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!