Lisa Michelle: Unlikely Warrior

0
123

By Ben Schooley

Lisa Michelle, local advocate for women caught in sex trafficking as well as author, has experienced more than most. From trauma at a young age, through a rock ‘n roll lifestyle, addiction, and ultimately redemption, Lisa can help these women through situations that she herself has been found. A Kendall County resident, Lisa sat down to describe who she is, where she’s from, and who she wants to save.

Lisa, with her striking smile and blonde hair does not appear to be what you might imagine a woman would look like that has lived the life that she has. A large presence in the room, she beams positivity and resolve and it’s infectious. As she begins her story, it’s apparent that her smile is well earned.
She begins, “I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area. My Mom was a waitress and dad was a bartender and owned this little bar that the Oakland Raiders and Hells Angels hung out at. I had a very traumatic childhood – my father sexually abused me from the time I was a young kid to 14. It was continuous and it was my normal. I didn’t even know it wasn’t normal. I barely made it through school because of the trauma I was going through – domestic violence as well – I think the teachers felt bad for me and passed me half the time. It was very hard for me to focus and learning in an environment like that is almost impossible.”
She describes her goals as “When I was in high school, it wasn’t your normal experience. We had a smoking lot in our school, and we all did it. I hung out there and I was doing drugs from the age of 12 onward, so I had no plan for my future. I wanted to escape so I turned to drugs/alcohol quickly. I was angry and had no passion for anything. Goals? No, I was more into surviving than worrying about any goals.”
As an early teenager, Lisa ventured into the dark alleyways of the nightclub district, and ultimately stumbled into the heavy metal scene of the late ‘80s. Ultimately going on the road with her new boyfriend, Bret Michaels of Poison, and then bouncing around through various toxic relationships, Lisa ultimately spiraled with her addictions until she hit a wall. She continues, “I almost OD’d. The band told me I needed to get help and get into rehab. I went back to California, got into rehab, and lived with my mom. I was very serious about my recovery. My mom went with me to my first AA meeting and it was the first time I ever felt supported in my life.”
While she was serious about her recovery, her efforts were not enough, as Lisa fell back into the scene quickly. She explains, “I got a job as a makeup artist, and my first day this girl flew in from LA and she invited me to go the club that night. I didn’t tell her where I was at with my life, we walked in to the club, got invited to the VIP area, sit down and champagne starts getting poured. The bartender said, “This is compliments of the owner – he’d like to meet you.” And that was it. My relationship with him lasted for the next 6 years. Wining and dining with him and hanging out with A-list celebrities and just wrecking my life with my addiction. I was simply running from my pain and hiding it with drugs, alcohol, and men. I was miserable.”

Despite her misery, Lisa saw no real rescue path for herself. However, a chance invitation would ultimately create the path she hoped. “A friend reached out and said “I’d like you to go to church on Sunday’ and I said “Why would you possibly invite me? I’m not church material!” and he said “I know – you’re one of the biggest sinners I know – and I know exactly why you’re going to church with me on Sunday”. I figured he was nuts, but then he said “Lisa, there’s really hot guys there!” and I said “Ok – I’ll go.” My sister went with me based on the hot guy comment, and I dated half the guys in the congregation! I quickly found out that my problem was MEN. Every weekend I heard messages about a father, and how He wanted me, and wanted a relationship with me – and ultimately I said ‘Where do I sign up?’ I gave my life to the Lord one day during service and did a complete 180 from my lifestyle. I was delivered from the drugs and alcohol – the desire was gone. It was a miracle. I detoxed from men for over a year.”
She explains that she “married the Lord for the next year” and focused heavily on her recovery and faith. Soon God brought her a partner in the form of an honest and decent man, and they just celebrated 25 years of marriage. A successful businessman, he quickly moved the family (with their 2 young children at the time) to Arizona for work. However, the isolation began to take a toll on Lisa.
She continues, “This is where things started to turn south for me. When we moved I felt isolated, I wanted a job as an aesthetician, but I felt no purpose or direction. I was really soul searching. I was successful when my husband met me, and moving to Arizona was hard for me because I was dependent on him. Issues started to surface around me. I’m in a safe relationship, but all these old issues started to pop up. I started having nightmares and flashbacks that literally terrorized me. PTSD – I was back in that space again. My husband thinks I’m this great girl and then I start acting out and having suicidal thoughts and issues. We met a pastor that took me under his wing and he worked with me so much and I got into psychiatric help and he worked with my healing. From there, I’ve never looked back.”
After a quick move to California, back to Arizona…and they were then moved to the San Antonio area in 2012, and the family was told that the Hill Country is “simply beautiful”. She continues, “When we moved here, one of my husband’s colleagues said the area was nice so we came to look. This town is simply amazing. We absolutely love it. We had been praying and knew change was coming but we moved here sight unseen. It was one person telling us how great it is here, and we trusted him and we just up and moved here. I have said the same thing to others and they’ve moved here similarly. It’s a bit set back in time compared to California or Arizona…and we really couldn’t be happier because, honestly, that’s the best part. The night we got here, I had the 2 little kids and we’re driving up into the Hill Country after our midnight flight and I woke up the next morning and I just felt like the land was welcoming me. There were butterflies and the air was crisp and I said “This is heaven on earth”. I’ve never regretted trusting God, and moving here was another example.”
Shortly after her arrival, Lisa founded No Strings Attached, an advocacy group designed to help women in the sex trades find a way out of the “lifestyle”. Lisa describes the mission as “Experiencing survivors being untethered from exploitation, abuse, violence, shame, fear, poverty and more and being tethered to freedom in Christ.”
She continues, “We have a team of 12 men and women – we have great relationships with the clubs now and we go straight to the dressing rooms, we look them in the eyes, and we let them know we have resources if they want them. We invite them into our community. We tell them about our services and the girls all say “Wait – I need these things!” and we work with them to get them into safer positions. We work with DCFS and law enforcement and have a task force here in San Antonio. We’re bringing all the services together under one umbrella. They’re doing care coordination for survivors coming out of this lifestyle., and via 1:1 advocacy, we’re working with these girls coming out of this situation and help them move forward.”
While the services and outreach is certainly comprehensive, the group continues to expand the ways that they reach their audience. She explains, “We started out just offering support and community in the beginning and now we offer counseling services, retreats, and we’re going to build an advocacy center for the girls. We’ve been mobile for so long and this will provide us one space where all of our services will be consolidated.”
As for financing, the agency is working a variety of angles, but it really comes down to donations and the wares that the girls themselves produce via handmade jewelry at Lillian & Co, the group’s retail outlet designed to help support the group. Lisa adds, “We’re making our goods at Lillian & Co – right now our best-selling product is jewelry for sure – the girls can help us produce our goods, we pay them for their work, and then they make a wage off of their sales. We’re trying to expand that a lot and get bigger in that area but we’re still working on that.”


As the group grows, so does its mission and reach. Recently rebranding from No Strings Attached to Untethered Ministries, Lisa has also focused on getting her own personal story out to others to reach them. UNLIKELY WARRIOR, which was just released in the 1st quarter of ’22, is Lisa’s story in print. She explains, “I would have never imagined that I would be the woman I am today – I want young girls that are stuck in addiction to know that they have so much more inside of them. They need community and the right resources to figure out who they really are. I want to help them figure that out way before I did. It took me a long time to get there. I see these 20-something-year old girls, and I want to save them from the choices I made. It ignites that passion to say ‘This is who I was, this is who I am, and this is who you could be’. These young girls exclaim, ‘She was just like me!’ They get excited about it because I get it. I’ll walk through that healing process with them as well and it simply feeds me.”
As she rebrands and retools the resources for her support system, Lisa has gotten even more focused than ever. “I’m kicking off this year with this book and getting my voice out there globally. What’s incredible today is that during COVID I was asked to speak in Pakistan – turns out I ministered to someone and they shared my story and hundreds of thousands of people heard my story and these folks ultimately take a pop up screen to these remote villages so that they can see me, and they wave at me, and they’ve never heard the gospel. I’m on a pop up screen in Pakistan! – who would have thought God would use me like that?! It’s very strategic what God did. Moving here was my foundation of where I am today. It was a defining moment to be here. If we could all say YES to things like this when we know God is asking us to do things, it would be incredible. The ministry is expanding and growing and I’m excited about the future and I never know what’s next – God is so exciting!”
As for her beloved Kendall County, Lisa cannot say enough. She continues, “The community here immediately embraced me and asked me to start sharing my story. One of the local churches really grabbed hold of the mission and became a partner and propelled us to who we are today. They’ve been very supportive overall all the way down to the conversations I have at HEB – from local business owners that have opened the doors to their restaurants to countless others and they’ve been incredible and it’s been so wonderful. I was able to testify at the Legislature last year and we were able to change 9 bills that went into law that will curb the demand for sex trafficking. We’re now the 1st state that makes buying sex a felony on your first offense. We were able to change the ages of the girls that can work. I’ve been on the Senate floor to testify and we’ve had a huge legislative year. The Governor invited me to come to the signing of the 9 bills and I got to stand next to him while he signed them. It’s been incredible – the legislation is so important and I have been working with them for the past 3 years – and am on a council to work with them on upcoming issues. We’re helping to inform and change policy and educate non-profits. My dream and my vision is to have a property here in town and have an equine therapy facility and an after-care program and to have all our products and goods held on site. Our advocacy center will sort of be a prototype for what we ultimately want to do and I believe we’re going to get there.”
When asked about how her family responds to her mission, she smiles and ends, “My husband is amazed by the growth – who I am today didn’t just happen. It was intentional. I knew there was more to this life and I’ve been proven right. There’s a local girl, Tonya, that many of you might have seen around town near the HEB and along some of our streets. I minister to her as much as I can despite her addictions. My husband asked me once, “Why do you care so much about her?” and I said “Do you not remember who I was?” Nobody thinks she can become something someday, but I absolutely do. They might think she’s not worth it. Well, I see her worth. I reach out to her and keep reaching out to all of these women I seek and I never give up on these ladies.
I never, ever give up. Because God never gave up on me.”

www.lisamichelle.org

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here