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When My Scars Are Just Too Much

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I’m intimately familiar with the concept of regret. I regret the things I’ve done, the things I haven’t, the time I’ve wasted and the opportunities that slipped through my fingers when I was too afraid to seize them. Regret takes form in unsent letters, in unspoken words, in broken bonds, in bad habits.

I was incredibly unkind to myself in my youth — that’s what I tell people, anyway, when they’re brave enough to ask about the scars on my body. “Unkind” is quite a mild term, I think. When you hurt yourself for over a decade, it shifts your world view. Your baseline for self-kindness becomes skewed. And even when you spend years rebuilding yourself, stitching together all the holes you’ve torn in your own soul like a patchwork quilt of bandaids and affirmations, you’re never quite the same as you once were.

I am, according to many people, “surprisingly well-adjusted, all things considered.” And I give credit where it’s due; I’ve kicked my self-injurious habits, and I’ve changed and grown as a person. I’ve matured. I generally like myself. I sometimes even love myself, as hard as that may be to wrap my head around. I’m learning to stand up for the things I believe in and root myself deep in supportive relationships and hard work.

No matter how much growing I’ve done, though, there are still days when I can’t stand myself. No matter how strong the thread is with which I’ve stitched myself back together, there are still days when I come close to breaking apart at the seams. There are still days when the regret is unbearable. There are still days when I have to face that horrible echo of what. What if. What when.

What will I wear to the lake this summer? What will I do if I get a sunburn and all my faded, softened scars turn bright red again for months?

What will I say when my nephews ask me why I have tabby-cat skin? What demons my tattoo tells me to fight off? How the hell am I supposed to explain depression to a 6-year-old?

What will I do if those angry, ugly feelings come crawling back up again?

I don’t have answers for these what if, what when thoughts that plague me at my weakest. I think the not knowing is probably the worst part.

Mostly, I can accept myself. Once you hit a certain point you don’t really have much of a choice on that front. I have scars, and I put them there, and I have to live with that. They’re a reminder of where I came from and that I don’t have to go back to that place again.

But, oh, if only I had been kinder to myself. Maybe I wouldn’t have all of these awful marks, these deep, white scars on my body that time will never be able to get rid of. They may be healed now, but they will never fade, and that is something that hurts on a deep, emotional level that physical pain can’t even come close to touching.

The scars on my body are made of regret. They are made of shame, of ugly things, of that feeling of never being able to wear a tank top without feeling self-conscious. They are made of the sideways looks from strangers at the store, the immediate flood of panic when I’m around my fiance’s family in a bathing suit, the what if what when. It takes form in excuses and tugged-down shirt sleeves. It’s vulnerability, or being exposed, or all the awful feelings that make up things like half-hearted smiles and broken bones and black holes and I’m fine. 

The scars on my body are bottomless. They sink beneath my skin for miles into a deep and inky blackness that wrenches sobs from my chest, the sounds of a woman breaking into girl-sized pieces and shattering on the floor like glass.

It’s days like today, when these feelings arise, that it’s hard to remember that it’s going to be OK. That I am not my skin. That those broken little pieces of me have to be treated kindly and with care, lest I cut my hands open as I pick them up.

It’s difficult to accept that it’s not a failure to be sad. It’s not a failure to be depressed. It’s not a failure to have regrets. No matter how much time passes, I’m sure that there will always be days every now and then when I can’t bear to look at myself, when I grip white-knuckled hands to my tabby-cat thighs and scream and curse my younger self for being so very careless with the only body I have. When what if, what when gnaws at me, spits me out, picks its teeth, and comes back for more.

It’s important on these days to remember that it’s OK to not have all the answers. It’s OK to ask for help. It’s OK to take it slow when you’re rebuilding yourself, filling in all the cracks in your skin so that it doesn’t break again. It takes time to properly mend broken things.

I remember when I was younger, when I was lost, when I was alone and aching and hurting myself, I would become angry when people would tell me that things would improve. “I know things will get better with time,” I would say, “but I don’t want them to be better in the future. I want things better now. Because I’m stuck here right now, and now sucks.”

As hard as it is for anyone reading this in the moment, please believe me when I say I understand that feeling. I lived in that feeling for most of my life. It was like slow-motion drowning in lukewarm molasses. But please believe me when I also say that it does get better. It doesn’t have to take years. It just takes work. It takes courage, and it’s hard, and it isn’t easy. It’s difficult to pick fights with the voices that tell you to hurt yourself. In every war, you’re bound to lose a few battles. The hardest thing you’ll ever have to do is forgive yourself when you do. Try to remember to be kind to yourself; you deserve to exist, to live, to love, to thrive.

Scars are made of regret. Better is made of little victories. I believe in you; keep fighting.

Getty image by Boyloso.

Originally published: July 19, 2019
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