelligence.

Suppose you put ten pennies, marked from one to ten, into your pocket and give them a good shuffle. Now try to take them out in sequence from one to ten, putting back the coin each time and shaking them all again. Mathematically we know that your chance of first drawing number one is one in ten; of drawing one and two in succession, one in 100; of drawing one, two and three in succession, one in 1000, and so on; your chance of drawing them all, from number one to number ten in succession, would reach the unbelievable figure of one in ten billion.

By the same reasoning, so many exacting conditions are necessary for life on the earth that they could not possibly exist in proper relationship by chance. The earth rotates on its axis 1000 miles an hour at the equator; if it turned at 100 miles an hour, our days and nights would be ten times as long as now, and the hot sun would likely burn up our vegetation each long day while in the long night any surviving sprout might well freeze.

Again the sun, source of our life, has a surface temperature of 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and our earth is just far enough away so that this “eternal life” warms us just enough and not too much! If the sun gave off only one-half its present radiation, we would freeze, and if it gave as much more, we would roast.

The slant of the earth, tilted at an angle of 23 degrees, gives us our seasons; if the earth had not been so tilted, vapors from the ocean would move north and south, piling up for us continents of ice. If our moon were, say, only 50,000 miles away instead of its actual distance, our tides might be so enormous that twice a day all continents would be submerged; even the mountains could soon be eroded away. If the crust of the earth had only been ten feet thicker, there would be no oxygen, without which animal life must die. Had the ocean been a few feet deeper, carbon dioxide and oxygen would have been absorbed and no vegetable life could exist.

It is apparent from these and a host of other examples that there is not one chance in billions that life on our planet is an accident.

Second: The resourcefulness of life to accomplish its purpose is a manifestation of an all-pervading Intelligence.

What life itself is, no man has fathomed. It has neither weight nor dimensions, but it does have force; a growing root will crack a rock. Life has conquered water, land and air, mastering the elements, compelling them to dissolve and reform their combinations.

Life, the sculptor, shapes all living things; an artist, it designs every leaf of every tree, and colors every flower. Life is a musician and has taught each bird to sing its love song, the insects to call one another in the music of their multitudinous sounds. Life is a sublime chemist, giving taste to fruits and spices, and perfume to the rose, changing water and carbonic acid into sugar and wood, and, in so doing, releasing oxygen that animals may have the breath of life.

Behold an almost invisible drop of protoplasm, transparent, jellylike, capable of motion, drawing energy from the sun. This single cell, this transparent mist-like droplet, holds within itself the germ of life, and has power to distribute this life to every living thing, great and small. The powers of this droplet are greater than our vegetation and animals and people, for all life came from it. Nature did not create life; fire-blistered rocks and a saltless sea could not meet the necessary requirements.

Who, then, has put it here?

Third: Animal wisdom speaks irresistibly of a good Creator who infused instinct into otherwise helpless little creatures.

The young salmon spends years at sea, then comes back to his own river, and travels up the very side of the river into which flows the tributary where he was born. What brings him back so precisely? If you transfer him to another tributary, he will know at once that he is off his course and he will fight his way down and back to the main stream and then turn up against the current to finish his destiny accurately.

Even more difficult to solve is the mystery of eels. These amazing creatures migrate at maturity from ponds and rivers everywhere – those from Europe across thousands of miles of ocean – all bound for the same abysmal deeps near Bermuda. There they breed and die. The little ones, with no apparent means of knowing anything except that they are in a wilderness of water, nevertheless start back and find their way not only to the very shore from which their parents came but thence to the selfsame rivers, lakes or little ponds. No American eel has ever been caught in Europe, no European eel in American waters. Nature has even delayed the maturity of the European eel by a year or more to make up for its longer journey. Where does the directional impulse originate?

Fourth: Man has something more than animal instinct – the power of reason.

No other animal has ever left a record of its ability to count ten, or even to understand the meaning of ten. Where instinct is like a single note of a flute, beautiful but limited, the human brain contains all the notes of all the instruments in the orchestra. No need to belabor this fourth point; thanks to human reason we can contemplate the possibility that we are what we are only because we have received a spark of Universal Intelligence.

Fifth: Provision for all living is revealed in such phenomena as the wonders of genes.

So tiny are these genes that, if all of them responsible for all living people in the world could be put in one place, there would be less than a thimbleful. Yet these genes inhabit every living cell and are the keys to all human, animal and vegetable characteristics. A thimble is a small place to hold all the individual characteristics of almost three billion human beings. However, the facts are beyond question.

Here evolution really begins – at the cell, the entity which holds and carries the genes. That the ultra-microscopic gene can absolutely rule all life on earth is an example of profound cunning and provision that could emanate only from a Creative Intelligence; no other hypothesis will serve.

Sixth: By the economy of nature, we are forced to realize that only infinite wisdom could have foreseen and prepared with such astute husbandry.

Many years ago a species of cactus was planted in Australia as a protective fence. Having no insect enemies in Australia, the cactus soon began a prodigious growth; the alarming abundance persisted until the plants covered an area as long and wide as England, crowding inhabitants out of the towns and villages and destroying their farms. Seeking a defense, entomologists scoured the world; finally they turned up an insect which lived exclusively on cactus and would eat nothing else. It would breed freely, too; and it had no enemies in Australia. So animal soon conquered vegetable, and today the cactus pest has retreated – and with it all but a small protective residue of the insects, enough to hold the cactus in check forever.

Such checks and balances have been universally provided. Why have not fast-breeding insects dominated the earth? Because they have no lungs such as man possesses; they breathe through tubes. But when insects grow large, their tubes do not grow in ratio to the increasing size of the body. Hence there never has been an insect of great size; this limitation on growth has held them all in check. If this physical check had not been provided, man could not exist. Imagine meeting a hornet as big as a lion!

Seventh: The fact that man can conceive the idea of God is in itself a unique proof.

The conception of God rises from a divine faculty of man, unshared with the rest of our world – the faculty we call imagination. By its power, man and man alone can find the evidence of things unseen. The vista that power opens up is unbounded; indeed, as man’s perfected imagination becomes a spiritual reality, he may discern in all the evidence of design and purpose the great truth that heaven is wherever and whatever; that God is everywhere and in everything that nowhere so close as in our hearts.

It is scientifically as well as imaginatively true, as the Psalmist said: The heavens declare the Glory of God and the firmament showeth His handiwork.”  (http://www.dlshq.org/messages/sciblgod.htm)

If after reading this, you still don’t believe, ask yourself, “Why?” What are you holding onto? What would you lose by choosing to suppress doubt and choose to believe? If you answer, “intellectual honesty,” ask yourself if you’re honest about everything else. Are you “intellectually honest” about your income taxes, about how fast you really were going when stopped by the highway patrol, and about why you were late? If you’re not 100% honest in other areas, why would you choose this one area to be so pure?

 

About the author: Rhonda Sciortino, author of Succeed Because of What You’ve Been Through, used the coping skills from an abusive childhood to start her own business and develop it, along with her other investments, into a multi-million dollar balance sheet. Through her writing, speaking, and media appearances, she shares how others can use the obstacles in their lives as stepping stones to a great future.

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Planning My Funeral

I just read Life’s Greatest Lesson by Dr. Allen Hunt. It’s the true story of a grandmother’s funeral written from the perspective of her 9-year-old grandson. The story captured me on many levels, but the first, the most basic, was the truth that we’re all going to die. We’re all going to come to a place on the continuum of our life where the life has been lived, the deeds (good and bad) will be history, the stories will have been told, and the test that is this life is over. It reminds me of taking the big final exam, turning in the paper, and then waiting with a twisting stomach to learn the outcome. Did I do well or fail miserably?

As I read about this good woman’s funeral, I couldn’t help but think of my own. I’ve lived more life than I have left, so the day is going to come sooner than I ever really thought about. Time to face reality. I don’t mean to sound morbid. I expect to pass the test and be promoted into the presence of my Savior, Jesus, which will be far better than the best day here. But knowing that my day is coming makes me turn my attention to making the most of the time I still have on Earth, however much time that may be.

After all, the funeral will last all of a couple hours. Some of my friends won’t be able to be there because of other obligations. Some won’t be able to travel. Perhaps some will have preceded me and will be waiting in Heaven. Those who do attend the funeral will hear some of my favorite songs, including “I Can Only Imagine” and “Carry on, My Wayward Son.” I hope that attendees will tell stories of the good things in my life rather than of the ugly things. I hope they’ll be influenced in a good way by the way I lived. But ultimately, after the ceremony is over and the lunch has been enjoyed and the dishes are being cleaned up, everyone is going to get in their cars, go home, and get back to their lives. Rhonda Lynn Sciortino—done. Gone.

Even the most influential people of their times eventually fade away to be remembered only vaguely, if at all. There are crumbling buildings in various parts of the world with old, worn names etched in their dilapidated frontages without a soul for miles remembering the individual who built the once-grand building. And for some well-known people, like Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and so many others, their legacy boils down to some distillation of their life that very few can accurately and fully articulate.

This beautiful little book helped me to understand that in order to leave a legacy, one must live legacy-minded. In Life’s Greatest Lesson, Dr. Hunt tells of the funeral and of the grieving widower grandfather telling his eldest grandson the story of his beloved wife’s life. In the story, Grandma Lavish Grace was known for her way of living, which she referred to by the acronym L.E.G.S. She wore a bracelet with the word LEGS on it, which represented her philosophy of life. It was that we she would:  Love all she could. Earn all she could. Give all she could. Save everywhere she could.

In the end, I walked away feeling relieved. Relieved of pressure to do something monumental with my life. I realized that a legacy is left by the way we touch the hearts of others, not the buildings we build or the statues we erect. In whatever time I have left, I want to love all I can, the best I know how. My best almost certainly will not be perfect. But I will do the best I can, and I will expect nothing in return.

 

About the author: Rhonda Sciortino, author of Succeed Because of What You’ve Been Through, used the coping skills from an abusive childhood to start her own business and develop it, along with her other investments, into a multi-million dollar balance sheet. Through her writing, speaking, and media appearances, she shares how others can use the obstacles in their lives as stepping stones to a great future.

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My Wrong Turn

As I walked to my car, already pressed to get to my next meeting across town, I was in an emotionally charged conversation on my cell phone. A colleague was talking about the importance of communicating to transitioning foster kids that they are powerless to change their circumstances. I was trying to maintain my composure while telling her why I felt strongly that the polar opposite is true.

I should have been focusing on the road. I should have suggested to my friend that we continue the conversation at a time when we could fully hash out both sides of this debate. I wanted to hear why she felt the way she did, and I wanted to be sure that she heard me. But I was too engaged in the conversation to put it off. It was just too substantive an issue.

I passionately told my friend that teen foster kids have the power to create personal and professional success. Their success (or lack thereof) begins with the power to choose whether they’ll have a positive outlook or a negative attitude. I shared my firm conviction that their power and choices would be the catalysts for the outcomes of their lives. To suggest that they were powerless was, for me, prophecy of a life of mediocrity at best and of desperation at worst.

I wanted so badly to persuade my respected colleague that people who have experienced abandonment, neglect, and abuse can be strong, resilient, resourceful, courageous people, and that telling them they’re powerless is the wrong message. I was so intent on communicating my message that I missed my turn.

I know how dangerous it is to drive while having a substantive conversation. Yes, the phone was on speaker and I had both hands on the wheel, but my eyes were not taking in all the data of my surroundings. Rather, I was so engaged in my conversation that the act of driving felt like the distraction rather than the other way around.

Having missed my turn, I was now bound to make the trek across town using side streets rather than the freeway. Missing that turn had caused me to add a few minutes to my travel time. More pressure in an already tense day.

I was just getting off that call, feeling that I had failed to effectively articulate my point, when I saw something out of the corner of my eye that made me gasp. I was going with the flow of traffic at about 50 mph on a very busy street, but I slowed down and looked over my shoulder to see if I really had seen what I thought I’d seen.

My brain was having trouble processing it, but as I realized the reality of the situation, I made an illegal u-turn to pull up near a toddler who was alone on the side of the road.

I stopped the car, put on my emergency flashers, and jumped out of the car in front of the little child just as she was about to step out into the street. She was filthy, barefoot, in a dirty diaper and an old, torn little t-shirt. It looked as though she hadn’t had a bath or had her hair washed in weeks. She couldn’t have been more than two years old.

I snatched her up and got her back on the side of the road while looking up and down the street for signs of whoever was responsible for her. I asked her where Mommy was, to which she replied what turned out to be the only words I was able to understand, “Mommy work.” I asked where she lived, I pointed in different directions hoping that she’d give me some indication of where she belonged. I put her down in the hopes of following her home, but she was clearly lost.

It was an industrial area, but there were a few old shacks down a dirt driveway nearby, so we headed in that direction. We walked down the dirt driveway and knocked on every door. No one answered. I began checking doors to see if any were unlocked. Perhaps she, like I at her age, had a caregiver who, like mine, had passed out behind one of these doors. But I found no unlocked doors.

There were no other houses or apartments nearby, so I wondered how far this baby girl had wandered. I wondered if there was a frantic mother somewhere running around the neighborhood trying to find her child. By the looks of the child, I was doubtful.

By this time I was very late for my meeting. I called the pastor of the church where I was supposed to have been ten minutes earlier and explained the situation. My next call was to the police.

The officer who arrived took the little girl from my arms. She didn’t cry. She didn’t seem frightened. It was as though what was happening was totally normal for her. As I walked back to my car, watching the officer take the little girl back to his patrol car, I wondered what would have happened if I hadn’t taken that wrong turn.

 

About the author: Rhonda Sciortino, author of Succeed Because of What You’ve Been Through, used the coping skills from an abusive childhood to start her own business and develop it, along with her other investments, into a multi-million dollar balance sheet. Through her writing, speaking, and media appearances, she shares how others can use the obstacles in their lives as stepping stones to a great future.

 

 

 

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He Tricked Me! A Story of Human Trafficking

(The following story is printed in the January 2014 edition of Foster Focus Magazine. It is an intriguing tale of Human Trafficking.)

Melo

Melo was tall and cute and all grown up. He was cool. He looked kind of like a grown-up Justin Bieber. He had the right look, wore the cool clothes, and rocked big, expensive sunglasses—the same kind Kanye West wears. He drove a brand new Camaro with a scoop on the hood. It sounded like a race car and looked like it was going a hundred miles an hour when it was standing still.

Carmelo was his real name, but the people he let in close to him called him Melo. He had his own place. He was 26. He was the guy everyone wanted to be close to, but only a few actually got into his private domain.

I met him at a friend’s house. He was my friend’s brother’s friend. I knew instantly that he was the one for me. At first he acted like I wasn’t even there, but my friend and I came up with about 400 reasons why we had to go into the garage where the guys were hanging out. Finally Melo said, “Hi.” I felt butterflies in my stomach. He looked me up and down like he was sizing me up. Then he looked me in the eyes for what seemed like a long time, and I guess right then he knew he had me.

I liked how it felt to be the one Melo was looking at. I liked it so much that I wanted to show him whatever he wanted to see. I started hanging out at my friend’s house every day after school, hoping that Carmelo would come by. As soon as I’d get there, I’d unbutton one or two buttons on my blouse and roll up the bottom of my shorts; or if I was wearing a skirt, I’d take my underwear off to be sure to get his attention.

Melo started texting me to see if I’d be there when he got there. It didn’t matter if it was in the middle of the school day or the middle of the night; I always texted him right back. He asked me to take a “selfie” so he’d always have a picture of me with him, so I did. But then he said he wanted to see more of me. He told me he wanted a picture that nobody else had—to see what nobody else had ever seen. By this time I would’ve done just about anything he asked, so I gave him what he asked for. If I’d only known then about the pain I was inviting.

As soon as Melo would get to my friend’s house, I wanted to go out into the garage to hang around with the guys. My friend got mad at me because I didn’t want to hang out with her anymore. I didn’t want to go to the mall like we used to do. I just wasn’t into all the dumb stuff we used to find so fun. I didn’t care about any of that anymore.

By that time Carmelo was hanging out with me. He was talking to me about places he had been and things he had done. My life was so boring compared to his. He always had money. I had nothing. He talked about doing fun things; and unless he’d pay for me to go, there’s no way I could ever think about doing the fun stuff he talked about. And when Melo started talking about going away for a while, I did everything I could to get him to take me with him.

Home

My dad left when I was little. My mom says she has no idea where he is. I guess he doesn’t want us to know where he is because he might actually have to help support me. I always think I’m going to hear from him around Christmas or on my birthday, but that’s a stupid fantasy. He’s obviously moved on.

My mom dated several guys, but I didn’t like any of her boyfriends. None of those guys ever lasted around us for very long anyway. Mom worked, so she wasn’t home a lot. When she was off work, she was either out on a date or she was tired and bitchy from having to clean and do laundry. I tried to help, but I could never do anything good enough to make her happy. We either had one-word conversations or we got into a fight. There was no in-between with us.

We lived in a little apartment in a bad part of town. I guess it’s all Mom could afford. I used to see my grandma once in a while, but she drinks a lot so she doesn’t drive much anymore. I was only thirteen, so I didn’t drive yet; and I couldn’t afford a car even if I was old enough to have a driver’s license, so I couldn’t go see her.

One of our old neighbors used to invite me to eat with her family some times. They used to take me with them to their church before they moved away. Their daughter was about my age. We were in the same grade at school. They moved only about 20 minutes away, but I guess they forgot about me because they never came back to take me with them after they moved.

He Loved Me

Then it finally happened. The great Carmelo and I hooked up. We were at my friend’s house, and he said he was going to get something to eat; he asked if I wanted to go along. There hadn’t been anything to eat at my house in a couple of days, so I was hungry; I jumped at the chance to go. After we went through the drive-through, Melo found a place to park. When we were done eating, he started kissing me and touching me, and the next thing I knew, we were doing it. I’d never done that before, but I didn’t want him to know that. He was this experienced, older guy, so I didn’t want him to think I was just some stupid kid.

It wasn’t long before Melo and I quit hanging out at my friend’s house. I’d go there so he could pick me up without my mom finding out, and we’d go to his place. I didn’t think my mom would care all that much, but Melo didn’t want anyone to know about us. He’s a really private person, he said. He took me to eat, which was great since there was never much food at my house. Sometimes he took me to the movies, and one time he took me shopping. He bought me clothes and shoes, and he even paid for me to have long, acrylic nails put on. I knew he loved me because of the way he spent money on me.

Even though a few days might go by in between seeing him, he always came back to me. He never called me in between times, and he never responded to my calls or texts. I figured he was working, so I didn’t bug him about it. One time I asked where he’d been and what he’d been doing, and he got really mad at me. I never meant to make him mad. I had seen him mad at a couple guys one time, and I knew that an angry Melo was something I didn’t want to see again, so I never, ever called, texted, or asked where he had been again.

Looking back on it now, I guess I just wanted someone to love me—really love me. Just for who I was.

Part of the Family

I guess by this time we’d been together about three weeks, which was a long time for me. I was doing whatever Melo wanted me to do. I knew that other girls liked him, and I didn’t want to lose him. He’d ask for pictures, and I’d send them—whatever and however he wanted. And whatever he wanted to do to me, I’d let him. Even when it didn’t feel good or even hurt, it was Melo—so I went along with it. Then he told me he had decided to take me away with him. Wow! I had finally made it! I was the one he chose to go away with. I was so excited.

I ran home and threw my stuff into a big trash bag (I didn’t have a suitcase) and I waited for Melo to pick me up. My mom wasn’t home, so I left her a note saying that she wouldn’t have me to yell at any more because I was leaving. I didn’t tell her where we were going, because I didn’t have a clue where we would end up. And I wouldn’t have told her anyway.

As soon as Melo pulled up, I threw my bag of stuff in the backseat and jumped in. I was just settling in, rocking out to the music and excited to be getting out of town. But then a weird thing happened. We didn’t get very far, when Melo pulled off the freeway and pulled into the parking lot of a hotel where we’d been many times before. What?!  I thought we were going on a trip. Now here we were at this old, yucky hotel.

Melo told me to wait in the car while he paid for the room. He came out of the little office, turned toward the car, and called out the room number. I knew I was supposed to wait a few minutes and then go up to that room. I did what I knew was expected of me, but what was different this time was that when I opened the door to that room, Melo wasn’t there. There were three big, scary looking guys all in there waiting for me.

I must have looked confused as I looked around and didn’t see Carmelo. But before I could even ask where Carmelo was or what was going on, the guy closest to the door jumped up, slammed the door, and locked it. One of the guys was smiling at me—a totally creepy smile. I asked what was going on, and one of the guys looked up from the phone he was staring at and turned the phone around. I stopped breathing for a minute when I saw what he’d been looking at.

My stomach dropped when I realized that he was looking at a picture of me totally naked. He had one of the pictures I had sent to Carmelo. And before I could say a word, he started flipping through other pictures…of me. One after the next, all the pictures I’d ever taken for Carmelo, and the ones I’d let him take of me, were all on this guy’s phone. I couldn’t say anything, and I felt like I was going to throw up. Then another guy pulled out his phone, and I saw that the home screen on his phone was of ME. He flipped to one picture that Carmelo had taken and said, “This is what I want—now.” And when he said the word “NOW,” he put his big hand on the top of my head and pushed me down on the bed.

Before I could even wrap my mind around what was happening to me, those guys were holding me down and hurting me. I guess at some point during it all, I kind of blanked out. I remember looking up out the dirty window at the gray sky. I remember thinking that nobody knew where I was, nobody was going to help me, and the only person who I thought cared about me was the one who had arranged for all this to happen.

I don’t have any idea how much time went by, but it must have been hours later when the door opened and Melo walked in. I was staring straight ahead, curled up in the chair in the corner with just the sheet from the bed wrapped around me. I didn’t move when he walked in. I didn’t speak. I just sat there. There was a lot going on in my head, but I couldn’t say or do anything. It was like I was paralyzed or something.

Melo walked over to me and put his arm around my shoulder. He told me I’d done a good job with those guys. “A good job?!” I still couldn’t say anything. I just looked at him. He was telling me how those guys had paid good money for what they got, and how he thought I was going to be great at helping to support the family. “The family?!” I still couldn’t say anything.

Then a lady walked in. She looked about Melo’s age. She was really skinny, wearing a really tight, clingy dress and four-inch heels. She wore a lot of makeup, and her hair was long and curly; she looked like a model. Melo told her to clean me up and teach me how to make some real money. But I could tell from the minute she walked in the room that she didn’t like me. I learned later that she was Melo’s main girl—not me. Since she was his main girl, she was in charge of all the other girls. In “the family,” she was called the “Bottom B—-.” And I could tell right away that she didn’t like it that Melo had been spending so much time with me.

Then, without saying another word, Melo left. “Chile,” the Bottom B, grabbed me by the hair and dragged me into the bathroom. She turned on the water and threw me in the shower. She told me to get cleaned up in a hurry because it was about time I started earning some money for the family. She had this big bag of makeup that she left on the counter of the bathroom and told me to fix myself up—and to be ready in 20 minutes. Then she left.

My brain was finally starting to come out of the fog, and I was thinking about ways to get out. If I walked out the front door, she might see me. I was on the fourth floor of the grungy, old hotel, so it was too far up to try to climb out the window. I thought that maybe I could find a back door somewhere in the hotel, and then just start running—to where I didn’t know because I didn’t know exactly where I was. But I knew I couldn’t get very far because I could barely walk. I was in so much pain, and I was still bleeding a little.

When I was almost done putting on the makeup she’d left, standing in the bathroom with a towel wrapped around me, I heard the hotel door open. I looked out of the bathroom door hoping to see Melo. I wanted him to tell me what was going on, but I was shocked to see two more guys walking in. I closed and locked the bathroom door and stood there, again feeling like I was going to throw up. How could this be happening?

Those guys started calling me to come out of the bathroom. They were calling my name—“They know my name too?” Pretty soon they started sounding mad. I still couldn’t make myself say anything. I wanted to tell them to leave, but I just couldn’t talk. One of them started pounding on the door. I didn’t know what to do. I was so scared. I didn’t want to open the door, but I was afraid of what would happen if I didn’t open the door. So, I opened the door and stepped out of the bathroom.

When those two guys left, Chile came back in. She started screaming at me and hitting me, saying I hadn’t given those guys all they had paid for. I was in pain. I was bleeding. I don’t know what I was supposed to do. I had come out of the bathroom—I didn’t know what else she expected me to do. She was screaming that I was supposed to act like I liked it. She told me how mad Melo was going to be and that if I thought she was mean, just wait for what Melo was going to do to me. It was like a nightmare. I kept thinking that maybe I would wake up and this would all be a bad dream. She kept hitting me, and when I reached out to block one of her hits, she grabbed my arm and dug her long, pointed nails so far into my skin that my arm started to bleed.

Just about that time, two more girls came in. One of them had been beaten up so badly that her eye was swollen shut. The whole side of her face was swollen and messed up. She just stood by the wall looking down, but the other girl had a belt that had pointy metal things coming out of it. She wrapped the belt around her hand and started hitting me with it. It hurt so bad every time she hit me. I was crying and screaming for her to stop. Chile finally told her to stop. Chile and the girl with the belt left, but the one who’d been standing by the door stayed in the room with me. She sat down on the bed and asked me how I felt.

I just started crying. Finally someone cared about how I felt. She told me how her face had gotten messed up. She missed her period, and Carmelo and Chile had beaten her up because now she was going to cost them time and money. They were taking her to Planned Parenthood for an abortion the next day; she said that all the girls go there because they don’t ask any questions. Chile and Melo told her that she was supposed to make sure that I didn’t leave the room. Melo told her that being a “guard dog” was all she was good for—at least for a while.

I mostly listened while she talked about “the family.” There were nine of us in the family. Melo was so much better than a lot of the other “boyfriends” she’d had. Melo didn’t beat anybody up for no reason—when we got beat up, we deserved it because we’d done something wrong or hadn’t done enough to help the family. She said that at least Melo gives us what we need and makes sure that the guys don’t hurt us too badly. I was having trouble paying attention to what she was saying because I kept thinking that this was all crazy—Melo was my boyfriend, not hers or anyone else’s. Sure, I’d known there were other girls, but I was his real girlfriend. But as I listened to this girl, whose only open eye seemed to dart around the room like she was all jumpy, I began to realize that I’d been tricked.

I must have fallen asleep at some point while she was talking because when I woke up, the room was dark and she wasn’t there. My stomach was growling, and I realized I hadn’t eaten anything in a long time. I started opening up the few drawers in the grungy little room to see if anyone had maybe left something that I could eat. I wanted to get dressed, but the bag that had my clothes in it was gone. The makeup was gone too.

I looked out the window and had a weird feeling. As I watched the occasional car go by and saw a couple of people talking on the corner down the street, I realized that the world had gone on. The Earth was still turning; people were still out there going to and from work; and nothing had stopped just because of what was happening to me. I wondered if my mom had seen my note. I wondered if she was worried about me. I wondered if maybe she had called the police and asked them to start looking for me. Probably not. Mom probably just figured I would eventually come back and then went on to work. What could she do anyway? She didn’t know where I usually hung out or who my friends were. None of my friends would have any idea where I was. Melo had told me to never tell any of my friends where he and I went, so I never had. In fact, some of my friends didn’t even like me anymore. They didn’t invite me to go with them anymore because they said that I never wanted to do anything with them anymore. Melo was my whole life.

I guess a couple hours went by as I sat there in the dark just staring out the window. Then I heard a key in the door. It was Melo. Right away I could smell that he had food with him. He threw the bag on the bed, and I tore into it. I nearly inhaled that hamburger and fries. Melo told me that now that I was a part of the family, I had a responsibility to earn my keep. I had to earn $500 a day. And if the guys I was with gave me any money directly, I had to turn it over to him or Chile right away. Under no circumstances was I to keep even $1 of the money I earned. He would buy everything I needed, and he would take care of me to make sure that nobody ever hurt me. This sounded more like the old Melo.

I told Melo that it was painful and that I was scared. I was hurt that he had shared my pictures with strangers, but I didn’t tell him that. I didn’t want him to get mad at me. As he pulled a pill bottle out of his pocket, he told me that he had something for me that would take the pain away. He poured out a few pills and put them on the nightstand. He handed me two of the pills and told me to take them now, which I did.

Melo didn’t stay long after that, but before he left, he laid out all the ground rules. Before I could see him again, I had to earn $5,000. That was more money than I’d ever seen. I didn’t know how it would be possible, but I was willing to try. I wanted him to love me and be proud of me. Not long after the door closed, I must have passed out.

More guys showed up. Chile came by with some things she wanted me to wear that she said would help me make more money. Some of the other girls came by to tell me how to make good tips. Some of the guys wanted rough, weird stuff. Some of them just seemed like sad, lonely guys who just wanted to be with someone—anyone. Some of them showed me kinky stuff on their phone and asked me to do that. I don’t know how many days went by because I quit keeping track of the days and nights. I tried to keep track of the money, but it was hard to do since they had all paid before they came up to the room. Finally Melo showed up and told me to get dressed and come with him.

I thought I was finally getting out of this dirty place, but all Melo did was move me from one yucky hotel to another. He said that we had to move every so many days to make sure that the cops didn’t find us and ruin everything. I thought that at least the view out of the window might be better, but the view out of the window of the new place was the brick building next door. It was worse.

Living the Life

In order to push through the pain and keep doing what these guys wanted, I kept taking whatever pills Melo left for me. When there were no paying customers, Chile came by and told me to get dressed; she’d take me in the car with the other girls to get some “paying customers.” We’d walk around showing as much skin as possible. When a guy would stop, we each would try to persuade him to pick us. We were all part of the same family, but we were all in a weird kind of competition. We all wanted to prove to Melo that we were the most valuable girl in the stable.

One night when we were walking on one of our “regular” streets, a van pulled up. The woman in the passenger seat reached out with a little gift bag in her hand. I was afraid to take it, but she smiled and said, “Here, take it. I want you to have it.” I took the bag and slowly opened it. There was a little shampoo bottle, a little bottle of fingernail polish, and a ring with a big, fake stone in it like a little girl would wear to dress up. And there was a note. I pulled the note out and read it. It said, “I want to help you. If you want to leave, meet me at the corner by the liquor store next Friday night at 12:30 a.m.”

When I looked up, the van was gone. I watched the tail lights fade away. Just a few seconds later, while I was still standing there, Melo drove up with Chile in the passenger seat of the Camaro—the seat where I used to sit.

Chile jumped out of the car, ripped the little gift bag out of my hands, and yelled at me to get in the back. Melo drove like a race car driver to the hotel, yanked me out of the back, and nearly dragged me into the room. They both began pounding their fists into me and yelling about not talking to anyone. I was trying to tell them that I didn’t talk to anybody, but they wouldn’t listen. While he was hitting me, Melo was screaming about me being his and how he better never see me talking to anyone like that ever again. To make sure I was paying attention, he was going to leave me something to remember this conversation by. He took out his knife and sliced a line about an inch long right next to my left eye.

The next time I saw that van, I took off the other way. I didn’t look in that direction, and I told the other girls not to either. Those people were responsible for the ugly, infected scar on my face. There was no way I was ever letting them get near me again to take me away. Besides, take me away to what? My mom didn’t care about me; she probably hadn’t even tried to find me. My friends had moved on. And nobody at school missed me. This was my life now. This was my family. This is where I belonged. All of us girls were like sisters. Finally I wasn’t alone anymore. We shared clothes, shoes, and makeup. In the mornings, after a busy night, we’d all hang out in one of the hotel rooms and talk about some of the stupid guys from the night before. If I ran out of pills, one of the other girls would give me some of hers. We took care of each other.

Everything was going along OK. It wasn’t a great life, and it wasn’t glamorous like what was in the movies; but hey, a couple of my mom’s boyfriends had tried to take what they wanted for free. At least now I was getting paid.

The guy who changed everything turned on the light when he walked through the hotel room door. He stopped when he turned around, and he really got a good look at my face for the first time. He said, “Uh, you’re so young…” He just stood there, like he was having second thoughts about the whole thing. He seemed like he didn’t know what to do. I told him that it was OK, but that he’d already paid and there were no refunds.

He sat down on the bed, but when I started to take off my clothes, he told me to stop. He said it wasn’t right and that I was better than this. I looked down as I was trying to put my clothes back on. But when I didn’t hear anything more—he had stopped talking in mid-sentence—I looked back up. I was shocked to see tears rolling down his face.

The guy said that he wanted to help me get out of here. That he could take me away right now. I just stood there; I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I was thinking, “Mister, you have no idea what you’re talking about. You’re going to get us both killed.” When he reached for his wallet, I thought he was going to give me a tip and leave, but he pulled out a card. Written on the card was this information about Freedom Place: “Between 100,000 and 300,000 kids are sex slaves in the US. The average age of a sex slave is 12 or 13. (I had just turned 14.) Freedom   Place is a residential center for rescued trafficking victims.”

I stood there holding the card and thinking about what it said. I’d never thought of myself as a slave. Slaves were from a long time ago. There were no slaves now. Then the man said, “You don’t have to live like this. There is a purpose for your life. I want to take you to Freedom Place. They’ll take care of you. You can live there and go to school and have a good life.” I wanted to say something, but nothing would come out. I just wanted him to do what he’d paid for and leave. I realized that time was going by and that Chile would be checking up on me soon. If this guy didn’t leave soon, I was going to get beaten again.

The man started talking again, telling me about the girls at Freedom Place who are just like me. He said that the staff at Freedom Place is great, and that there are people who have lived through the hell I’m living and who know how to help me. I don’t know what came over me or why I believed this guy, but without ever saying a word, I just reached for the door and opened it. He jumped up and walked me right out into his car. I could have been going from bad to worse. I really didn’t know if this guy was a murderer or the good guy he claimed to be. I guess it was because of the card that I was still holding that I followed.

Freedom Place

By the time I got to Freedom Place, I was completely addicted to drugs. I was afraid those people would judge me and want to kick me out. But instead they helped me to overcome my addiction to drugs and told me that I was worth the effort. I was so miserable, and they took care of me. I had panic attacks because I needed the drugs so badly. But they patiently helped me through every minute with individual therapy and group therapy every day.

I went to school every day. We had Bible study every afternoon, and every night we had a different activity. On the weekends we would go to the movies or to the zoo. There were people who taught us how to ride horses and how to take care of them. And every Sunday we’d go to church.

The therapy helped me overcome the fears I had of Carmelo coming to find me. Everyone told me how safe we were at Freedom Place and that no one could get to us. I wanted to believe it, but after all I’d been through, it was hard to do. When Carmelo was arrested, my therapist showed me the newspaper article. And when it came time for his sentencing hearing, they drove me to the hearing. I got to watch the judge put Melo in jail. It was then that I finally began to believe that I was safe. More importantly, I realized, sitting there in that courtroom, that the whole time I’d been at Freedom Place, I actually felt guilty that I wasn’t back there on the street with the other girls, helping to support the family. Seeing Carmelo hauled off to serve prison time helped me believe that he really had been wrong and that it really was OK for me to be free from him.

There are lots of girls who are out there on the streets, alone and needing help. They seem to be out there at younger and younger ages. Human trafficking is a big operation right here in the United States and too many people are blinded to its reality. The girls living that life need someone to listen, someone to love them, and someone to care enough about them to help them change their lives. That’s what Freedom Place does.

My life will never be what it once was. I’ll never be a child again. I’ll never be innocent again. I’ve seen things that most people never see—and never should see or experience. But I have a new normal. I have a good life. And I have hope for my future. What I’ve been through has made me a strong, resilient person. The most important thing is, I’M FREE.

 

(This story is the compilation of the stories of girls who were rescued from child sex trafficking. Freedom Place is a real place in Texas that receives no government funding. To help the rescued victims, go to www.freedomplaceus.org.)

This was the most difficult article I’ve ever written. I prefer to talk about hope-filled futures and strength-leveraged success. But until we begin to take an honest look at what’s really happening to children, typically within a 30-minute drive of wherever we live in the US, we’ll never eradicate this heinous crime. There was much more I could have told, but if I had, you wouldn’t be able to sleep tonight.  –Rhonda Sciortino, Author

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Make 2014 the Best Year Ever

The year 2013 is over. It’s time to evaluate what worked and what didn’t. It’s time to get rid of what holds us back and get ready to make 2014 our best year ever. Be candid about your responses as you evaluate your life. Authenticity is required to make real progress.

Evaluation #1: Do I have a clear vision of what I want to accomplish in life? If so, what is it? If not, what should it be?

Evaluation #2: Do I know my strengths? If so, list them. If not, take a strength-identifier test or list the good qualities and characteristics of someone you admire. How many of those do you have?

Evaluation #3: If you haven’t yet attained a measure of your ultimate goals, what has deterred you? List the obstacles you’ve faced.

Evaluation #4: Go through the list of obstacles that have kept you from achievement, and write at least one answer to what you can do to overcome each obstacle.

Evaluation #5: On those obstacles for which you have reasons they cannot be overcome, consider what would have to happen for you to be able to blast those those reasons and, ultimately, those obstacles.

Evaluation #6: There may be goals that have a price that is simply too high to pay. Where that’s the case, strike those goals from your list. Give yourself permission to live life without fulfillment of those goals. Consider how that makes you feel.

Evaluation #7:  What do you like about yourself? What’s your best personality trait?

Evaluation #8: What personality traits are weaknesses?

Evaluation #9: What is the most valuable skill you’ve learned?

Evaluation #10: What skill would you like to learn or improve?

Evaluation #11: On a scale of 1-10, where are you on being able to effectively communicate with those closest to you?

Evaluation #12: On a scale of 1-10, where are you on letting those closest to you know how you feel about them?

Evaluation #13: On a scale of 1-10, where are you on filtering your thoughts so that every thought in your head does not fall out your mouth?

Evaluation #14: What negative emotions did you experience this year? What can YOU do differently in the future to avoid those feelings or at least to shorten the length of time you have to live with those feelings?

Evaluation #15: What is the character trait you most appreciate in others? What do you look for in friends?

Evaluation #16:  List the top five most important character traits in their order of importance.  For me, the list is at least ten:  Honesty, Loyalty, Faith-filled, Personal Responsibility, Work Ethic, Optimistic, Courage, Responsive, Compassion, and Persistence.

Evaluation #17: Do you embody the character traits you value most?

Evaluation #18: Do you intentionally seek out mentors and friends who embody the character traits you value most?

Evaluation #19: If there are times when you aren’t operating fully in those good character traits, what is it that triggers those times? Is there a person or situation that brings out the worst in you? Can you do better by planning ahead?

Evaluation #20: Do you have a clear vision of the person you want to be in 2014? If so, what do you have to do to act like that person? If not, write out a description of the perfect YOU so that you are clear on who you want to be.

Evaluation #21: What you do in 2014 will be largely influenced by who you are. Are you determined to exercise the self-control necessary to deliberately become the person you want to be? The person you were created to be?

Evaluation #22: Which of your strengths/personality characteristics helped you survive the adversity you’ve experienced?

Evaluation #23: Which of your coping mechanisms or strengths/personality characteristics helped you thrive in the situations in your life in which you’ve been at your best?

Evaluation #24: When you are feeling unstoppable, which of your strengths/personality characteristics (may be a combination) are most obvious? As an example, for me it’s been passion, honesty, and work ethic.

Evaluation #25: Which of your coping mechanisms or strengths/personality characteristics are no longer relevant or valuable in your life? For example, for me it was acting tough that allowed me to walk through gang and Hell’s Angel’s territory to and from school every day that no longer served me when I went to work in an insurance office.

Evaluation #26: Determine to let go of coping mechanisms or personality characteristics that no longer serve you. It doesn’t mean you are no longer able to pull them out if needed. Think of these things like a hammer or a screw driver that you will put in the toolbox until such time as you need them again. We don’t have to walk around carrying with us every tool in the box.

Evaluation #27: As a role model to everyone within your influence, what do you most want to exemplify? (You may think that no one is watching, but you ARE modeling behavior to family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, clients, prospects, the mail carrier, the grocery clerk, and everyone else with whom you come in contact.)

Evaluation #28: Negative emotions WILL (notice I didn’t say “may” or “can”) hold you back from being the best person you can be and from enjoying the life you were created to live. What negative emotions are you still harboring? The most common are anger, bitterness/unforgiveness, jealousy, and guilt/regret.

Evaluation #29: Determine NOT to carry those negative emotions into 2014 with you. One way to set them down is to write down each feeling and the person or situation involved on a piece of paper. Then burn, shred, or flush those pieces of paper. Make a literal act of ridding yourself of those emotions and the circumstances around them. It doesn’t mean they won’t pop up again, but each time they do, tell yourself you’re done with that. It’s in your past, and you will not allow it to be part of your present or your future. If you give negative emotions no energy, they’ll eventually fade away.

Evaluation #30: LOVE is the most powerful emotion known to man. The power of love can heal hearts, change circumstances, and bring out the very best in us. Decide today to show love for others by telling others of the good you see in them. It costs nothing, and it can change everything.

Evaluation #31: Giving love to others can be like putting healing balm on an open wound. But we can’t give that which we do not have. So begin 2014 by loving the good things about yourself. You are amazing! You were created with a combination of skills, talents, and abilities that are uniquely yours. You’ve been perfectly matched to a good plan, and when you fulfill it, you will have all the good things that accompany it!

Before we can fully have all five points of prosperity, which are good health, good relationships, peace, joy, and financial stability, we have to be the person we were created to be. So, to find and fulfill the good plan for which we were created, let’s determine to make 2014 the year that we become the best we can, embodying the characteristics we most value. In so doing, we’ll move toward finding and fulfilling the plan created for us, and we’ll be modeling a good life for everyone within our influence.

Best to you in 2014!
Rhonda

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