There are three types of people who emerge after something really hard happens in life, like a divorce, custody battle, job loss, illness, or the like:
A victim is the innocent person of someone or something else. It is the person in the car crash who stopped at the light, or the one who endured the beatings of a spouse, or who was frauded out of their retirement savings. I’ve been a victim. I was the victim of an alcoholic’s explosive behavior. I am the victim of cancer. Being a victim is real and heartbreaking. But sitting in victimhood mentality is equally heartbreaking because we continue to be the passive, innocent person taking no action to move forward. It leaves us stuck.
Richard Bach, the author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull (a fantastic book– if you haven’t read it, you must!) wrote: “If it’s never our fault, we can’t take responsibility for it. If we can’t take responsibility for it, we’ll always be its victim.”
I certainly don’t take responsibility for getting cancer. I did all the “right” things to stay healthy. I also don’t take responsibility for my ex-husband’s alcoholism– he was that way before we met — nor do I take the responsibility for his inappropriate behavior or actions. I do, however, take responsibility for marrying the guy and not leaving sooner. I take responsibility for responding in ways that weren’t good or right. And I did take responsibility for leaving the relationship, healing and putting on my boxing gloves during the divorce, refusing to be his punching bag any longer, and moving forward. I did take responsibility for scraping myself out of bed during cancer treatments and living a really full, meaningful, fun and amazing life. It would be easy to wallow in self-pity but I have consciously decided not to.
Victimhood is powerless and emasculating. It is not a pretty place to be or stay. But there are powerful emotions that we victims feel that helps us stay a victim. For one, victims get lots of attention from others (you poor thing!). We don’t have to take some responsibility for our actions in some circumstances. We don’t have to force ourselves off the couch and work to move out of being a victim. Plus, there’s something that feels oddly good about validating how we were right and innocent and the other person was horrible and wrong.
I recently met a woman who is a fellow multiple myeloma patient. She is in remission and her treatments have gone really well. But nearly every day she complains. She cries all the time. Her bones ache. Her children aren’t calling often enough. She may need anti depressants but she can’t call a therapist because she can’t stop crying. It really seems as if it’s far better to share with the world her plight than to be thankful for remission, for living, and for the many friends who support her. I gotta say, as someone who struggles with her same disease, I’m really tired of hearing it. One day, I sent her an email. I am working on a revolutionary project that may actually lead to a cure of myeloma. I am not a doctor, but I am helping spread the word about several oncologists who are developing powerful new therapies and to garner support so that their important work can continue. Would she be willing to start a team? It would cost her zero dollars and take about 10 minutes. She never responded. How many times do I hear from those who are suffering through painful divorces, horrible custody battles, financial hardships, or cancer treatments who want to do nothing in helping themselves recover. It is utterly frustrating.
So if you are stuck in being a victim, try this: Spend the entire weekend at home. Cry. Punch your pillow or walls. Eat an entire batch of raw cookie dough. Write out a list of how life sucks. I’ll bet you can maybe come up with 100 reasons. Don’t shower. Scream at your children. After a few days, do you feel better? Probably not. You probably don’t look or smell better either.
I once read from a fellow myeloma patient that they never used the word “warrior” when describing cancer. They are a survivor. When I hear this word, it conjures up the person who has awful things happen to them and they manage not to bury themselves under covers and never get out of bed. They plod through what they must and press on. Survivors are resilient, but it feels as though when life throws curveballs, they duck, cover and fight when they must, and wait for the next challenge. Yes, I survived my divorce. I survived my marriage (barely). I survived cancer. But simply surviving wasn’t good enough for me. It still felt powerless, and that is not an emotion I enjoy.
And then there’s the warrior. Warriors put on battle gear and go to work. They take risks. It’s not easy but it’s empowering, and that is an amazing emotion. To conquer. When I was going through a horrific divorce and chemo and stem cell transplants at the same time, I could easily have been the powerless victim. Or just survived the experiences. But I chose to fight.
My ex thought that my physical weakness brought on by the cancer and drugs would mean he could slam me in our divorce. He thought wrong. Cancer thought it could kill me. Neither had any idea what a formidable opponent Lizzy would be. I thrived post chemo. I healed. It wasn’t easy. I forced myself to walk, hike and even run. There were days that fatigue was so intense that I had a hard time rolling over in bed from one side to the next. But I dragged myself to the shower, put on my wig, and kicked ass.
I got court filings from the ex accusing me of faking cancer and demanding I go back to work. I stayed strong. When he offered to settle for laughable amounts, I simply didn’t budge. I refused to be bullied. I won.
When I met a fellow myeloma warrior, Jenny, who was also a close neighbor, we didn’t meet up for endless lunches and wallow in cancer self pity. We launched a web site (www.myelomacrowd.org), started a fundraising campaign to cure our disease, and started hitting up magazines, newspapers and TV stations to share our powerful story.
I purchased plane tickets and started exploring the world. I hiked a really hard mountain and posted photos on Twitter to let other cancer survivors know that it was possible to push ourselves and LIVE.
Each day, we have the choice on how we are going to respond to life’s challenges. If you have clinical depression, then you need professional help that I can’t possible address. But for everyone else, I can assure you that feeling POWERFUL is far better than feeling emasculated. It’s not always easy, it takes work. But it’s worth it.