9.24.2009

becoming a survivor

An email about Survivor Corps has been sitting in my inbox for almost a full year. I've wanted to highlight it but somehow never found an occasion to do so.

So during a week when I can think of nothing but graduate school and war resisters - everything fighting for space in my frazzled little brain - the old posts in my inbox come to my rescue. (And I to theirs!)

Survivor Corps is an organization that helps people heal - helps people make the necessary leap from victim to survivor, so they can begin to heal themselves, and so they can become part of the solution for others who have been through similar traumas.

I have no personal experience with Survivor Corps, but the idea of the organization resonates with me. Over years of interviewing people for stories and writing projects, I've come to see that all trauma is related in certain ways. Each person's story is unique, and lived by only that person, but all our stories are related in certain ways.

I've listened to stories of soldiering, sexual assault, relationship violence, spinal cord injury, amputation, and other kinds of personal trauma. The patterns of recovery and healing are usually very similar. And one aspect of recovery is always present: the movement from victim to survivor. Once the person who has been victimized identifies herself as a survivor, and decides to reach out to other survivors, the world is never the same.

Some of the most powerful experiences in my life have come from that movement from victim to survivor: training to be a rape-crisis counselor, public speaking on "survivor panels" for medical school students and emergency room staff, training for Model Mugging. Some of the rewards may be obvious: solidarity and sisterhood with others who have survived similar experiences, reaching out to others who still feel alone with their pain, helping to ease the experience for future victims.

But there's another reward - deeper, more satisfying, and perhaps invisible: the strength that comes from owning your own story enough to be public. When this thing that was done to you, over which you had no control, becomes something you can use for yourself and others, you've transformed your pain into action. That alone is healing beyond measure.

From Survivor Corps:
Survivorship is a positive and pragmatic approach to quality living even after a traumatic experience of affliction, adversity or loss. This philosophy is shared by survivors of all kinds of trauma, from genocide and torture to breast cancer and bereavement; from war and disability to addiction and human betrayal.

There are three major types of threats to our well being.

1. Disease and injury
2. Natural disaster and accidents
3. Man-made violence - victimization and abuse

The last one — man-made violence — is particularly vexing, because it is about the pain and cruelty we humans inflict on each other. Survivorship requires not just forgiving a sometimes cruel universe, but also each other.

Every one of us will experience moments when life "explodes" and is never quite the same again. There is no going back to how things were before the event, the crisis, the moment, the terrible news. The challenge is deciding what to do next. How can we go on to not only survive, but thrive? Survivorship is an ongoing invitation for each of us to grow stronger by reaffirming life's meaning and seeking to fulfill our potential.

Survivor Corps works on three fronts:
Survivor Corps works to break cycles of victimization and violence, individual by individual, country by country. At our core is a survivor-centered approach for victims of war to recover, rebuild their communities and change the world.

Rise Above

Through our signature peer support program, survivors help each other recover from the injuries and trauma of war. Survivor role models offer encouragement and motivation crucial to helping new survivors find hope, get jobs, and get on with their lives.

Learn More about Peer Support

Reach Out

Survivor Corps works through an ever-growing network of partners all around the world to ensure that our services reach as many survivors as possible.

Learn More about Survivor Corps Partners

Give Back

Survivors have the power to rebuild broken communities by engaging diverse groups and former enemies in collective action. We equip survivors with the tools and experience to become leaders in their communities and advocates for change.

Learn More about Survivor Advocacy

Many of you have read my essay "My September 10th," relating my recovery from rape to New York City's recovery from September 11, 2001. But it occurs to me that my best writing about the healing process has never been online. This was also my first publication - a strange experience, having my first publication be something so personal, and also national.

The original title, before Newsweek changed it, was "Coming Out of a Different Closet". Also, I disown the statistic in the first paragraph: one-in-eight is an FBI statistic, and doesn't account for the millions of unreported rapes and sexual assaults. It's believed the figure in the US is closer to one-in-three. Plus the photo is pretty good and it's in colour. (I think I'll make a better pdf and swap it over the weekend.)

So here it is: My Turn: An Angry Cry for Mute Voices.

1 comment:

Cornelia said...

Thanks so much for sharing info on this relief organization and on healing and recovery. Yeah, moving from victim to survivor is crucial and this organization is doing a great and vital job.