Surviving, Living, and Thriving: Let Me Tell You About This Journey of Self-Love

Chris Norman


When I reflect on my experiences, I understand them to fall into one of three categories: surviving, living, or thriving.

I define surviving as a state in which we are limited by trauma and can only focus on what’s in front of us. While in survival mode we are only responsive, and struggle to imagine positive possibility.

Whether or not I realized it, my family spent much of my childhood surviving. Outside factors dictated what was possible for us. We were shoved around by government systems, my parents struggled with their health, and our opportunities were always determined by what “the Man” allowed. We did our best with what we had and though we were financially poor, we never lacked love and commitment to one another. However, we did not have true agency to determine what we wanted for ourselves.

Part of what (intergenerational) trauma does is distance us from our possibilities: it takes away our agency. As I grew older, went to college, and started my profession, I caught glimpses of what else could be. I harbored much baggage and resentment as I navigated whiter, more affluent worlds, and I felt the pressures of representing my communities in unfamiliar settings. I experienced these challenges while working through hurdles around my own worth and capabilities, some of which I still battle with today. As difficult as it was to feel out-of-place, that exposure shaped what I believed was possible for myself. I navigate these learnings to this day.

Living is a state of normalcy, or limbo: we may not be in crisis mode, but we know more is possible. We may take things for granted, but we are also laying foundations for what we want to see.

In my early twenties, I got an amazing job offer that I quickly accepted. However, during my two years at the job I struggled to see my own worth and constantly battled with imposter syndrome. I felt as though I was incapable of succeeding, and that I was almost a waste of space. I got to a place where I just went through the motions, hoping one day I’d feel better. Eventually, I realized only I could change my situation. I made a choice to leave.

I recognize that quitting isn’t always the answer and I enacted much privilege by doing so. Not everyone can afford to quit their job because they’re unhappy, but during that time the issue was more than unhappiness. The situation was toxic. I needed to be able to pick myself up again. Leaving that job was one of the most terrifying things I’ve done, but looking back I know it was what I needed. In the most integral moments I believed that I deserved different, for my own sake, and made the choice to grow elsewhere.

Lastly, thriving is the result of intentionality, vision, and love. Seldom do we thrive without knowing it. We can’t stay in this state forever -- we always return to surviving or living -- but it should always be our north star.

When I consider my moments of thriving, my mind initially jumps to major milestones: college acceptances, graduating, starting new jobs, etc. While those moments are extremely memorable, they can feel like cookie cutter success. My thriving process hasn’t always been linear, especially when it comes to my body. Today, I love my thicc, husky, stocky self; but many other days I truly struggle with how I look, and wish I could melt off my fat. Some have told me that I just have to love myself as exactly as I am, while others see loving yourself as working out and getting fit. These conflicting viewpoints have often stifled me from taking any action at all, and I ask: why do I exercise? To develop self-love, or to conform to a societal beauty standard? I want to love myself, but I’m still not clear on what that looks like in practice. However, I believe that thriving in this context means not letting myself fall victim to my own mental blockades. Thriving means choosing to explore how I love myself and developing a vision for who and where I want to be, even if I don’t have a rulebook for it. With that in mind, I also recognize the power of self-care throughout my explorations and how taking time to stabilize myself also necessary work.

Acts of thriving and self-love look like asking for support when and how I need it. I’ve had to realize that there is no one “silver bullet” to stabilize me when I struggle; instead, I’ve explored and cultivated a personalized suite of supports that meet my needs. While each individual component may seem commonplace, together they allow me to gain a deeper, more holistic understanding of my experiences. For example: my longest-practiced activity, journaling, allows me to express myself without interruption, and in all circumstances -- from recentering myself in moments of crises, to documenting memories in moments of gratitude.

On an interpersonal scale, psychotherapy has been essential to my stability. It helps me understand my core challenges, and pushes me to be clear in my articulation of what quality of life I want. Additionally, I have shared invaluable camaraderie, conversations, and joy with my community, and the feeling of togetherness heals and reminds me of the love we all deserve. These components are all important to me, and I believe that each of us has to spend time exploring what helps us feel our best. Which activities set us up to thrive?

We’ve all experienced periods in which we survive, live, and thrive. How does choosing and loving ourselves look differently depending on which state we’re in? How do we support ourselves to not settle for less than what we deserve? How do we determine what we deserve, and how do we know that we even have a choice to make? I’m interested in each of us, especially queer people of color, asking ourselves what thriving looks like, and unapologetically exploring whichever paths unfold from there.


Follow Chris on Twitter @chrisonorman and Instagram @quiznorman



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