Scar acceptance (1)

Somebody “beating him- or herself up” is not a nice experience for any of those concerned.

When I show I’m fragile in certain situations I feel doubly embarrassed and wish I could just fly away.  When I witness somebody “not coping” I am tempted to rush in with reassurances and want to minimise the pain.  We’d all love to help but know we’re almost totally powerless.  We relive our own struggles for self-understanding and self-acceptance, we realise how complex and wounded many of us are and that what we notice and know is but the tip of an iceberg.  We feel grateful because “but for the grace of God, there go I”.

However, it never ceases to amaze me that some are so much less or not at all affected by trauma and looking different from others.  Some of us grow in self-acceptance early, some recover quickly from trauma – and others just continue to struggle.  Is this genetic, environmental, caught, taught, or what?

It’s taken much of my life to come to terms with my infant surgery for pyloric stenosis, and only recently have I been able to say that I no longer hate my body.  I’ve been (perhaps strangely) encouraged to know I’m far from alone in having lived for so long with my own major self-hate problems; the amount of self-harming and eating disorders especially among young women, and men’s violent death statistics tell us something about a disease that’s very hard to manage.

It was the relatively small but very obvious and gnarly scar from my first surgery that became the focal point of my self-hatred.  Although (as I wrote) I’m not alone in this, I suspect I’m in a small minority there.  I have read many comments from people who share my strong dislike of their scar from infant surgery, and the women among them generally choose to keep theirs covered up as best they can.  Many others say they enjoy flaunting and wearing theirs with pride, lap up the curious looks, and welcome the inevitable questions as a talking point – after which everybody is able to “move on”… how eminently strong and sensible!

Very few mention, or even understand, the trauma problems I and just a few others admit to having or having had: depressed behaviour like self-harming and other destructive addictions, obsessions, anger, fears and anxiety, and elusive abdominal disorders.

But hey!  There’s been a steady flow of comments to these and other blogsites and forums telling me that there are people discovering that symptoms that have puzzled and troubled them for so long seem to be dovetail very well with surgery they had had but could not remember.

That my stomach scar became such an early and addictive focal point for my longstanding PTSD problems is something I now find easy to understand.  I realised very young that this scar, although small by the standards of infant surgery today, was a clear sign that something mysterious, foreign, and damaging had happened to me that had now also become a source of painful embarrassment.  My friend Mark has recently written a carefully-considered Comment on why our scars can become such a major thing: it is well-worth reading or re-reading.

How have I stopped beating myself up over something that was after all my first life-saver?

What a relief! At long last I feel relaxed with my family (2008)

1                    Once I had learnt some of the basics about my PS surgery (which I wish my parents had helped me to understand and work into my system) and had got over the stress and strain of my teenage years, I slowly started trusting people with the sight of my scar and bracing and preparing myself to deal with the consequences.  First only in the safe circle of my family, then slowly and carefully among friends, and finally anywhere.  My 17 years of enjoyable summertime beach jogging where I might meet anybody at any time certainly helped there.

2                    Digital photography being easy, instant and cheap, I have used photographs to objectify my self-image:  this has helped me to see myself and my damaged belly the way others do, and I see others doing the same.  It may seem strange but it’s therapeutic!

3                    With the arrival and growth of the internet, I was able to understand my story far more deeply, to share it, and to interact with others who have had a range of experiences similar to mine.  As a result, I have become part of a small community who are writing to help others to find and value the challenging and fascinating road we have been traveling.

4 thoughts on “Scar acceptance (1)

  1. Wendy

    I’d like to know more about the digital photography strategy you mention. What do you mean by “objectify my self-image.” Sounds fascinating. I loved seeing that picture of you in your red trunks standing naturally and happily amidst loved ones. What a blessing you’ve come this far! I still struggle with my scar. The other day after a shower when I was toweling off in front of the mirror, I appreciated my chest, my breasts and my arms–my upper body–before noting the ugly scar in my middle. This experience was new, for I usually go right to the scar (visually) and feel badly. This time, I had some leeway and could feel good in my body for a few moments. More and more I am shifting over to appreciation and love, but it certainly is a process. I’ve practiced a bad habit for a long time.

  2. Mark

    Hopefully I am not speaking out of turn. I think Fred is referring to something I went through as well: an attempt to look at your your scar, not with your emotional glasses on, but with your intellectual/objective glasses on. If you work at it, and when you can finally start looking at yourself with the black and white lenses, you start seeing the scar in a different way. It gets smaller, less obtrusive and ugly, it no longer appears like the dominant feature of your body. If you are REALLY REALLY good, once in a while, you might glance at yourself and not even notice it for a second or two.

    In my late 20’s i remember starting for the first time to try and see my scar like others do. I remember studying what is really there and ignoring what I felt was there. I considered other people with scars or disfigurements and really paid attention to my own thought and feeling processes just as they were developing for the first time. Like Fred I even photographed my scar for the first time to see it in a disembodied way.

    Unpacking my long held beliefs and defusing my childhood emotions took a lot of work and determination. I never really finished the project, but made enough progress to grow in understanding, mature emotionally, and remove a lot of physical boundaries I had placed on myself. It was a process that really helped me learn to live a little more and stop fearing everything. We all seem to have a tough of body dysmorphic disorder mixed in with our PTSD. If you can contain it, it gives you a lot of freedom to focus on more important stuff.

    So, have you ever photographed your scar?

  3. Fred Vanderbom Post author

    A big thank you, Mark: you’re not “out of turn” at all!
    What you write here is indeed the territory I also felt (often in a confused way) I wanted and needed to cover, and like you it has helped me a lot.
    To answer Wendy’s questions I was going to look up a few references and marshal my thoughts; I plan now to do that in my next post.

  4. Pingback: Scar acceptance (2) « Stories from the Survivors of early Surgery

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