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Why I Don't Want to Be Successful in Spite of My Trauma

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So often, I get comments regarding how amazed people are at how far I have made it in life considering everything I have been through. They tell me it’s incredible how much I’ve overcome, that so many people would have never made the decision to pick up their broken pieces and move forward the way that I have.

And here’s the thing: I appreciate the sentiment, I truly do. But I don’t want to be successful in spite of my trauma. I want to be successful aside from my trauma.

When my success is defined by its relativity to what I have experienced, it makes my experience have more weight in my identity than my accomplishments. It creates a space where my trauma is defining who I am more than what I have chosen to do with it.

I published my first article at 16 years old.

I was completely independent at 18 years old.

I got into every single college that I applied to.

I was the published author of a best-selling poetry book at 19.

My book was accepted into the Library of Congress when I was 20.

I currently have a 3.4 GPA in my second year of college, taking classes full-time while also maintaining a full-time job and managing my health.

And I don’t say those things to brag about how great I am, anyone who knows me well would certainly know that really isn’t my style at all. I say those things because they’re all things our society would consider impressive regardless of the support an individual has or has not received along the way, regardless of the trauma an individual has or has not experienced.

Have I been through hell and back? Absolutely. Has that made this harder? Without a doubt, yes, it has. But I do not wish to have what I have done with my life continuously compared to what I have been through. I know I have done these things more independently than the average person my age. I know there have been barriers along my journey that most individuals do not have to face. But I also know that in so many ways, this is simply how I have chosen to heal, and I would never want someone else to feel ashamed because of what their journey of healing looks like.

What happens when I graduate college? When I finish grad school? When I get my social work licensure? When I buy a house? When I start driving? How long will my accomplishments be compared to what I have experienced?

I know people mean well when they say this, that they intend to indicate it is even more impressive I have made it to where I have because they recognize my journey has been more difficult than most. But how would you feel if every time you did something worth celebrating, someone turned around and reminded you of the hardest time(s) of your life? How would you feel if your strongest moments were continuously related to your most broken?

When people look at me, I don’t want them to see my trauma. I want them to see me, myself, my whole person, the entire being that creates who I am.

My trauma is not welcome in that. I refuse to invite my trauma to define my identity. I refuse to let that shape my being.

I am not my trauma. I am Christa. I am a writer, an advocate, a friend, a student, an artist, a dancer, an educator. I am a whole human aside from what I have experienced.

And I would be lying if I said my trauma has not shaped who I am in a lot of ways, because it has. Without it, I would likely be a very different person than I am today, but it still does not define me. What I have chosen to do with what I have experienced is part of who I am, but what I have experienced, in itself, is not.

So please, allow my successes (and my failures) to be just that: mine. My trauma has taken over so many aspects of my life; allow the things I have done to be an area that is purely my own, separate from the hardest thing(s) I have experienced.

Unsplash image by Candace Picard

Originally published: January 2, 2020
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