This is my all-time favorite skirt. All winter and spring, I catch eye of the white and bright skirt in my closet, anxious to wear it and watch it flounce at my feet as I walk in warm summer sunshine.
Hot summer days also mean short sleeves and tank tops. For a person with arms significantly scarred by self-inflicted cuts and majors burns, this is more than just a matter of common sense and comfort. The decision to bare arms involves personal dignity and sometimes facing difficult situations and emotions.
To see my scarred arms, you probably would not question that I have been through great pain. You would be correct. I communicated my inner pain and turmoil resulting from from abusive and invalidating relationships, physical and sexual abuse, and self-hatred by cutting and burning my own skin. I wore my emotional pain on my skin. I hurt to extremes both inside and out.
When people see my arms, do they ask me questions?
You bet. My scars don’t necessarily suggest self injury. Most people ask me if I am having the tattoo on my left arm removed. In my own way, I was trying to remove the word “love” tattooed over other scars to help prevent me from self-harming again. But that’s not what I tell people.
When people see my arms, do they stare?
Yes again. Many people stare from a distance. Far more uncomfortable, though, are the people (even people I know) who seem to be having a conversation with my heavily scarred left arm. I have come to understand that humans are naturally curious. Their eyes are drawn to things that look different, out-of-place, or not-right. So their eyes are naturally drawn to my scars. Far more often than not, though, people don’t stare. They either don’t notice or they are focusing on my eyes and my conversation.
Am I embarrassed? Ashamed? Self-conscious? Scared?
At times, yes. No doubt, having a body that does not meet our society’s standard of flawless makes me feel vulnerable. The staring and questions often make me feel uncomfortable. I’m a human with feelings and nobody like to be stared at or made to feel out-of-place because she looks different. Anyone with a natural birthmark or scar probably has similar experiences.
While others may not assume or know that my injuries are of my own doing, I sometimes look at and touch my marred, leathery arm with shame, remorse, guilt and regret. I believe some degree of remorse, guilt and regret reminds me to be gentle with myself, forgive myself, and to not hurt myself again. Add in shame, though, and I know I am moving away from forgiveness of myself and inviting myself to enter the cycle of shame and self harm again.
So what do I say when people ask me what happened to my arm?
I simply say with a smile, “I was hurt and now I am healed. Healing is good.”When the situation is right, I take the opportunity to share my story of recovery from self harm. But most of the time, people smile back and leave it at that.
Now recovering from my self-destructive past, I strive to be a person noticed for my character and kindness, not my skin and appearance. I want them to see not my skin but my heart – how I treat them, talk to them and interact with them. I don’t need to communicate my emotional pain with my skin any more. Instead, I can use my experience with inner and outer pain to connect with and help others struggling with their feelings and self destructive behaviors.
Thing is, in recovery, self injury is one of those things that can’t be hidden. Unlike some other unhealthy coping behaviors people struggle with, our behaviors of cutting and burning leave marks – scars. It’s taken me years to come to believe this – I believe my scars are a gift and a crucial part of my story. Were you to meet me today and talk to me and get to know me, you may never believe that I was the broken, hurting person that I was or believe that I overcame all that to become the person I am today. My scars are proof of my pain and all I walked through to find peace and healing.
Truthfully, wearing a bright, beautiful skirt, genuine smile and caring personality, only a few people ask me about my scars but a ton of people tell me how pretty I look. Wearing my summer skirt with short sleeves on, I feel like a princess, radiant in my healing from a bruised and broken past. Scar tissue is also much tougher than skin and I chose to wear mine with pride and honor, baring bare arms even in the summer heat. My scars tell a story, a story where love won and I survived the unimaginable. I am not ashamed of my scars – they are proof of the miracle of healing.