I did a lot of interesting things in my early twenties. I flew to Paris with $20 and an expired credit card. I went to an Ivy League seminary and paid for it by cocktailing at a strip club. I also ran up $10,000 in credit card debt by paying big bar tabs and buying $90 jeans. A big portion of my twenties was spent in a vodka fueled haze of shopping, partying, dating and generally being a baller. I’m not gonna lie; some of it was pretty fabulous. But most of it was selfish and short-sighted.
I was 25 when I met my husband. The crazy partying stopped when I met him and, since he is thirteen years older than me, we got pregnant two months after we were married. He was in his 40’s when our first baby was born. I did what many people consider the natural American progression- from college and partying to grad school and more partying to career and marriage and babies.
Once I hit the marriage and babies stage, it was a huge let down. After my first baby was born, my marriage went into a tailspin. My husband felt more pressure to provide for his growing family and turned into a textbook workaholic- at work all day, worked from home at night, and took the pressure off by turning into a TV zombie on the weekend. Meanwhile, while I was head over heels for my baby, I felt that my marriage was a complete failure. I had pictured the perfect American family. I was experiencing the dark side of the American dream- work, work and more work to buy more stuff we didn’t need at the expense our our relationship. It all felt really empty. To say that I was unhappy would be an understatement; I was miserable.
And so my descent back into total self-absorption began. I bought a Thoroughbred racehorse off the track to train and show. I thought that fulfilling my lifelong dream of horse ownership would give me a hobby and take my mind off of my feelings of discontent. What first time mom has time to re-train a racehorse, take care of a baby and work a full time job? I really thought I could handle all of it, but in retrospect it was a bit much. I still have the horse, and I adore him, but he wasn’t the answer to my marriage problems.
Right around the time my daughter turned one, I found out I was pregnant again. I was horrified. It was a surprise to say the least. Getting pregnant almost put me over the edge as far as feeling that my life was not what I had pictured. I knew when I got pregnant that I was about to be thrown back into sleepless nights and more drains on my time and energy. By this time I had sunk thoroughly into depression. I was committed to staying married and so was my husband, but I was not easy to live with during this time.
There was something missing in my life that wouldn’t be fixed by a horse, a hobby or a husband. I realize now that what I was lacking was a sense of purpose. For the first time I could sit back and say, “I have arrived.” I had a big house, a good job, financial security, a good looking and hard working husband, a beautiful daughter and a son on the way, and still I was deeply unhappy. I was living the American dream of white picket fences and prosperity, and yet it wasn’t enough. During my early twenties, when I was partying and having fun, the emptyness didn’t hit because I thought I was just killing time until my “real life” of career and family began. Once I had what I thought I wanted all those years, I realized how mistaken I had been about what would make me happy.
During the period of my worst depression, I did something strange. I knew I needed to quit feeling sorry for myself, pick myself up by my bootstraps and keep on keepin’ on. So I decided to find someone more miserable than myself to give me some perspective. I started reading about human trafficking. I’ve always been interested in the sex industry and women sex workers. In grad school I wrote my Master’s thesis on pornography and the sex industry. Human trafficking wasn’t a “thing” yet; no one was talking about it, so back then I had no idea that many women in the sex industry were actually enslaved. I’ve also been interested in Southeast Asia since I spent a month in Thailand when I was 15.
I started reading about the child sex trade in Southeast Asia, specifically Cambodia. I had seen this for myself when I was in Thailand; I saw child porn sold openly on the streets with pictures of very small girls, probably 3 or 4 years old, in makeup and lingerie. What I read about human trafficking was deeply disturbing. The stories of these girls kept me up at night and were on my mind all day. All of a sudden my problems paled in comparison to stories of children being raped for profit. I was physically sickened by reports of fifty year old Western men trolling the slums of Phnom Penh for little girls. I decided I was going to do something about it because that kind of thing sure as hell wasn’t going to happen on my watch. As long as I was alive and able, I would do something for those little girls.
And just like that, I snapped out of my depression.
You may be reading this and thinking that depression doesn’t go away overnight. But mine did. Mine was a matter of perspective and once I got some perspective on the triviality of what I considered problems, the depression disappeared. All of a sudden I had a purpose that far exceeded the white picket fence and 401K. Almost overnight I went from being a one girl pity party to a woman with a drive to change the world, one Southeast Asian brothel at a time.