Step Five: We Can Be Anything We Want To Be
The fifth step to recovery is recreating ourselves into whatever version of ourselves we want to be.
One of the most unhelpful myths surrounding rape and sexual violence is that when it has happened to us, then we are changed, beyond recognition. We will always be broken, fragile. We will never be able to be the same. It’s a life sentence.
This is blatantly untrue. There are too many real-life examples of survivors who have become more than they were before. And there are too many real-life examples of survivors who never identified as broken in the first place, they were able to immediately assimilate it into the fabric of their life and not look back. But what this myth does is prevent many survivors from being able to move forward from the label of victim, or broken and keeps them trapped in suffering.
When we are free from our mental health symptoms, or have them under control, when we have let go of the shame & self-blame that keep us small, then we have room to start to consider something beyond surviving, beyond narrow, beyond broken.
This is the step that in my recovery totally confused me by its lack. Nobody showed me the way, nobody told me that I could move beyond feeling fragile. I did think that living one day at a time was the most I could hope for, that I had to adjust to never having dreams, because I would not have the willpower to make those dreams come true. Years of depression and PTSD had taken away any self-esteem I might once have had, had robbed me of any self-belief or confidence. I was hanging on by a thread, and I thought that was just my new normal.
I had recovered my mental health; no more panic attacks. I had accepted that I wasn’t to blame, and I felt no shame, wearing my survivor status almost like a badge of honour. And yet, I didn’t trust myself not to fall back into the abyss; I was still broken and I had to become content with that.
The idea, the concept, that I could let go of that identity was alien to me. When it was first mooted, as part of my coach training, that I could define myself anyway I wanted, my kneejerk reaction was to be insulted. How dare they? How dare they also infer that there were some secondary gains to my keeping myself small, to staying in my comfort zone? When I was still symptomatic an early foray into coaching had involved an exercise about comfort zones, stretch zones, and risk zones which had led to me beating a hasty retreat to the safety of the toilet cubicles. I knew when I started learning coaching for real that it might open up some sores. And it did.
But there was great healing in the opening up of those sores. There was a gain to still being broken. If I were broken, then daring greatly was off the table. And any Brené Brown aficionados will know that daring greatly takes a great deal of vulnerability. And any one of us will know that vulnerability leads to a zone outside the comfort zone. And any one of us will know that we don’t recognise there being an intermediate zone between comfort and panic; it’s just one, or the other. Being broken, counter-intuitively, kept me safe.
When I started to do the work on me, what did I want, what were my hopes and dreams, irrespective of the past, what did I want for the future, what kind of life did I want to be living, there was an initial exhalation and rush of the endless possibilities. Followed by the overwhelm of the endless possibilities. But it also helped me to start to shape those possibilities, to pull them back from the dream, and into the reality, to work towards them. I was no longer broken. I was healing. I was no longer making choices based on an erroneous perspective. I had taken my power back. He no longer had any sway over how I lived; I was free.
It may be true that we are changed. But we are also changed today than we were yesterday, merely by ageing a day. I am different in this moment, than I was in the moment that I typed the prior sentence. We change constantly. And how we change is our choice.
Few people get the chance to consciously craft who they want to be. Life happens and they drift along with it. When a traumatic event happens, that drifting is suddenly a tsunami and the scenery is suddenly very different. The opportunity to consciously choose how to put ourselves back together, that’s actually a rare gift. Of course we don’t want it this way. But we have been given it. It is our power to choose and through choosing we are empowered.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a time to grieve the loss of what we were, and to honour the struggle that we have had to get here. But, when the dust has settled, when we aren’t still trapped in the war with flashbacks and triggers, there does come a time when we can survey the battle-scene and sculpt the phoenix we want to be to rise from the ashes.
The fifth step in the path to recovery, en route to living a ReConnected Life, is to choose who we want to be, how we want to define ourselves, what kind of life we want to live, and to grab it with both hands. Because we can. We can be anything we want to be. No limitations.