What’s a survivor?

The first time that I heard myself described as a “survivor” was when I was sitting in a grief counseling group in 2014 and the moderator announced that everyone in that room was a survivor as she started the meeting. I didn’t get it. What did I survive?

I stayed quiet throughout most of the meeting as most of the members of the group shared stories of loss. Specifically, people that they’d lost to suicide — that’s what the group was intended for. People that had lost people to suicide. Survivors. Listening to those people, hearing the tragic stories that they shared about losing parents, children, friends, lovers, cousins, etc. left me with a heavy heart and a realization — these people had lived through a seemingly unbearable period of grief. They’d live through events that should’ve broken their hearts and killed them. And yet, here they were, still managing to wake up and speak and share their stories, even if it was still with tears in their eyes.

So then I learned the definition of a survivor. It was someone with unbelievable strength, courage, and bravery. Someone that dealt with heartbreak and grief and still got up in the morning and was able to face the world. I lost my best friend when we were both 19 years old, and to this day I’m still not over it. But I still get out of bed every morning and I go to work and some days I don’t cry. I survived, or maybe I’m just still surviving. I’m a survivor.

The second time that I was described as a survivor I understood the definition immediately, and I did not like it.

I was sitting in the police station describing how I had been sexually assaulted when the officer used the term. I think I gagged a little, but she didn’t comment on it.

There are many kinds of survivors, I learned. There are people living stories you don’t know. So be kind, even if you don’t think that someone deserves it, because you have absolutely no idea what kind of hell they might be living.