Do I love my scars? Yes, most of the time I do, but maybe love is a strong word. I’m not enamoured with these lines on my skin. When I look at them, I don’t feel an intense euphoria and an unconditional affection. My heart doesn’t skip a beat, and my stomach doesn’t twist itself into knots at the mere thought of these scars.
There’s a strange fondness, and I feel bonded to my scars. My identity is closely tied up in them as much as their existence depends on my survival. They tell our shared story like hieroglyphs on a cave wall. This story is, quite literally, forged in blood, tears, and broken bones. We’ve been through so much together and that brings an intimacy that goes beyond emotion. It’s a kinship.
I don’t think I’ve counted how many scars I have on my body but there are a lot. Thousands of needles have left their marks. I swear, if you see my hands and arms, it’s not what it looks like. I’ve had hundreds of surgeries though, for a lot of them, doctors cut along the dotted line. I suggested a zipper but they didn’t go for it. We’ll never know why.
After surgery, when it was time to change the dressing, my family would look down at the incision with curiosity and awe. They’re medical people and this kinda stuff is just cool. They marveled at the clean line and the knotted sutures. Every time the dressing was removed, they would note how well it was healing and tell me I’d have a beautiful scar. Which sounds a little strange?
Who thinks scars are beautiful? Isn’t that some sort of fetish? If so, it’s cool, you do you. Me? Nope, doesn’t do it for me. Doesn’t turn me away either because scars are cool. Scars tell our stories when words fail us but sometimes I want my story to be a secret.
My first surgery, and my first scar, happened when I was three years old. I had urinary reflux. Urine traveled from my bladder back up to my kidneys and doctors had to fix it before my kidneys were damaged. Oh, the irony! The surgeon made a mistake and did the one thing we were trying to prevent. My kidneys were damaged, I was diagnosed with chronic renal failure, and my long relationship with scars began.
For some of us, this relationship is fraught with shame, self-loathing, and pain. It’s a blemish that reminds us of the worst moments of our lives. It’s a stain on something so beautiful and precious. It can leave us feel damaged and disfigured.
There’s a purity that we only find naiveté. It brings us back to childlike wonder. It’s a perfect space that hasn’t been tainted by the cruelty of a moment. It’s a peace of mind that hasn’t been spoiled by the savagery of life but then the canvas is slashed and we’re left with a reminder of what was and should’ve been. Now, when we look at our scars, we feel the sting of the incision, the pain of the past, and grieve the loss of that innocence.
When I look at my scars, I feel a complex mix of emotions. My stomach looks like a road map drawn by a toddler on a sugar high. There’s a jagged cut along my neck that makes me look like an extra in a low-budget horror film. There’s a scar on my wrist that looks incredibly suspicious, and people can’t help but stare. They never ask but they will judge. They look at the marks from the needles and IV’s with suspicion, confusion, and disgust.
Which is baffling to me! My tracks are from an illness as are the tracks from someone recovering from addiction. Both should be treated with compassion, empathy, and kindness. Both of us have survived something horrible, and we’re both just trying to heal. If you’re in recovery or moving towards recovery? Bless you. You can do it. I believe in you!
Rant over. Thanks for humouring me!
When I was a kid, I took my families cue and embraced my scars. They thought it was cool, so I did too. I didn’t hide my scars. I often showed them off. You’d think I’d just gotten a new toy when I explain, “Look what I got!” I’d been cut open and I’d healed. The pink line was a badge of honour. Why would I be ashamed of that? Nope, look at it! It’s badass.
The older I got, my perspective changed a little and I settled into a pattern of love and begrudgingly tolerated the marks. On one hand, my scars remind me of things I’d rather forget. Moments of absolute terror when I thought I’d die. Going to sleep in an operating room and not knowing if I’d wake up. Waking up in pain and wishing I could escape my body. They are a mark of pain and loss. These scars trigger feelings of regret and longing. I wish they didn’t happen, but they did. They’re mine. They’re a part of me.
There’s that other hand, though. When I look at my scars, I see a survivor. I shouldn’t be alive right now. Medically, I should not have survived. When I was sixteen, I was given less than six months to live. Before this last transplant, a few years ago, I was given less than a year. I’ve died. I’ve come back. I shouldn’t have but I did. I survived when so many others didn’t and I have the scars to prove it.
I don’t like the way some of my scars look. They’re ugly, disfiguring, and, yeah, I’d like to get rid of them but I won’t. At least, I don’t think I would but never say never right? I don’t think I’d remove them because, for all the negatives, I still love what they signify. They belong to moments of triumph over pain. They’re a symbol of strength, courage, and resiliency. These scars took blood, sweat, and tears. I earned them because I didn’t give up. I wanted too but I didn’t and I’m proud of that.
I guess that means I’m proud of my scars?
Should you be proud of your scars? If life was perfect, absolutely! Love who you are because you’re a survivor! You made it. You’ve earned this victory lap. Throw yourself a parade and stand tall. You’re a survivor!
It’s messier than that, isn’t it? In one paragraph I say they remind me of the worst moments of my life. In the next paragraph, I’m proclaiming my love. Is there a better word than: Complicated?
These marks, these imperfections, carry more than one meaning. They came from a double-edged blade and that twists the healing process into a Gordian Knot. We have to journey through a labyrinth of fear, relief, pain, and healing. We have to find a way through the grief of losing ourselves, our identities, and our innocence. Our scars may look like road maps but they don’t show us the way out.
Each of my scars has a story but sometimes that story is too painful to tell. Sometimes the pain is physical. Even after all these years, I still feel my skin knitting itself back together. I feel the knife that made the incision. I feel stitches pulling even though they were removed a long time ago. My muscles ache as if they’re still wondering why I let them get hurt.
The necessity of each procedure was obvious, and it’s not a question of practicality. It’s a philosophical, maybe even a spiritual, question that has no real answer. At least, there’s no answer that will placate the aching muscles or still my mind. I’ll never understand pain and there’s no justification for suffering.
In my experience, what hasn’t killed me hasn’t always made me stronger. Sometimes it broke me apart, and I’ll spend the rest of my life looking for the missing pieces. Sometimes all I find are more scars. Scars hidden so deep, they haven’t had the chance to fully heal. Will they ever? God, I hope so!
While scars fade a little over time, they never disappear so I suppose it comes down to me, making a choice. What do I want my scars to signify? How do I want to view them? Yes, in a perfect world I would choose the positives over the negatives, but I know some choices are a knee jerk reaction.
Sometimes there are other factors at work which is why I need to take a beat. I need to give myself permission to feel the pain and sorrow. Then I can make a conscious effort to refocus my attention. Remind myself of the awe and wonder I once felt. Go back to a time when I was a little more innocent and put my scars back in their rightful place of honour.