I have struggled with self-harm since I was in seventh grade, so for about eight years. And like most people who have struggled with self-injury, I have scars to show for it – many in visible places I cannot always hide in the summertime.
A few weeks ago, I was at work, frantically ringing up what seemed to be an unending line of customers until one stranger’s question about the scars on my wrist caused me to lose my concentration: “What happened to your arm?”
I was completely taken aback that a complete stranger felt it was okay to ask me about my body.
But it wasn’t a question I haven’t been asked before. Ever since the weather warmed up, I have been fending off similar questions from family, friends, and acquaintances:
“What are those scars from?”
“What happened to you?”
“What did you do to your wrist/shoulder/thigh/leg?”
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It’s hard enough for me in the warmer months to allow my scars to show. I’ve spent most of the summer feeling self-conscious and trying everything I can to hide my scars and make them less obvious, although most of the time this is impossible. This is because I want to avoid the awkwardness of the scar questions.
I know I will be asked the scar questions for the rest of my life, mainly because society seems to give others permission to comment on my body, when in reality, they have no right to do so. But that’s a conversation for another day.
Over the years, I have struggled with how to respond when someone asks the scar questions. And more recently, I’ve developed a system of dealing with them which seems to be effective.
Generally, when I’m asked about my scars in front of other adults or children, I am not willing to give an honest answer about the origin of my scars. When my judgement and experience with a person leads me to think they will not be able to comprehend and understand exactly what self-injury is, I will not give the truthful answer.
Sometimes I am prepared enough to have an excuse ready and waiting: “I got into an accident at work opening boxes.” “Oh, those? I fell into a rosebush riding my bike a few years back and got pretty beat up.” And then I move on to another topic.
Occasionally, though, the questioner will come up with one for me: “Did you get scratched by a cat? They can be vicious!” In those cases, I just nod my head in agreement because usually I’d prefer this interaction to be over with as soon as possible.
There are other times when I am not able to muster up an excuse for myself.
“Oh, it’s nothing.” And then I start talking about something else.
About 90 percent of the time, I either give some excuse or change the subject. Sometimes, though, I am able to give an honest answer about my scars. The honest answer is usually given when there are not many people around. The situation usually involves someone I’m close to, someone I think will understand, or someone I think might be helped by my sharing this part of my life.
My honest answer usually sounds something like this: My scars are self-inflicted because I struggle with self-harm.
I am not suicidal–I use self-injury as a way to cope with intense emotions and events. I know it is an unhealthy coping mechanism, but I am working with a therapist to reach full recovery. If you have any questions, don’t feel weird about asking. I want to help you understand if you want to understand.
Sometimes this type of honesty brings vulnerability from my companion. I’ve had several people confess their struggle with self-injury after I have shared mine.
A few years back, I had a camper who noticed my scars and approached me with concern because she had connected the scars to self-injury on her own. She later shared with me how she had been thinking about hurting herself and we were able to get her help.
Sometimes my honesty and vulnerability brings me encouragement, strength, and hope.
I was ringing up one of my co-workers when she asked me about my scars. I fumbled for an excuse and then she asked me flat-out “Are you a cutter?” She then shared with me her niece’s struggle with self-injury and reminded me that every person has their own scars and their own stuff they deal with and told me not to be ashamed or embarrassed by my scars. She said she was sorry that most people don’t understand the pain and struggle I go through but that she knew how strong I was.
Her words to me filled me with so much hope and strength.
It really is up to each individual person and where you are in your recovery as to if you want to share the truth regarding the origin of your scars.
I didn’t share a lot early on in my recovery. I also think it depends on if it is an appropriate time, person, and place to share. I obviously don’t tell my kids I babysit the truth, just “Sarah had an ouchy, but it’s all better now.”
Never feel pressured to reveal more than you are comfortable with, no matter who is asking.
Your body is your own and no one has the right to comment on it or make you feel degraded or inferior because you have scars. Share as much or as little as you want – whatever feels right to you.
Always remember: We are more than our scars.
We each are a whole person and we can never be defined by our struggles, our mistakes, our challenges, or our scars. We are so much more.
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