Posted by: mzbitca | May 5, 2009

We don’t make it easy to be a survivor

As some of you may know, I work in the mental health field.  I work at a community mental health center which offers a wide range of services and a sliding fee scale to serve those in the community who do not have insurance or large incomes. My speciality is in addictions and what it has shown me is the harsh way this world turns on it’s people if they do not toe the line and deal with their problems in the socially acceptable way.

We don’t make it easy to be a survivor in this country.  We want people to deal quietyly and keep all their prepackaged issues from before we met them wrapped carefully in bubble wrap so they don’t interfere with the “real world.”  We want the plucky little victim who doesn’t “let’ what happened to her change her life and moves on with great dignity.  It has nothing to do with them and everything to do with us.  We want to deplore the horrible things that happen in this world yet not let them get their yucky all over use.  We want to shake our head and feel sorry about what happened to some person somewhere but dealing with the fall out is a lot.  The sympathy ends when you’re dealing with it, then the person is broken and frustrating and “unwilling” to fix what’s wrong with them.

We want to live in a world where bad things happen to someone else.  This means that we can act the way we want and say whatever we want and not care about how our callous thoughts and actions may hurt others.  We live in a world where the FCC can fine a network $500,000 for a slight nipple slip but sitcom characters regularly joke about rape, violence, child abuse and homophobia.  We live in a world where a 30 year old woman who is addicted to heroin partly because it was away to deal with the horrendous child abuse she suffered is the “bad guy.”   We live in a world where it’s easier to punish a women for drinking than it is the asshole that’s abusing her.  We live in a world where a felony drug conviction hurts the individual through not allowing them to get medicaid,  a good job or a credit card.  We want them to get clean but don’t want to be bothered with whatever underlying problems they may have.  

We live in a world where traumatized kids are classified as “trouble makers” and their blatant cries for help are seen as “acting up.”  We assume a teenage girl who has a tendency for drama is just trying to get attention when she mentions the adult in her apt complex that sleeps with her. In our mad dash to make sure that people learn “responsibility” for their actions we forget that they were not responsible for the first thing that happened to start them on this path.  We fear allowing them to see their abuse or misfortune as an “excuse.” so we gloss over it as a way to make it easier and simpler for us.  

A teenage girl suffering from years of abuse at a relative’s hands, placed in foster care punches a girl who calls her an orphan and messed up and unwanted and she is the aggressor and is removed from any pro-social activites she engaged in because she’s a threat.  

I all boils down to the fact that we don’t make it easy to be survivor because to do that means admitting that what happens to someone isn’t their fault and that they shouldn’t have to deal with it in a private way for us.  We have to see and realize the failings of our society but we don’t want to, so we take it out on the victims for reminding us that life is messy and scary and not easy to get over.



  1. Great post. I don’t think I have much more to add. This was a really good examination of a really troubling aspect of society. Nice work.

  2. Powerful.

  3. This is a great post. Thank you.

  4. This is wonderful! I did not know you worked in this field. I was an AA sponsor for many years, but I left for good some time ago. (you might enjoy my obit for my own AA sponsor)

    I’ve always intended to write about all that one of these days… but you have aptly described why I don’t. The language of blame permeates all discussion of addiction and sponsorship and it’s hard to make sense of it, at least for the uninitiated. Some of what I’d like to say, I don’t have the words for. I can’t really communicate it.

    You have made a good start here.

    • i remember reading that obituary and I thought it was touching and truthful.

      The area of addictions is so messy to me because there are so many sides that believe they are right and so many boil down to a weakness of some kind, in some way.

  5. Well said!

    Also, it doesn’t just cover addictions. What you’ve said here also covers mental illnesses.

    I’m suffering from a personality disorder, the specific nature of which is still undiagnosed (we’re working on that), and it took me years to accept that it was not within my power to just buck up and deal with it. I have not the ability to do that, but that is nonetheless what is expected of me and those like me. Even to the point where I expected it from myself. All the symptoms of my disorder were either seen as adorable cute quirks (in an 8 year old, yes, in a 25 year old, not so much) or as bad habits that needed to be broken. And the attempts to break those habits made my condition worse, because my bad habits were my coping methods – removing them meant I was unable to cope, it meant complete melt-downs, but come on! Who needs to bite their nails in order to function? Well, apparently I do for the time being, and asking me why I don’t just stop won’t help, because I already feel bad enough for the fact that my fingers look terrible from nearly two decades of gnawing and tearing.

    It’s the same as telling a depressed person to take a walk and get some sunlight. Yes, it’s healthy, no, it won’t dissolve a depression even if it might make you feel momentarily better. And for some it just makes it worse, but if we dare to say so, we’re maladapted and unwilling to get better.

    Thanks for writing this post. It rings true!

  6. GREAT post. Thank you for sharing your voice.

  7. Thank you for pointing out that we live in a nation where the principled easily deplore abuse but refuse to make eye contact with it. Well thought. Well said.

  8. Thank you. This is all so very true.

  9. Thank you very much. Maybe someday we will treat the problems and not the symptoms.

  10. thank you for this. it is such a non-survivor privilege to be able to ignore what happens to people while criticizing their behavior.

  11. Great post. And I really needed this today of all days!

    As requested I explained the root of my problems (like jemimaaslana I have mental health issues and not an addiction as such). Sympathy has been given. Now I have been told to ‘get on with it’ and ‘make my own choices’.

    No-one wants to deal with the trauma and the problems it’s caused. But I have to.

    But people can sympathize of course, so long as I smile sweetly and behave nicely.

    lcosette, what you said about ‘treating the problems and not the symptoms’ is also very true.
    We need to get to that place to really fix things.
    I do have, and am immensely thankful for, a loving husband. Since knowing him, striking up a friendship with him and falling in love with him, all my symptoms have been reduced to insignificance. Because he listens, he tries his best to understand and, though he can’t truly understand, he gives me the space to be hurt and to heal.

    We can’t all bump into someone who will help us through, we can’t wait for or rely on that happening and those people, if we’re lucky enough to meet them, can’t be expected to heal years of trauma and abuse by themselves. The ‘professionals’ need to do more than show sympathy to addicts and victims and they need to learn that treating ‘symptoms’, which for many of us are also coping strategies, is not enough.

    Thanks again.

    Great post 🙂

    • Ruth, I think you nailed it with your description right there. All right, now people have listened to your tale of woe, now go back to being normal again. Clearly it’s only in their own minds they listened. As if anyone chooses to be traumatized. It’s not something people do for fun, but for some reason many non-survivors seem to think it’s a switch that can just be switched off.

      And amen to yours and Icosette’s points about symptom treatment. My own treatment has ailed so far because my depression is a result of my disorder, which means I can’t get rid of the depression until I learn to cope with my disorder and with a world that can’t cope with me. So far I’ve wasted 1½ year on depression treatment, and only now am I being sent onwards to actually find out what my real problem is. I am not impressed.

  12. Wow – I can totally relate to this at the moment as I’m having counselling for a rape in my past, which I’d tried to not “let” affect me by launching myself into marriage without ever dealing with the issues. My counselling sessions are things I organise around my existing life, it causes great consternation if I’m going to be late home for dinner, the £60 I pay a month is suddenly a very important portion of our money, where no other expenses are scrutinised in this way. I’ve even been told that it’s turning me a bit mad and told to stop going (which I refused with my new positive attitude – luckily). The pressure is to arrive at the counselling perfectly normal and to leave in the same mood – to neatly rehouse everything again to be presentable to the world. The trouble is that the lasting effects of my trauma were to make me addicted to sex and then to completely turn against it when I got into the point within marriage where conflicts began to arose. Totally unable to deal with conflicts (being a lasting effect of coercion and the threat of violence) I’ve created a situation where I’ve become an unwilling and passive partner and it’s proving very difficult to claw that back and become assertive. Especially when this doesn’t fit my established character traits. The pressure on me is to become happy, stop being awkward, but not to change – pretty impossible really!

    • Yeah, you’ve run into the problem where people think they know what you’re like. They just don’t realise that the ‘you’ they know is the one heavily affected by your trauma, and once you start fighting your way back to your former self, they won’t consider you ‘you’ anymore.

      I’ve heard it several times. About people who went on anti-depressants and got better (in their own opinion) I’ve heard their friends say to me behind their backs that they’re totally not themselves anymore ergo anti-depressants suck. Well, here’s a newsflash: maybe their depression made them totally not themselves, but you’ve known them without it, so maybe this new person that they themselves prefer is actually them.

      Of course, anti-deps also have adverse effects for some – I’m one of them. They’ve only served to make me worse, so I got off them again. But for some people they work, and everyone should remember that if people change, either because of trauma, because of therapy, because of medication, because of anything else NO ONE has the right to say “you’re not you anymore”. People change over the course of their lives anyway, but when some us change a little fast due to specific circumstances, our surroundings tend to either vilify us for it if we’re reacting to a bad situation, or they’ll vilify our treatment if it’s helping us deal with a bad situation (by changing a bit).

      Prudence, I am so glad to hear that you won’t let yourself be bullied out of the therapy you have clearly decided is best for you. Stick to your guns, you have every right to change if that’s what’s necessary to make you happy and to end the major effects of your trauma. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

  13. Just wanted to thank you for this post.

  14. […] We don’t make it easy to be a survivor « What a crazy random happenstance (tags: society survivors stoicism) […]

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