themighty logo

What My Physical Scars Taught Me About My Emotional Scars

No, no, no, noooooooo! Come on, man! Not today!!

Today, I wanted to look my best! Today was not the day I needed some funky bald patches peeking out from underneath the hair on my head! Grrrrr.

But this would happen every so often. The injuries I had endured as a result of the car accident had left me with several scars … physical and emotional. The doctors were able to stitch and staple me back together for the most part, but my hair never did grow back over the scars on my head. Needless to say, this makes me incredibly self-conscious.

Luckily, I have a handful of “go-to” hairstyles that almost always hide these unsightly patches. But, as luck would have it, none of them seemed to be working today!

I used every tool I had … the hair dryer, the flat iron, the curling iron, pomade, styling mud, hairspray, gel. I teased. I brushed. I clipped. I did everything I could think of to get my hair to do what I needed it to do. But it had already made up its mind it wasn’t going to cooperate today.

OK … suck it up, Beth. Let it go. Things could be worse. I was lucky to be alive, a few bald scars on my head was a small price to pay for my life. Why couldn’t I just be grateful for that?

But the relentless, nagging voice in my head grew louder and louder. “You look like a freak! Everyone is going to stare at you! Who wouldn’t be startled at the sight of those ugly white scars? ”

I knew I could curse the hair gods as much as I wanted. I could berate myself for being upset about something so trivial. But no amount of cursing or berating was going to make that hair behave.

I didn’t like it. In fact, I hated it. But I could either continue to let my scars stop me from living or I could get up and move despite my insecurities. And hadn’t I spent enough of my life in hiding? There just wasn’t any more time for that. So, I tried to remember that some days the scars were going to show no matter how hard I tried to keep them covered. I’d take a deep breath and repeat my little mantra:

It’s just a bad hair day.

It’s just a bad hair day.

And then I began to wonder … if this was true for the physical scars, could the same be true for my emotional scars?

Maybe it could.

And maybe it should.

Lord knows my emotional scars run deep. But over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to acquire a set of tools to help keep those scars from controlling my life. And after countless hours of therapy and treatment programs, I have become pretty skilled at using them effectively.

But still, on occasion, something will trigger that old pain and the scars will make an appearance, showing up in a million different ways.

I might notice I am meticulously obsessing over food, calories or my body instead of dealing with whatever is truly bothering me.

I might have extreme emotional reactions to otherwise ordinary situations. This could be a meltdown in the fitting room, lashing out in response to a well-intentioned comment or catastrophizing, well, everything.

I might start seeing sleep as less of a priority.

I might keep myself overly busy, needing to fill up every second of every day to avoid any “downtime.”

Thankfully, the scars are showing up less frequently these days, but I keep my toolbox handy. Just in case.

And most of the time, the tools work. I’m able to bring myself back to the present moment. I am able remember these responses are nothing more than “old programming,” the product of outdated neural pathways — destructive thoughts and behaviors I no longer need to survive.

A banner promoting The Mighty's new Recovery Warriors group on The Mighty mobile app. The banner reads, Recovery Warriors is a safe space for anyone who's in the process of mental or physical healing. Lean on others for support and celebrate your recovery milestones here. Click to join.

Yeah, most of the time, my tools work. But then there are days that feel more like today’s bad hair day. Days I try every trick in the book and still find myself unable to course correct. And that’s when the judgment kicks into high gear.

Come on Beth … get your shit together!

You know how to do this!

Don’t go and fuck it all up!

And the anxiety. Oh man, the anxiety.

Was this the beginning of the end?

Was I was relapsing?

Was I was a fraud?

Was my recovery only an illusion?

Was this past year all just too good to be true?

Maybe.

But maybe not.

If the scars on my heart weren’t all that different from the scars on my head, maybe my inability to keep them covered 24/7 didn’t necessarily signify the start of a downward spiral.

Maybe one bad day didn’t mean I was “getting worse.”

Maybe one bad day didn’t mean I was headed for relapse.

Maybe one bad day didn’t negate all of the progress I had made.

After all, the visibility of the scars on my head didn’t mean I had been reinjured, right? It didn’t mean the hemorrhaging in my brain had begun again. And it didn’t mean the scars were suddenly going to split open and start gushing blood!

Why would these rules not apply to all scars … emotional and physical?

Just as cursing the hair gods or getting angry at myself was not going to force my locks into submission, no amount of frustration or self-hatred was going to shut down the chaos in my mind.

Despite my best efforts, maybe some days were just going to be a little harder than others. Maybe this was just … life.

I am not going to be able to keep my scars under wraps every moment of every day. And trust me, when that happens, it’s not pretty. But maybe allowing the not-so-pretty parts of myself to be seen is an essential part of being fully alive, an essential part of being an authentic human.

Scars are a part of us. Whether we like it or not, they tell our story. We’re not perfect. And we’re not meant to be. We can only do the best we can with what we have, and then let the “hair” fall as it may.

But even when the wounds are visible, I have to believe that does not make us any less worthy or deserving of love. In fact, maybe we even need to love ourselves a little more on the “scarry” days.

If there is one thing about the healing process I’ve found to be true, it’s that unconditional self-love is a must. And unconditional self-love means loving all of our pieces and parts, even the “ugly” ones.

Some days, all the tugging, twisting, tousling and teasing won’t be able to hide the scars on my head.

And some days, all the positive self-talk, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) skills, cognitive reasoning and relaxation techniques won’t be able to hide the scars on my heart.

But maybe that’s OK.

Because now I know, that like any “bad hair day,” this too shall pass.

Unsplash image by Brooke Cagle