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Smell the Coffee: Not who you are

By Karin Fuller

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — This is my attempt at a do-over.

I recently had a chance to say something, but was caught off guard and the right words didn’t come. I don’t recall what I did say, only that it left me feeling wrong and deficient, and for hours I kept thinking of things I wish I’d said instead.

I won’t betray confidences by providing details, other than the person had been significantly wronged. The wrongs weren’t recent and there was no physical damage, yet somehow, it was still simmering, affecting her in a way that seemed to be intensifying.

Though the situations are different, it reminded me of another time, years back, when I was on a two-person planning committee with a woman whose husband had an affair and left. The woman was hurt and angry to the point of being frighteningly vindictive, and even though our short time working together didn’t happen until months after he’d left, there seemed no way to lighten the mood or switch subjects. She was stuck on one channel, and it ran 24 hours a day.

A dozen years passed before I ran into that same woman again. Just as we started playing catch-up, she brought up her ex and then got stuck on the subject — it was his fault she hadn’t done this, his fault she couldn’t do that. His infidelity and abandonment were to blame for every single bad thing that happened in her life. Her venom remained so severe and vicious, you’d have thought the bite was fresh.

What her ex put her through should’ve been just a bump in the road — an opportunity to start over with someone else or the chance to become self-reliant — but she was too invested in being, and remaining, a victim.

Compounding the matter, the woman’s daughter didn’t get to watch her mom figure out how to make the best of a bad circumstance, only whine and blame and make excuses.

In complete contrast to this woman was another I met at a conference. She had written about having been attacked by a man while she and her college roommate were out hiking. The man held a gun to the writer’s head while he raped her, telling the other that if she ran, he would kill her friend. Then it was the roommate’s turn to stand and watch while her best friend was violated.

Neither woman had lasting physical injuries from the attack, but the roommate was destroyed. Her life essentially ended that day. She began drinking excessively, dropped out of school, abused prescription medications. Pulled away from everyone. A few years after the attack, she died from an overdose.

Yet the woman I spoke with had become a victims’ rights advocate. She said that for her to give up would mean she was allowing the attacker to continue to take from her, except without a gun to her head.

She wrote that she was a victim, but the tense in that statement was most important. “Was.” Not “is.”

What happened was in the past. What happened from here on out — that was up to her. No one else.

She said having a victim mentality was like holding your own breath, but blaming others for your inability to breathe.

You are not what happened to you, and letting go of the anger is not the same as accepting what happened. It’s saying you’re done allowing that person to hold any sway over your life.

There’s this great quote by Rocky Balboa that says so perfectly what I wish I’d been able to say.

“The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward.

“That’s how winning is done.”

Karin Fuller can be reached via email at

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