Some people marked the milestones of their childhood by their "scars" – those bumps and bruises they got from all sorts of kid firsts, like that first fall on the playground, that first wipeout on a new bike, or that first tumble on the little league field. I marked my childhood by scars of a different kind: surgical ones.
I was born with , a genetic bone and muscular disorder typically affecting the hands, feet, and knees. Back in 1981, it took a couple weeks for doctors to come to a diagnosis, and I had my first surgery – to release joint contractures in both my feet – at just 10 weeks old.
By the time I turned 15, I'd amassed quite a collection of those surgical scars. There were the scars on both my hips after spending months in a body cast. There were the scars on my hands and ankles from joint releases. There were the scars up and down my leg after I had my knee fused. There were even tiny, faint scars, from a central line, a and a little line on my right wrist from the time doctors couldn't find a vein and had to cut deep into my skin.
Then there was the scar from my spinal fusion and brain surgery. The longest scar of all, it ran in one continuous line from my neck down to the base of my back like the Nile River cutting a line through the desert.
When you're a kid, you don't think much about scars, surgical or not. I certainly never did. They were just small things on my skin that, in my child-like mind, had always been there. But then, as I hit my teen years, I felt the gap widen between me and my able-bodied peers. It was the first time in my life that I truly felt "different," and even in my early 20s, those feelings hadn't subsided. I'd see other young women with smooth, scar-free hands, legs – everything! – and I'd wonder what that type of life would be like. To me, they resembled porcelain figurines while I was beginning to feel like Frankenstein all haphazardly patched together.
Seeing a part of yourself as ugly on the outside makes it all too easy to turn those feelings inward. It's almost an unconscious leap, and before you know it, that voice you hear in your head? You don't even recognize it anymore. Pretty soon, I'd come to equate those scars with ugliness and a self-conscious reminder of what made me different from everyone else. And when you're young and trying to find your way, any feelings of being different is akin to wearing the Scarlett Letter around your neck. My scars were my Scarlet Letter.
How could I escape them? Maybe if I try hard enough, I reasoned, I can muster all my strength and will them away. I didn't want them to matter, but deep down, my insecurities told me they did.
As I got older, I soon found my voice as a writer — but being a writer and blogger didn't exactly put me on the perfect path to avoiding my feelings. I'd always prided myself on writing honestly and sharing a part of myself with readers. But how could I, when I was denying such a part of "me"?
Maybe it was time to take my own advice when it came to my scars.
I slowly started to take off those glasses through which I'd viewed myself for so long. For the first time, I began to see — really see — myself for who I was, not what I was. I could look in the mirror and see myself under all those scars. It was quite a powerful and empowering moment.
In the end, maybe it was really about admitting one truth to myself: I needed to accept myself before anyone else ever could. In a sense, I knew I needed to get to know myself and become fully comfortable with that person.
We all have scars, even if you can't visibly see them. Why are we so afraid of them? Is it because they can expose the most vulnerable parts of ourselves, the parts we're afraid to let anyone else see? Do we not want to seem "weak"? But those scars are a part of us, aren't they? They help make up the puzzle of who we are and who we become. And if we can't embrace them, how can we ever expect others to?
Where I once viewed my many scars as something to be ashamed of and hide at all costs, I now see them as a patchwork. They tell the stories of my life, the milestones that have helped shape me into the person I am today – a 34-year-old woman whose scars aren't the first thing she sees when she looks in the mirror. I see me. And for the first time, it's a beautiful feeling.