Commusings: We Are Stronger Than Our Struggles by Laurie-Beth Robbins

Mar 27, 2021

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Hello Commune Community,

The first time I beheld Laurie-Beth Robbins she was wearing nothing but a giant salmon and holding a glass of wine. Who would not be compelled? 

I was taken in by LBR's monologues and knifery, both equally dexterous. She is a poet gourmet, making art of food and story. As I became a devotee of her, she simultaneously developed an affection for this newsletter, and our mutual admiration blossomed in a number of long phone calls. I think of them as communions — exchanges of intimate spiritual feelings.

It was on one of these calls I learned of Laurie-Beth’s harrowing experience as a young woman. She bravely shares this story with us here today. For those who may be triggered by it I hope you will feel ready to return to it another time. But, of course, through the exchange of story, the glaciers of separation thaw, revealing bridges that connect our islands of loneliness.

Laurie-Beth found the ingredients to transform a gruel of PTSD into a bisque of post-traumatic growth. This is our individual and communal challenge: to find meaning in our suffering. Laurie-Beth serves as a beacon of hope. 

Always here at [email protected].

In love, include me,
Jeff

• • •

We Are Stronger Than Our Struggles

by Laurie-Beth Robbins

 

HUMAN FLESH is an unfathomably lucrative commodity today, with human trafficking (labor, sexual, child and more) being de rigueur. 

But if your only concept of these atrocities is from thriller movies or TV reports, then I am compelled to do my due diligence and speak up.

If you have a daughter, know someone who has a daughter, or understand that every woman you meet is indeed somebody’s daughter, then perhaps my story today shall reach right down into your bones and inspire you to be part of the solution.

On more than one occasion I am asked, “Where was God in your harrowing journey?”

To which I repeat the old adage that God was there all along, but, “Where was Man?”

Rarely does an American divorcée nearing 30 fathom that such diabolical things could happen to her. But there I was, living with my mother (a journalist) and father (a political science professor), and in that household of 13 newspapers (17 on Sunday!) I answered an ad in a well-known publication for a job as an administrative assistant in Athens, Greece.

After vetting the position thoroughly and even discovering, to my shock, that a family friend even knew “The Boss” who had placed this enticing ad, all things revealed a green light, looked inherently safe, and indeed were extraordinarily exciting!

As I packed for my move, I visualized the next leg of my life journey: succulent grilled octopus pulled freshly from the sea, bucolic white stucco architecture right out of a coffee table book, and (single, lonely, and admittedly quite horny as I was) maybe even a tan, sexy, and quite charming Greek God!

When I arrived on the other side of the world, however, a job did not exist.

And “My Big Fat Greek Comedy” turned Tragedy mighty fast.

• • •

Sitting in the bar of my hotel contemplating my options (my pride having been eaten and so abruptly shat out the other side and tremendously so, as I was not prepared to return home after a mere 48 hours and explain that I had “failed” so abruptly in my Greek fantasy), I was readily approached and convincingly coaxed by some other men.

They were in “shipping.” 

Just what or whom they were shipping, I then so very fawn-like did not know.

Were they connected to those who had placed the ad? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s hard to know.

Over the course of a couple of months, I would be groomed and loomed into a plan. A grand scheme from which these maestros of maniacally sick ventures do manifest and make money from in droves.

Greek hospitality abounding, I would attend a magnificent Greek Easter in the home of one of these gentlemen, replete with whole roasted lamb and goat on a spit (yes the eyes, intestines, and balls — all of it!). I would meet the elder “Yia-Yia” grandmothers and the small babies both.

My friends hospitably encouraged me to call home on their cell phones and let my parents know I was “OK,” since I didn’t have such a mobile device then when traveling. (These tactics, all part of the “grooming,” were in place to be used as threatening ammunition later on… “We have your information and we know where your family is.” Ergo, a gal was to COOPERATE.) Accordingly, the shipping moguls, “thoughtfully” had me request my parents mail clothing to their offices, since I was living out of hotels and would need more items once I stayed on sustainably in Greece. 

It was all, yes, every specific and intentional bit, just part of the plot and ploy, with me being quite valuable “merchandise” to them, and, unbeknownst to me, already in their possession.

Mind you, this was eons before the word trafficking was so commonly in the news, on social media, or portrayed gorily in movies like “Taken” or the Quentin Tarantino “Hostel” flicks. And yet, even today, people STILL move through this big beautiful world with ignorance or disbelief (due to income, intelligence, or a false sense of the vicissitudes of life) that such adversity could ever, in any way, occur within THEIR family.

I too, at that time, was certainly a neophyte in this subject. And since I was handed the garments my parents had mailed, and since my trust was constructed with the meticulousness demanded by the dollar-signs in their eyes, I bit the bait and moved along step-by-step of their perfidious game, like the young and vulnerable chess pawn I was.

While Hollywood action packs this genre with a thriller mystique and such exhilarating aplomb that it becomes, dare I say, “sexy” even, with the music fading up and the handsome characters flexing about while trafficking to a riveting and entertaining tempo; the obfuscating methods and myriad techniques these traffickers actually do use, including sending women in to lure girls into false opportunities with more believability, so spans the gauntlet of the twisted and clever that in reality you cannot see it coming, even if you wanted to.

• • •

I received the call in my hotel.

I was told at last a job would work out well for me and the only regret of my friends was that they were “not able to help me sooner.” 

The instructions were brief. I was to be downstairs at 6 PM.

As a tenacious kid, raised to be punctual and polite, I was most certainly downstairs, outside, curbside and...ready. 

A black Mercedes pulled up, screeching its brakes and driving right onto the hotel sidewalk. Maybe Hollywood does some things right!

I was aggressively put into that car – TAKEN – with my luggage thrown into the trunk and a stern warning directed my way, “Don’t mess around!”

They were all there. Serbian, Albanian, Bulgarian, and Greek men whom I knew. Except for the one gentleman whom they’d presumably waited for in order to make such a flesh sale.

I was driven to the Athens airport and put on a small plane with one of the men and flown to the north of Greece near a border. There I was placed in a seedy hotel where two other men came in for “negotiations” with my handler.

In the morning I would watch as the men smoked early morning cigarettes paired with small cups of black, murky coffee. They babbled in a mishmash of Serbian languages and Greek.

Amid the smoke and constant chatter, one of the men changed a car license plate. 

As he cut and pasted different numbers onto it, another man explained to me, in English, that the guy had received “too many traffic tickets” and needed a new plate before I would be driven in that vehicle across a border, where my new “job” would (alas!) begin.

By that time I had learned a hefty portion of local vocabulary, and, recognizing a word that meant “hooker,” followed by uproarious laughter, I asked to go to my room, claiming I needed something.

Once in that hotel room, I locked the door. 

One of the men had a key.

Those involved with such dealings do not touch the girl first, mind you, while they are building her trust, unless placating her while posing as a love interest of some sort.

Just before the gals are sold, however, into their torturous decaying fate, the traffickers then and only then “get their sexual piece of the goods.” For once the ladies cross the border, they will be, within the first 24 hours, indoctrinated into “the break in period.“

During that time, upwards of 30 men can be brought in around the clock to brutally use and abuse the girls, who, while often drugged out of their minds, still clearly realize emotionally, verbally, and physically that they will never get out. Passports are often burned in front of the girls in tandem with threats made regarding their families.

Ergo, the traffickers get their lusty share before that final sale and gruesome beginning of the end.

Unfortunately, I was no exception to that first part of the protocol and was raped orally during a pitstop en route to the airport and then orally and vaginally by the man who opened that hotel room door on the morning I was to be sold.

After this incident, that man informed me he would go downstairs first and that I was to come down and join them all a few minutes afterward as they would be finishing up “certain things” and then have the car ready.

Liam Neeson did not arrive on cue.

And to this day I am not entirely certain how I was able to manifest the wherewithal to move quickly, although I did.

I took a deep breath, said simply to God, “Thank you for being with me right now,” and I walked down those stairs.

Peering through the beaded curtains, I witnessed two of the men smoking and babbling while twirling their “worry beads,” a traditional piece of jewelry to spin or rub when feeling anxious. They are called komboloi in Greek, meaning “with every knot, I say a prayer, ” an irony not lost on me one bit.

I RAN.

I ran and I ran and I ran. Taking one helluva chance and in 4-inch black strappy sandals no less.

Eventually, I came to a much nicer looking hotel.

Still unsure who to trust, shellshocked as far as what to say and still “stinging” with what had happened to me, I approached strangers.

I was taken to the American consulate, which, unfortunately, did not prove helpful. Yet, in a very long, complicated, and also quite unpleasant and roundabout way, I did get home.

And I’m still here.

Someone was looking out for me on what clearly was the luckiest day of my life. And for such, how very grateful am I. What would’ve happened to me, had I crossed that creepy border, would’ve been the most torturous end of me. For certain.

But as the saying goes, “surviving the surviving” is much harder than the transient moment in time that is often occurring unbeknownst to us. For years post-Greece, I drowned in the suffocating swamp of SHAME for not having seen it coming.

Shame is a dangerous and debilitating animal in that it attacks one even after you dodge the arsenal of imminent danger. For too long I convinced myself that other men would view me as “soiled” or perhaps “damaged goods” — unlovable.

I would spend years and many tears trying to deny what had taken place, and, with me telling a very diluted version of such harrowing escapades to a boyfriend (with me only attracting men who did not fully appreciate me since I found myself unworthy, after all), there were some dark-beyond-dismal times and subsequently numerous unhealthy relationships. 

I even tried writing erotica or trying to rewrite the story as an interesting and adventurously grand fictional and romantic excursion - minus the yucky parts - with the hopes that such an exercise would heal me somehow and make what had happened disappear, but to no avail.

But do not feel sorry for me, as I have a happy ending!

Yes, I’M STILL HERE!

And this is what I can share today, some two decades later and having done deep and laborious, albeit vital, work in my heart and soul regarding this incident, alongside several phenomenal people and downright exceptional and very loving parents who have helped me embrace my strength and become the quite genuinely happy woman I am right now.

• • •

Our struggles do not disappear.

Nor should they.

Life is for the living, for facing all it brings and for forgiving, ourselves most importantly, so we can move forward.

We cannot deny or change what has happened, but we can get a grip on it (yes we can!) and we can choose not to become weak, sullen, fearful, or hard because of it.

We can decide not to ask WHY something happened to ME, but instead dive in and be a conduit of kindness or a modem that links other people up to authentic and beautiful experiences, courageously so, reminding them that life sure is good again. 

Because it really is!

A tragedy is ONE mere part of us, where we were indeed victimized, and we cannot deny it or make it disappear or change it, but it is not our entire identity. 

We are multidimensional, quite beautiful, WHOLE beings, if we choose to see that and to let the world see that magnificent range of ours as well. And it isn’t that our wounds or struggles make us brave or fabulous anymore than it isn’t the case that time heals all wounds.

Time will come and go anyway. What we DO or do not do amid that time is what determines what and how things shall be.

Post-Greece I served for a time as an adjunct college professor in Lowell, Massachusetts, teaching speech and mass communications. Most of my students were refugees: from Haiti, Sierra Leone, Bulgaria, Nigeria, Cambodia and many other ports of call. Being American and white, I was a minority, and I would hear stories of struggle that I still shudder to replay in my mind.

Some of these “kids” spoke about watching their brothers’ arms chopped off with machetes or a cousin being taunted and forced to shoot his own parents. They would describe these moments with such intrepidness and humility (in English no less, which wasn’t their first language) and I would marvel...and I would manifest some courage through osmosis into this mere vessel I am blessed to “borrow” for a bit of time.

Yes, those students grabbed my aorta from the inside, valves and all, and yanked it unflinchingly right out of my ego, and I am twenty thousand times over better today for that experience.

I spoke with a young lady who had endured a ghastly genital mutilation ritual – now illegal in many countries – where the women in her life, whom she looked up to and trusted and loved, hacked away her most intimate and delicate body parts sans anesthetic. 

I corresponded with a blind girl, who used special software to compose her letters to me years after my guest appearance in her class.

I attended a lecture where a Holocaust survivor spoke. He also became a penpal of sorts and served as one of the pivotal people in my life who helped me take an optimistic mindset during moments when I didn’t feel I aptly could.
 

• • •

I am forever fortunate and grateful these brave people shared their experiences with me, and collectively, because of them here is what I now can share with you: 

We all can look straight into the EYES OF HELL and know we have the same power. 

We do!

If one person is misusing that energy it does not mean they are stronger than you or your willpower. When we recognize this we rise up to face our challenges.

French writer and  philosopher, Albert Camus, said it well: “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”

And so, if I am doing this dance of life with any rhythm at all, then I believe our “struggles” truly present us with phenomenal opportunities to grow, glow, and show fellow humans how it is done, in the name of posture, positivity, and KINDNESS delivered to others. 

You may find yourself out in the cold with grizzly shadows all around you and a deflating effort to remain hopeful. But let that shaky moment be your cue, just like a movie scene where it is your time, your line, and your moment to shine and show all of your stuff!

For precisely then, yes, I promise you this: it is at that exact fearful moment when you must not in any way, shape, or form lose your composure, your critical focus, and gallant spirit!

It is right then when you must look that bleak and dismal or quite vacuous bastion of DARKNESS damn smack in the face...grab an emblematic emotional shovel...and say to it all, “Hold my wine!”

BECAUSE YOU CAN. 

• • •

Laurie-Beth Robbins is a writer, chef of exotic healthful cuisine, certified wine connoisseur, and extemporaneous raconteur. Known as “LBR” to most, her contagious enthusiasm and passion for life splashes into her upbeat videos and thought-provoking columns on Facebook, as she reminds people daily that “Life Is Delicious and Amazing!” so long as we make it such!

A larger scope of writing projects are forthcoming for LBR in tandem with her pursuit to adapt her Taken story into a meaningful film in the name of educating, inspiring, and in some good way entertaining, the world.

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