Survive or Thrive?

Why are victims of abuse called survivors?

The very word survivor indicates that they cope well with difficulties in life. Who wants to invite more difficulty into their lives?

Survivor attaches victim energy to anyone and everyone who wears it. So a victim has to put up with a bunch of shit as a child and then, if she’s lucky, gets to live as a survivor for the rest of her life.

This doesn’t seem quite fair. Does it?

When I think of surviving, I get a vision of me white knuckling it, holding onto the top of a madmenskyscraper for dear life. Images run through my brain of me falling to my death over and over again, kind of like in the opening credits of Mad Men. In my reality, it looks like playing small or self-sabotaging to stay safe. Like when I was too scared to ask for a well-earned raise or to speak my truth.

How is it that someone who was molested or beaten or abused or raped or objectified or mistreated in a myriad of ways, maybe as a small child, has little hope but to live the life of a victim/survivor?

How can they turn survivor into thriver?

After years of survival mode, this can feel impossible.

Over the last 20 years, I have screamed and wept and threw up all of the wrongdoings that I experienced. I did not go above it or below it or around it. I walked through the fire that was my life, allowing it to sear and scorch and tarnish my soul. I lived it every year, every month, every day, every hour, every minute, every breathe and on the other side I was renewed like a phoenix rising from its ashes. Renewed by the integration of the truth to my core. No longer able to be in denial and forgotten memories. It is in this, I experienced reconciliation and forgiveness. Not just for those who violated me but for myself.

The truth is that for many years, I was just surviving. I didn’t know that I had a choice in the matter. But once I realized that my life – the good, the bad, the ugly was up to me, I went after it and then I rose out of the ashes. Renewed. Reenergized. Revitalized. And, thriving as an empowered woman.

Because we live in a polarity continuum and I’ve seen the dark night of my soul, I have access to pure light and unharnessed joy. My darkness gave me the gift of light. Though I wouldn’t wish my abuse on anyone, it is one of my greatest assets. Challenges arise when abusees get stuck in the role of victim/survivor and play it out in all areas of their lives. They lose over and over again because they’re stuck in a rut, a role that was defined for them by their abusers and then again by themselves.

Richard Rohr, internationally known mystic, speaker, author and Franciscan priest once said, “The journey to happiness involves finding the courage to go down into ourselves and take responsibility for what’s there: all of it.”

Living out the balance of my life as a survivor was not an option. My soul has a purpose and with this I have way too much thriving to do.

When I review my life as a victim/survivor, I see clips of so many moments where I was disempowered and playing small, where I had no voice or if I did it was crying out for help. I remember that feeling of desperately wanting someone to save me, give me all the answers, tell me how to do it, promise that everything was going to be ok. I have flashbacks of holding onto one of my teacher’s every word in hopes that she might give me the answers I so desperately needed to hear, only to learn much later that those answers were always within me. It just took years of excavation to find them.

None of us are born as victim/survivors. This is a role that is assigned to us based on our life experiences. We have a choice to take it or leave it.

baby-a-mamaThe biggest test to my victim/survivor was in becoming pregnant. My pregnancy and the birth of my son gave me confidence like I never had before. This confidence was ingrained in my mama bear instincts. In places where I was challenged to fight for myself, I am fierce when it comes to my son. While standing up for me was often optional, standing up for him is mandatory. Nothing and nobody can get in the way of the love and dedication and respect I have for my child. When it comes to him, I refuse to play small.

His arrival was a turning point. It forced me to shake off those last vestiges of victim/survivor, a role I had been so comfortable with for so long. It defined me. If I were not a victim/survivor, who was I? What would it look like if I stopped giving my power away – for good?

Well, it looks like this:
I love my life and live in daily gratitude for the gifts that God has bestowed upon me. I’m excited by the possibilities the world and all of its people offer. I see miracles happen every day. As a coach and consultant, I get to look into my client’s eyes and listen to their voices, holding a space for non-judgement, love and empowerment so that they can manifest their dreams. With each session, I learn to love more deeply and fully as I am invited into my client’s souls. And, nothing scares me because I’ve slayed my dragons. I am present to their realities and stories and ready to engage in a collaborative, heart filled, thought provoking process.

us240139I get to be the mother I have always dreamed to be. Connected. Loving. Fun. Available. Sparkling. Open. Fair. Kind.THRIVING. It took the sum total of all of my experiences to arrive here and I’m thrilled I stayed on course.

What can someone stuck in victim/survivor do?

Get help now. There is so much support in this world, but you have to be willing to take the first step and walk through the fire. No one can do it for you.

Make the call. Send the email. Have the conversation. You are not alone. Take the step to allow yourself to thrive. It’s worth it.

About Kristen Kosinski
As a coach and consultant, Kristen partners with women empowering them to manifest their dreams. The sum total of all of her experience has brought Kristen to this important work. Women’s empowerment does not only benefit women, it betters all of society. Her daily practice is to make a positive impact in whatever way she can and not to beat herself up when she falls short. Kristen and her 8-year-old son live in Santa Monica, California.

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Thank you Donald Trump

little-kristenIn what world is it acceptable for this little girl to be molested, raped, groped and sexually objectified countless times?  Why did she feel shame, guilt and embarrassment about it?  How did this impact her life, her world view, her dreams & visions?

When I was young, I had no idea who I was. My identity was slowly but surely stripped away from me with each insult, touch and violation. I thought I was ugly, worthless, damaged goods. Inherently, I thought something was wrong with me. I was a big mistake. Underneath all of the self-loathing, I had big dreams and visions but the tainting of my body and mind buried my brilliance, my inner knowing.

I hurt myself – badly. I put myself in vulnerable positions, abused alcohol and annihilated myself through self-deprecation in every moment of every day. I was damaged beyond repair. Outwardly, I masked this with over-confidence, joie de vivre and an I don’t give a shit attitude. I was dying on the inside.

What did this manifest? Roadblocks.

They happened everywhere in my life; in relationships with boys, in my school work, in my extracurricular activities and with my family. A master of self-sabotage, I was a failure. And, I blamed everyone and everything for my horrible life while smiling; drinking a beer, having a laugh and seething as the self-hate festered.

As I prepared to graduate from high school, I had big dreams, but I was too afraid to really share them with anyone. I didn’t think I would be supported or that I had any capability to actually see them through. So, I went to the college of my father’s choosing, his alma mater. Instead of fulfilling my dreams, I was fulfilling his. I exchanged my dreams to change the world for sorority socials, keg parties and drugs. I put my mind to being the best party girl and I succeeded. Except for that time when my date went to the bathroom and never came back and when I found myself in Central Park’s Strawberry Fields snorting coke with a strange old man at 6 o’clock in morning or when I acted like I didn’t give a shit about anyone but myself. I lived on a continuum from hungover to blacked-out.

chi-os-3

In a moment of clarity, I once asked myself the question: Who am I really?

Somewhere beneath the surface, the truth was fighting for a little bit of light to break through, quickly forgotten in a bottle of tequila.

I self-raped, abused my body, hid my secrets and cried silently at the disgrace my life had become. I had dreams and visions. I was meant to do big things in the world yet I kept losing myself in the bottom of a beer keg hoping and praying that someone or something would rescue me – the real me. But she was buried so deeply beneath the surface of masked confidence, self-hatred and shame that no one could possibly see her. This left me feeling confused, conflicted and misunderstood. Why couldn’t anybody see me?

The enormity of my disconnection was profound. It defined me and all of my experiences.

The real me was screaming to get out. She wanted to have a voice but I kept shoving her down with alcohol, late night cheese nachos at the State College UniMart and self-annihilation.

It’s no wonder I gravitated towards women’s studies and my favorite class was on the rhetoric of the women’s suffrage movement. Seeking the truth, I was desperate to make sense of all of it.

By the time I was 21, my little girl had had it. She was screaming and punching and kicking to get out. This manifested in the form of my first full blown panic attack. One Sunday night, I was in my sorority suite with a bunch of girls watching Lost Boys and out of nowhere, my chest tightened up, my heart began racing and I couldn’t breathe. Thinking it was a heart attack, one of my sisters called 911 and I was rushed to the hospital. The doctors checked me out and gave me some Xanax. Just anxiety! I guess they weren’t in the business of diagnosing PTSD.

The next weekend, I went home to Pittsburgh to see a cardiologist to be sure that my heart was ok. How could I possibly have anxiety? My parents were concerned and wanted to take all the necessary steps to ensure that my health wasn’t threatened, kind of.

No one ever asked me any real questions because they were afraid of what might lie within my answers. If they didn’t know the truth then they could just keep drinking the Kool-Aid (or chardonnay) to not beat themselves up for failing to protect their little girl. Why did my mother never ever ask me about my abuse? Why did she act like it never happened? It’s not because she was a bad mother. She loved me. I was the light of her life. When did she lose her voice to stand up for her rights as a woman and a mother? Why? In what world do mothers feel like they don’t have the right to protect their little girls?

mom-dad-me

Years later I was in a therapy session with my father. When Mona, my teacher & spiritual guide, asked my dad if he wanted to know the truth about what happened to me, he said “No!” He couldn’t bear the thought of his little girl getting hurt but he didn’t have the strength to illuminate the darkness. Why? In what world is a father unable to fight for his little girl? My dad was a deep, thoughtful soul and he loved me more than anything.

I was left to meet my truth on my own. Put together the pieces to understand what my life had become, take responsibility and find my voice within all of it.

On the eve of my 30th birthday, I laid in bed, sobbing until the sun came up. It took three decades but I had finally awakened from the bad dream that had become my life. What happened to me? I was destined to do great things yet I was stuck, shutdown and buried beneath the aftermath of molestation, rape and abuse.

When I finally got some support, I realized I was not alone in this fight. There are women all over the world that live with my story whose mothers and fathers were disempowered by the internalized sexism and misogyny that comes out of patriarchal rule. I sat in rooms with so many beautiful women, crying as I listened to their stories, desperately wanting to right the wrongs.

After years of banging pillows, screaming, Courage to Heal groups and spiritual, emotional & mental guidance, I found my voice. Sort of. Until now, I’ve only shared my story with people that were safe. Those who I was sure would not judge me or hurt me for speaking the truth.

In 2005, I left my job as a creative television executive at Paramount Pictures to take on the kosinski-in-kenya-3fight of empowering women in northern Kenya. My family thought I was crazy but they didn’t understand why I had to do it. It was my duty and privilege to stand up for woman who had no voice.

And, I continue to learn while combating the urge to self-sabotage. In the 10 ½ years I fought for African women, I disempowered myself in the form of low compensation. The good news is that the collateral benefit in this was that in its first 11 years, The Samburu Project, the nonprofit organization I founded and ran until February 2016, has provided clean, drinking water to over 80,000 people which directly provides tens of thousands of women and girls the opportunity for empowerment.

It took a while, but I am living my dreams and visions albeit a little differently than my six year old imagined it. As the single mother to a bi-racial, 8 year old boy, I have the opportunity each and every day to further the conversation about equality and basic human rights. I know that there is room for justice for all in this world and it doesn’t have to be as challenging as it was for my little girl.

As the election process heated up this year and I sat back and watched Hillary get slaughtered for being a woman, my heart hurt. In what world is this ok? My little girl dreams big and knows that after 44 men have been elected to the presidency of the United States, it’s time for a woman to take the seat in the Oval Office, especially when she is more qualified than any presidential candidate in history.

The brilliance the universe offers us is Donald Trump standing on the other side of the stage. This is polarity at its finest.

So, Donald Trump, thank you for providing me a platform with your locker room talk and pussy grabbing, you gave me the courage to shine the light on my darkness and speak my truth and for that I will be forever grateful.

Free at last! Free at last!

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