How do they do that?
Having worked with so many people who have undergone unspeakable trauma, I’ve heard stories of amazing survival skills. It is surprising what we can endure and survive. I think many of us agree that we can’t imagine what it was like to be kept as prisoners in a house for 10, or almost 10, years. We let our minds go there for just a moment, it becomes overwhelming and we skirt away.
We know that so many people who have walked this earth endured horror beyond our worst dreams and within that space, figured out how to live the unlivable. Survive 17 days in a crumbled factory. Survive a concentration camp. Emerge whole and full of light after being sexually, emotionally, or physically abused. Keep alive during combat.
They did it by taking action rather than just succumbing to their experience. They actively survived because something was important to them about surviving–getting back home to someone, being out of that house, hoping for a different life. Maybe there was a bit of luck, or a miracle, but there is always some kind of gumption involved, some determination and focus on resisting the problem. There are some skills and abilities they used, and these stood on something that they held precious.
What happens now?
How we make meaning about what happens to us makes all of the difference. And this meaning start with us noticing our response.
Amanda Berry’s cousin were quoted in a video saying “She is a fighter, I knew she would come up on top! She is just like us, we don’t give up!” Rumors were spread that Amanda was quietly homeschooling her daughter and that three women had bonded together in their captivity. Even though they were being imprisoned against their will, this suggests to me that they found their agency–they acted as an agent in their life rather than just a passive recipient of it- at least some of the time. They responded, and they did so in a way that spoke of what they gave value to: friendship, love and kindness. (I am speculating as of course I haven’t spoken to them.) So instead of just holding the identity of ‘victim’-which they might/must have felt also, they also might have known they were motherly, kind, loving, and smart, etc.
Now, as they look back on the experience, what they give the most meaning to and how they interpret what happened and their responses will make all the difference in the world to their recovery. As “victims,” it is common to blame ourselves. If one of them thinks, “How stupid, my aunt was just down the street why didn’t I try to escape?” this self accusation will weigh heavy on her heart. But if they say, “We helped each other,” this is a place to stand outside the victim story. Hopefully these stories of friendship and survival can be drawn out by friends and family. So they can keep smiling those precious smiles from the photo of them in the hospital that was all over the news.
I was recently published in The Willow Review, a literary magazine from the College Of Lake County. The essay–a story about resilience through sexual abuse–is not online and I can’t republish it because of copyright. But I wanted to share my joy since I am excited. Finally, I was even a runner up in their contest!
Some of the best books about the resilience of the human spirit that I have read recently.
Diary of Ann Frank, we all know this one. But if you haven’t read it since you were in school, read it again.
The Blue Notebook, by James A. Levine. A fiction account of human trafficking in India. Very sad and could be triggering, but if you listen for her resilience you will be inspired beyond yourself.
In The Presence Of My Enemies, by Gracia Burham about her captivity as a hostage in Philippines. Very powerful.
Lastly, a prayer…
May the women held captive in Cleveland for all these years
be healed of their trauma and given back their lives.
Heal their wounds, renew their spirits and give them joy.
Bring light to this unspeakable darkness,
for them, the child and everyone involved.
We think as well tonight, dear God,
of all who are captive and not yet set free.
Work miracles for all.
And so it is.
What went through your mind, as you watched the news last week?