It’s funny how things work sometimes. I got to thinking last night about the words “victim”, and “survivor” – the things that the mind comes up with in the middle of the night! – and then the comments on my previous post (thank you, wonderful people), which I read just before starting this one, mentioned the word “survivor”. Just a little bit of synchronicity to start this evening’s writing…
Someone called me a victim a little while ago. Someone I like a lot, a good friend. Someone I’ve trusted with the story of a lot of what’s happened to me. Someone whose opinion I take seriously. And I bristled. My instinct was to shut off that idea, of being a victim. I’m not a victim. Don’t call me that. I felt quite indignant.
If I have to call myself anything, I call myself a survivor. I’m a domestic violence survivor. I’m a rape survivor. I’m not a domestic violence victim. I’m not a rape victim. I’m too strong to be a victim. I refuse to be a victim. I’m taking responsibility, rebuilding my life. Look at me. I can’t be a victim.
And yet, in refusing to acknowledge that I am in fact a victim, I realise that I’m actually selling myself short. It’s true that I am a survivor. There is no sense in which that’s not the case. I am a survivor and I will continue to use that word to describe myself. But in refusing to acknowledge my victim-ness (victimhood? What’s the noun for victim, anyway?) what I’m actually refusing to acknowledge is just how much there was to actually survive. I was victimised. I did become a victim, of someone else’s actions. Something big, and horrible, was done to me. Many big and horrible things, over many years. That makes me a victim first, and then a survivor.
You can survive all sorts of things. I survive the walk to work every single morning. That’s not all that big an achievement. The fact that I was a victim, and that I am a survivor of that victimhood – that is an achievement. It’s a huge achievement. It’s an achievement I’m proud of, because it’s testament not only to my own strength but also to the strength and love and friendship of those around me.
Being a victim and being a survivor go hand-in-hand: they have to, or there’s nothing to survive, and surviving is not an achievement. But increasingly, I’m able to say that I’m a survivor – and a former victim.
That’s an achievement too.