In my reading this week, I came across an article that talked about the danger in telling ourselves only one story about ourselves. The article wasn’t specifically about abuse survivors, but it is something I have found to be very true.
What he meant was that people get too attached to the stories they tell about their past—their mother was cold, their father abandoned them, high school was the best (or worst) years of their life, and so on. These are just stories. They are single stories that tell part of a story, but not the whole story. By definition, they leave out a lot of information and leapfrog over nuance and detail. What the good doctor was trying to explain was how recognizing and letting go of the narrow narratives we tell others and we tell ourselves is liberating.
I find this with survivors often. The “I’m a child abuse survivor” story is one that many survivors need to tell and need to give voice to, there is no doubt about that, but it’s also not the complete picture of who we are. One of the things I have always set out to do is point to other survivors on the web because I want people to understand the broad spectrum of survivors that are out there. If there was only one narrative to be told, I wouldn’t bother with that. But there isn’t one narrative about abuse survivors, there are millions of them, and the stories come from all types of people in all walks of life. That’s exactly the point. Surviving childhood abuse is a hugely significant thing, but overcoming that, and healing from it requires working on the rest of your stories. The stories you tell yourself define who you are today. Are you just a survivor, or are you more?
I’ve written in the past about this when it came to being an active part of the larger community of survivors:
So, as much as I belong with this community, loose-knit as it may be, I belong elsewhere too. Being a survivor, and an online advocate, is one of the roles I play in my life. In my efforts to continue to play that role, I sometimes let it take a backseat to other roles. Not because it’s any less important, but because it’s equally important and I need the balance of other roles in order to keep it up. I hope that you can find your own balance, and contribute as part of your overall life as you continue to heal!
To me, a balanced life is one that has many stories. If I look back at the last 47 years of my life and only see “child abuse survivor”, that means that I’ve not done enough to be something more than that. Yes, it is part of who I am, but only part. I’m also a number of other things, a husband, a friend, a trainer, a sports fan, a photographer, a goofball, etc. Those stories are also part of who I am, and they are just as important as being a survivor. They may not seem as “big” as surviving child abuse, but they are the things that keep the survivor part of me from getting overwhelmed, because as bad as that story is, the other stories are good, fun, enjoyable parts of my life.
None of us survived a traumatic event just so we could spend the rest of our lives defined by that event. We survived it in order to move past the event and on to the other stories that are still out there to be told, whatever they happen to be. I’m proud that I survived my childhood, because I know what type of strength it took to do that, and I’m proud of every survivor out there for surviving, but the excitement for me isn’t just in surviving, it’s in seeing what stories we will continue writing as we move forward. There is still a lot of life to be lived and a lot of stories to be told. What stories will define you going forward?