“What are these scars from?” she asked.
“They’re battle wounds,” I replied.
She looked at me for a long time.
“Who were you battling?”
A jumble of words mixed in among dozens of inspirational quotes on a Pinterest board, but for me, the words stood out as if they were written in bold font on a neon background.
I read the quote over and over, and as I struggled to figure out why this image affected me so deeply, it suddenly hit me: the passage spoke of my complex relationship with my skin.
While I’ve spoken about my challenges with cystic acne before, I haven’t really admitted that from time to time I still experience breakouts. While I’ve talked about the incredible lessons I’ve learned from my journey to clear skin through experiments in loving kindness, I haven’t really owned up to the difficult thoughts I sometimes experience if I catch my reflection in the mirror. While I’ve thanked my body for sending me the signal that I needed to listen up and make a change, I haven’t really spoken about the aftermath of the carnage that is still present on my face even now that the severe breakouts have passed
The pits, redness and dark spots that have permanently marred my skin are a constant reminder of an incredibly dark and challenging time in my not-so-distant past. But rather than allowing that reminder to plunge me back into that dark place, I use it to reaffirm my strength.
My scars are the map of my journey to health, if you will.
And while I still have moments of despair when I look at photographs of my near-perfect skin from only a few short years ago, I remind myself of how far I’ve come and what I’ve learned about myself and my body in the process.
That girl on the street with flawless skin and not a stitch of makeup on? I may still feel the sting of jealousy when I think about how nice it must be to not obsess over how to hide the newest glaring imperfection.
How about the woman with the invisible pores who eats fried food, doesn’t exercise and sometimes washes her face—if she remembers? Sometimes I can’t help but be frustrated that I was forced to cut out gluten, dairy, sugar, alcohol and caffeine in order to cleanse my system of toxins that may have been the source of my skin problem.
Or the doctor that helpfully offers (unsolicited, may I add) to prescribe me antibiotics, the birth control pill or a course of Accutane to treat my condition? I can acutely remember the nights I cried myself to sleep wishing desperately to wake up and find out that my skin woes were nothing but a horrible nightmare.
But you know what? The girl on the street may have lost a loved one to cancer and is hanging on to her emotions by a thread, the woman with the poor diet may be suffering from mental health issues that she tries to numb with food, alcohol and hours of television. And the doctor? He’s just doing his job.
If I’ve learned anything from my experiences as a nutritionist, coach and in my own battle with my skin, it’s this: just because someone looks “perfect” on the outside doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling in some other way.
Everyone responds to the stresses of life differently.
We all have crap we’re dealing with. For some of us, it presents smack dab in the middle of our face. For others, it’s less visible. Chronic pain, digestive issues, mental health challenges—the face of suffering is different for all of us. And rather than allowing our own pains to isolate us, we need to band together and support each other, not compare or judge.
By recognizing that each of us is flawed in some way, we can each be perfectly imperfect.
Rather than feel trapped by our challenges, we can choose not to let our current state define us. We can choose to empower ourselves to be the best possible version of ourselves.
When I look at my skin, beyond the pits, redness and dark spots, I see triumph.
I refuse to be ashamed of the scars that were left behind during a difficult period in my life. I will remind myself that a scar represents the end of pain. It proves that I endured and I am healed. I healed myself.
My scars will forever tell the story that I overcame life’s challenges and I survived. I was stronger than whatever tried to hurt me.
Scars show us where we’ve been, not where we’re going.
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Editorial Assistant: Paige Vignola/Editor: Bryonie Wise
Image via Bhumika Bhatia on Flickr