From Victim to Victor: How I Shed a Narrative that No Longer Served Me

by Nneka M. Okona This is not the remarkable, smoldering saga of how a Black woman was brave, co...

by Nneka M. Okona

This is not the remarkable, smoldering saga of how a Black woman was brave, courageous, and unwavering. It’s not a tribute to how I was able to see the tenacity within and trudge forward—empowered and leaving behind a life riddled with mistakes and poor judgement in one fatal swoop.

Instead, it is a story of how I viewed myself as weak and embittered for most of the (almost) 30 years I’ve been alive, stumbling through the lessons I felt life hastily thrust in my direction. It is a story of succumbing to the mentality of being powerless at the hands of a cruel world, a cruel Universe which only wanted to see me suffer and in pain. It is a story about how being a victim was my middle name.

And it is a story about how I began to question why my life only seemed to go one way. Why I seemed to only meet the same types of romantic partners and our relationships played out the same every time. Why each job I had only held my interest for a few months before I was bored and miserable again, spinning the wheel in a stupefying pattern. Why life was perpetually unfulfilling and disappointing.

I never particularly viewed myself as strong, courageous and brave, and I’m not sure most of the people in my life who’ve known me the longest (meaning my family) would either. As a child I was bashful and struggled with social anxiety. Saying just a few words to someone new would paralyze me before it even happened. I found it more comfortable to lose myself in books and writing, two things which I steadily found fascinating and required no interpersonal interaction.

Perhaps my introverted, reserved, and giving nature predisposed me to not viewing myself differently. I had always seen myself as someone who was kind, giving, and vulnerable to those who were hungry for my earnest nature. Very early on, I felt that who I was meant I would be taken advantage of and mistreated by others—and seen as weaker than most. I was a sensitive little Black girl, both in the intensity of my emotions and the outside stimuli I absorbed from everything and everyone. I received so much messaging I couldn’t be anything but forlorn.

So, I wore this badge. Through my adolescence, I was fearful of everything and everyone, waiting for the impending doom, for the other shoe to drop. To be left high and dry, shattered. This translated to seeing the world around me—the big, bad world—as a place teeming with things out to get to me. The world was a mass of situations, people, and places I had to shield myself from. I was chronically in protection mode and the blaring internal fight-and-flight alarms went off, even when the situation didn’t call for it.

But I got to a certain point, well into my 20s, where I was so exhausted. I was more than exhausted. I was depleted, drained, spent, and had nothing left to give—not even to myself. I began to question whether life was supposed to feel like this—an unrelenting battle, a warring that I’d always be on the losing side of. I’d somehow survived the most emotionally violent and damaging relationship I’d been in to date. I wanted more from, and for, myself.

But how? How could life change? How could I change? How could I heal myself?

A few years ago, after uprooting my life from my hometown of Stone Mountain, Georgia to move to Madrid, Spain to teach English, I felt like I finally had the space to imagine and confront these looming questions for myself. Without the crutch of my home and the familiarity of being around the people I loved the most and had known the longest.

Madrid was open territory. It was open season. It was the time to find out what was truest about myself without my past shielding me from this discovery in any way. I was ready to know the full truth, no matter how scary the full truth was.

Dating back to my childhood I had carried so many scars and imposed tons of limiting beliefs upon myself. I had shrunk myself for the world’s comfort and forgotten my own. I forgot to dream, to think big, and to imagine a future full of all the possibility. In making myself small, in thinking of myself as someone crouched over and hiding from the world, I forgot about the power of choice, motive, and intention. Yes, life can be full of unfair and unexpected circumstances, but in my life the common thread seemed to be repeated choices I made that weren’t in my best interest.

I had to choose me. And that I did. And I have continued to do so.

I’m not some extraordinary woman to behold. I’m not a special snowflake. I’m simply a Black woman who, despite the ills of life and the odds not being in my favor due to the oppression I face for just existing, dared to reach for more.

I dared to reach for myself.

I realize despite all the things I cannot control—discrimination, misogyny, misogynoir, and the pervasiveness of a white supremacy that seeps into almost every aspect of my life—I can control me. I can measure the choices I make. I can always choose another alternative for myself. I can fight the urge to blame anyone other than myself for the choices I make and their outcomes, especially when I feel (and know) I’m headed down a route which is unfavorable. I can set positive intentions. I can check my motives for my deeds, words, and thoughts.

With the help of therapy sessions that I attend twice a month, I can keep going. By making a conscious effort to be kinder and more honest with myself, I can keep going. By surrounding myself with other energizing circles of support, I can remember I don’t have to feel powerless. I can remember my life truly is mine for taking. It’s up to me to design a life of my choosing.

And I choose one where I’m not a victim.

Photo: Shutterstock

Nneka M. Okona is a writer based in Washington, DC. Visit her blog at, her website at or follow her tweets @afrosypaella.

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