I always hated the word survivor. I would wonder, still do, what did I survive, really? I’m alive, did I really live? Am I living? Or am I breathing. There’s a difference. And that’s what survivor means to me… someone who is still breathing, but not living. And I know many people associate it with many other things. And I’m not trying to take that away. If you identify with it, it’s yours. But to me… that words feels like swords digging deep.
I lived. I’m alive. But I wasn’t living.
Hearing the word had (and still does, although I’m working to desensitize it) a visceral response for me. My mood instantly changes. I find myself drifting, away, to that place where none of those words exist and I can just pretend. I compartmentalized my life. One day I realized I had become what everyone else wanted me to be. In each role I knew what I was, who I was, what was expected of me. As a wife, a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a coach, a trainer… all of the roles I held I knew who to be. I would change roles as easily as I could slip into a new shirt.
I didn’t know I was doing this, not consciously, until I realized it, of course. I was a little in shock because I had convinced myself I wouldn’t be one of “those girls” but here I was one of those girls who drifted into a happy place and painted everything with the colour denial. And who was I really? I gave myself all of these titles and labels and names so I could know who to be in each one because I had no idea who I was, really.
I compartmentalized so I wouldn’t have to experience, see, know, talk about being a survivor. I didn’t want that label. I didn’t want that story. I distanced myself from the word. I loathed that word. I felt like it was a scarlet A except it was an S – something I didn’t want to be associated with. I wanted to be known for me, who I was, not something that happened to me.
But to be myself I had to own all of the things that made me who I was. And I wasn’t willing to do that. So I buried it, hide it and painted it all with the colour denial. I have been fighting my whole life to hide parts of me… wanting only to show the good stuff – perhaps that would help cover up the bad stuff. If I could be good enough, successful enough, skinny enough, pretty enough then I could distance myself, forever and it wouldn’t matter.
But knowing who we are is how we truly live our lives. When I realized I had become what everyone else wanted me to be, that I wasn’t really living my search for me began. Who am I? What do I want? What do I believe in? What if I didn’t have to believe anyone else’s version? What if I didn’t have to believe the version I made up for myself? The version that locked me in a prison of my own making so I wouldn’t be labelled?
Finding myself ultimately led me through the experiences that shaped me, that changed me, that made me who I am. Some parts I didn’t like and other parts I did. The resilience, the determination, the willpower – something within me that I couldn’t explain – a fire inside of me. And other parts where I fragmented myself, made myself smaller, disconnected and disengaged from people in a bid to be normal and fit in.
And it led me back to being a survivor. I had to deal with it all. I didn’t want to. I went there kicking and screaming. I tried to close the door again but once it had been opened I was painfully aware that if I was truly going to live the life I wanted to, then I had to explore all parts of me. I couldn’t pick and choose the pieces that I decided were me.
I had to look at the scars. The scabs. The shitty ways I showed up in life. The way I treated people. The way I allowed myself to be treated. The eating disorders, the body image, the self hate, the other people hate, the judgement, the bitterness… nothing was off the table. It was a fucking mess. And I went there kicking and screaming. A lifetime running from it and now sinking into it. Facing it all ended up not as scary as I thought it would be.
There was a beauty in the pain. A humbleness to falling to my knees and allowing myself to feel. I felt parts of me sticking back together I had long forgotten existed. I found things I loved again. I found parts of myself that I didn’t know existed. I got to know me… not because of what happened to me… and all the things that happened after because of it… but in spite of all that.
The hardest part has been sharing it. I am here to teach this stuff. I know that. I’ve known that for a long time. Sometimes I want to play small with it, get by, share pieces, share tidbits but not truly open. Because there is still part of me that wants to hide it all. And I often think of quitting what I do… getting a job and be ok with the healing I’ve done for myself. But I’m tormented and twisted with that. I apply for jobs I should easily get offered. Nothing. Crickets. I try to do things that help me have my toes in the game… and it doesn’t work.
I would like to say this is a choice, but for those who know they have a higher purpose (I don’t say that arrogantly, I say it from a deep knowing that this IS what I’m here to do, yet it’s the very thing I’ve struggled so much with) but it’s not really a choice. When I play small, dabble in it, half own it, pussy foot around it, nothing works. I’m here to help people find their own inner wild like I did mine and sometimes that means I need to share my stories, my experiences in doing so.
And that is the scariest part of all. Knowing that people know things about me when I spent my entire life never sharing anything about my life experiences that made me look broken or different. And here I am, showing my cracks and flaws and imperfections. I bleed a little each time I do it. The battle of being pushed by my soul and fulfilling my purpose and living my why and wanting to shove it all down.
But shoving it down makes me miserable. It makes me withdraw and turn inward. I have an acute ability to feel when In close now. Once I didn’t know what that tightness in my chest felt like. Now I know what it means. Sometimes I still turn away from it. Because this wasn’t the story I wanted. I didn’t want the labels. And I still don’t. I don’t want to be called a survivor.
Surviving to me isn’t living. It’s getting by. It’s not thriving. Thriving to me is a better term. I’m a thriver. I’d rather think of myself as having found a way to heal the most broken parts of my life and thrive and not just survive. Surviving to me isn’t living. It’s getting by. And I spent my whole life getting by. I spent my whole life fighting to be someone else, to separate myself, to survive.
I’m not a survivor. I’m a fucking warrior.