I’ve always loved discovering other people’s scars, secretly tucked beneath collars and cuffs. I love fingers delicately dancing over calloused strips of discolored skin. A chin gash. A drunk mistake. A skinned knee. A tree climb break. Nobody makes it through life unscathed. But have you ever noticed we’ll brag about hitting every branch on the way down before we’ve confronted why we climbed that damn tree to begin with? What were we trying to find up there? Or what were we leaving behind down below? Our physical scars are merely poof that we survived something greater than the initial fall, and that kind of self-awareness is some scary shit.
Instead, we defend our leftover battle wounds and put our healed up bodies on display like battered trophies. We rarely discuss our emotional scars, giving little credit to the intelligence it takes to overcome internal trauma. We convince ourselves and others that our visible scars make us braver, stronger, and in the same breath, deny that the area is still a little tender, and that we’re still a little broken.
But we’re all a little broken, aren’t we?
The first time somebody discovers one of your scars, you will struggle to separate intention from preliminary research and genuine intrigue. You’re vulnerable. They have the vantage point. In this critical moment they are determining if you’re a suitable human being or certifiably insane. You decide against dueling with a straight shooter. Instead, you’ll talk about the time you did donuts in a parking lot covered with black ice. You lost control of the vehicle. Your face went through the windshield. But the vehicle wasn’t the only thing you lost control of that night.
You will leave out the part where you had a drinking problem. You will leave out the part where your mom died. Or your dad walked out. Or your girlfriend left you for your best friend. You will leave out the reckless parts of you that need addressing. The parts that need accepting. The parts that need love and understanding. Now you find it hard to give these things to yourself, and harder to give them to anyone else. Ten years later and it’s just another rotating story in your arsenal.
A badge of honor. A party trick. A thing chicks dig.
One night, when I was little, I wanted to brush my teeth. I was too impatient to wait and too stubborn to ask for help. Instead, I pushed a step stool up the bathroom sink and climbed on top of it myself. I then yanked the medicine cabinet open with such a force that I launched myself backwards. My skull connected with the edge of the porcelain throne, splitting the middle of my head open. Two decades later and it’s just another rotating story in my arsenal.
What I usually leave out of that story is that my parents spent most of their time in hospitals and nursing homes taking care of my older brother. There weren’t a lot of eyes on me, so I figured out how to do things on my own. Self-reliance was the first survival skill I learned. Autonomy became my sixth sense. Independence is a trait I still cling to. The scar serves as a deeply cut reminder that my reluctancy to accept help is a actually fault line. Ask me about it and I’ll show you the scar and tell you I’m too independent for my own good.
I have the scars to prove it.
How do we tell our stories and expect people to still love us the same? Well, I’ve stopped expecting people to love me. I’ve started telling my stories regardless. I’ve learned that our emotional fibrosis is just comprised of our connective experiences. Gradually, the pain subsides. The skin toughens. We learn to shy away from sharing the things that make us human.
But eventually, someone will get close enough to unbutton your collar or pull up your cuff. They will probe the break that took twenty years to heal. When this happens, I hope you’re brave enough to bare your brokenness knowing it could leave a deeper wound altogether. I hope you invite others to run their fingers over your calloused skin. Show them your chin gash. Your drunk mistake. Your skinned knee. Your tree climb break. Most of all, I hope you find a new reason to climb to the top of that damn tree. Should you slip and hit every branch on the way down, I hope you tell your story.
I hope you share your scars with them.
Please note: This piece is an adapted version of a piece I originally wrote for Medium.