Reorient: Changing the Code, Part 3

When I was a kid, I grew up on boxed macaroni & cheese. Most of the time, it wasn't even the good, Kraft or Velveeta kind; it was the generic, super-cheap box where the powdered cheese substance was a bright, tangerine color, not to be found in any natural cheese substance, making you feel like you would possibly have super-powers from radioactive materials found within.


Today, I wouldn't touch the powdered cheese with a 10-foot pole, but when I was a little girl, you couldn't get me away from the stuff! I loved it. I loved that the powder mixed in with some butter and milk to form the soupy goodness that clung to the cooked elbow macaroni. It tasted processed, but for me, processed tasted good.


I had no idea that macaroni & cheese could be made in any other way. It wasn't until my early 20's that I discovered that you could melt actual cheese with milk and butter, put it in a casserole dish with cooked noodles, and bake up a super-delicious, fattening meal that tasted like heaven without any radioactivity. My eyes were opened, friends. 


You might be laughing, but I had no idea that there would be a better way to enjoy the American staple. I was stuck in my world where food came from a box. Even when I discovered there was a new way to make this dish, I still had a hard time not returning to the processed cheese that I had always known, though I knew how incredibly bad this stuff was for my body.


It is hard to break through with a new way to do something when you have spent your formative years developing a certain way of living. 


I've spent the past couple of weeks sharing about the struggle the women we see in the Amirah program have to break the cycle of living "the code of the street." It is what kept them alive, so why would living any other way be of benefit to them?


I can imagine that there are probably quite a few of you out there that are looking up macaroni & cheese recipes to send to me now that my secret is out. Of course, there is a better way. How much more do we want to drive it into the lives of the survivors whose instinct is to close the world off that there is a better way? 


My instinct is to fix a problem when I see it. 


But my instinct to fix a problem and correct a situation won't help her reorient her life and everything she has known.


I cannot fix her, and I cannot change the way that she thinks. I can merely live out what I have asked of her having her witness a life lived with no walls, barriers or street code - a life lived with integrity.


This is not an easy process. I know that my gut instinct is to try to teach someone to do it the right way. But she is not able to hear from a teacher, she needs to see someone living it out before her in order to learn. The greatest thing they respect is someone who is real and has their proof in their pudding. 


For us, this means that when we make a mistake, we own it. I remember the first time I apologized to one of the women for losing my temper with her. I don't think she was expecting that. Everything she has ever known is that those in authority never apologize, but I was in the wrong and I needed to own that. That was something completely new that she has never seen before.


Reorientation is all about finding a new path, a new walk in life. Finding this path is difficult, and staying on it is even harder. Reorienting is not something that happens overnight, but it happens each day as she sees us light the way. It is difficult work for them to reorient; it is both the hardest and easiest work for us to live this way before them.



This post is a part of a series on "Changing the Code."​


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We are grateful for the partnership of the Women's Fund of Essex County as we work together to promote solutions for survivors of sexual exploitation.