Unchained Memory: Letting Go of My “Survivor” Identity

My therapist suggested something really interesting today that got me thinking hard, and I had to share it with you.

I’ve been feeling stuck for a long time now. Today I had a breakthrough because of my therapist’s suggestion, and this was it: Perhaps I need to stop identifying myself so much as a victim, as a survivor. Perhaps doing that keeps me chained to my past in a way that is stopping me from moving forward in my life, weighing me down, keeping me stuck. I like the way that telling my story helps other people tell theirs; however, at a certain point, does telling my story keep me in the story? Does talking about it constantly keep it alive in a way that it doesn’t deserve to be? I have honored my past. I have looked at it, worked with it, worked through it, talked openly about it, shared it with the world. I have analyzed it to understand how it affected me as a child and how it affects me now. I have written poetry about it and written it as a narrative. I have acted it out in psychodrama, made collages and paintings in art therapy, built sculptures in sand trays, and voiced parts in family systems. It has moved through my body in dance therapy, and moved through my thoughts in meditation. I’m not sure there’s anything left do with my past.

Except, perhaps, to leave it behind.

That is the one thing I have not done. I have not allowed myself to put my past in the past. I have kept it in the present by writing about it, publicizing it, using it to help others. And I’m proud of that. But keeping my past in the present like this seems to be detrimental to my future. I can’t wear the survivor badge forever. Not if I want to move on to other ways of being, move on to play other roles on my life. For instance, I want to be a nurse. I want to be a wife someday. I want to be a mother. I want to continue to be a writer, but about different things. I want to be a good daughter. I want to volunteer. There are a lot of roles I want to play in my future, and it will be hard to do while carrying that weight of my old victimhood. I just don’t need it anymore. I can be other things. I am so much more than my trauma. I am so much more than a rape victim, an abuse victim, a victim of any kind. I am so much more than a survivor. I can use those skills that I learned in my past as a survivor without dragging up the past with it. I can be a fighter, a fast learner, an intuitive person, thick-skinned, all those assets, without bringing up their origin. I can just appreciate their existence.

I am saying I can do all these things, but even as I write this, I am doubting it. Changing my perspective, letting go of my past will not be easy, might take some work. But I think I am ready to do it. I wanted to tell you all this, because it means there will be some changes to Writing for Recovery. I probably will not be speaking about my own past experiences anymore if I am going to really attempt this. I hope you all understand. I think I have written plenty about my history; enough for a lifetime.

What comes up for you when you think about letting go of that victim/survivor role? How would that change your life? I’d love to know what you think.

Thank you for supporting me in this. I hope you all continue to write and tell your stories as much as you need to, until you are ready to let go like I am. All my love, Sarah

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About writingforrecovery

Sarah is a writer and poet who speaks out about issues that make people uncomfortable. Sarah advocates for causes such a sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse, and mental illness, and often speaks openly about her own experiences. She is determined to abolish the stigma associated with these issues and believes that it starts with people telling their stories, so she started a blog called Writing for Recovery where people can do just that. She is the author of three volumes of poetry and is currently at work on her fourth. She is convinced that there's a novel somewhere in her, and occasionally picks at the chapters so far. View all posts by writingforrecovery

2 responses to “Unchained Memory: Letting Go of My “Survivor” Identity

  • Darlene Ouimet

    Sarah,
    I author a very busy recovery blog however I let go of the survivor identity a long time ago. I write almost every day either for a new post or answering comments, but I don’t feel as though I live in the story or in the past at all anymore. I have not been in therapy for several years now. I no longer struggle with depressions and I have a full life outside of my advocacy work. Your post caused me to pause and think about what your therapist is actually saying because I don’t relate to it at all. I let go of my past, and now I share HOW I did that with others; I stopped letting the belief system that I learned as a result of the trauma dictate how I did life and how I responded to people and situations IN my life by changing it back to the truth.
    Having said that, at one time I realized that my blog and my advocacy work had become my identity and I had begun to believe that doing this work was where deep down I had begun to believe that value lived and that was a problem. If that is what you are talking about, then I totally understand that but letting go of the blog and advocacy work was not the answer for me ~ the answer was in realizing that my value has nothing to do with my work and in realizing that, I am learning to set greater boundaries with how much I do especially when I put the work before my own needs. My blog and my work had become my identity. It had become WHO I was.
    One of the biggest problems caused by the trauma and abuse in my past has been to do with the destruction of my identity and it is a constant challenge to stay on top of making sure that I don’t get mixed up in a new identity that has more to do with others (just like in the past) then it has to do with me.
    Just my thoughts.
    Hugs, Darlene

    • writingforrecovery

      I think that is what I’m saying, that the work has become too much a part of me, WHO I am. And I need to take a giant step away from it at least for a good long bit while I sort that out. Perhaps I’ll come back to it…I probably will. But I may not. I don’t know. For now what I know is that it’s taking up too much space and I need to re-claim that space for myself. Thank you for your thoughts, I do appreciate your perspective and it is helpful. ❤ Sarah

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