Claire describes her childhood as dysfunctional and confusing. She excelled in school and extra curricular activities; she was a member at a church and remembers always having felt an immense amount of pressure to uphold a certain facade of perfection. “I was always taught to look and act a certain way, but in retrospect everything that was preformed at home was different.”
Claire’s mother was an emotionally unavailable hoarder, and her father–an abusive alcoholic. Claire felt as though she was living behind a mask. Growing up her family held Claire to the standard of perfection–her goals and dreams had to be the very best in order to be “successful.” Claire received the same messages from church, that she must was to be held to a standard of perfection in order to be loved and accepted by God.
“I never felt good enough. I wasn’t good enough for God, and I’m not good enough at home because no matter how great at academics and sports I was, it never prevented the abuse from happening–it didn’t do anything for me.”
After Claire’s father was accused of molesting her and her sister, Claire’s relationship with both of her parents began to drift. She recalls that after her parents split, at age 11, she began to be sexually abused by people whom she trusted. “At some point, I started to view sex as something I needed in order to feel whole.”
As a teenager, Claire rebelled and became promiscuous. She spent a majority of her teens being kicked out of her home, shuffled in and out of juvenile detention centers, between her parents and within the foster system. At 17, she sought security with a new, wealthy boyfriend. “I always looked at men as a way to get me out of my old life. I thought they could save me and offer security.”
“At 19, I was living at a higher level than I had ever lived, but my boyfriend became extremely controlling and abusive.” The abuse became so severe that Claire fled. “When I did finally break away, I didn’t have anywhere to go. I didn’t graduate from high school. I had no skills. I was dependent on a man, so my first solution was to go back to find that- security in a man.”
Claire started to work as a waitress and bartender and eventually found that she could “date” many of the customers in exchange for payment for her bills. In 2005, she was introduced to waitressing in a strip club by a friend. “I wasn’t able to identify that what I was already doing was escorting. There was no emotional connection. It became a business and I thought I was a successful professional. I had high end clientele–congressmen, senators, attorneys.”
Claire began to see the competition in the clubs intensify and felt that she had to offer more in order to make a better income. “I never felt good about it and I began to drink heavily and use drugs because that’s what the men who were paying me did and it was a way to not have to live with my reality.”
In 2007, Claire knew she needed to have the option of getting a different job, so she enrolled in school. “It was hard because my world’s contradicted each other. I would go from the clubs at night to a classroom during the day, and I felt so dirty like I didn’t fit sitting next to kids who had no idea about the real world. I sat in classes listening to people talk about changing the world, but I knew what the real world was like. But trying to maintain a normal life was impossible because when I was sober, life was miserable.”
After losing custody of her oldest sons in 2010, Claire hit rock bottom. She made the decision to move from waitressing to dancing in the clubs. During that time, she was involved in a physically and sexually abusive relationship, began drinking heavily and became increasingly violent. Claire still believed she wanted out and attempted to enroll in other programs that offered assistance, but after applying and disclosing her background, she was denied from several programs. She gave up and continued to dance.
“In the clubs, I felt, at least, I had a level of power. I could get away with fighting back and protecting myself where for so long I had been abused either sexually, emotionally or physically by men. The clubs gave me that sense of empowerment.”
One night, Claire was abused so severely that her boyfriend was put into jail and she went into a shelter in order to feel safe. Claire continued to hit barriers, the most significant, getting a job with her background. The program in which she was enrolled, required she be employed and offered no financial assistance. Claire was asked to leave after several failed attempts to meet the job requirements of the shelter.
Claire felt trapped, as do all of the women who come to NFNL. She was unable to pay for the heavy court fines and unable to be hired due to her criminal background. She thought that the lifestyle she was in was the only one available to her. Claire soon lost all hope. “I felt myself dying slowly. I dropped out of school. I felt my passions fading, and I just felt like giving up. I had enough money to pay my bills, but I just didn’t pay them.”
During that time, a friend called Claire and convinced her to come to Dallas to try New Friends New Life. Claire went as a last ditch effort. “I thought it was going to be another program that would promise me a lot of things and tell me how to live my life, but the second I revealed my background they would say I wasn’t eligible, or they would say the program was for a limited time. I knew there had to be some limitation.”
Claire came in by herself to a Wednesday evening service where she was met by a graduate leader, Barbara, who began telling her about the tremendous change she and her family had experienced because of New Friends New Life. Claire continued to have hesitations, but Barbara then shared her own background riddled with many of the same situations as Claire.
Claire began working in the resource center and was connected with a Career Works trainer that shared a special connection with her. They worked through career advancement curriculum that allowed Claire to learn about her personality type and positions she would be interested in pursuing full-time, taught her how to interview and create a resume.
Upon completion of those classes, Claire received an internship through the Second Chance Jobs program with a local business in Dallas where she gained valuable experience and was later offered a full-time position. Claire began to receive counseling and support services through NFNL that allowed her to stabilize her mental and physical situations. Claire is currently working full-time through her associate’s degree and will then enroll in a 4 year university for her bachelors.
“The thing that keeps me coming back is the support system. Every time I share one aspect of my life I walk away kicking myself thinking that it will come back to haunt me, but the next time I come in everyone smiles at me the same way and welcomes me with open arms like I matter.” Claire stated, “My life would not be where it’s at right now without New Friends New Life. I know that there is just no other way. They’ve showed me things that I’ve always wished for, but thought I could never have like unconditional love and honesty. I can be honest about who I am and what I’ve done and still be loved.”
Since enrolling in NFNL, Claire has seen a change in her children and herself as a parent. “My relationship with my kids has grown in such a different way than before. For so long, I tried to keep a distance from them for fear that I would have to be separated from them or they would find out about what I was doing. Now, I am able to be a better parent because I don’t have to hide from them. They’ve noticed a change in me, and they look at me differently because of it.”
Claire describes how New Friends New Life opened the door to her future, “Now, I see opportunity and open doors. Before, I didn’t see options and now I can see them. I honestly believe that the sky is the limit.”
Now, Claire is passionate about educating other women who were in her situation, “I want other women to know that you can come from the darkest place. I had been in the dark for so long, but I feel like I stepped into the light. God’s light is here. It’s at New Friends New Life."
*The protege’s name has been changed to protect her anonymity.