I absolutely love the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). My husband got me into it - we even got engaged at a UFC Event in Toronto (Max Holloway vs. Anthony Pettis to be exact. for those of you who are fans). When we first started dating, he would have the fights on in the background and I dismissed it for a couple weeks.
But, as I watched these fighters tell their stories of adversity and triumph, and saw their athletic commitment and dedication - I fell in love with the sport - the vulnerability of standing barefoot in the octagon, bleeding and pressing forward. The preparation, the skill, the power, the willingness to lose - the emotional triumph of a win. It hooked me. Some of them had lost children, grew up in poverty, were working full-time jobs and still fighting.
Athletics in general are an amazing metaphor for overcoming adversity and trauma.
They show us that against all odds - we can win. And, if we lose, we can still say we put it all on the line.
So - what does this have to do with the term “trauma-survivor” and why I don’t like it?
Stay with me.
As a child, my life was swallowed up by pain - the blackness and emptiness of abandonment and abuse from a mother whose own childhood of abuse lead her to cope through narcissism. And neglect from a father who was not able to find his way out of her shadow to protect me from the chaos. Those of you who have experienced this kind of abuse know what I am talking about.
My preferred self-medication was a nice tonic of perfectionism, high-performance, and getting validation from the outside world (teachers, preachers, pastors, friends). I loved people thinking I had it all together. Or, at least that’s what I thought they thought.
My inner world was fragile, I adopted the practice of fawning and approval-seeking. Bonding myself to authority figures to get their approval at all costs. I got deeply enmeshed with romantic partners that resembled my mother and I was addicted to trying to fix them, trying to make them love me. Distracting myself from the black void within me.
I felt ashamed, deeply fragile, confused, and I frequently slipped into bouts of depression, mania, and deep dissociation. Rough.
But, even through all of that, the term “survivor” never sat well with me. Even though I was trapped in a cycle of people-pleasing, and my inner-world was a chaotic mess, “trauma-survivor” just didn’t work for me. I remember saying to a therapist once “I hate the word survivor. I’m not a survivor - I am a warrior ”. Being the amazing therapist she was, she affirmed me.
And here’s where the athletics analogy comes in.
When I saw those fighters winning and losing, and putting it all on the line and fighting through injury and fear and doubt, I saw myself. Trauma recovery is not for the faint of heart. It’s not pretty. It’s not easy. It is gritty, it involves discipline. The discipline of feeling things that have been trapped in our nervous systems and psyche since before we can remember. It requires us to get in touch with our primal, wild side. It is spiritual awakening and unfolding.
To feel deeply, to uncover the TRUE self under all the constructed falsehoods that we needed to survive the pain of growing up in petri dishes of shame. I really look at abuse/trauma recovery as a sport of endurance. Digging deep within beneath the muck to pull the true self from the ashes.
I am not a survivor. I am not a victim. I am a warrior. I am a beast. I am a wild animal. I went through the terror and fear and deep darkness of my own soul and I didn’t just survive. I moved mountains. And I still move them every. Single. Day.
I am healed and I am healing. I am recovered and I am recovering. Every single day. I am walking forward without the stain of abuse and shame and generational pain. I am unearthing the depths of myself and my pain to mine the gold within. Again. And Again.
Trauma is not the story. That is only a part.
The story is me. My commitment to myself, and those who came alongside me through the pain to lift me up - the way a fighter’s coach guides a weary fighter through a moment of adversity and reminds him to keep going.
I am the story. Yes, I survived the psychological pain and torture of narcissistic abuse and neglect as a kid. Yes, I experienced developmental/attachment/complex trauma. Yes, I had my moments - days - years of depression and fear and self-doubt and shame.
But I am NOT a survivor. I am SO. MUCH. MORE.
I am free. I am powerful. I am animal.
I am a writer, I am a creative, I am a coach - guiding other fighters through the stored muck in their nervous systems and souls, helping them fight another day to bring their vision to life.
I am a warrior.
If the term survivor resonates with you - than it is yours. Use it and claim it. Do what works.
But it doesn’t work for me.
I choose to call myself a fighter. I am barefoot in the octagon, bleeding but still pressing forward. Vulnerable. Powerful. Willing to feel the burden of defeat and use it to fuel me for the next round. The animal in me that was always there - suppressed by the threat of lost parental love, abuse, pain, and shame - is out of the cage.
What are your thoughts? Does the term "survivor" resonate with you? Let me know in the comments .
-Shyla Cash, Grow Heal Change Coaching
If something about this resonates with you and you want to work with me, send me an e-mail at [email protected].