Tuesday, November 4, 2014

You are a survivor, not a victim

I shared with you a couple of weeks ago that I attended a presentation at my college about domestic violence.  The presenter said many things during that hour that have provided me with ‘food for thought” in recent weeks. One thing that struck me is that the staff at Women’s Aid refer to individuals who have experienced abuse as either victims or survivors. A victim is one who has died has a result of abuse; a survivor is anyone else who has encountered abuse.  That whole ‘terminology” thing caused me to go…Hmmm…. because so often I use ‘victim” differently.  It has made me think of things in life in a different way.

The dictionary describes a victim as one who has been harmed or killed by the actions of another….so technically, either word would be appropriate to use, but I think I really like “survivor” better because it can help create an entirely different mindset. Fortunately, I don’t deal with many people who are living in a situation of physical abuse, but I certainly cross paths with a lot who have been been/are hurting because of negative things/actions that are out of their control.

On a day-to-day basis I listen to the stories of heartache and struggle that my students are dealing with. In addition, I currently have so many Facebook messages and many e-mails in my box that I have yet to read and respond to and a running list of people I have promised to call on the phone because I have so many people from around the world reaching out to me and sharing their stories. It’s often heartbreaking for me to read these messages and hear the incredible pain and sadness that is being shared with me. So many hurting people; so many trapped in a life of obesity or addiction wanting life to be different and hoping for a miracle; so many reaching out to me hoping and praying that I might be able to offer some little word to bit of advice to help them change their life. 

Goodness…..it’s an incredibly humbling experience for me to have a complete stranger trust me enough to share his/her heart; and yet, I am often at a loss for words as to what to say. While I recognize that I am unable to “fix things” or take away the pain, I often can say, “I know what it’s like…I’ve been there….I hear you”; and while most of the time I have no answers, I can assure the person that God can help him/her change his/her life and turn the pain, despair, hopelessness, and/or struggles into joy, peace, and victory. I believe that God brought me through many difficult days and blessed me with this miracle strictly for this purpose….to bring hope that life isn’t always going to be this hard….and CHANGE is possible…..not just for a few ‘lucky” ones…..but for YOU and ME.  I think a very important key to change is the whole “victim vs. survivor” mentality.

I’m sure there are plenty of people in the world that have had “nearly perfect” lives, but I don’t know any of them.  Most of us can identify a time in our past when we shake our head and ask, “How on earth did I EVER get through that time?”  Maybe it was a period of unemployment; perhaps it was a time of loss due to a death or accident. Perhaps you lived through a natural disaster like a hurricane or flood and you lost many or all of your earthly possessions and had to start all over to rebuild. Maybe you went through a serious illness or were the caregiver for someone else; went through the heartache of a break-up or divorce; struggled to raise children that made some really poor choices; or endured a childhood of emotional/physical/or mental abuse….and you are carrying the scars of those hurts with you on a daily basis. Many of you are in that situation now and are just trying to get through the day. Perhaps, like me, you turn/ed to food, (whatever YOUR coping mechanism…..drugs, booze, gambling, porn) and you have found yourself in a very dark place. Perhaps bitterness, anger, and unforgiveness, revenge or jealousy has become a way of life and you find it difficult/impossible to see ANYTHING good about your current life. Perhaps you are just merely existing and ready to give up on life completely because you cannot possible see how life could be any different. 

One thing I can offer you is this:  You have gone…..or are going through……some incredibly tough times….but you are not a VICTIM….you are a SURVIVOR!  In many cases, you had no choice about the struggle and it is not your fault that a loved one died; you got sick; you lost your job due to down-sizing; or were in an accident.  You did not do anything wrong to make someone abuse you or mistreat you; it’s not your fault! Sometimes your own poor decisions/choices in life got you in a situation where life is harder than it needs to be, but you can’t keep beating yourself up about it.  IT is what it is….your reality right now IS WHAT IT IS…..it might suck; it might be unfair; it might be unbearable at times….but IT IS what IT IS…..BUT….IT IS NOT what it always has to be!!!!   You are not a VICTIM…you are a SURVIVOR because you are still here; you are not dead; it is not hopeless. That means you are strong enough to endure hard times and you are strong enough to change your life….lose weight; quit smoking; rebuild your life…whatever you want to do. You cannot change everything….but there are some things you can change….a little bit at a time….if you really want to.  I cannot do it for you; someone else cannot fix it for you; ­­but you can change your reality with God’s help, but you have to first come to the conclusion that “ you are a survivor….you don’t want to live like this anymore….and that YES…it is Possible for life to be different”….but only if you ­make that decision that you are ready to surrender the way you think about things; ready to surrender the negative thoughts; ready to forgive…others, God, yourself….and move forward as a survivor. 

The journey to a new life is a life-long process and it ebbs and flows on a daily basis. You are not just going to read this post and say, “yup…I’m going to change…and then instantly all the ‘stuff” in life will just disappear and life will be better.”  It didn’t work that way for me; and I don’t think it will work like that for you either.  Every single day…..I have a choice to either live like a survivor; to realize that God set me free from that old way of life…REGARDLESS of how I feel that day; regardless of what the scale says; regardless of how tempted I feel; how much I screwed up that day; how bad the day was….GOD has won that victory for me many years ago. He has brought me through those times.....even though I have lifelong battle wounds….and therefore, I am a survivor. As long as I have breath….and have not died as a result of the day-to-day struggles…..there is HOPE. The same is true for each of you. Start again and again and again I you have to.

Today…. I recognize and acknowledge that the changes in my physical appearance….every pound of weight loss….is just a visible reminder of the changes that have taken place in my heart and mind. The same will be true for you….every day of sobriety; every size you drop; every temptation you resist and every hurt, fear, doubt you surrender is merely a visible sign that you are a SURVIVOR….and have decided that the past can no longer define you, hold you back, or become an excuse for your current reality; that you no longer want to live like a victim; and that each new day is a gift and an opportunity to change your life.

 Know that while I cannot do it for you; I cannot offer you the magic cure to make life better or easier; I can honestly say that although I don’t know EXACTLY what it’s like to be you… I do know what it’s like to be lost and then found; to be sad and then filled with joy; to be scared and then grateful…..and the latter is so much better!  I pray for you…and I ask that you pray for me as well….because although I have been blessed with a miracle and it is a joy and privilege to share my life/journey with others, it is also a sometimes heavy responsibility to share the journey with others who are hurting so deeply.   Whether someone is trying to lose 100 pounds or 10; the struggle is the same. Whether someone is trying to beat meth or give up smoking; the temptations are the same. Loss is loss; temptation is temptation; addiction is addiction….all around the world and even though each person in this group has a different reality; different degrees of struggle; different hopes, dreams, and baggage… we are ALL survivors….and we have been given the gift of each other to share the journey; shoulder the burden and cheer each other on; and rejoice in the triumphs!

What a privilege and a blessing…..