This piece discusses the topic of self-injury.
I honestly can’t tell you the last time I engaged in physical self-harming, but I can certainly tell you the last time I thought about it: this morning. I woke up and got dressed the same way I do nearly every day. Only today, the scars that line my left arm seemed to demand my attention as I slipped on my favorite shirt. As I stared at myself in the mirror, I felt a familiar sense of shame as powerful as when I was still at the height of battling self-harm. The same shame that drove the cycle of self-hatred that I thought could only be remedied by continuing to hurt.
The thing is, my scars—what should be a sign of healing, perseverance, and survival—can be the most triggering thing. They can bring up feelings and memories I thought I’d long moved past. Even when our physical, self-inflicted injuries heal, there are often scars: heavy reminders of where we’ve been, what we did, while simultaneously symbolizing the battles we’ve won and the destructive habits we’ve beat. Scars. What a paradoxical concept for those of us who battle self-harm. There is a constant conflict between the shame and the pride that my scars carry. Do I wear them bravely as a testament to my healing? To show others who struggle that it is possible to stop? Do I hide them for fear of judgment? For fear of triggering another survivor?
I think I got my answer to those questions this past summer when I worked as a camp counselor in Scottsville, Kentucky. With my scars on display, I entered a cabin with my 12 eight-year-old campers to get ready for bed. The precious, inquisitive child who slept in the bed beside mine cautiously approached me with a question in her eyes. She whispered, “Are you a zebra, too?”
Confused, I remained quiet. Then I saw her gaze travel down my scarred arm and back up to my face before saying, “My big sister is a zebra just like you, and Mommy says that the zebra stripes are a special sign that makes them big and strong.” She smiled at me and scampered away to brush her teeth without another thought. It was then that I knew living with scars would be far more of a blessing in my life than the curse I thought it to be.
I’ve come to learn that I can experience similar thoughts and feelings as to when I was actively battling my addiction without it taking away from my healing. I have not moved backward. And even if I did end up taking a step back, relapsing, needing more support than I did the day before, I find comfort in knowing that progress is not linear. It’s not realistic or healthy to have the mindset that every day is supposed to be better than the next.
Every day you wake up is a win. Every hard night you make it through attests to your strength. You don’t have to feel strong to be strong, and you don’t have to be moving forward to be healing. It’s okay to stand still for a moment, to breathe and reflect on where you’ve been and how much road is behind you now. The road ahead can be an overwhelming concept—I know it was and still is for me.
On the days where I am ashamed of my scars or scared that perhaps today is the day they’ll reopen, I try to remember how big and strong I am in the eyes of that little girl. It is my hope and prayer that we all come to view ourselves that way one day. Sometimes we all need someone in our lives to believe in us, to speak the truth when we don’t know how to do it ourselves.
Until then, I’d like to leave you with some truth: You are here, and because you are here, you are strong.
If you or someone you know is struggling with self-harm, there is help. You are not alone.
Thank you for sharing
Thank you so much for sharing this. My scars hold so much shame/embarrassment but also so much understanding for others who bare them. I feel so much comfort in this story. I can only imagine how overwhelming and safe it felt to have that type of validation from someone so young and vulnerable. The love in her statement just blows me away. Sending you so much love and confidence. Self harm does not define you, my dear. From one scarred person to another. ❤️
I’m just over one year clean. And I still struggle when with being prideful and yet ashamed of my many scars. I was struggling today until I read this. I know now I can be strong and still be struggling. Thank you.
This is well written and conveys such beautiful truth. Thank you for your courageous vulnerability, Adanna Brown.
This is so wonderfully written. Thank you for sharing your story! The sweet little one asking if you were a zebra is just precious. Such innocence!
Thank you for this. I’ve been battling with my scars since I began to self harm. In the midst of my darkest times I wanted my scars to be so visible but when I started to step away I desperately wanted them to disappear. Thank you for showing me I am not alone in this and reminding me I have value.
thanks for sharing this. ive been dealing with self harm for a little over 1 year by now. it sucks, and its hard not to leave my moms room (im 16, im a girl, i sleep in my moms room with her) in the middle of the night and go cut myself. for me whether its skipping meals or cutting myself its so hard to resist doing it. my scars bring me so much shame and pain but also so much power and wanting to do it again. idk how to stop.
this story was absoulty amazing. i feel the exact way you feel. i cover up my scars with makeup because i dont want to be judged for the battles i have fought. i used to be ashamed for the battles i fought. i really needed this story so thank you for sharing it with the world. it means a lot to me.
i can not thank you enough
pray i overcome
This was beautiful. Though my scars are not from self harm, I feel torn by them the same. Triggered by memories of terrible accidents or drunken mistakes, but also proud to be a survivor.
As I write my own story, I have read others’ to gather strength and remind myself that we all have scars. Thank you for sharing yours and for being a beacon along the path I walk today.
Thanks for this – Surviving self harm doesn’t mean that it doesn’t still affect us.
“ I honestly can’t tell you the last time I engaged in physical self-harming, but I can certainly tell you the last time I thought about it: this morning.”
I hope we can all be zebras. I know that’s how I’ll be identifying from now on 🙂
I’ve been engaging in self harm one way or another for over a decade. I struggle with recovery because it’s so shrouded in my shame and the shoulds and shouldn’ts I’m plagued with (you’re too old for this, you shouldn’t feel this way; you shouldn’t talk about; you should stop) and I have the same conflicting feelings about my scars
I always appreciate anyone who can be open about self mutilation, and I really relate to this. Thank you for sharing, truly.
Thank u , when feeling embarrassed about my scars I really needed this . Made me cry 🧡❤️
I every time emailed this website post page to all my friends, for the
reason that if like to read it then my friends will too.
I’m 22 and I’ve struggled with self harm. Since my teenage year’s. I wouldn’t say I ever excepted, my scars. But they are part of me. Although they are, a painful reminder of my past, I know they are sign that I still have time. Life has
more wating for me. I’m still alive. I am still here. I’m not finshed yet. Thank you for your, beautiful story.
I wish I could learn to not be ashamed of my scars. Mine r on my forearms mostly and are flat and white, hypopigmentation which really cannot be removed, only somewhat covered up. Mine are from skin picking caused by anxiety. Summer sucks for me, I am so ashamed of my body. People can be very cruel, the worst so far for me was when I had to go get a medical test done and I overheard the tech (a guy) tell another tech how “nasty” my arms were. Wow. Made me feel great, I tell you! I wanted to crawl home and die. I just don’t know how I will overcome this. I just wish I wasn’t so horribly ugly and gross. (that’s how I feel I mean) Thank you for sharing your story though, it does help to know I’m not alone in this!
We are incredibly sorry that you were met with misunderstanding and hurtful words while getting a medical test done. You deserve to feel comfortable in your body. Please know that we see you and you, as you are, are welcome here. Always. Also, please remember that you are not alone in what you are feeling and experiencing.