The shift from Victim to Survivor

It’s not a straightforward transition and no one should rush you through it. I believe I have finally made this crucial shift and so will share what I know of it.

First off, no one call tell you that you are a victim or survivor, as they can not know what you are experiencing internally in regards to your trauma. We hear a lot of messages about “not being a victim” but I am not here for victim shaming.

I have been a victim for a few years now. My victimhood did not stop when I left my abuser, rather it took years and therapy and outsider help for me to lift that. Here is what I can say about my victimhood. In one way, I was in denial and dismissive of myself. I had a hard time integrating that what had happened really happened. More than anything, I wished that it wasn’t true. I saught out compassion for the person who had harmed me while also desiring on some level, revenge, and justice. I was also looking out at systemic causes that had contributed, all of which are still true and that I can see but that people are largely unaware of. However, the pain was too great to face this deep betrayal, except through time and somatic treatment (which is focused on small professionally guided revisitations or triggering, which allows the trauma to be faced, processed and released).

As a victim, it means we are still experiencing the trauma, through ongoing injury or PTSD, we feel as if we are expected to function while still in a state of suffering and we largely feel unwitnessed. Witnessing is something that happens when someone is able to sit with you and see the trauma for what it is, and that you feel that shared understanding of exactly what was wrong about it. Without that sense of witness, it can be easier to internally deny what we don’t want to be true and we may avoid or run from people when we are not ready for their witness, if we feel crazy, if we feel unable to share. How much we can witness ourselves may vary, but it is likely that for a lot of people this is a vital component of healing. However we can also stagnant in that, especially when all we have is traumatized people around to support us, we reflect back on each other only mirrors of suffering, we need steps out of that, and someones progress can become a threat to our sense of witness and we hold each other down because we all “get” each other here. We can make baby steps in this place, but I am surrounded by people who are in all stages of recovery from trauma, from survivors to victims to victors.

We can take victory in our trauma: celebrating growth or humility. That is not to say that the trauma was good for us or justified or somehow meant to happen. It is just when we reach that place where we accept that experience as a part of ourselves.

It seems counterintuitive, to explain that in my victimhood I was also in denial, but it is true. As much as I could look at and say what happened and know what happened, it was hard to believe. I had to do a lot of work to believe myself on that one, a lot of reflection, unpacking and witnessing to get to a place that I could believe and understand exactly how I was injured and how it affected me. I have lived with intense pain and neural tension since my assault, and since I could scarcely believe my own words when I explained it, I had a hard time finding a doctor that could actually help me deal with it and I never felt as if my injuries were properly assessed through the traditional medical system, though I was able to learn about muscle injury through other ways and also access somatic therapy which allowed the release of my trauma until the pain was dulled enough that I could see it for what it was and really understand it.

I wanted validation that it happened, that it wasn’t all in my head. Time became my witness in that I could see exactly the ways in which trauma had stunted me. When people ask me about why I started poetry I tell them now, it was witnessing and it a place where my truth was free to be shared. I tell them, it saved me, it kept me going, that I don’t know how I would be alive today without it. Yet, I also hated poetry in a way because it represented that I was in desperate need of survival, it symbolized my assault and I felt like it took away from my other projects, which I couldn’t work on due to the assault.

In order to break through this I had to acknowledge the conflict as a source of the pain, that blaming my coping mechanisms was an avoidance of dealing with the true issues, that I was deeply traumatized and that my trauma was real and valid; that despite all my notions of cultural influences and different ‘justifying’ circumstances, it was the actions of one person who hurt me and that it wasn’t ok and would never be ok.

Facing trauma and being able to see it for what it is, that’s where the shift happens.

However, it is not an easy thing to accept what happened, to be strong and get on with life. It takes more than a moment, it takes tremendous work and a million moments of epiphany to get there.

Somewhere, when we are still a victim, we have not yet survived because the pain and trauma is looming over us like a large scary creature. We can break that down, but it is almost always too much to release and understand at once, if we face the whole thing at once it shuts us down completely because it seems so insurmountable. And that’s what happened in my trauma, I shut down. It has been a slow and steady process of rebuilding and activating parts of me that seemed to be lost. I have to believe that I do need healing but also be willing to accept it in whatever form it may take. Maybe we need to dull the pain for awhile, maybe we need to wait until things are secure enough to be able to do the work, in that time, we may still be victims who are just surviving, who have not yet survived it.

That’s ok. It’s ok to not be ok.

I pray you find everything you need to allow yourself to get better.


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