From Victim to Survivor

Survive
survived; surviving

intransitive verb
: to remain alive or in existence : live on
: to continue to function or prosper

transitive verb
1: to remain alive after the death of
he is survived by his wife

2: to continue to exist or live after
survived the earthquake

3: to continue to function or prosper despite : withstand
they survived many hardships

Survivor
\sər-ˈvī-vər\ noun

(Merriam-Webster online dictionary)


I am a domestic abuse survivor.

I survived emotional abuse.

I survived financial abuse.

I survived gaslighting.

I survived codependency.

I survived neglect and ambivalence, love-bombing, sexual assault, hypocrisy, and rage.

I survived depression.

I survived anxiety.

I am a survivor.

It had to be pointed out to me that all those statements are true. I pay a very good professional counsellor to help me with all this shit (a reminder here that we all have shit to deal with, this is just my shit) and he looked at me in one of our sessions and casually said these words to me: “Juliana, you’re a survivor. You are a domestic abuse survivor.”

It took me months after that to adopt those words as true—to hold them in my heart and my head…to feel them in my mouth and body…to repeat them and believe in their validity.

I have survived.

And, honestly, at times, I’m not sure how or why, but I did and here I am, still surviving.

The abuse I endured wasn’t abuse as most people think of it. It was neither violent nor physical; it didn’t shout and it didn’t bruise me. No, it chipped away at me, over many years, in many small ways, and kept at me until I lost myself and my body was depleted of all vestiges of my identity and my vitality.

Survival doesn’t mean that my life isn’t stress free, and it doesn’t mean that I won’t face hardship again, but I now proudly wear this badge of honour and state that I am, unequivocally, an abuse survivor.

I used to believe that I was crazy. I 100% bought into the garbage, bullshit notions that my abusive partners fed me. From the time I was 15 years old, I was told/shown/convinced by them that I was the problem.

That my brain didn’t work properly.

That I was irrational, hot-headed, controlling, manipulative, pathetic, stupid, and ugly.

That I was never good enough and I was never thin enough.

I was told that I didn’t eat right. I didn’t dress acceptably. I had no true friends. My family didn’t love me. And, of course, that I couldn’t exist outside of the relationship I had with my partner.

I’ve crawled out of that pit of horrible lies and found ways to shed the misused and misunderstood parts of myself that were previously held against me. I’ve learned how to forge authentic connections with people, to be more assertive, to perceive my intuition again, and to understand things like my very real and very legitimate struggles with anxiety and depression.

Survival has often felt more difficult than maintaining the status quo. For a long time, the things that were familiar felt safer and more reliable than what was healthy and fulfilling. I had to put a fuck ton of work into making changes in my life (and the work isn’t nearly done yet!) and I had to do it in the face of the abusive situations I was in. It wasn’t easy, but it was essential for me to keep living.

I think the most amazing quality I’ve discovered in myself in the last few years is that I have grit. And I wholeheartedly believe that you have to be gritty to be a survivor.

Movies tell us that gritty characters are dark and stubbly, with gruff voices and gruff attitudes. Men (usually) played by people like Clint Eastwood, or Bruce Willis, or Christian Bale (when he uses his Batman voice). But I think grit can appear to be gentle. It can be quiet and soft. It can simply mean that you maintain an attitude of not giving up—that you keep going and keep trying.

To survive means to have grit, full stop. One doesn’t exist without the other. (And you don’t have to maintain stubble-y cheeks or speak in a gravelly voice to be gritty in real life. My Batman voice is pretty spot-on though…just ask my kids and they will confirm.)

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t faced hardship in their life because everyone has traumas and failures. We all struggle at times and we all feel like giving up sometimes. I don’t wish for anyone to go through what I have or worse. I do wish for everyone to have a reason to keep going though. We all have to survive and then maybe, dear god just maybe, we can start to thrive.

Owning the phrase, “I am a domestic abuse survivor” has been a cornerstone of my self-development in this journey and I would suggest that if you’re struggling right now, you should try to find ways to remind yourself that you can survive. Seriously…you have to say it out loud, or write it down and practice it like you would a piano piece or a pie crust recipe. Try it on like a shirt in a dressing room, then walk around in it and feel how it fits. 

I used to feel defeated and I used to believe that I was. Now I’ve seen that I can survive and I’ve used the power of language to internalize a survivor’s mentality. To be honest, it’s something I’ll have to continue to remind myself of, but I’m edging towards “thriving” and my life is hinting that I could move beyond survival mode.

Some days it feels unbelievable—that I am where I am—but I am here.

I am surviving.

I am a survivor.

xxJ

surviving + thriving in this messed up world; come at me, bro!


Fearing the End of the Story

It’s starting to feel like I’m hitting the denouement of my story. At least, it feels like I’m hitting it for this part of my story…

I’ve been living in the climax of a stressful, traumatic, gritty, exhausting story for the last four years or so. Unlike the climax in a short story, my life story climax plateaued and stayed climactic for a really long fucking time.

But I can feel myself progressing. I can see it and this week in particular, I’m having an upswing, which is a very welcome change after months and months of being depressed.

But it’s all starting to change and, to be honest, that scares me a little bit.

Okay, it scares me quite a bit. Because I harbour a deep sense of fear that healing means my past doesn’t matter or is no longer true.

I’m often scared that if I stop being an outright champion and reiterating the facts of my past loudly and consistently, then people will think (and I will feel) like they didn’t happen. That me growing and moving forward isn’t a positive thing; that it’s an obliteration of all that came before and as such, leaves no room for relapse, triggers, memories, or scars.

I’m scared of getting better, which sounds ridiculous, but letting go of the fierceness that’s kept me safe and strong is incredibly uncomfortable.

Why do I sabotage myself like this? Why stymie the progress in my life for the sake of holding onto a broken and battered story? Why not celebrate the fact that I’m safe and have moments of joy and can relax sometimes and have goals and achievements that I’ve accomplished as an individual? What the hell is wrong with me??

Well, we all know that the answer to that question—nothing at all, and a whole helluva lot.

I think I’m scared because I learned to not trust good things. I learned that setting expectations guarantees disappointment and that making goals or changes results in failure. These are some of the strongest lessons I carry with me from my past as a codependent and I resent them as much as I recognize them. I hate their potency as I begin to notice all the good shit that’s going on in my life again. I give space to my fear and allow it to bring me back to a state of helplessness, which on an intellectual level I recognize is bullshit, but on an emotional level, feels (strangely) comfortable and normal.

So how to avoid giving up? How to stop the self-sabotage? How to savour the good stuff and build my confidence while recognizing that moving forward absolutely does NOT mean that my past doesn’t matter?

My first instinct is to answer that with a “hell if I know!”, but I DO actually know! The answer lies in the capacity I developed during my trauma to survive…I can’t quit. I just don’t give up. I allow myself to feel my fear and to acknowledge it while also seeing the positive things that are happening at the same time. I get uncomfortable and then push through those feelings and keep trying. I embrace the upswing and the denouement; the falling action in the climactic journey I’ve had these last few years. I remember that every story remains for as long as we exist and that mine is still true even if I’m smiling and even if I move on.

I will always be a person with mental illness. I will always be an abuse survivor. But more importantly, I will always be myself. And being me is a nuanced, changing, shifting, growing, colourful experience; I can’t cling to one version or one time and say that it’s the only truth in my life!

I’m feeling ready to embrace more of who I am and give space to the things that come from this new acknowledgement. Maybe that sounds new-agey and super corny? Fuck it.

Yes, I’m still scared. I still worry (thanks anxiety) that I’ll fail at trying something new or that I’ll push myself too far and have to pull back from the goals I want to achieve. These are very real, very tangible fears that I’m not working at surpassing. I tell myself that being happier is something I deserve and that it’s possible, with love and support around me, to do more than just survive. It’s time to start thriving.

xxJ

I May Be Depressed But I Still Get Sh*t Done

I struggle daily with managing my mental health issues. Somehow my brain and body oscillate between frenzy and lethargy; I’m either totally amped up or completely run down.

What’s also true, is that I still have to get through the day-to-day in spite of what physical or emotional state I’m in. In my case, this means looking after my kids, my pets, my home, and my jobs. Some days, I totally rock it. I have energy and drive; I’m enthusiastic, determined, and productive! I get my shit done and feel good doing it.

Those days, unfortunately, are the exception rather than the norm.

I know that everyone experiences ups and downs, or, as one of my previous counsellors once said, we all experience “stress bubbles” in our lives. But when you suffer from legitimate mental health issues like chronic depression, your capacity to exist and to thrive feel greatly diminished.

First of all, it is EXHAUSTING to be depressed. The lack of physical energy or sense of motivation to do anything is one of the basic characteristics of depression and it’s something I grapple with constantly. Aside from my body feeling tired all the damn time, I also struggle to focus. When I’m depressed, my brain feels foggy; when anxiety decides to take the lead, I feel like a hamster running furiously on a wheel, chasing my thoughts but never managing to make any headway on reaching them. Add to these difficulties low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy, lack of purpose, sadness, loneliness, fear, poor diet, poor sleep, and whatever cocktail of psychiatric meds a person might be on (+ associated side effects), and what becomes clear is that people suffering from depression have to manage a LOT in order to perform even the basics in their lives.

So how the hell do I get anything done? In my case, I tend to put things into two categories in my mind, the first being the “must get done; totally NOT optional” tasks and the second being the “could be done now, could be done later; totally optional” tasks. Some things, like feeding my children breakfast, walking the dog, paying my bills, running my tutoring sessions, or preparing meals, sit firmly in my “not optional” category. These are things that just need to be done and I can’t opt out of them (at least, in my mind that’s what I tell myself, because truly I *could* opt out of some of them but that would have dire consequences) so I have to do them, plain and simple. There’s no way that I can avoid them; they just have to happen.

I also use other strategies to get my butt in gear. Things like, having someone hold me accountable for my plans. Writing a list and ticking things off as I complete them. Setting reminders on my phone and calendar for specific tasks. Giving myself something to look forward to once I’ve accomplished what I set out to do, whether it’s some Netflix time, a visit with a friend, or something tasty to eat. I put good music on whenever I’m doing tasks that can have background noise. I try to make sure I’m comfortable while I work. I get outside and let the fresh air rejuvenate me. In short, I do whatever’s necessary in that moment in order to get my jobs done.

This is my “I don’t want to work I just want to binge-watch Netflix and cry but I’m trying anyway” face. The tea helps. A little bit, at least. #shamelessslefie

It isn’t a perfect system—I’m not a perfect person! I struggle constantly with seeing things through to completion and not procrastinating important items on my “to-do” list that need to get done. Some days I don’t do a whole hell of a lot. Some days, I just give in and sit and let the heaviness take over my body and try to rest. But I try hard to have more days that are productive and fewer days that are not. I put effort into moving forward, meeting my goals, managing my day-to-day, and striving for increased wellness and success.

When you’re depressed, it’s hard to be productive. When you’re anxious, it’s no better. Depression is a legitimate disease that causes legitimate difficulties with navigating life and getting what you need and want out of it. But if you’re at all like me, you still have at least a tiny bit of motivation to keep trying, and that’s really the catalyst for making any steps forward, whether big or small.

xxJ