I love dystopian novels. There’s a surprising familiarity in them, and when people wonder about my experiences within the IFB, I find it easy to reference dystopian novels as a means of painting a fairly accurate picture. They help me to understand some of the tactics that have been used against me. But more importantly, they give an imaginative out to the tension of having lived through a minor version of that myself.
Classically, most dystopians don’t end well. Back when 1984 was hitting the scenes, it was part of the genre to have a non-victorious ending. But as they’ve taken over the young adult bookshelves recently, authors have pushed those classic boundaries and changed the endings. Thus we get The Hunger Games in which the rebellion, however small, is successful (though the ending doesn’t promise the success is permanent)—or Birthmarked, in which the protagonist at least manages to escape and sets out to find a better society.
Most of these new-ending books and movies reach the victorious point and then stop, because in terms of plot it’s a good stopping point. A few go on to show the “after-victory”—either a glimpse into how the protagonist’s life is going to be now that the oppressor is overthrown or a whole new book on how the new society works.
Few show the after-victory accurately.
We like to think that the hard part of surviving is the actual surviving. In reality, I think the after is far harder to survive. The event may end—in the case of the novel, the abusive rulers may be overthrown—but for the mind and body of someone who’s been through hell, that’s not really the end. Life doesn’t pick up where it left off. Life doesn’t start over anew. There’s so much left over. (To be fair, I actually think Susanne Collins did a pretty good job of showing how surviving trauma affects a person’s ability to carry on with “normal” life, but I’ve heard her criticized for killing the victory high because of that as well.)
It’s not that there isn’t happiness, success, or renewal.
It’s just that it’s a much less glamorous process than novels or movie plots tend to show.
I could go on to try to explain it, but the whole point of this post is that I’ve finally found a song that does that for me!
I already love Emilie Autumn for the raw way she taps into the pain of trauma. There’s no doubt she’s been through some pretty horrendous stuff, and she uses music to document her journey. It’s uncomfortable and shocking in the way that trauma poetry should be (because, let’s face it, there’s nothing pretty or comfortable about trauma, so why should someone diminish that for the sake of an audience?) But I think I fell in love with her just a little bit more when I heard the last song on her new album: “One Foot In Front Of The Other.”
How vividly she captures that space after the victory! The confusion. The sense of being lost. Not knowing what to do next. Not even knowing if you know who you are. The reality that when your whole world becomes the enemy that you have to fight, especially if it’s the only world you’ve ever known, your identity doesn’t get excluded from the destruction.
Sometimes it’s very easy to feel like I’m wasting my life away with this whole healing business. I’m so focused on trying to overcome the past that I wonder when I’m going to get down to the actual business of living. When am I going to be free of the emotional, financial, and practical effects of growing up in a terrorizing religion or attending Bob Jones University? When will my “victories” move from the silent ones like getting rid of nightmares, setting boundaries, neutralizing a trigger, or overcoming the terror of an internalized doctrine to the more visible ones like getting my Master’s, buying a house, publishing a memoir, or starting a support group for other victims? I see people my age, so confident in who they are and what they’re doing, and I wonder how much time I’ve lost and will still lose in trying to find myself amidst the rubble of abuse and mind-control.
Then Emilie, who seriously must be the Goddess of little girls who survived, comes along and reminds me that those invisible successes are just as important as the visible ones. It’s okay to have days where I don’t save the world or even myself. I don’t have to know exactly who I am, where I’m going, or what I’m supposed to do. It’s enough to just keep moving forward a step at a time. One step may not seem like a lot, but it’s the start of every journey and the means to every destination.