There are scars we carry from childhood. And they can be incredible sources of strength once we examine them and extract lessons. On my body, like so many people, are multiple physical scars, ranging from knee scabs to surgical incisions.
The ones I want to share today are cuts on me that can be seen only when you look for them–like palm readers and certain doctors do, or the occasional eagle eyed observer. They are raised, like mountains following the veins on my wrists. They are different in texture, shiny like rivers. They are a different color than the rest of my skin, pale even in Summer. And there are also other cuts, perpendicular to the veins, like white bridges.
“What are these?” they ask, pointing at the scars on my wrists. I pull my hands away. “Nothing,” I used to say, “they’re from long ago.” And now I say, “I used to be a cutter.” They are not nothing even if from long ago.
The scars remind me of the horrible way I processed pain. I grew up in a household in which vulnerability was not allowed. This guideline was made with the best of intentions–my parents are survivors of war, and anyone sitting on the side of the road crying or feeling sad during war or the even worse post-war period likely died. Like all parents, they projected their fears onto their children; they wanted us to first and foremost always always always survive.
When we cried, we were screamed at until we turned angry. When we said we were hurt, we were ridiculed until we turned indignant. Until we learned to channel our sadness and pain and hurt into anger.
Angry people apparently survive wars.
There is a point at which the anger is too great. It spills over. It turns inward. And because the anger at oneself is too much to bear–in my case, it turned into a great numbness.
I could no longer feel pain. I alternated between numbness and anger. Mostly, rage at myself. So I cut. I cut to feel pain, because there was no other way to create the space for pain. No one had taught me how to accommodate psychic pain–so I created a physical manifestation. I sliced and sliced with a surgical scalpel that I hid in my medicine cabinet, and the oddest thing is that I didn’t feel the physical pain. I saw the blood ooze from my wrists, and wondered whose wrists those were.
People saw the scars in high school, and did nothing. In those days, there was no discussion around cutting as there is today (and there is barely that, still).
The cutting escalated.
There are other scars on my body, too–but the cutting scars–they remind me that I ought to always make room for pain in my life. To let it run through me. To not fight it. Pain is necessary, and creating a space for the pain is crucial to health. And pain is a necessary part of building strength. I didn’t make space for processing psychic pain, and still, I craved it.
So the scars from my childhood, one of many, have taught me to make room for pain. To ride it. To be with it. To allow myself hurt and sadness. To be vulnerable. Because it’s human.
And here’s the odd thing: I can survive war, even with pain. True survival is keeping your humanity intact through war. To love and say you are not okay and you are in pain. To keep your heart open. That is real survival. That is strength. To recognize and embrace your pain.