Note: This piece talks about self-injury in detail. Please use your discretion.
I hate the beach. It seems almost sacrilegious to say out loud, let alone type, but it’s the truth. I’m well aware that it is a happy place for a large percentage of our population; I have just never understood the enthusiasm behind it. I’ve heard all the reasons before, all the explanations of its relaxing effects and calming vibes. I even live in Florida, the sandy beaches a mere hour’s drive away from my home.
I have my preset excuses for when I am asked why, and they’re not wrong. The sand gets absolutely everywhere, you always get sunburned, and you somehow manage to end up both exhausted and hungry. Yet, it would be lying to say that there’s not another more honest, home-hitting reason I tend to stay away from the ocean. Or really any pool or body of water for that matter.
Silvery lines crisscross my upper legs, a rugged map of ridges and shiny scar tissue, winding their way across my skin. It’s a convoluted, complicated layout, and it reaches all the way to my heart, wrapping around and squeezing when the moments arise. Moments such as birthday celebrations on the beach and family vacations at seaside condos.
I guess that’s the price to pay for memorializing and showcasing your pain. Maybe if I had been able to explain this concept to my younger self I would have put down the sharp object. But then again, maybe not. It’s hard to tell with these sorts of things.
Regardless of my regrets and lost opportunities, bikini bottoms are something I avoid, rolled deep into the back of my drawers so I don’t accidentally brush up against them in my search for a cute top. I don’t want the stares, the unwanted questions I would receive if I decided to show people a glimpse into the minefield that is my mind.
I know I’m supposed to be courageous about it. They’re zebra stripes. Battle scars. Tiger marks. I’m supposed to think they’re beautiful, embrace the pain I went through, and show them off as proof I survived. I’m supposed to be unashamed of the way they make my skin look, completely at ease with the way I carry them.
People don’t like looking at them, but if they must, they want an inspirational story to go along with it. They want smiles and bravery. They want me to speak in the past tense, to look at my legs with a sort of wistful pride at how far I’ve come. If I must show them off, I need to do it with a certain type of confidence. A confidence I don’t think I have.
The topic of self-harm in and of itself is such a taboo thing. We skirt around it, dancing away from saying the words like the mere mention of it will taint our conversation. And even when we do talk about it, we talk about the fallout. We talk about the recovery, the way the scars look when they’ve been healed for a while.
It makes me so tired. I wish I was able to fit into that mold. I wish I was able to look at my legs and smile with a self-assuredness that I truly do feel in my heart. But I don’t.
I still struggle with self-harm. I can’t look at my scars as relics. The map that spans my things is still growing, slowly, yet still stretching outwards. I haven’t moved past it. It’s not in my past. It’s something I wrestle with, day in and day out. I wake up to it and I fall asleep to it. I hide from it. It seeps into every aspect of my life and I have to wake up in the morning with the knowledge that I will never escape what I have done. It’s permanently etched into my skin.
It’s an ugly mess of pain and anger and confusion that I sometimes can’t remember how to get out of any other way. But my struggle does not make me any less deserving of visibility and smiles and bravery. Even if I don’t feel like any of those things.
I can still celebrate the survival. I can take each new scar and each new stumble as an opportunity to remind myself that I’m still here and breathing. Each fall is a reminder that the ground isn’t as scary as I thought it was.
I still won’t wear bikini bottoms. I’m not quite ready to share that part of me with the world. But if I am, I know that it won’t matter what stage of my journey I am at. I don’t have to be proud of something to be able to accept it. And I don’t have to be OK to exist loudly.
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 protected].
I am thankful for these words, for putting language to my own complicated feelings about my scars. It made me feel less alone for a moment
I have mine too. And I hate others seeing them. It puts me on the spot any time some does. I feel called out; a pariah, like people are standing with their fingers pointed at me yelling “Outcast! Unclean!” My stripes show everyone who sees how weak I am. And I hate it…
I wish I were brave enough to share things like this with my 58 yo daughter. Oh she didn’t self-injure but she was expected to die from meth use about 2 years ago a fault of me not seeing what my X was doing to her when she was a child. She’s not comfortable around me – or much of anyone except her big brother. She’s been in her own low income apt for almost 2 years now rather than sleeping year round in the park 400 miles away from me. All I can do is pray that she knows or will know she is loved. – a wiser mom.
I love this. Thank you for writing and sharing. As mentioned in the other comments, this is a daily struggle for me too. This has helped. Thanks again.