Teaching Yourself to Thrive, When All You Know is How to Survive

Every day can feel like a battle to survive, yet we deeply long to break free from the shackles of mere existence and learn to thrive.

We yearn to thrive, to rise above the mundane, and discover our true potential.

Katniss Everdeen, a symbol of resilience and empowerment, and The Hunger Games taught us we can have transformative journies to reclaim our lives.

Children learn a few universal lessons during the early years of their lives.

The first is that life is difficult for anyone, as everyone has had to overcome some trials and tribulations at some point.

The other one is that life is not fair.

Everyone has different dilemmas that they face, but some of those are worse than others.

Survivors of abuse, parents who were addicts, and children who lived with violence also had to learn how to survive.

As adults now, it’s challenging to learn that they can thrive. 

Thrive versus survive

There is a difference between making it through life in survival mode and thriving.

My husband and I both come from a background of trauma.

Despite that, we could overcome the odds, and both graduate from college.

We lived in a tiny town in Wyoming, where my husband had a high enough salary that I could stay home while we still lived comfortably. 

We paid off debt during those three years, got better cars, and the kids were doing great.

Life was easy for the first time in our 15-year marriage.

It didn’t take long for us to develop communication problems and start responding to situations differently.

We ended up in couple’s therapy but spent the first few sessions discussing our childhood trauma and our marriage’s early years.

He looked at us around the third or fourth session and said that we both had complex PTSD.

And that, for the first time in our marriage, we didn’t have a hurdle to overcome. 

He found it admirable that we had achieved all that we had.

However, now that there was no mutual battle with the outside world, our PSTD influenced our behaviors.

I looked at this therapist square in the eyes and said, “So, you are telling me that we did too well and got exactly where we wanted to be, and now our brains don’t know how to ‘do’ normal?”

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I thought I must have misheard or misunderstood, but he nodded and said, “Exactly!”

He tried to explain how we were deeply rooted in trying to survive, that we didn’t know how to function when there wasn’t an imminent threat.

We all have our obstacles to survive

Now, I have been mad at the universe a lot during my lifetime.

My mother and father divorced, which resulted in a custodial kidnapping.

I didn’t see my father for thirteen years afterward.

My mom was an addict, and my grandma got custody.

She formally adopted us when my mom left for the witness protection program.

I was reunited with my mom after four years, only for her to die four months later.

I found my dad, who passed away a few years later.

My baby niece had only lived five days after her birth.

Pain and anger had been my first real friends, but this rage was a new emotion.

I had survived all the sh*t the world had thrown at me.

Not only wasn’t I an addict, but I was successful by normal standards.

I had great kids, a loving spouse, a house, and people who loved me.

The loss hadn’t broken me, but now that my brain could process the trauma for the first time, it was derailing my entire world.

Hell, to the no.

We solved our issues and moved from the tiny town to a city with more social opportunities.

My husband’s overall health improved immensely, as the altitude bothered him.

Life went on, but it was apparent that we had to learn how to thrive; survival was not enough. 

How does one thrive

With more therapy, I finally understood what it means to thrive.

I can break it down into three concepts.

The first is to ensure you do more for your body each day than necessary to make it to tomorrow.

Second, keep your mind and your spirit engaged.

Third, direct your outward focus on the right areas.

You might wonder how you do these three things.

It isn’t difficult, just a little different from what you might do now.

Do more for your body than what is necessary for it to make it to tomorrow

How many ounces of water should a human being drink each day?

According to the Mayo Clinic, men should get about 3.7 liters, while women need roughly 2.7 liters.

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My water consumption was nowhere near that amount daily.

I had enough water, so I didn’t die but I drank diet soda and caffeinated tea.

I felt tired and couldn’t concentrate daily, so I thought I needed more caffeine.

My muscles cramped occasionally, and I continually rubbed lotion on my dry skin. 

I’m still alive, but I have been dehydrated nearly every day of my life.

All those things: tiredness, difficulty concentrating, muscle cramps, and dry skin are symptoms of dehydration.

Over the last few months, I cut diet soda and caffeine from my diet, and I have never felt better.

The human body also needs food, but not all foods are created equal.

Some foods help keep you healthy and strengthen your body’s natural functions, while others contribute to your declining health.

Eating a burger from McDonald’s will keep you alive another day, but if you eat there every day for a month, you will start not to feel so hot. 

The bottom line here is to make the best choices about what to do with your body.

Daily exercise is another health benefit that affects your life long-term.

Working out on Monday isn’t necessary to wake up Tuesday morning, but it might just buy you a few more years on the back end.

You will probably be happier, too, as exercise is a natural antidepressant.

Keep your mind and spirit engaged

One of the best ways to keep your mind sharp is to read and gain new knowledge.

In today’s world, there are many ways to find things to read, as content is everywhere.

Grab a book explaining why you might be in so much physical pain if you have experienced childhood trauma like The Body Keeps The Score (it is fascinating). 

Learning a new skill for fun or improving your situation is also a great way to engage your brain.

It might also help you define your purpose or mission in life.

If you aren’t sure what that is yet, a journey of self-discovery might be just what you need to thrive.

Living a purpose-driven life will have you feeling fulfilled.

Sure, you need a job (or source of income) to survive and buy all that food and water, but make sure it aligns with your spirit. 

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If you are still searching for your life purpose, try writing a personal mission and vision statement.

You might learn more about who you are, which will help define your priorities and keep you focused.

That focus will help you find the things in life that make you thrive as a human, not just wake up and do the same thing on repeat every day. 

Direct your outward focus 

The most significant difference between thriving and surviving might be how you direct your focus.

We can focus on doing the bare minimum to keep ourselves alive or treat ourselves with care.

We can wake up daily and remain where we are now or seek growth.

No one can control the outside things that happen.

These occurrences can make survival seem like an epic Greek novel!

Yet, we can control what we focus on.

There is an old Cherokee proverb that talks about the battle between two wolves.

It goes like this:

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life:

“A fight is going on inside me,” he told the boy.

“It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it briefly and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

The idea is the same for any situation in life.

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” Maya Angelou

Whatever emotions are fed are the ones that will win out in the end.

Do you want to feed your need for survival, or are you willing to believe that there is more than that and you deserve to thrive? 

Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

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