I am a Survivor

As I do every morning now, I tie a black cloth to my wrist. I repeat my daily mantra,
BlackWristtaking deep breaths between each sentence, “I am a Survivor. It’s over now. My abusers can no longer hurt me.” I close my eyes and try to let it sink in before starting my day. I am coping with PTSD from childhood abuse and bullying, and this routine helps to keep my demons at bay. Throughout the day, as things get too heavy or I realize that I am taking life too seriously, I try to consciously look at my wrist. I walk away and repeat my mantra. I’ve left many conversations open-ended, projects unfinished, and chores incomplete.

I will not go into the details of the abuse in this post, but would rather prefer to share with you some of my experiences with PTSD. Maybe you are suffering or know someone who is. If nothing else, I hope to help remove the stigma around mental illness.

My day begins at around 1 am. I wake up once, sometimes twice a night with feelings of extreme Guilt, as if I have done something horrible. I have been moved to write apology emails, text messages, and many letters at this time of night. I have apologized for not greeting someone at a restaurant. I wake up with intense Fear, believing I would be evicted, the utilities would be turned off, we would run out of food, or that I would be run out of my neighborhood or killed. I also wake up with inexplicable Sadness and Pain. Waking up in tears or screaming and having no idea why, I have been moved to believe that everyone hated me and was going to leave me. For much of my life, this was normalized to such a degree, I had no idea why it was happening. Now when I wake up with these feelings, I journal about them and return to bed. It is still almost every night.

I tie a piece of black fabric to my wrist and remind myself that the bad times are over, that I’m a survivor. I continue on with my day. I am a perfectionist and have dealt with high anxiety. I believed the excuses and blamed myself rather then accept the fact that those who sought to break me were doing just that. As a result, I served impossible standards. It was my fault for being weak, being emotional, being frail, being different, etc. Years later, I’m still chasing the same demons. I’m still hunting myself down for being too weak, not good enough, not going the extra mile. Even when I deliver a perfect product and a customer is thrilled, it is a hollow victory. All I worry about is how could I have done better.

Like Pavlov’s bitch, I still react long after the stimulus has been removed. I flinch when telling people I’m trans or in crowded rooms. My social anxiety is off the charts. I repeatedly ask how I look before leaving the house, because I believe I am unable to dress appropriately. In certain circumstances, I seek approval. In other circumstances, I lash out knowing that if it is not good enough, we will all be found unworthy, be beaten, and/or deserted. I believe that at any moment, my family will walk out the door and leave me. I believe that if we become friends, you will abandon me. I believe I am completely unworthy of the people that surround me. I know how it all sounds.

I meditate. I have meditated for years. I make art, write, listen to music, do yoga, and drink tea. I have days where life is fine, and I go about things as normal as anyone else, I imagine. Then I have a day where I sit on the couch, cry, and journal all day long. The memories come flooding back, so I write them. I am overwhelmed by emotions. I cry, I laugh, I cry some more, and I write. Sometimes, a conversation brings back a memory, a television show, a commercial. I hear song lyrics and am reminded of something a bully once said or father’s words. The emotions are a tidal wave in my brain, and I am there, running for my life, alone, waiting for it to be over.

I now face an uncertain future as I cope with PTSD as a trans woman. I now take everything one day at a time, sometimes one moment at a time. I am receiving help in the form of a therapist, family, and friends. My transition has helped immensely. It has allowed me to deal with things, to move forward, and to finally begin the process of discarding my abusers’ truths so I could live as my own authentic self. My truth is that this bitch is a wolf, and that I’m a survivor. And that means learning to accept that it’s over, and it’s time to let go.

WolfbyTeo
Wolf by Teo

Love to you all,
River Sunfeather

If you know someone with depression, PTSD, or mental illness and is having a hard time, talk to them without judgment. Listen to their feelings. Ask them why they feel this way, and hear their story. If it is serious, get them help. Don’t ignore it. People with mental illness don’t need prayers and memes. They need the support of those around them without judgement. As a good friend put it, “Judge others less, love them more.”

Trans Lifeline – 877-565-8860
Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 800-273-8255
Further Reading: Book on Shadow Relationships

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A Lost Rite of Passage: Earning Your Name

In many tribal and ancient cultures, people faced a rite of passage into adulthood. One aspect was being given a name at birth by a person’s parents. One carried this name during their childhood. They were allowed to make mistakes, to learn, to discover who they were and what they wanted to be. They would spend time being raised by every mother in the tribe and learning a bit about each path as they grew. They were allowed to play and make time for themselves, be as children are.

Finally, a time would come when they would have to face a great rite of passage. After the rite, they would be failures and face meditation and more lessons, or they would enter into adulthood and full accountability for their actions. Along with that, they would be expected to contribute to the tribe/village. There would be no more time of questioning and wondering, as they would now know who they were as a person, who they were in the tribe, and who they were going to be in the world.

In some cultures, part of this trial included a new name. The individual would choose or find their name. This was a symbolic way of stepping out of your parents’ shadow. Our parents do not decide our fate, what we do with our lives, nor do they choose who we are to become. One’s path rests between the individual and the Universe; that is their own contract with whatever energy or karma they may believe in.

After much meditation, the name River Bastet Morrigan Sunfeather-Fealtman was chosen. It represents many things and one thing all at the same time. It is the elements, it is dual-natured Truth, it is forever just River, and the emotional chaos. As I looked into changing my name in North Carolina, I found that it would be quite an ordeal. While some states required a form or two, the great state of North Carolina required four separate affidavits, two of which require character witnesses, a large filing fee, background checks, and more. This was to be a rite of passage.

During this rite, I learned much about friendship. I realized who I could and could not count on. I also learned that many individuals support what I am doing. I have the backing of my community. I was able to raise the filing fee myself, independent of anyone else. There were more lessons than I can list here, many deeply personal. But I have finally stepped from my parents’ shadow and claimed my own self. It is time to make my own way in the world now as the individual I was meant to be.

Love and blessings,
River