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Creating The Life You Want to Live After a Lifetime Focused on Survival
by Amira Aro
I’m free climbing out of a deep chasm…my footing is shaky, and rocks fall apart each step I take.
Still, I AM climbing forward, and I’m exhausted, and I know that, no matter what, I absolutely cannot fall backwards.
Transitioning from surviving to thriving is a painful process, and requires trust in people and networks around you, which is something new for many people who have survived violence and the consequences of escaping said violence.
Surviving takes an extreme amount of talent and resilience that rarely gets celebrated. Every survivor is wicked smart because we’ve had to be. We’ve persevered through anything because we had to. We’ve fought back because….We. Had. To.
But what happens when life is no longer demanding your survival? What if now instead of “having to” survive, you need to want to survive? When you no longer need to survive your environment, how is your environment going to help you expand beyond the limitations of existing to survive?
How do you create a life you want to live after a life where you had to survive?
The lesson I’m learning…at an EXCRUCIATINGLY slow pace…is that healing requires trust.
There are many benchmarks, and they’re not clear cut. All I know for myself is after many compounded traumas from adverse childhood events to multiple rounds of domestic violence, I got to a point where I thought I was healed. I was ready for the world, I cracked the code, and I made it. I had my own apartment, my bills were on autopay, my job was manageable with my disability and paid decently. What more could I want?
I embraced my life as an aromantic solo polyamorist. Aromantic meaning I didn’t expect nor search for love, I could live comfortably without it, and I would never lose myself to it again, especially since many times it wasn’t love I felt, rather obligation. I am slow to love, and it was never a requirement for my life. I often said I was at my happiest when I was single, and truly meant that. Solo polyamorist meaning I myself was primary, and nobody would come close to that relationship. My healing and needs came first, and I date and fucked as I saw fit, only engaging with those who prioritized me as well (not above their own needs of course, but I wouldn’t allow myself to be a choice or consolation, despite my high sex drive wanting to give in sometimes.)
Interpersonally, I was feeling radiant honestly. Like I had tapped into my higher self. And it reflected in my dating pool as well; as my self esteem rose, my sexual partners and circle did as well. I eventually met somebody who has made being monogamous as fun as being single was for me, but it came with many challenges. In entering into this relationship, it unearthed a multitude of unresolved issues I had yet to fully process. And they all basically came down to trusting people outside of myself.
Not only is my very foundation of family built on trauma, but I ended up engaged to an abusive fiance, followed by more abusive and toxic relationships, totaling about 4 in the span of a year. But in the time after that, the people I dated were….different. Bad different. There is an unfortunate trend with MaGes* where after experiencing abuse, we’re left vulnerable to a dating scene where our expectations for decency and respect are set very low if we’re not careful, or we don’t have the support systems to keep us accountable to ourselves. Oftentimes, that’s why we end up in more than one instance of domestic violence. But there’s a transition point for many where the people they date aren’t “abusive”, rather opportunists who know about that low bar, and know as long as they aren’t THAT bad, they can get an outpouring of love and affection from us without much or any effort on their part.
The terminology I still struggle with, because while it is downright neglectful, harmful, and depending on how consciously the person dating the survivor is of what’s happening perhaps full on manipulative, it is typically not recognized as “abuse” to many people. There is definitely evidence that it is entering emotional abuse territory, and I hope that more discussions take place to call this sort of behavior out and hold people accountable for the ways they intentionally and even unintentionally perpetrate these cycles of abuse.
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Anyway, I digress. After this phase of opportunist suitors, I realized my intense, borderline self has no off button. I will always be….a lot. Trying to please my partner and make them happy, no longer to a codependent level, but more so than most people could reciprocate, even if they wanted to. So I remained intentionally single, realizing most people don’t deserve the level of affection I bring, and satisfied to never find them, because I could pour all of that affection into myself.
But I ended up meeting somebody, which really fucked up my life plans (in the best way and I wouldn’t change a single thing about it now.) It did require me to learn how to trust, and that was a lesson from the universe I resisted as long as possible.
It was really easy to tell myself nobody deserves me, and I should spend my life spoiling myself to make up for the lost time. But when I met somebody who in my eyes deserved a lifetime of what I had to offer….then what? I can trust myself all day long, but how do I unlearn those walls I put up, and extend that to build community and friend circles I deserved as well?
So far? This is all I got:
Trust in your knowledge, your intuition amidst the trauma responses and triggers.
Trust your body, your rhythms and timing that knows no clock, yet knows what’s best.
Trust your people, platonic and romantic that they love you and want to help.
Which is so much harder than love.
In my journey in realizing I’m aromantic, I’ve learned that love is sporadic. A flighty muse, inconsistent. Not maliciously, but the nature of it is intense and ever changing. It takes many forms and phases, and sometimes simply isn’t enough when it comes to the connection of people. If you love me, but I cannot trust my emotions, my heart, my life with you….what is the point? As an aro, I learned that deprioritizing love is not only very natural and healthy for me, but would have saved me years of abuse I endured in the name of love. Reading Aro Eros Arrows by Michon Neal was truly life-changing in teaching me this distinction and better informed me how to build my community.
Trust in its nature is hard fought. Love is a feeling, but trust is earned; a conscious decision. Trust tells me even if people aren’t perfect, here are those among them who are willing to learn and grow and aim to do better and cause less harm, every time. Trust does not expect or demand perfection, only accountability and consistency. And that trust and consistency is huge when healing from the abuse and trauma nobody can expect, often putting us in positions where sporadic behavior was the norm putting our bodies in high alert. Trust aims to build a nest to slowly unravel and soften those responses, undoing the rewiring PTSD demands to exist.
And I know first hand that’s demanding so much of survivors. It’s like a car crash, but instead of being afraid to drive again, we fear being hurt by a deep connection to people again. We could make do without cars, but people are much harder to quit. But getting to a place to even risk the hurt is no easy ask, and I do not say these things lightly. Doing that work to trust anybody ever again after what has been lived through….is quite the task to say the least. And it will be messy, as people are not perfect. It will be hard as we are not perfect. All I can promise is that it is so worth it. It is worth it to trust you are safe now, and that things are different now.
I may be free climbing out of a deep chasm, and the footing may be shaky. But I will not fall backwards because I trust the steps I’m taking out. And that’s all I know.
*MaGes: a newer term emerging to encompass all marginalized genders. Trans women, trans men, non-binary, gender fluid, agender, cis women. In short, anybody who faces misogyny or transphobia for their gender. So the only group this would not include is cis men. This term is very helpful in the sense it gives a united term that gets to the core of gender discrimination, and replaces the horrendous phrase “women and femmes” loaded with connotations and assumptions. Created by Crystal Craven
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