* Discusses self-harm and scars – read with caution *
At the time of writing this I am two weeks self-harm free. It may not sound a lot, but with how things have been lately it’s a massive achievement for me. Not only have I survived two weeks since the end of my CBT course, which was a traumatic loss for me, but I’ve also not harmed myself since late that night, before I called the Samaritans.
The urge to do so has lessened, but it’s an odd experience to be triggered by your own scars. I’ve written before about how I feel about my scars, and the strange, complicated relationship I have with them. A part of me hates them and wishes they didn’t exist. Another part of me doesn’t want them to fade and is fascinated with them.
People who don’t self-harm would think it’s crazy that we could ever like our scars. But it’s an odd sort of ‘like’… it’s detesting them, yet being afraid of losing them. Not that you ever lose a scar, they just fade… they’re always there, just not as visible.
I want to talk about my scars, because it’s troubling me a little bit at the moment. I’ve just been through a period of my life where I have harmed myself quite a bit, and quite badly at times. Whilst I was in that zone I wasn’t bothered by the wounds and scars. In fact I wanted more of them. I’d always be eyeing up the next space to add another. I’ve always tried to keep my harming to a small area that can be covered with a plaster, but unfortunately over the last couple of months I broke out of this zone, and once I did that I no longer cared about containing it.
Certain emotions set me off and I couldn’t stop doing it. I honestly didn’t care about scars – I didn’t even think that far ahead. And after a wound had healed, I would crave a new one. It sounds insane when I think of it, but when you’re in the state of mind I was in, that need is overpowering. Pair with that the fragile emotional state I was in too – I was controlled by my self-harm.
Whilst I have a long way to go to recover, and I’m still battling some very deep, intense and distressing emotions, I feel more in control in this moment. Don’t get me wrong – some nights I’m up until the early hours of the morning, crying my heart out in desperation, and my urge is to end that emotion the only way I know how. But so far this fortnight I’ve managed to resist it.
It’s only now I’m away from what was causing me distress that I am clearly seeing my arm and the damage I caused. I see line after line of almost parallel scars, like rungs of a ladder, as though they’re symbolic of the desperation to climb out of the pit of despair I found myself in. And even from saying that you can see I see them poetically. But at the same time I hate to see them. I hate that I have them and will now have to hide them for months until they fade. I’m disgusted by them. I’m ashamed. Some of them I remember the event that led to them.
Out of all the scars, I can still pick out which one started it off – I can see the one I did at therapy. I can see the second one I did at therapy. I can see the one I did after a bad session and interaction with the therapist I was transferring on. I can see the one I did once the course ended. Those stand out in my mind. The rest have blurred together. But I recognise some of my scars for the events, and in that way it’s a painful reminder of things I’d probably be better to forget.
Oddly enough the worst and biggest scar I have came from after that bad interaction with the therapist, and I went home and harmed – but I ended up going to the hospital to have it treated, and they used steri-strips and glue, to minimise scarring… the one and only time I’ve had a wound glued and it’s turned out quite a bad scar. It’s peculiar because it healed so well to begin with. It was closed well, a small line and suddenly it started growing bigger, it’s itchy even all these weeks later, and red around the edges, and it’s bumpy. This is where the fascination comes in. I feel my scars, especially if they’re raised ones… and the feeling’s the same – it’s a slight interest, but mainly disgust and it freaks me out.
But the thing with scars, is although they’re reminders of bad times, they are also reminders of hard times I survived. They also have memories attached to them of self-care and love. For instance, the one that started this slippery slope of self-harm has memories attached to it, of being found by one of the therapists, and her treating it for me…. having the hospital look after it…. me looking after it. In fact because I damaged the tendon, it has memories of that and the fact I didn’t self-harm for three or four weeks after that, as I was looking after myself. It was only once I’d really begun healing from that, that I started chasing the feeling again… wanting to recreate it – for very complex reasons, which I will cover in a future post.
So there’s actually a lot of emotions connected with our scars. They’re not just a physical sign on our bodies. They’re an emotional experience forever etched in physical form. And at least for a little while, we can call to mind that experience and the emotions we felt, just from seeing that one scar. I find it takes about as long as it takes for a scar to fade, for the emotional memory to fade with it.
So whilst at the time self-harm feels like a good choice – actually, at the time it feels like the only option if I’m honest – all it does is keep the bad experience around longer. It might bring the emotional intensity down in that moment, but every single time we look at our scars we will be reminded of what made us cut in the first place… and in that way we give the situation or person more power than they are worth.
One day I will forget this period of my life. I will look at my arm and these scars will be white. I won’t recall what happened to cause each particular scar. The emotions attached to my scars will weaken, and I will be in a different place, fighting different battles.
But right now I’m in recovery. All I have are my scars, my memories, my emotions and my strength and determination to beat this addiction. I’ve done it before, I can do it again, and although I will likely never stop entirely, I can have control over my urges to harm, instead of them controlling me.
I may feel guilty, ashamed and repulsed by the sight of my arm, but at the same time I have to love and accept myself, scars included. They are not the sum total of me, but they are a part of me, and I have to learn to like and love every part of me, in order to recover. This will be my aim in the coming months.