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How to Quit Being a Hooker

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By McCarton Ackerman

05/14/12

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After four months in the sex industry, Melissa felt unwilling to take other work opportunities that paid far less. ”I had lost the value of hard work and felt a sense of entitlement that privileged people often feel,” she says. “I had lost the commitment to the hopes and intentions for my life.” And yet while she readily identifies herself as an alcoholic in AA, she is less willing to view her time in the sex industry in similar terms. “I have trouble labeling my continued participation as an addiction,” she says. “The sex industry worked and kept working for me, but what didn’t work was my alcoholism because I was inebriating myself to do it. I certainly abused sex and craved it when I was out of the industry, but it was a craving to be out of myself. AA was my primary program and it’s the only program I work that deals with the issues I have.” Petro removed herself from the sex industry in 2007 and quit drinking a few months afterward but she says it wasn’t until joining the NYC Teaching Fellows program three months into her sobriety that she realized it was possible to find a well-paying career that she loved.

Of course, not all former sex workers are able to find rewarding careers and lacking a formal resume and simply engaging in traditional jobs can present other issues. “It’s hard to go from getting $1,500 to beat someone to making $10 an hour at Starbucks,” Konrad admits. “And you’re now isolated because you’ve lost all your hooker friends, so you have to build that up. Then you realize your social skills have atrophied because you’ve controlled who comes into your life, always knowing they’re going to be giving your money.

Re-entering the workforce outside of the sex industry—and re-entering the real world in general—is one of the key ways that Sex Workers Anonymous assists its members. While the program provides mentoring and life assistance to those who are prepared to leave the sex industry, Myers-Powell says that many are surprised by how difficult the journey is. “You don’t decide to leave the industry on Monday and it’s done on Tuesday,” she explains. “I had to learn how to work again, date again, interact with people out of that lifestyle—and even go to bed with someone without charging. Our literature addresses all of that.”

Simply being able to talk about these realizations and share sex industry experiences in the supportive environment of SWA is of course another benefit for attendees, some of whom have not felt similar support in other 12-step programs. “There’s a lot of shame around male prostitution in the AA rooms,” Konrad says. “I quickly learned not to share that information because I’d be judged and gossiped about.” And yet Melissa had the opposite experience. “I had no boundaries when I got sober,” she admits. “I’m a provocateur by nature and because being rejected was a fear of mine, I would try to provoke a response to see if that would happen. There was also less of a basis to be judged because I wasn’t going to the AA meetings at NYU, where it’s mainly professionals coming straight from work. I would go to the ones on Perry Street where they would be mentally ill. I felt like those were my people.”

Despite finding an open-minded environment where he could share, Konrad dropped out of SWA. “I went to a total of 10 meetings and apart from the times I brought friends, it was often just me and the woman running the meeting in there. It was literally one addict talking to another and I couldn’t just slip in and listen the way I could at an AA meeting,” he says. “She would literally make home visits and bring me food. And at that time, I wasn’t prepared to make the huge life sacrifices she was asking for. I was making deals with myself and saying I won’t do this, but will do that.”

Still, there are other reasons why a former sex worker—even one who believes that sex work is in itself an addiction—might not be open to SWA. “Most sex workers have a history of sexual trauma, so they became detached with their feelings and push these issues away,” says Hokemeyer. “That makes it less likely they’ll trust strangers and share these experiences with them. Addictions are shrouded in shame, so the meetings, where they’ll have to admit out loud what they did and talk about it, can become a terrifying place to go.”

Yet a number of former sex workers are doing what they can to lift the shame associated with their previous profession of choice. Petro has written openly about having been a sex worker and paid the price while Product is currently producing a play based loosely based on his time in the line of work. And Myers-Powell, of course, continues her efforts to help those who wish to leave the sex industry. But while all have been long removed from the sex industry, only Myers-Powell credits SWA with helping her to escape. According to Hokemeyer, it doesn’t matter what meetings a person attends as long as that goal is achieved. “I don’t see SWA and AA or NA as mutually exclusive,” he says. “I see them as complimentary to one another. Full recovery would be enhanced by doing both if there is a drug or alcohol problem as well, but people need to go with where they are most comfortable so they can get better.”

McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer currently residing in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Time Out New YorkThe Huffington Post, abcnews.com and usopen.org, among others. He has also written about Carré Otis and Celebrity Rehab, among many other topics, for The Fix.

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