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Courage to Come Back: Former stripper earns doctorate

Click to play video 'Courage to Come Back: Teenage stripper grows up to earn doctorate' Courage to Come Back: Teenage stripper grows up to earn doctorate
WATCH: As a teenager, Barbara Harris worked in strip clubs. Now she's defied the odds and earned a doctorate. But as Randene Neill reports, even when Barbara's comeback seemed to be complete, there was still something missing – Apr 27, 2016

Barbara Harris ran away from her Edmonton home after suffering years of sexual abuse.

She found her way to Vancouver where she found a job.

“I started as a go-go dancer on Main Street in a club run by Satan’s Angels,” she said. “I started in the fall of ’68, I had just turned 14.

“I was there because I was a little girl and I needed money to live.”

She spent summers sleeping on the beach and winters passed around between men. She was gang-raped by gang members and kidnapped by a pimp. When she escaped she used dancing and heroin to deal with the trauma until she heard a voice inside her head.

WATCH: Extended interview: Courage to Come Back award winner Dr. Barbara Harris

Click to play video 'Extended interview: Courage to Come Back award winner Dr. Barbara Harris' Extended interview: Courage to Come Back award winner Dr. Barbara Harris
Extended interview: Courage to Come Back award winner Dr. Barbara Harris – Apr 27, 2016

“This voice said, ‘If you don’t get off this floor you’re going to die.”

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She quit heroin, and moved to alcohol and cocaine.

After her dancing career came to an abrupt end, the voice returned.

“This little voice said, ‘Today is the first day of the rest of your life.’ And I ran over to the bathroom and I looked in the mirror, like, who is that? And I haven’t used since and that was over 30 years ago.”

She tried real estate and retail, but finally decided to return to school at the age of 40.

She got her master’s degree in social work and then her PhD. Dr. Harris now lectures at the University of British Columbia, counsels women in recovery, and owns a successful practice.

That voice in her head eventually led her to her father, her family and her Aboriginal heritage. Driving home from Cold Lake First Nations one day, she finally felt a sense of peace.

“All of a sudden I had this realization that for the first time I had all of me in the car. I was a whole human being. It was this profound moment of realization. For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel like a square peg in a round hole.”

– With files from Randene Neill

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