“Take these so you don’t hurt yourself or your baby,” a nurse whispered to me the night of the birth of my first child.
I awoke from sleep, my daughter swaddled and sleeping in her bed next to mine, to hear the nurse’s words. I saw her eyes look pointedly at the scars on my arms. Exhausted and shocked, I quickly raised a trembling hand and accepted the antidepressants in the paper cup she gave me. I could feel the weight of those old scars that had been exposed all day while giving birth. It had never once occurred to me that they would cause someone to question the safety of my newborn. After she left, shame and fear were my companions in that darkened hospital room.
From my late teens to early twenties, I self-injured. It took a lot of time with an excellent therapist, medication, and determination to overcome it. Throughout the many years of my recovery, I have dismissed the younger version of myself that felt she needed to use this coping mechanism. I was completely divorced from her, viewing her as sick with nothing of value to offer my current self. I have lived a life where I felt ashamed of her.
However, as I get older and have had children of my own, I’ve begun a journey of self-discovery that involves maturity and compassion. Part of this journey has led me back to her. I have found her waiting, still a part of me, expecting to be rejected and not anticipating acceptance. I may not resonate anymore with the way she viewed and dealt with her world, but I admire her courage and tenacity.
She did the best that she could. She fought hard and ultimately prevailed.
By rejecting and judging her, I was enacting the same thing I fear from others against myself. I initially kept my scars hidden for fear of judgment, and as time passed I continued to keep them covered because I didn’t want to trigger others who might be struggling. Do I still cover them? Yes, and in the effort of being transparent, I admit this continues to be partially shame-based. I am, after all, human and a work in progress. But my bigger understanding now is that the visual and story of my scars belong to those, within the right context and setting, who have earned the right to hear and see them.
When I replay what happened the night of my daughter’s birth, I have so many different feelings and responses. Questions about what preceded the nurse’s comment. Acknowledgment that my experience is only part of the whole truth. Regret for not speaking with her supervisors about providing better education to staff and more compassionate care to the vulnerable and complicated souls entrusted to them. Desire to go back and stand up for myself in that hospital room.
What I have finally settled on is sitting on the edge of the hospital bed and taking the shaking hand of my younger, exhausted, new-mom self. On the other side of the bed sits an even younger version of us, our struggling, self-injuring self. I see the courage, strength, and vulnerability in each version and recognize that I would not be where I am and who I am without them. My hope is that by continuing to be conscious and accepting of them, of all the sides of their humanness, my shame will not survive.
When the time comes, I hope the answers I give my children about the truth of my scars are of mindful honesty and grace. And that through their experience of that conversation, they will begin to understand how to extend the same love, acceptance, and forgiveness to their own past and future selves.
You are worthy of love and grace, from others and yourself. You are enough, here and now. If you’re dealing with self-injury or self-harm, we encourage you to use TWLOHA’s FIND HELP Tool to locate professional help and to read more stories like this one here. If you reside outside of the US, please browse our growing International Resources database. You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to be connected for free, 24/7 to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor. If it’s encouragement or a listening ear that you need, email our team at email@example.com.