My post yesterday about the fire scarred tree made me think a lot about my own scars. How much the mental ones I have are more insidious than the physical. How much less I notice the ones on my skin than I notice the ones on psyche. How much more time it takes to heal the emotional wounds than it does the physical. The body having the upper hand over the mind.
Is that because we are so oriented toward pretending that the emotional ones aren’t there? Does the relative invisibility of our emotional wounds, leave them vulnerable to neglect? Is there something in their lack of physicality that makes them easier to ignore?
All the times my body has been cut upon or injured, I have immediately attended to it. I have gotten medical treatment for an injury and did not allow it to fester or worsen. However, the emotional cuts and incisions, I have allowed to fester and worsen over time. There were whole decades that I did little to nothing to improve my mental health and sanity. In fact, between the ages of 13 and 25, I actively took actions on an almost daily basis that just made everything worse. Covered over the neglect of my emotional needs and wounds, with a facade that attempted to prove to all who cared to look, that I was fine. absolutely fucking fine.
When I bottomed out with booze, I was working five different jobs, was on call 40 hours a week with the rape and spouse abuse hotline, in law school full time and dating three different men in three different cities. Four if you counted the guy that I was in love with but not really with anymore except for the occasional hookup. When I look at my life circumstances back then I am in awe of just how much one person can wreak havoc on so many levels. I thought and was fully committed to making you think that I was doing well. In fact, all of the above “commitments” were employed to maintain the facade of my superior coping skills and to serve as evidence of my success. It was a very complicated arrangement of smoke and mirrors that really hid nothing. Anyone who took a close look at my life could see it was all a sham.
It was a shitshow. Everyday I failed to show up someplace, for someone. I was always running late and often not able to show up at all. I lied all the time. Only the hotline did I never let down. I showed up every time I was paged to the ER, showing up to help some poor woman negotiate the immediate aftermath of domestic abuse or sexual violence. I am so grateful that the page never came when I was fucked up. Today, this one fact alone is complete evidence of a higher power. No one could have arranged my being on call and sober when the call came but a supreme intelligence.
So here was a 12 year period of time that I was actively destroying myself and my life, largely due to unaddressed emotional wounds from childhood. My solution for the emotional pain was to create more situations which created more wounds which I then hid so that you couldn’t see, hidden under a whole bunch of activity, designed to keep both of us from really looking too closely at whatever bullshit I was peddling.
I am now exhausted just from writing that. What a cluster!
But putting the plug in the jug was the beginning for me being willing to address my emotional wounds. Getting sober also helped me to take better care of myself physically. I wasn’t out there drinking myself into an early grave anymore so my physical health improved almost overnight. Gone were the bruises that I couldn’t tell you where I got them (except from the ones that came from the men I chose to date - those were easy to identify but hard to admit). I will tell you that I never once thought about how abusive my relationships were, despite my deep and weekly commitment to helping other women leave their abusive relationships. I didn’t see my own relationships as abusive. It was normal for a guy to pull me out of my car by my hair. Nothing abusive in that...he was trying to prevent me from driving my car drunk...wasn’t I so lucky to have a guy that cared!?
It is almost comical now. My remembering and reviewing my life back then. So much has changed. Getting sober was the beginning of a lifelong process and commitment for me to address my scars. Attend to them like I would an open flesh wound. Immediate triage of my emotional pain so that I could stop making it worse and start healing.
It has been a long process but I feel like I have created a road map with the identification and plotting of the emotional scars. I can now see when something happens in my life that triggers a historical reaction: if I am hysterical, it is historical....always. Good news today is that I am rarely hysterical. I know where all my emotional landmines lay and have removed all the hair triggers that cause me to erupt into a devolution of self destruction. This has taken years of therapy and a lot of hard work.
Just like the scars on my flesh, I can now easily and readily see where I am vulnerable, where I am injured and weak. Because I can see it, I can change it, accommodate it and take care of it. I am no longer emotionally bleeding out all the time. I have cauterized the flow and addressed the wounds that used to interrupt my life on the daily. Today, because I have been willing to stand naked and look at myself, my physical and emotional self, I am able to see all the soft spots.
Tending to wounds hastens healing. Ignoring them only makes them worse. Like a physical wound that goes unattended, the outward appearance may indicate healing but the injury only goes underground to wreak havoc on our interiority and cause untold amounts of pain later.
Glen Phillips has a song called Professional Victim, in that song is this lyric:
You treat the little wounds first
Let the big ones fester for life.
So much easier to address the emotional wounds that seem small and insignificant in their threat to our emotional wellbeing. The larger ones being largely unaddressed so that we can maintain the facade that everything is fine and nothing hurts.
I am here to tell you that all wounds injure and all wounds heal but you have to take the time to do the work required to dress the wound in order for it to scar. The scars evincing that you did the work required to encourage healing. The scar being the place where once there was a hole that now has covered over. I am positive that I want all those scars to not be covering over something that is not really healed at all. Instead, the greater injury festers below the surface only to injure me more later.
Today, I am grateful for the scars because they show me where I am vulnerable, as much as they show where I been. They show me all the places that I have survived and because of my willingness to address them fully, where I have thrived. I love my scars, both physical as well as emotional, they have become the roadmap for my healing and a framework for my life.
They are mine after all. And today, I am grateful I can look at them and not pretend they aren’t there, that they didn’t happen and they didn’t hurt. It is in my willingness to see them that makes them less painful and less of a threat to my current health. It is owning that they are there that I can move on, untethered from the past and free to create a future that is not really just a fucked up reaction to some past injury. Addressing scars, doing the work for healing, the manner in which I found freedom. Not freedom from, but freedom to. I can't change the past or the wounds, but I can learn how to own them as part of me, care for them and give them their proper space in my life. When I do that, I make room for the whole person...scars and all.