“I am not my self harm”

Scars are funny things.

I should know; I’ve managed to amass a collection of them well into the double-digits, scattered all over my body. Some are a natural consequence of being alive: I have a really gnarly one on my knee from a dugout misadventure back when I played softball, for instance. But the vast majority of them were put there, by me, deliberately. I chose to come out about it because I know other people–a lot of people–are struggling with it too, and because I’m achingly tired of lying by omission. (Concern and laziness are two of my hallmark qualities.)

Even after two years of recovery, talking about my own experience with self-harm isn’t an easy thing to do. Telling people that you used to burn holes into your skin (but you’re better now) generally doesn’t illicit the same chorus of hurrahs that beating other illnesses does. It usually just makes people uncomfortable, and perhaps a little bit edgy when they talk to you, like they’re handling an ugly Faberge egg. After all, you can’t re-break a person’s leg if you say something mean to them, but you could possibly make them relapse. What do you do when handed that information? It’s like being told of a tornado that touched down years ago in the area, but most of the damage is repaired. What do you do in that situation? What do you say about the natural disasters that befell me in excess, now that the sky’s clear?

So, I do understand. I understand why most people didn’t say anything when they saw them, too, although I do have a great deal of fondness for the handful of people who did know and did their best to get me healthy. Nobody asks, because asking invites confirmation of the worst-case scenario. Not verbally, anyway. But I saw it in every concerned glance that was thrown at me, and every touch that was done with exacting gentleness, as if grabbing too hard would make them re-open. Yes, they’re what you thought they were. Yes, I stopped. Yes, for the most part, I’m okay now.

Which leads me back to scars. For a long time, I was ashamed of them. After all, it’s not like they’re really ambiguous; a collection of long white marks all over your forearms like mine does not leave a lot of room for interpretation. Then, after a while, I began to accept them. They became another part of me, like my shock of white hair and my droopy eyes (which I have been staring at for about twenty minutes now, and my god, they look weird). Gradually, they began to lose their status as shorthand for my own abusive relationship with myself, and became a symbol for my ability to heal. Healing is, after all, something unique to living things, and no matter how badly I trashed myself, I would see, weeks later, that it had healed. My own mental wiring notwithstanding, my body seemed perfectly fine with knitting itself back together, and waiting for my thoughts to catch up. Which they eventually did.

I spent a good deal of time waffling over what I was going to write on myself. “I am not my burning,” was considered, but it was ultimately voted down because of my aversion to gerunds. “I am not my self-harm” is true, and, to my eye, more to the point. My self-harm was a long episode in my life, but it composes only a small part of me. I am still someone who loves my friends, loves dogs, gets annoyed by the NPR pledge drive commercials, and (I like to think) is a pretty snappy dresser. My injuries and recovery are one part of me, but they do not mitigate the wholeness of my identity. They’re another part of it.
Everybody has scars. Some of them are there by accident, some were put there by other people, and some of them we put there ourselves. It’s impossible to change the circumstances of how you got them, but you have the power to define what they mean to you. And in my darker moments, mine serve as a gentle reminder not that I suffered, but that I survived, and that I can survive this, too.