I've never been overweight, and I've never had an eating disorder. I'm 5' 8" tall, weighed 155 when I got pregnant in college, 185 when my son was born and currently hover right around 140, almost 20 months after delivering the most amazing gift God ever gave me. My parents are loving, kind, wonderful individuals who raised my sister and me to the best of their abilities, even after they were no longer doing it together. My dad didn't beat me, my mom didn't ridicule me; I've never been raped, assaulted or felt unsafe in my own home. I have, however, had a painful and twisty journey toward being the woman I am today, as told by indelible marks on my skin. It's taken me a couple drinks and a huge leap of faith to write this, but here goes nothing.
On my left wrist are a series of horizontal scars that date from when I was 16 all the way until I was 21. There's one long one going along the vein in my arm that I gave myself when I was 15, the first time I ever took a razor to myself. I think it was because my boyfriend at the time and I had been fighting, and it seemed like an acceptable way to make how I felt inside manifest itself outside where I could put a band-aid on it and watch it heal. A couple of my friends at the time were suspicious, but I was a straight A student in all honors classes - why would I ever hurt myself?
The cutting didn't stop after being released from the psych ward, I just got better about hiding it and lying about it. In high school all that mattered was drawing blood - it didn't have to be deep, it just had to hurt. I don't even remember when I did most of the scars on my body, but if I look at them I know which are from cutting and which are from other things. I also switched it up sometimes - instead of using the tell tale razor I held a fist full of salt and ice and gave myself a remarkable "Superman S" scar on my palm. That I could pass off to everyone since I worked at a bakery by saying I brushed an oven wrong.
The cutting continued on and off throughout college. When I felt out of control of my life, my grades, my parents, my relationships, I did something I could control exquisitely - I caused pain. When I was sad and scared and angry and hurting inside, I made the pain external and put a band-aid on it. I did it in the shower, I did it in my dorm room, I did it in my room at my parents' house, I even did it in a park at home once and got the cops called on "suspicious behavior." As I was very good at deceiving authority figures I convinced the cop that I just needed to get away from some holiday stress at home and he left me alone. I remember the most serious relationship I'd ever had ending and the pain in my heart could not be equaled on my skin so I went over and over the cuts, night after night; the scar is horrendous. I tell people I got scratched by a cat - most believe it.
Then I got pregnant.
I was at the OB/GYN for a prescription for the pill - I had a new boyfriend, the man I hope will end up being my last boyfriend, and we wanted safe contraceptives. I was planning on graduate school and a career as a teacher, he was thinking law school and politics. When the doctor came back in and told me "we won't be doing a pap smear today - congratulations, your pregnancy test came back positive!" I thought the world was ending. I was 21 - this was NOT what I had planned.
Thank God nine months is a long time - I think God made pregnancy that long to give mamas, especially surprise mamas, enough time to let their worlds shatter and be rebuilt. Gone were hopes of graduate school and moving out on my own; instead I moved back home and into my mom's house. I put everything I had thought I cared about on the back burner to make room in my life for this amazing little man. And just when I thought there was no way I was cut out for this, that I was SO NOT A MOM, they put him in my arms. It didn't happen in that instant, it didn't happen in that first month, but somewhere along the line this amazing love blossomed. When he's hurt my heart pounds and my adrenaline sky rockets. The one or two times at the park that I haven't been able to immediately lay eyes on him, my breath grew short and tension soared through my veins.
Never again could I hurt myself - what if I got an infection and lost a hand, or an arm? How would I hug him and soothe his tears? How would I carry him when he's tired? How would I snuggle him to sleep? What if I went too far, pushed too deep, and cheated him out of the only mother he'll ever have? What if I got committed again and they took him away from me? Decided I was unfit to take care of him because I couldn't take care of myself?
Finally, as a new mom and at the age of 24, I found new ways to cope with pain, stress and difficulty. I found healthy ways to exorcise my demons and lick my wounds. I put my trust in my guys, the little one and the big one, and know that they would catch me if I fall and pick me up when I'm down. Remembering my son's giggle, or envisioning his smile helps me push through all kinds of tough times, from working out to conflicts with my family.
But now I have these marks, these reminders of that person I used to be. That behind this happy, smiley SAHM at the park with the most awesome toddler ever lies a dark, scary and unhappy past. Someday he will be big enough to ask me about the scars, what happened and where I got them. I haven't figured out what I'm going to say about that yet. I don't want to lie to him, and I don't want to gloss over my imperfections, but I don't want to ever condone that kind of thing for him, even tacitly. I guess we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.
So that is the story of my body. If you asked me what was so hard about my life that I felt the need to self-injure, I would have a hard time coming up with specifics. It was just something I started doing when I was young and vulnerable, and was a very difficult habit to kick. Every once in awhile I see a scar I'd previously forgotten about, because they're all so faded by now, and I go back to that place where it was my only solution. I wonder what on earth possessed me to think it was a good idea, and I worry about how to teach my kid better coping strategies than I had when I was a teenager. But then he wakes up from his nap, or dumps his water on the floor, and I'm yanked back to the here and now, to the body and the life I love.