Do you ever have the feeling that you are a complete and utter fraud?
I’ve been feeling this way recently, more than usual, as I’ve been reflecting on how little of the advice I share with others that I actually follow myself. Am I a fraud, if I truly believe what I’m telling other people, but can’t internalize it or believe it for myself?
How is it possible that everyone around me deserves health, happiness and recovery but I somehow feel undeserving of even simple things?
Someone close to me commented on one of my scars this week. It was a passing comment, about noticing a scar on my hand that he hadn’t noticed before. To him it was a neutral comment, just noticing, no judgment. I told him that scar had been there since around 2002, it wasn’t new. That was the end of the conversation for him, but I started talking about and reflecting on the amount of harm I’ve done to myself over the past 20 years.
Until 2009, I hid all my scars, all of the time, from everyone. Even when I was home alone I would wear long sleeves and pants. I was so ashamed of my cuts and scars that I didn’t even want to look at them myself. In the summer, I was perpetually hot, avoiding swimming, making excuses to stay in the air conditioning. My life was being seriously limited by my self destruction.
From 2009 on, I gradually began experimenting with uncovering my scars. I wore t-shirts or skirts when I was hot, and started to swim again. I still kept a cardigan or long sleeved shirt with me at all times, so I could cover up around people who didn’t know about my habit, or for situations like interviews where I didn’t want to be judged. I used to have so much anxiety about people seeing my scars and I would imagine all sorts of scenarios where people around me judged me as crazy. I even thought that CAS would come to take away my kids because if someone saw my scars they would report me as an unfit mother. Over time, I became accustomed to uncovering my scars. I came to a place of a bit more acceptance (plus I got tired of being hot all summer!). This was a process and today, the only time I purposefully cover my scars is when I’m helping other women at work. I’m afraid that my scars might trigger others, especially those who are working on their own healing.
I still feel sad though, every spring when the warm weather returns and shorts, t-shirts and summer dresses flood the shopping malls. I feel sad because in the summer I can’t hide under my clothes. In the warm weather, I often feel exhausted when interacting with people because I am intensely aware of the visibility of my scars. It gets a little bit easier each summer, and I think about it less and less often, to the point where there are times that I almost forget about the scars. Almost.
I can’t really forget about them. I can’t forget about them because they represent a huge, unnameable, unspeakable history of trauma and pain. And at some points I feel crushed by the weight of the realization that I have been my own worst abuser.
I am my own most dangerous and most unrelenting abuser.
It’s difficult to know how to even approach talking about, thinking about or grieving the trauma I’ve inflicted on myself. It’s not something others discuss or disclose to me either. We talk about the hurt caused by other people in our lives, the betrayals, the injuries and the abuse. We talk about being hurt and being damaged. But how do I start a conversation or healing process around the trauma that I perpetuated? How do I heal from situations where I was both the abuser and the survivor, simultaneously in one person, in one experience, in one breath?
My experience of surviving sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of perpetrators, is directly linked to my “decisions” to cope by self harming in various ways. Before I was sexually abused I didn’t have anorexia, depression, PTSD, or obsessive compulsive tendencies and I did not cut or physically harm myself in response to stress. Before I was sexually abused, I considered myself a “normal” person. I didn’t have a mental illness, I didn’t have dangerous coping techniques, I wasn’t a psychiatric survivor or a survivor of violence. When I look at my scars, I see both the abuse I survived and the abuse I perpetuated. The scars are an ever present reminder that I have survived, but they are also like a road map of the destruction and self destruction that has woven through my adult life.
Yes, my scars tell a story, but I’m not sure it’s a story that I want to hear. I’m not sure it’s a story that I want to tell either.
But sometimes I do want to tell my story. That’s part of why this blog was created. There just isn’t a lot of space in our busy, day to day lives, to talk about the story my scars tell. The person who was with me during the majority of those years (my ex-husband) is no longer available or safe for me to contact. I don’t have anyone to share my memories of those dark years with. The people who know me now weren’t there with me in the emergency room while my cuts were being stitched. The people in my life now, weren’t there with me when I tried, multiple times, to end my life. Except for a few, the people in my day to day life, didn’t know me when I almost starved myself to death. People see me differently now. They see me as a whole person, a mostly well person, a successful person, a good mother, a co-worker, a friend…sometimes I feel like a fraud because I can’t, or don’t know how to, talk about these aspects of my past.
And sometimes I want to talk about them. I really want to talk about what things were like “before.” Before I left my ex-husband. Before I stopped utilizing the psychiatric system. Before I decided to stay alive.
That “before” person is still me. I’m just not sure how to heal that “before” me and this current me simultaneously. I’m not sure how to forgive myself, or to have sympathy or empathy for the me that wanted to die. I’m not sure how to look at my scars without feeling sadness for the fact that I permanently disfigured my body before I turned 25. I don’t know how to grieve my smooth, scar free skin…I barely even remember what I looked like before I started cutting.
There are days when I accept my scars. They are a part of me, they do tell a story and they do represent survival. But there are days when I hate them. I hate being different. I hate having a visible mental illness. I hate feeling ugly. I hate worrying about what others will think when they see them. I hate hating myself SO much that self harm feels like a reasonable solution.
Sometimes I look back on the past and wonder what my life would be like if I’d chosen a different way of coping. Or if I’d never been abused. Or if I’d told someone about the abuse. How different would my life be if I’d never picked up a blade, never wished to end it all?
It’s an interesting dilemma, because there are some parts of my survivor self that I like and I wouldn’t want to change. If I hadn’t had these experiences I would have chosen a different career path. I wouldn’t have had my children at a young age. I wouldn’t be as passionate about social justice and advocacy. I wouldn’t know the majority of my current friends.
My life would be very different. I don’t even want to change the past. It did make me the person I am today and I’m okay with that. What I do want to change is how much I still judge myself, berate myself and hate myself for my past choices. I want to learn to do more than accept my scars. I want to do more than tolerate my body, in an uneasy, fragile truce.
Intellectually, I know that I deserve more than surviving. Intellectually, I know that a deeper level of healing is possible. I’ve seen people around me heal and recover from unimaginable horrors. I’ve seen people build a sense of self confidence from the rubble of their lives. I know it is possible and that self-love and self acceptance are attainable goals.
But emotionally, I just don’t feel it. And that makes me sad, and maybe right now, the first step in healing self-hatred is just simply grieving the loss of that 15 year old healthy self.
Note: The illustration was drawn by me around 2004