He told me what I am in no uncertain terms. I was a victim. That label felt so definitive. I was destined to be trapped in my trauma. I had been immeasurably hurt, and it changed me into a victim. And what was to come with this new title? Pity? Self-loathing? Insurmountable guilt? I couldn’t tolerate the impact that two syllables had on me.
As much as I asserted otherwise, in his eyes, that’s what I was, and I was in denial. I was supposed to accept the rational explanations and the assurances that, “this isn’t a negative thing, it’s just what you are.” Part of me believed this. In reality, it is just a word, and from the perspective of a dictionary, it wouldn’t be untrue. I had been harmed as the result of many events and many actions in my life.
However, language has connotations far more impactful than the purely literal interpretations of words. Victim came with implications. Victim implied a future steeped in the past: a perpetual state of suffering and fear.
And to be perfectly honest, I did feel like a victim at times. When the simplest touch could send me into a panic, leaving me crying on the floor for an hour, I certainly felt like a victim. When I would spend months at a time emotionally withdrawn and devoid of identity, I felt like a victim.
But the thing about trauma is that it lies to you. I was never, and never will be, a victim. I am a survivor, and the difference is extremely consequential. Living with trauma or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a 24-hour job.
You are simultaneously living out two timelines: the one of your future, and the one of your past. When these two timelines converge, you have little to no control over it. The mundane and simple can become arduous tasks, and the struggle for control is constant and exhausting.
When I am labeled a victim of these circumstances, I succumb to them. When I label myself a survivor of these circumstances, I continue on to the next day in spite of them.
I am a survivor because I have chosen to be, and I have to make that choice every day. That title removes the power from my past traumas and gives it back to myself.
I deserve that. We deserve that. Survivors of trauma are remarkable and powerful, and they work every day just to be themselves. We are not broken or damaged, and we will not be victimized. When I feel most like a victim, I feel the least like myself.
We cannot sacrifice our futures and identities so easily. To be a survivor is no easy task. It is painful to move forward. It is difficult to acknowledge pain without it turning into suffering. There will always be times when the struggle feels impossible to bear, and every fiber of your being will tell you that you aren’t worthy.
But once again, trauma lies. You are worthy even when you are struggling and even when you are crying on the floor. Every moment of every day, you are worthy, and to continue to tell yourself and others that message is to survive.