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For many of us, trauma can look like many things, and so can our responses.
I picked this particular topic to discuss because it addresses the more physical aspects of trauma and psychological pain.
There have been many years of my life when I never left the house without a long sleeved shirt or sweater. I always felt like I would be misjudged based on my noticeable self-mutilation scars. The truth is that there is an awful stigma surrounding mental illness and surrounding “cutting.”
What’s worse than surviving something awful, only to spend a lifetime being unfairly judged?
Not everyone knows or understands what we’ve been through and the things we’ve seen— it feels like they’re only paying attention to the blatantly obvious.
People also assume that we “did it for attention.”
There’s also no simple way to discuss our self-mutilation scars without divulging info that we’re not comfortable openly speaking about. I’m writing this article because we do need to talk about it. None of us should have to spend our lives living in shame and guilt. Think of it this way; how are we supposed to recognize a healthy coping mechanism in response to a traumatic occurrence that we never asked for? How do we answer a question that should never have been asked?
We never asked to be traumatized, yet we’re supposed to know how to magically cope.
I specifically remember why I self-mutilated when I did. I recall feeling the pain was bigger than me; it was making me explode inside, and the cutting felt like I was letting the pressure out. I was only a teenager through the worst periods of my self-mutilation and wasn’t old enough to know how to manage or cope with such intense emotions. As an adult, I’d be lying if I said that any of it makes sense to me now, either. Being judged from the outside feels cruel and unfair because we see reminders where they see scars.
This issue is delicate, and I don’t think it’s right for someone that hasn’t been through it to try and make sense of it. I have a lot of tattoos now because a common response to coping with self-harm scars is to try to “cover them up.”
I never tried to necessarily cover mine up. I just wanted to see something beautiful where something ugly once was. The funny thing is that the scars are still raised and visible. The trick I’ve discovered isn’t hiding them because that has never made me feel better. For me (maybe not everyone), I realize that one of the main reasons I was a cutter was because I felt so alone, like the loneliest person in the world.
Because of the stigma placed on mental illness, the commonality of cutting is suppressed. There are many people out there who are just like us. I’m 38 years old now, and the amount of cutters out there has significantly multiplied since I was a teen. The thought of so many people (especially younger people) going through whatever has made them cutters became unbearable. That realization is what drove me to stop wearing sweaters in the summer.
We are not only survivors, but through our scars, we offer those of us going through what we did the chance that we never had. We can let those who are self-harming know that they are not alone. We are actors, poets, artists, lawyers, engineers, entrepreneurs, doctors, and everything in-between.
Our scars can only hold us back if we let them; our scars do not define us.
People have no idea how much power is in the word “survivor.” The problem is not with us; it’s with those who condemn us and judge us unfairly.
Now when I go out in public wearing a short sleeve shirt and someone stares, I no longer feel a sense of shame or guilt. These scars are battle scars, reflections of everything that I never let destroy me. For every criticism, there is someone who sees your scars, and they know that you, too, have suffered. They know that they are not completely alone in this world anymore. The act of saving a life may be as simple as merely existing.