Category: Resources

Survivor Journeys

A story well told can change lives.
This first group of stories show brief snapshots of the journeys of survivors who have been able to transcend their trauma and connect it to larger themes of human existence: faith, aesthetics, social action, those suffering in previous times or in other cultures and locations.

This next group of stories represent the experiences and insights of survivors at many different stages of processing. It takes a life time to absorb the unimaginable. Initially there is shock. Then there is pain and sadness and sometimes despair. And then slowly, slowly meaning, hope, and vision. Much of what is experienced is beyond words, so survivors and their friends will often draw on music, art, poetry, as well as story telling to evoke what cannot be said. Even after the initial shock and pain is well past, survivors continue to reflect on their world in new ways.

If trauma and loss happen for the first time late in life, professional self-confidence is sometimes shaken to the depths but along side of the self-doubt and insecurity, there may be an intense drive to blend professional identity and experience. Survivors attacked late in high school, during college, or well into parenthood and professions often use their developing public identity to change public policy, work on missions of compassion, or change the face of art and journalism.

If exposure to human-inflicted horror happens early and often enough an entire personality can fracture into pieces and a lifetime may be spent converting the mosaic of self into a whole picture. But even a fractured personality can be driven to look beyond themselves to do immense good for those around them.

Sometimes telling the story of what happened can take great courage. The public at large, defense lawyers and the justice system have not always been kind to those who tell stories of violence. The survivors in the list below have been willing to testify in open court, sometimes at great risk to themselves.

Survivors often feel like outcasts. Their experience is so different from what we expect from life that it can be very hard to talk about. We also have a social and psychological need to emotionally distance ourselves from things that remind us that one can do all the right things and still be attacked. This further isolates survivors.

Violent crime and terror can happen to anyone, rich or poor, educated or uneducated, the successful and the marginal. Celebrity survivors often go public with their stories in hopes that survivors will be embolded to tell their stories and get what help they need to process it. They also hope society at large will be more accepting of survivors and invest more money in both prevention and helping people with the aftermath.

Celebrity is no guarentee of healing. Like those who have told their stories in forums across the web, celebrity survivors who have gone public with their stories are at many different stages of processing their experience.

Survivors at Work

Though we often think of victims of violent crime and terror attacks as “people in need of help”, in reality, being faced with the worst of human behavior is a source of tremendous creativity. To counter the isolation created by an unimaginable encounter with evil, survivors often need to reach out to other survivors or place their experiences in a larger world context. They are a fertile hot bed of social innovation.

This innovation ripples outward in ever greater concentric circles of influence. It starts with the survivors (or in some case murder victims). Then it moves on to their friends and families who both grieve with them and try to find meaning in what should never be. The wisdom and courage of these primary and secondary survivors ripples out yet further to professionals that work with them, both to help them tell their story and to provide a hand of compassion to those still overwhelmed by the aftermath of the unthinkable. Sometimes the casual observer is so moved by someones courage or inspired by their insights. They too are inspired to creative efforts to organize people and resources to improve our society and the way we live as individuals within it.

Communicating truths about the unthinkable to others is a centuries old challenge. It requires a close integration of observation, self-honesty, and the best skills available. At its both it is both universal and deeply personal. There should be no surprise that many survivors are drawn to develop or use existing professional skills to communicate their experiences and wisdom. Below are just a few of the survivors who have made successful and sometimes award winning efforts to help others learn from their experiences with the unimaginable.