Pink Ribbon Scars (That Never Forget)

How I Learned To Love My Self Harm Scars

Trigger warning: discussion of self harm and self injury.

At the age of about 16, I ‘discovered’ self harm. For me, like many people that self harm, this started through cutting myself. I would cut myself on my hand or arm. I don’t recall thinking much about it, it just seemed, well, the right thing to do.

When I was 17 I was briefly an in-patient at a psychiatric unit. It was here I became aware that other people self harmed (this was pre-internet so I had no access to social media or online resources).

My self harm history has mainly been cutting myself, with some burning, and, later in my life, hitting myself, either directly or with objects. Having written that sentence I know that seems very clinical and detached. But I think it’s important to be able to discuss stuff like this and push away the stigma it has. My aim with posts like this is simply for one reader to slightly change or challenge their opinion about mental health issues.

Many, many people self harm and do it in tons of different ways. Whilst cutting and burning may be more ‘visible’, self harming behaviour could also encompass alcohol abuse, drug abuse, reckless behaviour and more. Cutting is often seen purely as ‘attention seeking’ whilst all kinds of other behaviours are laughed off or seen as normal.

My history of self harm has left me with quite a few scars. Fortunately, none of them are huge. As the cut and burn marks are so aged, along with the fact my arms are both heavily tattooed, I often forget they’re there. (For clarity, I mainly self harmed on my arms but also used my legs).

Occasionally though I notice them. Maybe the light in the room has highlighted them. Perhaps the sun shines at an angle on them and I catch myself looking. Maybe I’ve run my finger over my arm and felt the bump of a largeish one on my left arm. As I’m typing this I can see on my left hand the faint remains of where I extinguished cigarettes on it when I was in hospital.

I Tried So Hard (To Cleanse These Regrets)

For a long long time I hated my self harm scars. It was one of the reasons I had my arms so heavily tattooed. I resented what they represented, I resented how they looked. I felt self-conscious. Weak. Guilty. Ashamed. Angry. Disgusted.

As I approach middle age (ugh that makes me feel old!) I now see my scars as part of me – not just in the physical sense, but in the sense of them being part of my journey through life. Like each of my tattoos, they act as a kind of connection to the specific time in my life when they happened.

They remind me that time heals. That whilst I am more than my mental health issues, they’re still a part of me. That I have survived countless phases of suicidal ideation. That I’m still here and that I’m blessed.

They remind me that it’s OK to not have a perfect past, nor a perfect body. That it’s OK to accept things that you’ve done or that have happened. They remind me that things change; that we grow and learn.

Whilst they remind me of bad points in my life, they also remind me that I got through them. That I had people around me that cared and supported me. That I’m fortunate.

One of the more prominent cutting scars connects me to the night I did it. I remember vividly how angry I was at myself, how I was so full of self hate and negative energy that all I could do is lash out at myself. I used to hate myself for that scar.
Now I’ve learned to forgive myself for it. To realise that I didn’t have the coping mechanisms and skills I needed. That I wasn’t able to re-channel my self loathing into something positive.

So if you offered me the chance of removing all of my scars, I would say no. Because I don’t want to erase my own memory of how I became what I am now. Because I embrace being imperfect. Because I am grateful to be alive.

If you are considering self harm, please seek help. There are people out there that care.