Witness to Survival
Bearing witness to others’ stories helps me know that I can survive. So I watch, listen to, and read about others’ stories to see how they survived their abuse.
Almost as important as surviving, is how they lived afterward. How they thrived after enduring abuse.
To me, survival is when you are in the darkness of abuse, and you can barely see that light at the end of the tunnel. The light starts out looking small and far away, but the more I fought against the abuse, the more light grew. Unfortunately, fighting against it wasn’t the best way to move forward.
Out of the Dark
But I didn’t walk out of the dark into the light when I was close enough to do so. I didn’t know how to do that. I was so used to fighting my way through the darkness – I was so used to surviving that I didn’t know who I was when I wasn’t fighting. And so, I stood there, in the shadows, standing on the edge of the light.
Walking into the light meant leaving survival behind and entering the thriving phase, where I could indeed be myself, without the armor, without the defenses up. The more I stood there, the more I wanted to be out in that light, I was tired of feeling the way I felt, but I was scared.
But then I started watching and reading other people’s stories; I started bearing witness. And I saw people thriving and living their lives. It gave me hope. And within that hope, the strength to walk forward, to step out of the darkness completely.
“In legal terms, witness is derived from a root meaning “to bear in mind;” “to remember;” “to be careful.” A witness in this light can be defined as one who has knowledge of something by recollection and experience, and who can tell about it accurately. By this definition, we are all witnesses for one another, whether or not by choice.”1
Bearing Witness To Me
Everything that I have been through has made me who I am today. Sure, I have to heal from twenty years of abuse. Much of my journey is facing my abusive past. By that, I mean to stop denying my truth. It was that bad, and I am not complaining.
By the way, both of those were what my abusers would tell me repeatedly – that it wasn’t bad and to stop complaining.
That past was why I was initially on a path to self-destruction. And when I didn’t self-destruct with the direct route, I took the more meandering road to self-destruction through lifelong addiction. Eventually, I saw myself for where I was in life, and I did not like what I saw.
I am still here. And here I write. And draw. And tell my story. I would not be doing all those things if it wasn’t for bearing witness to others’ stories.
I can wish that I did not grow up in an abusive house all day long. It is a part of me and will be for my entire life. But, unfortunately, I didn’t get to choose that to be a part of my life. I had no control over the people I was born to or how those people treated me.
Now, I have control. I get to choose how to incorporate those experiences into my life, not the other way around.
Bearing Witness Purposely
It isn’t an easy situation to deal with or even think about, and I am sure you, like me, are like, ‘what, how do you incorporate that into your life?’ Or ‘why would you want to?’ And those are valid questions.
My first thought is my blog. At least for me, I want to understand the more profound ramifications of my abuse. Like how abuse changed the way my brain developed. To do that, I am pulling together pieces from neuroscience, sociology, and psychology to understand myself better.
I look at it like this; it will be there. That abuse and trauma darkness doesn’t go away. So how can I use it to help me and help others instead of allowing it to affect me negatively? That is the question that I ask myself. And I found at least part of my answer while bearing witness to others’ stories.
I envision all our stories connecting into a global narrative. That connection will create something amazing all over the world. I am not sure what yet. I am not sure that I will know what it is until it happens. Perhaps a world without abuse and violence? That would be amazing, wouldn’t it? I think so. And I believe it is possible.
- Kristi Pikiewicz Ph.D. (December 3, 2013). The Power and Strength of Bearing Witness. Psychologytoday.com. Retrieved December 21, 2020. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/meaningful-you/201312/the-power-and-strength-bearing-witness#:~:text=Bearing%20witness%20is%20a%20term,to%20others%20of%20traumatic%20experiences.