Every decision we take throughout life leaves its marker somewhere. No matter how old we get, life is a continuing learning process where we can adjust, make changes and do it differently next time! For many people I am sure there are numerous instances of doing it differently next time, working on patterns of thinking, emotional regulation, reactions and responses; learning about self, what you and the world around you is all about.
We hear about people reinventing themselves, starting afresh and moving on, taking that opportunity to leave bits of their past behind them when of course the emotional markers are still there, but they can be edited for public consumption. The markers of mine that are etched into my skin will always be there, raw and in your face.
My personal history has shaped me, however the physical scars don’t define me. They are records of maladaptive coping mechanisms left long in the past, not my present and not my future, however people don’t know my story so they create their own, bringing that into my present and potentially effecting my future. They become ever present, indelible and inviting people fill in the blanks using their own frame of reference. That is the part that I struggle with.
I feel proud of everything I have overcome, the person I am and my desires for the future. Self-harm served it’s purpose at the time and without which I probably wouldn’t be here to write this today. I am grateful that I made it through and feel proud that I did, but I am not proud of how I got through those times. Looking back on them I feel sad that I was not afforded the opportunities to learn to cope differently, I feel angry that life circumstances beyond my control as a child led me down the road that they did; the physical scars are a sore reminder of those things.
The motivational quotes, self-help pages and even some of the words you might hear in therapy about self-harm recovery being a demonstration of humanity, survival, of strength or resilience do have their place and are not completely irrelevant, however in my case it was a last resort as I did not have the resilience to manage my feelings in any other way. For me that’s not glamorous, edgy or something to wear with pride – it’s something which even now still attaches some shame.
That shame is huge!
Having made a really great start on the cover ups I want to talk about it, I want to show people .. I showed somebody for the first time and I felt so vulnerable and exposed. All those thoughts around being judged for the scarring and me being forgotten about sprang up with such force. I could feel my heart pounding and temperature begin to rise, like her eyes were fixated on the bits of scarring still visible. This had no real merit attached to it except merely what I felt to be true triggered by the shame .. she knows me very well and undoubtedly values me as a whole person, yet the vulnerable kid part of me wanted to cast obliviate and never see her again just to make extra sure!
I wonder what it will be like to be able to reach across, up or toward something without needing to keep hold of my shirt in case it creeps up just enough to expose my wrists? To have the choice to go swimming or to wear a short sleeved top without the fear of exposure? .. These things don’t matter day to day. I don’t care if the person in the petrol station, the older lady who asked me to reach something off the top shelf in the supermarket or even a stranger in a changing room sees the odd scar. It doesn’t impact me or my life as the judgments of inconsequential persons have no baring on my life nor sense of worth.
When it can negatively impact (and much wider so than just my feelings) are those times at work, delivering a presentation, in a meeting, clearing up a display or the team building ‘fun’ days. Should somebody notice then hopefully they will realize that they are old and the thing that will have the most impact on people’s impression of me is how I operate now… good at what I do, a cheerful and pleasant person, emotionally stable and professional in the workplace. With those things considered then the scars will quickly fade into the background of people’s minds however they will still be there where they may creep up and potentially influence their thinking in the future.
Tattoos come with their own stigmas in some circles, however this is a choice that I am making as an autonomous adult. A choice that I have made so that I can go swimming, wear a short sleeved top, get on with everyday life around colleagues, friends and family without connotations associated with old scars worming their way through people’s minds.
Who am I doing this for?
Some questions that have come out of this blog have been around how it sounds like i’m going to such lengths, expense and pain to cover up the scarring with tattoos for the benefit of others. That in assuming others will judge me negativity / undesirably for the scars, I am tarring others with the same judgement stick that I don’t want to be hit with. shame shame shame
Everyone’s experiences are different and I am sure that there are instances where historic self-harm has not hampered people’s relationships or career. My experience is that they have. I am doing this for me; to make myself feel good, like myself more, improve self-esteem and confidence. Those things are not reliant on what anybody else thinks of me, they are reliant on what I think of myself. Of course a part of me cares what others think, we are social beings and come with the desire to fit in, be respected, valued, appreciated for our true selves…I feel free to be myself having accepted that the right path for me is to change the thing I have struggled to accept.
What do I think when I see somebody else with obviously self-inflicted scars?
Do I look .. of course I do! Perhaps even more so than your average Joe as it triggers my own insecurities that I have about myself. I wonder what has happened to them, I feel sad for them that they have experienced something so painful, I hope they are okay now, that they are safe and healthy. I hope that they are loved and that they know they are loved. Sometimes I mentally compare to my own scars, sometimes I wonder how they still have functionality in that limb, sometimes I think to myself that I wish mine were like theirs…because some things always feel more acceptable when they’re about someone else other than yourself right!?