A few weeks ago, while I was home for spring break, my mother asked me to take her back to the plastic surgeon to get some of her stitches taken out. The week before, my mother had major surgery to remove cancerous skin cells on her nose. The surgeons had to take more skin from her nose than they’d originally anticipated, and my mother was told that she would probably have a large scar across her nose from where they’d had to place a skin graft over the exposed area.
After having most of the stitches removed, my mother and I stood in front of the elevator, and my mother started to cry. I asked her why she was crying.
“It looks bad. It looks really bad,” she said.
Scars, stretch marks, acne scars—they’re all seen as unattractive, but why? They are proof of life, proof of living. They are what make us human. They make us imperfect. They tell our stories.
For example, I have a huge scar on my right knee. When I was a kid, I got a brand new bike. So, while I was riding it up and down the street, I got the wheels caught in the divot between the grass and the sidewalk. I fell over and scraped my knee. No big deal.
A week later, I went out on a bike ride with my family. My mother’s bike needed new tires, so she rode my brand new bike, while I got to ride my old one that was way too small for me. The exact same thing happened—I got caught in the divot on the sidewalk and fell over. But this fall was a bit bloodier.
I was pinned under the bike. My knee was scraped much worse than it was the week before. My elbow and thumb were scraped too, and I had a bruise across my thigh where the bike handle had fallen. Being the 12-year-old wimp I was, I couldn’t stop sobbing. It seemed like a lot of blood at the time.
I just kept screaming, “I’m gonna die! I’m losing too much blood!”
I was yelling so loudly that people were pulling off the side of the road to see if I needed help. Then, probably out of embarrassment, my father pulled up my bike, put me back on it, and made me ride home. It’s a funny story that, I think, tells a lot about my character. For instance, I’m not as big a wimp anymore.
But some scars aren’t from accidental falls.
(Self-harm trigger warning.)
Scars that are products of self-harm are different. Self-harm is a serious issue and goes far beyond the physical scars it leaves. If you or someone you know is currently self-harming or at risk of self-harming, it is important to get help. Self-harming is not a healthy way of coping and other available resources—like counselors, therapists, or other mental health professionals—can suggest other coping methods and help in stopping self-harm tendencies.
There are resources available at the Self-Injury Outreach and Support website. You can also call the self-injury hotline at 1-800-DONT-CUT, or the suicide hotline at 1-800-SUICIDE, if you or someone you know is at risk.
That being said, it is possible to transcend self-harm urges, and find new and healthier ways to cope with stressors. But new coping strategies don’t erase the scars. It takes an incredibly strong person to overcome self-harm and other self-injurious habits.
So, those who have scars from self-harm should embrace their scars, too. This does not mean that self-harm should be glorified in any way. It means that the progress one has made should be glorified. While some may feel shame for using self-harm as a coping strategy, there is pride in overcoming those urges and learning how to cope healthily.
We all have a past. We all can be proud of the progress we’ve made.
Whether you have scarred knees from a bad tumble from a bike, a scar where the stitches on your nose were, or a scar from self-harm, you have a story. That story might be funny or devastating. That story might be the one you share with others or keep to yourself.
Whatever kind of story it is, embrace it. Your scars don’t have to be shameful. They don’t have to be reminders of the past. They can be reminders of where you are now, how much you have grown as a person.
Again, I do not condone self-harm or self-injury. I condone progress and the strength it takes to reach out for help. If you or someone you know is struggling, please seek help from either the resources above or another counseling service.