What Survivors Taught Me

Sometimes talking to another survivor for 10 minutes can do you more good than sitting through ten months of therapy. 

I mean no disrespect to the counsellors I have worked with in my life, I’m grateful to the good ones, (not so much the shit ones). However, in the spirit of congruence, I’m here to admit that my experiences of healing have been hard-won in the therapy rooms. Something important gets lost on the journey between client and professional, something that can’t be simulated no matter how congenial your relationship is. 

I am no stranger to the concept of trauma bonding – a psychological phenomenon where strong emotional attachments are formed between victims and abusers. Trauma bonds can also form between victims of the same traumatic situation. Call me sentimental but there’s something about going through prolonged, life-threatening experiences that opens you up to loving the fellow humans who suffered with you. Perhaps it’s the post adrenaline euphoria but I found myself feeling deeply connected to the kids who survived the same shit that I did. We stuck together to make it through, like Nam buddies. There’s also the fact that no one back in civilisation can possibly understand you.

I speak openly about my abuse and so it isn’t a secret. Yet, despite the sharing I have done, the platforms I have scaled, and how I’ve embraced ‘survivor’ as part of my identity, I still feel like I’m carrying this huge undisclosed burden everywhere. Every hour of counselling I sit through only seems to scratch the surface of my story. I’ve only been able to offer a peep into the windows of my very big, very dark, house of horrors. This is a consistent frustration. 

However, when I talk to or hear from people who have their own, similar house of horrors I don’t need to explain to them the details of the bloodstains on the wallpaper or the rattling of chains coming from the basement because they know this neighbourhood. They know what it’s like to live on Trauma Street. I apologise for over-stretching this metaphor. 

You save a lot of time when explanations don’t need to be given, allowing you to get right into discussing the poignant stuff. Your fellow survivors know exactly where and how it hurts and they understand the really weird, twisted, complicated tricks that your own brain managed to create at the time to help you stay alive and not go mad(der) from the stress and fear. It’s from that level of solidarity and shared understanding that the wounds start to feel soothed.

Corroborating with other survivors has allowed me to facilitate my own empowerment. This is not something that could have been handed to me by a mental health doctor or some self-help book (unless that book had been authored by a survivor writing from their lived experience, of course).

The benefits go beyond inspiring each other to keep on fighting for recovery in a “if she can do it – I can, too!” sense.  It’s the relief of knowing that your struggles and your journey can be understood and shared without you having to translate the untranslatable. Those thoughts, feelings, and experiences that you never have the right words or enough time to express no longer need explaining. When your struggles and your journey is understood you have a fellow, mutual guide to help you through it.

I couldn’t summarise all the things I have learned and gained from my survivor friends and fellow lived-experience activists. Like the trauma itself, the business of healing from it somewhat transcends the verbal mode of communication. I may be copping out here as a writer. I apologise if you clicked on this blog looking for mind-blowing insights to fix all your PTSD symptoms. (HaVe YoU tRiEd MiNdFuLNeSsS.)  The truth is, the most important lesson I have gained from other survivors is a cloying one; over-said, yet under-felt the majority of the time as I carry my traumatising, stigmatising burden around with me. It’s the reassurance that I am not alone. 

From Maya Angelou to Rachel Moran, from my O.G. friend Eve to the pseudonymised post on that Facebook group in 2012, this is where my best medicine comes from. I will keep on seeking it out, and I confidently hope that I offer it back.