A diverse group of recovering addicts, human trafficking survivors, activists and loved ones laughed, cried and learned from one another Saturday at Heartland Church.
The group came together for the second "Air" Hugs not Drugs event, sharing the stories of their darkest moments, as well as how they have moved forward.
Though the causes present might seem unrelated at first, attendees were certain they were linked.
For hours Saturday, attendees told stories of differing experiences that were somehow also alike.
"Missing people go hand-in-hand with addiction, which goes hand-in-hand with human trafficking and this goes hand-in-hand with everything dark in the world," organizer April Ogden-DeTienne said.
She started the day off with her story. Ogden-DeTienne has been clean for almost six years. Before she ever struggled with addiction, Ogden-DeTienne, a survivor of human trafficking, knew pain and trauma.
She told attendees if they ever meet someone who they believe is a victim of trafficking, they should be careful with their words. Don't ask if that person needs help, she said; "help" is what her abusers promised her. Instead, they should ask the individual if they are safe.
"I went through all these things, and I just didn't know how to cope — I didn't know what to do with all the pain," she said. "So I did drugs."
The drugs helped her forget, but they also led her to hurt others.
"I did the most horrible things," she said. "I stole, I beat people up, I talked terribly to my family, I sold drugs to anybody that would buy them. I sold drugs so I could do drugs. I was so lost that I didn't know how to fix me."
When she finally sought treatment, she didn't just have to reckon with addiction — she had to reckon with the reasons she sought drugs in the first place.
"I had to face everything that I've been through, and I had to face it sober," she said. "That was terrifying. There was so much hurt, and I didn't know what to do with it."
Eventually, Ogden-DeTienne found friendship in an unlikely place — a woman who she thought she didn't like. Robin Flemming never struggled with drug addiction, but she did understand some of Ogden-DeTienne's other experiences. The two both had a relationship with the same man who victimized them.
"She said, 'What happened to us has a name,'" Ogden-DeTienne said. "It's called human trafficking."
Robin and her now-husband, Ian Flemming, also both spoke.
Almost every speaker Saturday spoke of their mother or their experiences as a mother.
Missouri Missing founder Marianne Chapman told the story of her daughter, Angie, who was murdered 17 years ago. Since then, she's used what she learned searching for her daughter to help other families missing a loved one.
She talked about her dislike of the word "runaway," which she believes minimizes the danger a child is in when they go missing. Instead, Chapman prefers the term "endangered missing children."
Another mother, Amber Dawn, spoke of the importance of raising awareness of child abuse. Her young son suffered serious injuries at the hands of an adult. Dawn said the people closest to a child are often the ones capable of doing the most harm.
That is something Scott Hartman, who has been clean since December 2016, understands. Hartman told the audience about the abuse he suffered at the hands of family members. Growing up, dealing with his pain and anger, he lashed out.
"I wanted people to like me, but I didn't even know how to like myself," he said.
When he was a teenager, Hartman was in an accident for which he was prescribed pain medication. That's how his addiction started — with pills he got from a doctor.
"The moment I started taking those pills, all my worries were gone," he said.
For years, his addiction got in the way of his relationships. It was never very difficult to go back to the doctor and get more pills.
"I had a habit of when most people would say, 'Scott, that was your bottom,' I'm getting a front end loader and I'm digging deeper," he said.
He said he was angry at God — not for the trauma he lived through or the tragedies of his life, but because he couldn't die. But he eventually got help.
"I am so grateful today to be where my life is at," he said.