Am I A Victim Or A Survivor?

Note: this blog post discusses, but doesn’t go into detail about, trauma resulting from being the victim and/or survivor of abuse. If that’s tricky for you, ignore this blog post but watch my Twitter for other, sexier posts in the future!


Originally, this blog post was going to be one word long, and that single word was going to be “yes”. But that seemed a tad bit brief for a blog post, so I thought I’d go into a little more detail.

Y’all know I dislike binaries. The victim/survivor binary might not look so much like a binary, but it is one, because it’s a pair of uncomfortable, mutually exclusive boxes, neither of which I can cram my traumatised little self into – and I’m sure that’s the case for other people, too.

A lot of people who have survived things want to call themselves survivors, and I personally have very little interest in policing the language that individuals use to describe their experiences of the world. I also understand the impulse to reframe trauma so that instead of being something that happened to you, it’s something you actively engaged with and survived. That puts you in more control of the world around you, and highlights how vicious of a fight it can be to make it through trauma alive. I get it.

What I don’t get is the insistence that survivors of trauma are only that, and not also victims of it. People shy away from the word “victim” as though it’s contagious, and I know that they’re trying not to step on the autonomy of already-traumatised individuals by using language they disprefer or by implying that they simply passively endured their trauma. The problem comes when someone wants to describe themselves as a victim and then they’re contradicted by people who think that the word “victim” is disempowering.

Listen, for other people, I’m sure it is disempowering, and it’s not the word I default to for referring to every individual survivor (I usually tend to refer to them with their names). But for me, personally, it’s not disempowering. It feels accurate. I don’t feel like I passively endured my trauma – I feel like I fought with it, and I do feel like I survived – but I do feel like I have been a victim. I have been intentionally selected from a world full of people by abusers looking for the easiest target within arms’ reach. I have been victimised repeatedly, assigned the experience of the victim by people who had more power than me to decide our roles. For me, the word “victim” is helpful.

The thing is, I survived my trauma, sure. I fought against it wherever I had the strength. But I also survived by doing things I’m not proud of, lying and screaming and hiding, and through unique combinations of privilege and sheer luck. There are plenty of people who wouldn’t have survived my trauma, and that’s no fault of their own. I don’t want to imply that I’m stronger than people who die at the hands of their abusers by celebrating my feat of survival. I do want to celebrate my survival, don’t get me wrong, but that usually involves a sarcastic toast to people who’ve wanted me dead every birthday and graduation, rather than any particular label I give myself.

The other thing that gets under my skin about victim discourse is the notion of “playing the victim”. This is a sort of vague and nebulous concept that seems to be applied at random to people who are having a whine, people who are rebelling against legitimate injustice, people who are disagreeing with you, etc., etc. Someone who is “playing the victim” is implied to be illegitimately casting themselves in the role of victim when in fact they are the antagonist, but it’s a very convenient trio of words to apply to someone you are in the process of abusing. The way that “playing the victim” gets thrown around creates an even more hostile environment for people recovering from trauma to discuss their experiences, because we already do enough second-guessing ourselves about who the true aggressor was (hint: it wasn’t the traumatised person) and we already convince ourselves that our feelings of hurt, mistrust, fear, injustice, anger, grief, etc., are a melodramatic response to a situation in which we weren’t really the victim.

“Victim” is a helpful word for me because it helps me to understand my role as someone who was victimised, who was harmed by inescapable power dynamics and choices made by human beings. “Survivor” is a helpful word for me because it reminds me that I fought, that I didn’t just allow my trauma to happen to me but that I actively survived the process of victimisation. I think we need both words! I just also think that if you ever correct someone’s self-description from “victim” to “survivor”, you’re being a dick, because while both of those words can be accurate, it’s polite to use the one that a person actually supplies to you – kinda like pronouns, and names, and most other principles of addressing or referring to someone politely. 

(That’s pretty much the only politeness rule I know, on account of being an autistic gremlin with little interest in social niceties but some interest in communicating compassionately and effectively with other humans. Just… believe people when they tell you who they are.)

cPTSD And Me: Looking For An Escape Route

An exit sign, lit up against a dark background

Content note: this post discusses cPTSD, what a bitch it is to live with, and acute suicidal ideation. If any of those are hard for you, leave this one out – but keep an eye on my Twitter for other, sometimes sexier posts!


So, I have PTSD.

Actually, technically, I have cPTSD, with the “c” standing for “complex”. All trauma is complex, obviously, but my little “c” denotes that the causes of my PTSD are many, chronic, rather than being one particular incident. I think the “c” fucks you up extra hard, because my understanding of the world is probably radically different to someone who hasn’t experienced years upon years of trauma.

I’ve been thinking about all of this (and a lot more) because of the recent heatwave in the UK. Something about it was making me frustrated, miserable and panicky, and it took me a little while to work out what it was: the feeling of inescapability brought down upon me with the 29 degrees of heat we experienced recently. The heat was uncomfortable, and I couldn’t get away. It put me close to fight-or-flight for days on end.

The inability to cope with situations that seem inescapable is a theme within my life. When I bleach my hair, the twenty minutes I have to cope with an itchy scalp feels like a lifetime. I panic when I’m lifted off my feet (which makes suspension scenes fun, at least). When I had a 24-hour stomach bug at my boyfriend’s place, he found me trouserless on his bathroom floor, crying about a level of pain that, if it had seemed transient, I would’ve coped with easily. But it didn’t seem transient, so I cried until I got stoned and calmed down.

Now, I’m planning on moving in with my Daddy, which is a definite upgrade from the tiny, grubby student flats I’m used to. I’m excited to live with them, obviously, but I’m also scared shitless. This may be in part due to that time I was living with a partner who asked me to leave with 4 days’ notice, for an unknown period of time while he had “space”, with very little money and no means of transporting more of my stuff than I could wrangle onto a train. I felt stuck then, trapped outside of the house I’d left all my belongings in, the inescapability of my newfound semi-homelessness crushing me; but honestly, I’d be scared shitless even if I hadn’t had that experience. My cPTSD means that the world feels fundamentally unsafe and totally beyond my control. Cohabiting with a partner (especially when they own the house and you’ll technically be their tenant) is scary for anyone, but it’s especially scary for someone whose biggest fear in the world is situations they can’t readily escape from.

There are a few ways to mitigate this. I have to strike a balance between finding control where I can, and accepting that some things are beyond my control. For example: I cannot control whether my Daddy and I break up, much as I wish I could, but I can control what the terms of our break-up are. They’ve promised to write me up a proper tenancy agreement that guarantees me 28 days’ notice before I have to leave, which means I’ll be in a position to transport all my things and adjust to the change. Essentially, they’ve promised to give me an exit strategy, and it has soothed my anxious mind a lot.

There are other elements of wanting an escape that bleed into my relationships. My BPD prompts me to attempt to break up with my partners with alarming frequency, even when I don’t really want to end the relationship at all, and I imagine that’s in part because I’m trying to gauge how readily I can escape any given romantic connection when my fight-or-flight response kicks in. This is troublesome, but Lucid Morgan forewarned my partners of it early on in our relationships, so they know how to assauge my fear of being stuck without making me feel like they don’t really want to be in a relationship with me anyway. They say things like, “I really want to be with you. If this is you talking, and not your BPD brain, then obviously you can leave whenever you want, but just know that I don’t want to break up at all.” It helps.

One other thing that helps might be dysfunctional, but in times of crisis, it really helps. I’m suicidal a lot, and sometimes the only thing that can dissuade me from killing myself right now is knowing I can always kill myself later. My distress feels pressing and, yes, inescapable, and that prompts thoughts of killing myself to get away from it – but the option of killing myself later washes away some of the wounded-animal, fight-or-flight desperation without involving, you know, doing it right now. Even when I’m less acutely distressed and more chronically miserable, I find it a comfort to know that I could bow out of life any time – and that frees up more space in my mind for actually enjoying life as I live it. Weird, possibly unhealthy, but a useful interim solution until I can work through my need to always have an exit strategy.

All of this is to say: trauma is a bitch, and this is one of the many effects it can have on your brain and how you navigate the world. It’s okay if you’re always looking for an exit, but it’s a feeling that can suck, and all I want you to take away from this post is that you aren’t alone in it.

The Best Days of Our Lives

Sometimes, when I’m quite tipsy and out on the town, I’m struck by the sense that my friends and I rule the world. The city is lit up and glittering just for us. We are fearless and stupid and hilarious and we love each other. I feel the swells of hope and bravery reach high tide in my chest.

The problem is, though, that emotional abuse conditions you a certain way. Whenever I start to feel brave, or hopeful, or – God forbid – happy, I also start to feel a cold dread leak into my bones. If you’ve lived through emotional abuse, you’ll know that abusers never let their victims’ happiness go unpunished. You’re used to knowing, consciously or not, that whatever positive emotion you’re experiencing is part of the cycle of abuse – you’re in the honeymoon phase now, but you know that soon, the sky will fall in. Every time you feel like you’re getting less small, someone cuts you back down to size. Eventually, you might stop hoping or laughing or feeling brave altogether.

So when I feel like I’m on top of the world with people I love, my brain tries to slam on the brakes. It isn’t my brain’s fault – it has been taught that the more elevated I feel, the worse the inevitable fall will injure me. My brain tells me, “You’ll grow out of this. Sooner or later, you’ll stop having nights out, stop drinking, stop dancing, stop loving these friends – sooner or later, you’ll lose this feeling forever.” 

The thought is like a bucket of cold water in that it startles me, makes my chest muscles tighten, makes me feel like shit. I know I won’t be a dumbass student full of Jagerbombs forever – my brain is right about that. What if it’s also right about never feeling like this again?


Play parties – especially the chill, lowkey rope jams I often attend – aren’t much like nights out. The music is quiet. The lights are dim. I’m stone-cold sober. 

I’m on a mat, lying on my back with one leg suspended above the rest of me. My Daddy is tightening ropes around my shin just to make me writhe and squeak. It fucking hurts. He closes his fist and starts punching the rope that will later bruise my skin. Harder and harder, up and down my entire lower leg. He squeezes my calf and I almost scream.

From my position on the floor, I make accidental eye contact with somebody else on the floor – another bottom, also being tormented, also writhing and squeaking. I’ve never spoken to them before, but they take one look at my agony-filled face and smile at me. I smile right back, knowing that they feel how I feel, knowing that we’ll both glow with pride and endorphins when we’re done.

When the ropes come off and I’m scooped into a hug, I feel so warm and in love with the world. My legs shake in time to the music. The other bottom, the one who smiled at me, is receiving aftercare, too.


I have nagged and nagged at my Daddy to go and play with someone he likes. I’m in lingerie and full makeup, but there’s an empty bathtub in the venue (for some reason) and I’ve found that it gives me exceptionally good autism to sit inside. I watch, fascinated, as other people play. I recognise one of the songs on the playlist and smile to myself. 

Sooner or later, someone I know reasonably well comes and joins me in the bathtub. We sit side-by-side in our sexiest underwear and talk for at least an hour. I make her giggle a lot. We point things out to each other – interesting scenes that are unfolding and other people’s cute outfits, mostly. Another person comes and joins the conversation, kneeling in front of the bathtub. I let sentences about sex and kink and queerness fall straight out of my mouth, completely unfiltered. 

Every now and then, I remember that one of the loves of my life is in the other room, having pulled with my help. I remember the fizz of affection I felt when I caught the eye of another bottom earlier. I remember that these are conversations I would never have anywhere else.

I might grow out of drinking and roaming the town, but the number of older kinksters surrounding me suggests quite firmly that I won’t grow out of this. Which is good, because right now, I feel like my friends and I rule the world. The dungeon is dimly lit and decorated just for us.