Sex Work and Sobriety

Sex Work and Sobriety

By Riot Stern 01/29/14

First I used drugs, later I became an escort. Then I got clean and sober, but it still took a while to get out of the life. 

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Around 6pm, after a manicure, I called my sponsor and went to a Pills Anonymous meeting in midtown. I really related to the speaker. Then one of my crew asked if I wanted to hit an NA meeting in Hell’s Kitchen; later I went back to his place to get his extra copy of the NA book. Checking my phone then, I saw that one of my favorite clients wanted to meet me before he went home to his wife. I figured I could do that around 11:30. Minutes later, my agency called to ask where a car could pick me up at midnight for a job in Westchester. I’d have to get home and change from jeans and sneakers to a dress and heels. 

I looked at my friend, who’d watched me count days, and told him that I was a hooker. I left so quickly, he didn’t have much chance to react. I was four months sober. 

I changed and did my makeup, saw my first client at an apartment he had access to, (he works in real estate) then had the car service collect me. I had to pick up “male enhancement pills” at a gas station on my way to Westchester. There, I met a doctor in his early 30s who was watching porn on two screens. He had two rubber bands on his cock and wanted a non-stop, three-hour hand job.

I left after 3am. The car service next took me to a nightclub to meet three men, plus two other escorts. I had a Red Bull. We all left the club and went back to an apartment uptown. The men were very good looking and in their late 30s—their wives were out of town at bachelorette parties. One of them gave me a hard time for refusing to do vodka, cocaine or a valium: “I asked them to send me party girls, not someone who doesn’t even drink!” He told me I was hot though. I rattled down the suicidal list of substances I used to put into my body daily, but added that he was welcome to do whatever he wanted and I wouldn’t judge him. That call ended up being a lot of fun. The guys were just hanging out and talking. Since I was the only sober one, I was in charge of making sure everyone was having a good time. Only one of the men actually wanted to fool around, so the other two girls kept him company (dancing and doing drugs) and I smoked cigarettes with the other two men in the living room. I didn’t even have to take my clothes off. 

I got home at 7:30am, took a bath, read my daily meditations and lay in bed for a few minutes. Then I threw on sweatpants and walked to my favorite Sunday morning AA meeting, “Living Now.” I had bagels with my boys beforehand and saw their horrified eyes as I told them about my night. At noon—three prostitution calls and three recovery meetings since I’d last slept—I texted my sponsor and crashed. I met my commitment to qualify at a beginners’ meeting that evening. I didn’t share about my job. 

My early childhood was spent on the floors of AA. Neither of my parents has had a drink in my lifetime. I rarely got drunk in my teens. But at 14, I began stealing prescription pills from medicine cabinets. And after my drug-dealing high school boyfriend moved to my suburban town, I began doing pharmaceuticals more, as well as ecstasy, special K and cocaine. 

In college, I realized my biggest love was for benzos, and I scored them anywhere from the street to doctors and online pharmacies. I was the nice Jewish girl who was down for anything—I found myself in Los Angeles’ most thugged-out neighborhoods, hanging out with gangsters who sold drugs and carried guns. 

At 21, I was back in New York and I started my first full-time job after graduating. By then, I was doing Xanax and cocaine daily. I OD-ed for the first time and “pretty much” quit drugs for four years, focusing on my marriage and my creative career. Still, I embraced other forms of self-destruction, from cutting to diet pills. 

By 27, I was constantly doing Xanax (again), Adderall and OxyContin. After my ex from high school committed suicide by OD-ing on heroin, I was ready to set my own life on fire. I quit my job, moved out of my apartment, got divorced and cut my parents off. 

I ran away to Vietnam, and checked myself into a health spa. I thought it was a detox. In fact, I’d signed myself up for fat camp (I weighed 90lbs). So I just took sublingual vitamins all day and drank or smoked crystal meth with Thai hookers all night.

Next, I ran to New Mexico, to meet a guy who moved from New York after he had ruined his marriage by doing coke and fucking whores. I did what I knew I wasn’t supposed to—closed him in less than 10 minutes and made him fall in love with me. After we finished getting drunk, we went back to his hotel and blew a bunch of painkillers, and he asked me how much I got paid. 

I was confused; I thought we were just having a good time. He kept alluding to my being a prostitute, which I wasn’t: “Best whore I ever had. How much do I owe you?” Any self-respecting woman would have hated this guy. I thought I was in love with him—even when he nearly killed us both by drunk driving. 

When it was over and I was leaving for New York, he advised me to be an escort, because I would be good at it, make a lot of money and have fun. My creative jobs sure weren’t supporting me. So despite initially feeling offended, I began to take his words as a challenge, and to research the sex industry. 

So one day in February of 2012, I was bored at my day job and decided to start working as an escort that night. I was willing to go to extremes to be financially independent. At this point, I was just a daily drinker and had the occasional Xanax or few. I was little bit apprehensive that I would get caught, or killed, but I really didn’t feel much. 

Looking to gain experience in the industry, I opened myself to working in various ways. First I researched ads posted on Backpage and Craigslist, in order to understand what men were looking for from their companions. Next, I searched online for an outcall agency that would hire me immediately. 

The outcall agencies I worked for would have a driver pick up two girls around 10pm. We’d sit in the car, waiting for calls, until 7am. Most of our time was spent driving, or in Dunkin’ Donuts and McDonald’s parking lots. The fee was split three ways: the agency, the driver and the girl. Typically I would see one or two men in a night and keep anywhere from $300-$700. Except for the night I met a drug lord from Harlem and he hooked me up with my first two bundles of heroin and paid my rent for the month. I was only with him for two hours and there was no sex involved but he knew I would be back. I was taken to fancy hotels and to sketchy neighborhoods. Most calls involved drugs; it was easy to get them from one client and sell them to another. 

Next, I worked in a brothel in Long Island City. Picture a few girls—plus a phone girl and a manager—in a three-bedroom apartment, watching reality TV, reading tabloids, doing opiates and waiting. When a customer arrived, each of us would walk into the bedroom in our lingerie and introduce ourselves, so he could choose. In-calls are more popular in the daytime. The split was 50/50 with the house, and we often got tips. 

After two months of that, I decided to go independent. I posted myself on Backpage. I actually enjoyed exchanging emails with potential clients; I went to great lengths to verify them before we met. I wouldn’t work past 8pm and would only see white-collar businessmen with wives—never single men. As an independent, I developed ongoing relationships with regulars. I was able to set my own schedule, with money to fund my jet-set lifestyle and support my drug addiction. 

I really do have a soft spot for some of my favorite guys. I found something admirable about every man I met and enjoyed the experience of luxury, and the thrill of a double life. 

Lastly, I decided in order to make more money and gain more experience to be a high-end call girl, working for an upscale agency with an elite clientele. I was able to set my own schedule and was responsible for my own transportation. I worked long nights and experienced situations that I found both glamorous and dangerous. With my low self-esteem and raging false ego, I never thought that pursuing this line of work would be a big deal. I had access to men, money, drugs and danger—I felt proud that I was such a bad-ass. I felt like I’d really come a long way from being a spoiled brat, and assumed most men would be relieved that I was so down to earth. 

In no time, I went from being a daily drinker to being a daily pill-and-illegal-drug addict. There’s a lot that I don’t remember. I just medicated myself, blacked it out and counted my money every night. I was entirely detached from sex, from my body and my emotions. 

It didn’t occur to me that one night of mixing Nyquil and Xanax with gin would be any more important than any other. But in November 2012, I ran into a guy that I had banged (for free) in a bar bathroom a week prior, during a blackout. He reminded me of our interaction. 

He’d said, “Can I buy you a drink?” 

I replied, “I’ll blow you in the bathroom."

“I want to take you to dinner,” he said. 

So I took his hand, led him to the bathroom and told him, “Fuck me and forget about me.” When I was done with him, I Irish goodbye’d. I have no memory of any of it. 

When I ran into him the next week, it was clear I’d made quite an impression. He spent the entire night— this total stranger—professing his love and planning our future together. In the morning, I asked if he meant it. He told me he meant every word. 

So I ran away to Columbia that day and sent the guy about 30 intoxicated emails detailing my life story. For the first time in years, I was flooded with emotions. Suddenly, this stranger had made me believe in my future. I realized I needed to change if I was ever going to live happily ever after. I only saw him one other time— six months later. The timing was off and I believe our fate is to be continued. But he still changed my life.                                                                                                       

By mid-December I was working at a coffee shop. A guy I hadn’t seen since high school came in, and overheard talk about how dangerously I was living. He asked me if I’d ever been sober. My response was, “Well, I did special K this morning, but I haven’t had a drink all day.” 

Three days later he took me to my first AA meeting in Manhattan. I got a sponsor the night before I went out for the last time. My sobriety date is December 27, 2012. I now attend several recovery programs, work the Steps with my sponsor, chair several meetings a week, and am so grateful. 

But I had no intention of quitting my work as an escort. I was honest with my sponsor about it from the start. Looking back, it’s incredible that she was still willing to help me. 

In my first three months sober, I got a lot of legit work—and since I’d stopped spending money on drugs and alcohol, I had no desire to post a new ad or find new clients. When work with my regulars came up, I spoke to my sponsor before making the decision to see them. I was honest with them that I’d stopped drinking; most had no idea that I was a raging addict, but they all seemed to respect my decision. I went to almost 200 meetings in my first 90 days. When I shared, it was always in a general way, referring to “my boyfriend” or “my job.” 

After I got 90 days and finished my First Step, I joined a new high-end agency and began working most nights. I spoke to my sponsor about it and she told me that I needed to bookend my calls with a meeting before and a meeting after, and that I needed to keep calling her every day and throw myself into my step work. 

With that agency, I realized I needed to be prepared to be around drugs, alcohol, addicts and assholes. But it’s strange: The more money people are willing to pay, the less you’re actually expected to do. A client who will pay say $800/hour most likely just wants company. More often than not, there is no sex involved. I acted like a therapist, a listener to most of the clients. 

I thought that if I could survive and stay sober in such a dirty industry, than what didn’t kill me would make me stronger. I would silently recite the Serenity Prayer while I was working, to keep myself present and humble. I kept sharing about “John” at meetings. 

When I was in enough pain, I would work on the Steps. The day I finished my writing for Step Three, before I had a chance to discuss it with my sponsor, I decided I was going to test my faith and really try to turn my will over to my higher power—by being on call every night for two weeks. But in that time, it turned out, I was only asked to work once, for a female client at a karaoke bar. I ended up not going; my agency decided that since I didn’t drink, it would be best to send someone else.

Then things started moving quickly. One day I finally got my unemployment back after being without it for three months. That night I also got a call to work and took my last on June 25, 2013. The call was with someone very mentally ill, and I was scared for my life. The man was OCD, had not left his apartment in over a decade, was dirty, paranoid and flat out creepy. You can’t black things out when you’re sober and you can only suppress them for so long. 

So it finally caught up with me that my work was risking my sobriety—and more. Another reason for my decision to quit being an escort is that it kept me from pursuing a more meaningful career path. I also knew I would be alone for as long as I did it. Being an escort is easy money in a way, but I’d been working full time to convince myself that none of it was real. I was tired of it. My job had made me a prisoner in my own sober life. 

I spent all of my six-month anniversary day with my sponsor. After we finished discussing Step Three, we turned to my work. I talked about some of the traumatizing situations I’d experienced, and she told me that she had been praying for my safe bottom. In the most loving way possible, she kept reassuring me of the progress I’d made, and that I didn’t need to be a hooker. 

So I decided to quit sex work, one day at a time. I deleted the email accounts my clients used to contact me and called off with my agency. I feel confident that I will never go back to that life. None of this would be possible without AA and the support of my sponsor. 

At 29 years old, I have committed to a life of sobriety. I have absolutely no desire to use. If I ever pick up again, I won’t stop until I am dead. So I have decided to live in the solution and look forward to a long, slow recovery. I look forward to having a family one day, and want to live a life of service and charity. I hope that my experience will be able to help young women to have the strength to move from the illicit lifestyle into recovery.

Riot Stern is a pseudonym