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Victim or Survivor?

October 9, 2007

I like words.  I use a lot of them and many of them, I’m sure, not as they are really meant to be used.  I use words like honor, value, sister, divine, and self in ways that I am pretty sure do not match a dictionary to be found anywhere except the soul.  Those words all have a felt meaning to me and I have found no other words to use instead.

I think we all do it, probably, as individuals and as a society at large.

I think that this has happened to the words  victim and survivor, especially as they relate to abuse.  We see abuse survivors as those who are strong, capable, and healed of their traumas (or at least actively healing).  Survivors of abuse do not need to deny nor do they need to bemoan.  Survivors deserve our support because they have made it.  They have escaped their own histories (or herstories!) enough to be able to share with us their tales from a place of strength.

 Abuse victims, however, have a totally different feel to them when we speak of them that way.  We tend to feel pity for them, to see them as still not walking through their traumas.  We see them as coming from a place of weakness rather than strength.

I do not agree!!  I think that “victim” means to have experienced something not of one’s own choosing and not as a consequence of one’s own behavior.

Infants and children are innocent victims of abuse.  I was one.  I want to reclaim that word for myself but I have a good reason….

Bear with me!!!

I accept responsibility for so many things in my own life, so many bad choices and so many behaviors that have never served me well.  I’ve made mistakes along the way that, in hindsight, were so obviously mistakes.  There are parts of myself that horrify me and things within me that I wish were not.

But….

The sexual abuse that was part of my life for so many years began before I could walk or talk.  I was trained from infancy to concede to whatever atrocities were perpetrated against me.  I never told because I truly never knew I could.  I did not learn that I had power of choice, true free choice, until I was 19 and married.  When, in the midst of living through that was I to develop strength or conviction?  When was I to learn of boudaries, making or respecting of them?  When was I to develop solid logical thinking patters and strong problem solving skills?

I don’t object to being considered a survivor now…I’m proud of that.  By being a survivor, I aknowledge that others were not so blessed…others did not survive their traumas.  Some of them died in childhood of grievous injuries inflictedon their bodies.  Some are simply insane somewhere.  Not functionally insane, but truly soul-absent, requiring such types and doses of medications that they are nearly comatose, stuck forever reliving the things their bodies experienced.

I do object to those who would argue that I was never a victim or that my victimization ended at such and such a time in my life.  Being a victim then, being able to see myself as such, allows me the freedom that I need to forgive myself for some of my mistakes, allows me to be cut off from enough of the resposibility that I am light enough now to choose better for myself.  I don’t mean the resposibilities that I geniunely claim now as my own but some of the reponsibility of the bad choices that I made in my past simply because those were the only choices that I could see.  It may seem a contradiction to some but my reality is that I need to acknowledge those times in my life when I had absolutely no power, or limited power with zero, absolutely ZERO knowledge of how to use that power to be able to acknowledge and truly LIVE how much power I have now.

I don’t want pity, truly I don’t.  I don’t want to be allowed an unlimited number of foolish mistakes for the rest of my life.  I don’t want to do horrible things to other people and then claim I never knew better.

I just want to be able to be validated when I say that ten years ago, or twenty, I really did do the best I could for myself.  I’m tired of blaming myself for attatching myself to an abuse man all those years ago..I truly didn’t know there was any other kind.  I’m tired of feeling so guilty for stealing crackers and peaches…I was hungry and they would not feed me at home.  I’m tired of feeling internally horified when I remember the drinking and the drugging I did when I was just a child (my daughter is that age now, 10…..) I needed to be numb enough to get through.

So, I choose, right now, to let those things go.  I acknowledge to myself and for myself that I was truly a victim.  And I survived it. 

Please know that I understand deeply that many others feel very differently about these words, “victim” and “survivor”.  I applaud you for your ability to attatch to those words whatever meaning brings you strength, comfort, and healing.  Please know that it is NEVER my intent to dishonor anyone’s path to healing nor do I wish to disrespect or disregard the process of growth and self reclaiming that another has experrienced.  These are simply my words in this time for myself to heal.  Use any words for yourself that you need for your own process!

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. Grace permalink
    October 9, 2007 10:21 pm

    Oh….this is such a powerful piece. Your message is so important! It’s one that any one, who ever felt like a victim or a survivor, should hear.

    Namaste, Sweet Woman. The Divine in me recognizes and bows to the Divine in you.

  2. October 9, 2007 10:37 pm

    Wow. Talk about sacred synergy! As a victim and survivor of severe childhood abuse and domestic violence, I’ve always believed in claiming and owning both words.

    I wrote the following on my blog in earlier postings…

    “I consider the terms “accident victim, crime victim, disaster victim, or abuse victim” to simply be accurate applications of a word in our language system used to describe a reality. Hopefully it will not remain one’s reality, but at the time it occurs, it is. “Survivor” is the reality of surviving it, as well as the progressive processes that occur as we rebuild.”

    “The word “victim” isn’t disempowering to me, it’s a fact. As a defenseless, innocent, utterly vulnerable child I was victimized by a gross and egregious abuse of power. A victim of a crime, atrocity, or tragedy is someone who is harmed by people or situations beyond their realm of control. I own the words victim and survivor.”

    We have much in common. I also object when people criticize and reproach me for using the word “victim.” It’s factually accurate for me, and I find it healing and empowering to claim it as such.

  3. signmom permalink*
    October 10, 2007 12:58 am

    Oh my Goddess, and sweet wonderful goddess women…. I am weeping! I felt sure I would seen as some horrid woman speaking blasphemy!! This is truth that I wante to heard, that we can be, and often are, both. To deny one or the other can feel as much like abuse as the abuse itself! Thank you for truly hearing me, both of you.

  4. October 12, 2007 7:00 pm

    This is so moving and thought-provoking, and while I know you intended it specifically for people who have been (or might currently be) victims, who are now survivors, for me it seems like a universal message. A really important one. We do all need to forgive ourselves for, and remember that much of the time when we’re making bad choices, we really aren’t seeing the better choices, or maybe we don’t understand them. That was such a good way of putting it.

    I was lucky – I had a safe and nurturing childhood, and I’ve managed to mostly make good decisions. But you know, many of those decisions were from the same kind of limited-vision as other people’s bad ones might have been, if that makes sense. That’s part of what was lucky and privileged about growing up in a safe home environment, I think. It is easier to make the good decisions in those situations.

    Anyway, not sure if I’m being clear here, but I really like your blog, and I’m glad you started it!

  5. signmom permalink*
    October 16, 2007 3:45 pm

    Thanks, Deb, for that. I agree that even people who have not lived trauma sometimes just get lucky in the way their choices come out. I hope that doesn’t sound minimizing or dis-honoring of the great wisdom that is sometimes required from all of us while we are in the process of choosing. I just agree with the statement that we sometimes operate from the limited vision. We go with the best we got, the best we know, and hope it all works out well in the end.

    I also appreciate the validation that it is sometimes easier to make good decisions when you are coming from a more nurturing environment. I struggle often with achieving the balance of giving myself credit for coming so far from a place so awful and yet choosing today to be responsible for all the parts of my life as it is now. I think that it can be a cop-out to say that my history predisposes me to bad choices but it can also be Loving to say that where I am now is vastly better than where I come from.

    Now I’m the one not making sense…suffice it to say that, while I’m doing a crappy job of explaining that I understand your comment, I do “get it” internally, emotionally.

  6. October 18, 2007 6:11 am

    Sweet Sig, I’m so happy to see that you’ve found a place where you’re comfortable to let yourself sing!

    My own childhood (and young adulthood) wasn’t the best, but it was no where near what yourself and others have had to endure. None the less, I wanted to chime in and let you know that I too get what you are saying (though on a much smaller scale I’m sure).

    I’ve never understood why society attaches such negatives to the word victim … and it’s those negatives that have kept many of us from using that term to describe ourselves. Yes, there are a few things in my past that qualify me as a victim, and though it may seem negligible to some, that fact still remains.

    Dear lady, your words are so moving one can’t help but cheer you on!

  7. signmom permalink*
    October 18, 2007 11:19 am

    Thank you so much! I love having this “cheering section”. It may sound egotisitcal to say that, but that is not at all how I feel it. Some days, I feel that I have so far to go, that things that I am learning are taking too long. When I check back here and read the lovely things that people have to say, I feel brave again and excited about this learning journey!!

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