When I left the adult industry almost two years ago, I walked away from virtually all I knew. I spent 20 years in a world that although makes little sense to those on the outside of it, it made perfect sense to me. I spent the latter years of my career debating in public forums for the legalization of regulated brothels and I was as passionate about it as any person could be about anything. But in time, what I came to realize was that my passion was misguided and distorted.
On the surface the industry had been kind to me but, underneath it had been very damaging and extremely unhealthy. I'm sure what comes to mind for most people are the horror stories of sex trafficking and forcible drug-induced sex brought on by pimps when they hear me say that. But, that wasn't my experience. Not even close. I actually lived a life of luxury and were it not for my silicone enhancements, you probably never would've guessed what I did for work. What is most difficult for many people to grasp is that every decision I made, I made 100 percent for myself. I was a self-made, self-sufficient, very successful adult entertainer. Although I bounced from one title to the next -- dancer, model, courtesan, performer -- it didn't matter. I chose those titles on my own and I was confident in my line of work. I never lied about it and I certainly never shyed away from it. I seemed to be empowered by it.
When I retired, I moved out of the city and to a small town in southern California where I knew no one. What I found out when I left was that I had no idea who I was outside the industry. I was clueless as to how life outside of my role as entertainer worked. Although I was financially stable, emotionally I was certainly not. I began to discover that I had no idea how to have a conversation with someone who wasn't in the business, around the business or a fan of the business. Once I had removed the facade of Bethany St. James, I had no idea who the person underneath was. I felt naked for the first time in my life. I didn't know how to be confident within myself minus the limos, the makeup, the glamour, the gifts and above all -- the massive amounts of attention. Normal everyday tasks began to cause panic attacks, eventually causing me to think I was having a mental breakdown.
I began to look for labels in an effort to define myself. I am and always have been a proud Christian, who as a little girl dreamed of preaching to a congregation like my Grandfather once did. So, I took my love for God to a new level. I enthusiastically volunteered for every role my new church had to offer. I was happy but I still felt awkward around my peers. I decided to enroll in Ministry School. But, I quickly realized that I felt even more awkward around my peers. I enjoyed the lessons but not the discussions. Theological debates became heated because I had a much different view of the world than they. The situation was clearly made worse when my previous line of work was discovered. Besides the obvious change in demeanor many exhibited toward me, I was surprised to learn how many people thought everyone in sex trade either walked the streets or was addicted to drugs. I found myself defending a lifestyle I didn't even belong to anymore. I was without a doubt a pariah. I didn't belong in their community and I found that I really didn't want to, either.
My studies brought me to much different conclusions than theirs did and I began to see my beliefs were surprisingly more biblically sound than most of theirs; if nothing else, certainly more loving and less judgmental. I felt stones being cast not only at me but at the very people I had shared my life with for over 20 years. What I read in my own bible studies had spoken of loving people to life not judging them to death. I found myself disgusted by the stereotypes and misunderstandings. My faith deepened, my resentment for their calloused, misguided opinions grew and my panic attacks worsened.
There had to be a reason for my sudden inability to relax and function normally. I had even began to show signs of paranoia and displaced fear. In fact, it had gotten so bad that I was actually beginning to mildly hallucinate at times. I was worried I was literally losing my mind. I went from a confident, happy person who never feared anything to a fearful child virtually overnight. At the urging of my wonderful husband, a former USMC Major, I sought professional help. My husband had been diagnosed with an extremely high level of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder caused by five tours of heavy combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. He even surmised that I could be battling with my own form of PTSD. All the signs were there. It was a veritable checklist of symptoms. However, mine were literally the exact polar opposite of his. Where he felt nothing, I felt everything. Where he feared nothing, I feared everything .
After just a few sessions with my therapist, she very matter-of-factly told me that she was quite surprised at how I had navigated my way through my life. She was shocked that I had no concept of what was damaging to my own psyche and what wasn't. As a courtesan and as a certified sexual health educator I had spent years counseling others on love and sex but had never stopped to realize that I had done severe damage to my own thought processes. After examining the events that took place before I joined the ranks of professional adult entertainers, it was obvious to her what lead me there in the first place. The ability to numb out things that should have been stressful and morph them into something normal became a coping skill. In fact, I had done it so long that I had literally shut out virtually every normal emotional response possible.
I was diagnosed with a severe form of PTSD. It all made sense. My husband's form of PTSD is the inability to shut off the body's emergency response system so the body and mind are in a constant state of alert. His five tours of war had turned it on and now it's nearly impossible to turn it off. My form is the exact opposite. I had lived my entire life in a high level of emergency response and now that it had been turned off, I had no idea how to react to even the most normal of situations. The irony is that I never felt as though I had suffered any traumatic events. But it was obvious to those closest to me that my viewpoint was severely skewed. I was informed that I most certainly had. When sharing my experiences they would shake their head in amazement that I didn't see it as strange or traumatic. They would literally stare at me in disbelief as I blankly stared back asking, "What? Is that weird?" Apparently, I had always just kept going and never stopped to take a breath. Now that I had slowed down, the weirdness of my existence had begun to surface.
So, now that the dust has settled and the battle has been won, what does it all mean? What exactly is the point of this long winded soliloquy? Well, it's simple. The point is that I made it through. I did the work. I allowed myself time to process, to heal and to understand the oddity that is my life. I learned I'm a lot more than someone else's entertainment. I have learned how to live with Complex PTSD and the stigmas surrounding those of us that made the choice to work and live within the confines of the adult entertainment business as a way of filling the voids. I survived making the transition and although it wasn't easy I learned a lot about myself, my former line of work and the world around me.
Having worked as a personal and sexual empowerment coach for the majority of my career, I have to laugh at myself that I thought I had it all figured out. I certainly did not and I don't think that any of us have anything completely figured out. As a motivating speaker who has now examined her own life under a microscope, I can say with outright certainty that without a greater understanding of who we are and without examining our reasons for doing what we do, we tend to get stuck in a place disguised as comfort. Now that I have reclaimed my life and redirected my career, I can tell you that from where I sit -- I am really enjoying being a little uncomfortable now and again and it's a place I highly recommend spending some time in.
Follow Bethany St. James on Twitter: www.twitter.com/FreshFaceBeth