We are so honored to have Holly Christine Hayes with us, today. She is talking to us about Sanctuary Project and building her business, her story, and femininity. Don’t miss it! Thank you Ms. Hayes, and a special thank you to Icon Media Group for coordinating this interview.
MW in conversation with Holly Christine Hayes:
Modern Witnesses (“MW”): Hi, Ms. Hayes! Thank you for being with us today. I am so honored to share the incredible community you have built with our MW community. You have been so transparent with the world about your past addiction and trauma, and you are celebrating 20 years sober. Congratulations! I wanted to kick off this interview talking about what the turning point was for you. When did you realize you wanted to leave that life behind:
Holly Christine Hayes (“HCH”): I knew I had an abnormal reaction to alcohol and drugs from the first time I used them. While others were using them recreationally, I knew I was using them to escape from the underlying traumas I had. The turning point for me came toward the end of my drinking and drug use. I ended up in a very abusive and exploitative relationship with the man who was trafficking me. When that man kicked me out – when even my abuser couldn’t handle my addiction anymore – I knew it had gone too far. My bottom came on February 10, 2001, I was on the floor of a public bathroom and watching my tears hit the floor. Three words came out of my mouth, “God help me.” I had never believed in God; I hadn’t had any experience with “God”; I didn’t know any “God people”; but when I came to the end of myself, this was all I could think to say or pray. That very night, I ended up meeting someone who got me into a recovery program, and I have been sober since that day.
For me, it really was a miraculous moment of surrender, and ultimately, of rescue. That’s not the case for everyone I know who struggles with addiction. I know people who have struggled for years with relapse and going in and out of recovery programs, and so I feel so blessed to have hit that bottom, cried out for help, and immediately found the help I needed… not only to get sober but to stay sober for the last 20 years.
MW: Do you have any advice for women in our community who may be struggling with substance abuse?
HCH: I think a lot of us wonder if we have an addiction, or look at their daily wine drinking and ask themselves, Is it too far? Is it too much? Has it gotten out of control? I am not a doctor, but I do know most doctors will define addiction as a mental obsession coupled with a physical craving for that substance. So, if you find yourself thinking of it more often than you’d like, and if you find yourself physically craving it more often than you’d like, then it might be good to look at getting help.
I knew that I was mentally obsessed with drinking and drug use. I thought about it all the time. I wanted it all the time. When I wasn’t drinking or using drugs, I was counting down the hours or minutes until I could. When I put drugs and alcohol in my body, I had what doctors call the “phenomenon of craving”, so as soon as I had one sip of alcohol, I could not stop. I just had to have more. That “phenomenon of craving” seems to be limited to just abnormal drinkers, addicts and alcoholics.
So, if you are wondering if you have a problem, a great way to test is to stop. Stop doing that thing. How do you feel? Are you able to stop without obsessing about it? Are you able to have one drink and then stop? If you are able to control it and stop easily, then you probably don’t have a problem. If you are unable to stop easily, maybe talk to a doctor or a friend in recovery and see if it’s something you need to get help for.
MW: You are a survivor of trauma, yourself. In a past Rapt interview, I saw you described your trauma as your greatest strength, in what ways do you empower people to see their trauma in the same way? How can our readers be a part of someone else’s healing?
HCH: We’ve all survived something. We are all survivors. Not one of us can say that we haven’t found ourselves on a bathroom floor in a puddle of tears at some point in our lives.
HCH: I think when we understand what happened to get us to that point, and when we are able to get help and find that spiritual aid or that mental and emotional aid that can lift us out, we can become a safe person for that friend who is currently on the floor in a puddle of tears, in their bathroom. When we realize what we’ve overcome, we can be the conduit that helps others realize they can overcome, too. It becomes a superpower. My pain becomes a gift to the next woman who is in pain.
MW: I love that. You are the founder and CEO of Sanctuary Project, a nonprofit jewelry brand. You all have beautiful pieces, and many have a nature theme. What was the inspiration behind the brand?
HCH: Everything in the line is inspired by the word ‘sanctuary.’ Some people find sanctuary in nature, others find it in the church in a cathedral. For me, I have always found sanctuary in the old cathedrals in Europe. Our line includes marble pillars and stained glass window pieces, and pieces that are deconstructions of some of the coins of the saints, for those who are familiar with that tradition. Pieces that are inspired by nature and really anything that gives and evokes a feeling of sanctuary in the wearer – and in the maker.
The idea behind creating a line that feels like sanctuary is that, all day long, the women who are making, packaging and shipping our jewelry are interacting with this piece of sanctuary. We are creating this environment that fosters sanctuary in every aspect of the business. The wearer is reminded that they’ve found sanctuary in their own life and in their own way, and they are helping other women find sanctuary in their lives.
Everything in the collection has a tie back to our mission, whether it’s our Chain-Breaker Collection, which reminds us of the chains we’ve broken free from, or our Coin and Medallion Collections that remind us of the saints who have overcome struggles. Or, our Blooming Collection, reminding us that we are able to bloom and thrive, even coming out of difficult scenarios. Our most recent collection is our Wild Collection. This one is meant to remind us that we are warriors; we are brave; we are strong. So, the women purchasing and wearing these pieces are finding pieces that connect to their spirit and the ways they find sanctuary.
MW: Sanctuary Project has such a beautiful feminine aesthetic. What does godly femininity mean to you?
HCH: For women who’ve been trapped in lives of trafficking and sexual trauma, it hasn’t been safe to be feminine. As women join our community – a community of other women, working with jewelry, in a very feminine environment, I watch them slowly soften over the days, weeks, months and ultimately years that they are with us. I’m seeing how this femininity is restored to them. It’s vulnerable to be feminine. Feminine energy is soft, and it’s not guarded.
Women who have survived trafficking, especially, and women who come out of these situations where they had to be hard, where they had to be tough– to be restored to that soft place that I believe God made us to be, to be restored to that vulnerability and that femininity, it feels like one of the greatest gifts I can give.
It was part of my own journey of healing. I had to feel safe enough to be feminine again, and it’s been so restorative for me. To see that as part of the journey of the women we employ has been such a gift.
MW: I have discovered that in my own journey, for sure.
HCH: Isn’t it interesting we put up these walls as women when we’ve been hurt, and I believe God wants us to be free to soft and nurturing, to give and receive love, but when we have those walls up, we think we need to be hard and strong and fighters…all the things I believe He created the masculine for, right?
MW: It’s like a survival mode.
HCH: Yes, and it’s not that we can’t be those things, too—but there is a strength in our vulnerability. It’s part of the healing journey for so many women who have experienced pain.
MW: Sanctuary Project’s team is made up of trauma survivors. I love the intentionality behind this. What system did you implement to make this happen?
HCH: I haven’t modeled our organization after any specific system. What I’ve seen in the past with similar organizations and companies employing women to make jewelry, was: at the bottom of the organization was the survivor. But women who are survivors come from all walks of life. We have women with Master’s Degrees; we have women with incredible life experience and gifts, and what I wanted to create was an environment where women didn’t feel like, Because I am a survivor, I am relegated to making and shipping jewelry. I want the women we employ to be in executive positions. I want to rebuild their resumes and for them to find their skills and their gifts and practice those skills in an environment that is safe. We have survivors in every role in our organization. Our Program Manager, our Office Manager, our Production Manager, our Director of Operations, our Social Media Manager, our Digital Media Manager– everyone in our company is coming out of this life and rebuilding our lives, and it’s not “executives up here” and “survivors are down here”. I really felt strongly that we needed survivors in those leadership roles, as well, to show that anything is possible. Our opportunities and abilities are endless and limitless.
MW: At one point you moved to Paris, France. This caught my eyes because I did a stage with the French government. I love Paris. What did you learn from that adventure? These types of moves force us to rely on God in what different way… Was there something that you took away from that experience?
HCH: It was a beautiful season of my life. I moved there single and working in vocational ministry, for a beautiful church there. It was a time of rest, beauty. I never really believed I deserved the life of beauty I got to live there. I really began receiving the beauty God had for me in that season. Paris is so beautiful. I was surrounded by beautiful things all day, every day. My creative spirit was evoked in that season, as well. It was during that time that I wrote my book From Basement to Sanctuary. It was during that time that I started to dream of a jewelry line that was inspired by sanctuaries. Specifically, by the American Church in Paris, where I worked. The beautiful architecture, the windows and the ceiling medallions. I imagined turning the ceiling medallions into a stud earring and turning the chandeliers into a necklace, and I imagined turning the aspects of the sanctuary into wearable art. It was an incredible, inspiring time. It was during that season that I met, dated and married my husband, Jeff. That was a special time, as well—we’ll always have Paris. *laughs*
It was a formative time in so many ways. Paris is still the place I go to get inspired. I am inspired by their minimalism in fashion and jewelry and by their femininity. I am inspired by the beauty of the city. Whenever I am there, and I am back there often, I am constantly discovering more that I want to design and bring into our line, and more ideas for styling. Seeing the way the French wear their jewelry—it has been such a gift to have that as part of my life. I think it’s woven into every part of my being, at this point. I think everywhere we live weaves into who we are and becomes part of who we are in some way.
MW: Yes. There is a Canadian poet that says, “People are made of places.”
HCH: I love that. It’s so true.
MW: What is your favorite place in Paris?
HCH: The sanctuary at the American Church in Paris. Hands down.
MW: I read that you love music. Who is on your ideal playlist?
HCH: I am a big Brandon Lake fan. I love his spirit. We had the opportunity to meet recently, and he and his wife have become beautiful supporters of Sanctuary Project, and there is just something in the way that he worships that just resonates with my spirit.
MW: What Biblical passage is speaking to you, in this season?
HCH: I’ve been going to Scripture in a different way, lately. There have been seasons in my life where I have gone to Scripture to just experience God’s presence and joy, and seasons in my life where I have gone to Scripture to bask in all that He has done. This is a season where I am going to Scripture just to be reminded of what He promises me. To fight for my faith in a way, to do battle within my mind., I’m in the Psalms a lot right now because I am in a season of crying out to God. What I love about the Psalms is that they remind me it’s ok to ask God “Where are you?”, it’s ok to be angry with God in a moment and to still praise Him. It’s ok to go from dancing to weeping and back to dancing, and it’s ok to fight for our faith. As David did, I am fighting with God, for God and really trying to remember all He has promised me and all He has done.
MW: That’s really powerful. What resource have you found helpful in this season?
HCH: I am into podcasts. I am loving Real Good Company with Allie Trowbridge and Caitlin Crosby right now. I am in a season of a lot of discernment right now of how to grow the business and grow it well, and in a way that honors God. Business podcasts have been really helpful for me.
Some of my dear friends have podcasts I love listening to as well; Jamie Ivey, Lisa Whittle, and Kristen Estes’ new podcast Holy Hustlers.
MW: What are your top three essentials (anything you carry with you in your purse or can’t leave the house without):
HCH: I am a minimalist. Phone, wallet, keys. Also, I always carry a snack. A snack for me, a snack for my husband and a snack for my daughter.
MW: Snacks are important. There is nothing worse than being hangry…Who is your favorite person in Scripture?
HCH: Mary Magdalene. I am so in awe of her. There is a lot of debate around who she was and was she actually a sinful woman, but I believe that she was a life redeemed and yet bold enough to come before Jesus and weep at His feet. I think that if my life could look like anyone in Scripture, I want it to look like hers. My finest perfume, broken open and poured out at His feet, weeping for Him, to Him, with Him, at His feet. That boldness is so honored in the way He allows her to witness His resurrection. I am so in awe of that relationship. I deeply desire my relationship with Jesus to look like hers.
MW: What is a question you will ask when you get to heaven?
HCH: I want to know what Jesus wrote in the sand to the woman in John 8. Was it to the woman? Was it to the onlookers? I am baffled by that being included in Scripture, and yet, we don’t know what He said.
MW: What does your morning routine consist of?
HCH: I am the one who usually handles our daughter in the morning, and it’s one of my favorite times because I miss her in the night. Getting to see her little face first thing in the morning just brings me to life. We have three songs we sing. When we wake up, we sing a good morning song, and then while I am getting her ready, we sing “This is the Day the Lord has Made,” and then, as we are going down the stairs, we sing a song about how God made her. I love singing with her.
It’s funny, there have been days where I have forgotten to sing one of her songs, and she will remind me by trying to sing parts of it.
MW: She knows it’s time to sing!
HCH: She’ll start singing “day”. And I know she’s telling me I forgot to sing “This is the Day that the Lord has Made” song. It’s so sweet. I think those memories and little moments are the things I imagine will still be so present in my mind when she is a teenager, an adult—I think about these times, even while I am in them, and try to notice how precious they are and how fast they are going and be really present in them. And then, we all sit in the bed together, and she has her breakfast, and my husband and I have our coffee, and we have morning time together. We sit as a family together and relax and giggle with each other and talk to each other and talk about our day. It’s the sweetest time of my day.
MW: If you had to define Christianity in one sentence, it would be:
HCH: Knowing and experiencing the mercy of God.
MW: Thank you for being with us Ms. Hayes. It has been an honor.
For more Holly Christine Hayes:
Holly Christine Hayes is an award-winning author, world-renowned recovery ministry expert, and founder + CEO of Sanctuary Project, a community of advocates bringing hope and healing to survivors of trafficking, violence, and addiction. After working in worship and recovery ministry for Menlo Church in California and the American Church in Paris, Holly married her husband Jeff in 2016. Holly is a speaker and worship leader in safe houses, churches, conferences and recovery communities all over the world and was recently chosen as a new voice for Women of Faith. For more information, please visit http://www.HollyChristineHayes.com.