"AS THE YEARS WENT BY, IT SEEMED LIKE A PIECE OF MY SOUL WAS TAKEN AWAY WITH EACH UNWANTED TOUCH. DRUGS AND THE STREET BECAME MY FRIENDS BECAUSE I COULDN'T COPE WITH THE TRAUMA OF MY CHILDHOOD"
“I had everything I could have wanted,” she recalls. “But I still had a hole in my heart. Stuff was haunting me. I still couldn’t accept what had happened to me. And I didn’t want to accept that my mental health needed attention.”
Suffering from depression and other mental health issues, Anika relapsed in 2015 and spent a year on the streets. Thistle Farms staff brought her food and listened when she needed to talk.
“I was so confused. But I felt their unconditional love. I didn’t think I was worth it, but other people thought I was worth it,” she says.
When Anika was ready to try again, Thistle Farms staff helped her find placement at Bravely. Anika, a soon-to-be Bravely graduate, has been sober since December 2016. She replaced drugs and the street with two new friends: fashion and style.
She is working toward a cosmetology degree and works as manager of Wear Bravely, Bravely’s social enterprise, where she’s responsible for order fulfillment, creative oversight, reordering, special events, and employee scheduling.
Anika’s first memory of sexual abuse was in her hometown of Detroit when she was four years old. Though, it wasn’t until in middle school that she learned about sexual assault and understood what had happened to her.
“It was a relief,” Anika, 36, says of her realization. “I grew up feeling like something was wrong with me because it happened all the time.”
Her father’s early disappearance from her life and her mother’s drug addiction lead Anika to spend time in seven foster homes over just four years — and she was molested in each one. She was adopted at the age of 8 and, soon after, her family moved to Nashville. But when two male relatives moved into Anika’s new home, the pattern of sexual abuse continued.
Anika struck out on her own, living on the streets where she often traded sex for money, food, shelter — and eventually crack cocaine, which she says was a tool to melt away her sadness.
“As the years went by, it seemed like a piece of my soul was taken away with each unwanted touch. Drugs and the street became my friends because I couldn’t cope with the trauma of my childhood,” she explains.
Anika was stabbed in an East Nashville Alley while carrying drugs for a dealer in 2004. But, temporarily not being able to walk and the deep gashes along her left cheek didn’t end her addiction. She says, “I hustled from the ICU back to the streets.”
Later, while in jail after her 87th arrest, Anika sought help from a jail counselor. They led her to Thistle Farms in Nashville (the program Bravely is modeled after). After therapy, recovery meetings, and parenting and computer classes, she was clean for more than four years.