Ok, I am. I HAVE survived. A lot. Which is my point.
I think I have much to say on this topic, but perhaps social media and the need to get to the point has played into my lazy “how quickly can I get this done” mentality! So, hopefully for you – I will be short, concise and easily understood.
Saying “I am” is a deep statement. “I am” is about the depths of my soul. My innateness, my sheer existence and the things that make me specially me. If you are a quick thinker you may already have gone there…. “But don’t your experiences make you who you are?” I’ve heard and thought that “Our experiences shape us” That’s what I want to talk about. **disclaimer: I’m not done with me, so this particular piece will never really be done. Feel free to comment your thoughts after reading!
Religion, spiritual gurus and philosophers have been tackling the idea of “self” for as long as we’ve been thinking… And even though I think I am a deep thinker, in reality, I prefer to wade. I like the safety of the shore and the “idea of” the ocean. But if I go too deep I can feel the strong undertow and have to retreat back to a depth I can feel comfortable in. All that to say: I don’t think this is gonna be too deep. 😉
Experiences vs Self
I think of my SELF as separate from what happens TO my self. So if you can hang with me there that would be cool. If I am my self, what happens to that self is a separate thing. So saying “I am a survivor” as in ‘a person who survives’ is still ok with me – except for the whole death thing. Should my headstone say “She thought she was a survivor. PWND!” Anyway…What’s not ok? Marketing (oops, I mean ‘awareness campaigns’). Glorifying of shitty situations. Making ‘war heroes’ out of people who have accomplished not dying. (That is everyone’s goal. Everyone fails. Everyone.)
Let’s break it down. I survived sexual abuse. I survived domestic abuse. I survived losing a child. I #survived breast cancer. But what I don’t understand is that that last one earns me the hashtag rights. The “survivor” in quotes rights. Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t feel bitterness. I think we are victims of feeling good about ourselves based on marketing campaigns and a herd-like mentality. Again, don’t misunderstand. I think we SHOULD feel good about ourselves. Our innateness. Our being. I think it’s a pretty big deal to exist. The alternative is huge…. right. I feel GOOD that I exist. I like the me inside of me. I like the me I am being. I find flaws, things I don’t think belong to that me – but mostly, I like me. I don’t like many of the things that have happened to me.
And so my first question is; Why define myself by what has happened TO me? (side note: semi-colon??? I mean it’s two complete thoughts, but maybe different punctuation is required here. Let me know in the comments, I am blogging and don’t have time/inclination to research proper punctuation.)
“Why define myself by what has happened to me?” Why identify with, any more than necessary, the role of a victim, for example? Sure, stuff I have experienced is shitty. Actually, really traumatic. Some people DON’T survive – they die as a result of their sufferings – accidentally-ish, we call that manslaughter sometimes, or purposefully- or they are so stuck they kill themselves to escape. There are levels of survivorship too, right? Some people manage to live through the horrible things that happen to them only to be stained, sometimes for their entire lives…. choosing situations that perpetuate feelings of or actual continued victimization. They can’t talk about what’s next for them because their minds are stuck in what happened to them. They can’t feel joy in shitty moments because they are still reeling from past shitty moments. No. This isn’t an indictment. I don’t know why some people are able to move on and others aren’t. It weighs pretty heavy on my heart. I was stuck for a VERY long time. I was a #survivor, an #overcomer. For me, THAT was the problem.
Wearing my experiences like a badge. But that badge is a label. It’s an I AM. It defines, or represents at least, the depths of me. Like the bigger, badder shit I went through… the better person I was. Do you realize how messed up that is? I am not what has happened to me, it actually has little to DO with my me-ness. This logic in turn takes AWAY from the me-ness of others. What if you never suffered horribleness? Does that make it any less amazing that you exist? Is your uniqueness any less unique or beautiful? Where’s YOUR hashtag? How will we #recognize you and easily label you? How will people know where to give their money so they feel like they’ve “done something”. No. I didn’t just say giving money is a way to feel like you are doing something without actually doing something (but sometimes it is). I also didn’t say that donating to research, cures, and programs that help people is bad. Here’s the other thing about that ‘badge of honor’ #survivor… it feels like a competition and I WON! I won the prize. Those who died didn’t. They didn’t “WIN!” The subtle and sometimes overt implication is that they were ‘weaker’ or somehow ‘less than’ or – the opposite, they are worshipped. They are ‘true heroes’. I call bullshit. Let’s not just think in 1’s and 0’s… blacks and whites. And don’t think that just because I am writing this my thoughts are finished, proven and refined. I, like you, am still figuring out what I think about ALLLLLL this. (life, suffering, joy, existence) I also still don’t have a favorite color. I know. ugh.
So when I think about me, I think about what drives me. I sense what drives me by recognizing the types of things I want to accomplish. I want people to live in joy. I want to help people around me live meaningful lives. I want people to be self-actuated. I want people to figure out the good stuff in ways that give meaning to them- and hopefully the rest of us. I want to point to the good stuff, generate my own good stuff and kind of roll around in it. Then I want to hop to my feet and run to the next good stuff. Being present during the bad stuff – mine and yours is part of that. Living through the bad stuff isn’t who I am, it’s a consequence of being alive. It can be part of my rolling in the good stuff. Sitting with you, listening to you when you are sad. That is pretty precious. To experience the honor of being present as the depths of your being is revealed is a huge thing. It reminds me of my smallness in this world and my greatness in that I, too, exist. It can be laying on a table in a big room while the amazing RADIATING MACHINE pushes it’s rays through my skin to kill the nasty cancer that happened to me. Did I “Kick cancer’s ass”? Well, I think the doctors and “The Radiators” kicked cancer’s ass. I didn’t do much but show up. Did I impact the people around me anyway? Yup. That’s ME.
Am I a #survivor, though? Yes, I lived through it. I am NOT saying you were wrong to be excited for me. I am NOT saying you were wrong to say “Yay, you are now a “survivor”!” because that was you being happy I didn’t die from breast cancer. (Shit! I’m glad, too!) I am glad that you are using the best words you have to say those things. Thank you. But to answer my real question; no, I am no more a “survivor” than anyone else in this world. You may think I am because my shitty bad stuff looks big and scary to you. But, guess, what… there is worse. There is stuff I wonder often about how people come out of with their selves in tact. But when I look you in the eye, I don’t see someone less than, or more than. I look for a friend, a fellow exister. (That just made me smile SO BIG!) Just THINK what life would look like if we could shake ourselves free from our experiences. Stop the subtle and overt comparing. Step away from the pink ribbons and the black flags and the iconery and hashtags and the stuff that feed the money mill for just a bit….
Isnt’ it crazy that a KNOWN fundraiser (I LOVE fundraising!) is talking like this? A cynical “money mill” statement thrown into the mix?! Let me clarify a bit…I want my/your money and effort to go the actual things that are important to me or you. I want you to KNOW that TOO many people are trafficked for sex and slavery (those words don’t need to be separated, do they?). I want you to know that there are ways to detect breast cancer. I want you to help pay for cures and research and people’s overwhelming medical bills during crazy difficult (physically, mentally, emotionally) times. I don’t do pink ribbons or #hashtags too often because I think they make us just a little complacent. They DON’T remind us that we are responsible for what we do with the tools we have (our brains, our money) and to have great marketing doesn’t mean you deserve our dollars. It also doesn’t mean you don’t.
It means that WE are sometimes too lazy about intentionality, about thinking and about loving each individual just because they exist. It’s easy to let marketing campaigns make us feel good and important more than actually BEING GOOD and recognizing our innate importance.
- #protip Great marketing can encourage laziness and a ‘sense of doing good’ when there are better good things to do. There are lists that show how much $$ leaders of nonprofits makes and percentages of dollars that go to admin vs the actual cause. Admin is important as is good leadership. Just don’t assume it’s good because there is a ‘pink ribbon’ (or other easily recognizable icon) attached to it.
- Labelling people is constrictive. What if the cancer comes back? Do we remove the hashtag? Oh, sorry… #notasurvivorreally. Or do you get extra hashtags for each “surviving”? What are the RULES!?!?!? #beyourownlabel
- We need to free ourselves from the judgement of ‘not enough’ and focus our energy on BEING in the best sense. Victimization is evil, I will not define myself by the moments someone or something else has threatened my being. I am above or maybe even simply OTHER than that.
- We all die. Surviving is what we do everyday… until we don’t. Living in recognition of the level playing field is a beautiful. There are people smarter, taller, less smart, shorter, more brilliant, stronger, weaker… then I am. But I think we are all part of the same. (No. Don’t stay with your abusive spouse… that’s not beautiful. Let them find their innate worth…and yours – and then maybe we can talk).
- I’ve spent my life trying to be good and right and follow all the rules and find all the right rules and be the right things to all the people and suffer well and live strong and I’ve been mistaken. The best is to be. To BE me. To not mind the rules… I mean if you don’t want me to step on your grass, I will totally try not to. Not because I agree that your grass is more important that my feet, but because YOU are. Life takes balance. Balancing who you are with who others are. Sometimes there isn’t healthy balance in those spaces. Move on.
Or should I say #moveon 😉