5 feet, 7 inches.
My height is 5 feet, 5 inches.
The total length of surgical scars on my body is now greater than my height.
That means, if I were to stack my scars on top of each other, the end result would be taller than me.
Almost six years ago, I wrote this blog post. It marked the beginning of a long, painful road I have traveled to accept my body in its new heavily scarred state.
For over half a decade, I have gone to great lengths to hide my scars. Avoiding shorts so they don’t peek out at the bottom on my legs; avoiding lower-cut tops so they can’t be seen around my chest and sternum; most recently, trying to wear my hair lower to cover the new scar on the back of my neck…but the scars I have struggled with most are those in my underarms. The wounds from my surgery had opened up at the time, so instead of healing in tight surgical scars that we’re used to seeing, they remained open until they healed from the inside out, which left giant, gaping scars that took up most of both of my underarms. I’ve been hiding them for so long, even going to the lengths of wearing cardigans with sleeveless tops in the high heat of summer.
For years, it has been such a battle. Trying to accept my body, hating my body, wishing I could change my body, feeling helpless and hopeless. In fact, in January of 2017 I had a sudden, suffocating, devastating realization that I was stuck with this scarred body for the rest of my life. The next day, I made an appointment with a therapist and eventually began treatment for anxiety, depression, and PTSD.
My parents have been equally desperate to ease me of my pain, both physical and emotional. They’ve offered multiple times to sell everything to afford extensive plastic surgery to cover my scars. When we have these conversations, I can feel the pain seeping from their cores, the desperation to make it all better. But I remind them that I will never undergo elective surgery. Not because I think there’s anything wrong with it, but because I have had to go under the knife so many times that I simply cannot do it and fight that fight unless absolutely necessary for my well-being. I’m too exhausted. I can’t give any more of myself to this awful disease.
A few weeks ago, I was planning on going to a friend’s wedding and had bought a sleeveless dress. I tried on several cardigans with the dress, then threw it aside in frustration because nothing looked good with it.
This moment was the catalyst I needed.
I reflected on my relationship with my scars, and I decided that I needed to engage in cognitive reframing. I needed to find a way to change my own perception of my scars. I needed to find a way to transform those feelings of shame into feelings of pride. To transform the idea of hiding into the idea of celebrating. How could I do this for myself?
This was transformative.
Getting the tattoo was an incredibly emotional experience, and I was grateful to have a tattoo artist who both acknowledged it and allowed himself to become involved in the experience. He listened to my story and made sure that it was exactly what I wanted. When we were done, he called me a “tough old broad” and enveloped me in a warm hug.
On the way home from getting the tattoo, I cried tears of healing and renewal. I cried for the broken woman who wanted so badly to hide these scars she was ashamed of for so long. I cried for the woman she has become who is proud to show these scars because she has earned them. Each scar represents a battle that she has won, and many of those represent battles for her own life. She has conquered, is conquering, and will continue to conquer.
Because she is a damn warrior.
I went to that wedding and wore my sleeveless dress without a cardigan. I felt nothing but pride, celebration, and true joy when I got onto the dance floor with some of my closest friends.