Monday, April 1, 2013

The Scar

I have a large, V-shaped scar under my left kneecap. 

I got it when I was two years old. I was out playing in our yard, a giggling, squirming bundle of blonde curls and mischief, and my brother - then 8 years old - was trying to catch me. 

He saw me headed toward the back of the house, where our parents kept a big steel drum for storing "hard garbage." There, they would put those huge apple-juice cans and other things like glass bottles that Mom couldn't use for canning. It was a dangerous place - strewn with things that had been tossed but didn't quite reach the tall steel drum - about three and a half feet tall. 

He called out to me, warning me not to go back there. I squealed and ran toward the forbidden territory; everything was a game. He ran after me - trying to reach me in time.

Just before he did - I fell.

Something broke my fall - but I wouldn't recommend it. There was an old vinegar jug made of glass that hadn't quite landed in the bin and had broken on the ground. Sharp shards and razor-sharp edges were everywhere. 

I landed on my knee, directly on a piece of that jug, on a portion of sharp glass that was sticking straight up from the bottom edge of the jug. 

I won't go into the gory details, but I ended up nearly becoming a permanent cripple that day. The glass very narrowly missed slicing my patellar tendon and doing damage to the inside of the joint. Amid several people holding a screaming child down, in that small two-year-old's knee were placed eighteen stitches: five internal and thirteen external. I was ordered to keep my leg straight and the rest of my family were recruited to enforce that order - until it healed. 

"Knee Replacement Surgery" photo
courtesy of olovedog

When the stitches came out, the doctor tested my knee joint to see if there had been any permanent damage to the tendons and ligaments. He breathed a sigh of relief when all was normal. 

I don't remember a thing about that incident. Matter of fact, I don't remember much of anything specific about my life before I was six years old, but that is a whole different story. 

I do know that I have had a scar from it ever since. As I grew, it did too. 

That's an interesting concept. 

Your scars grow at the same rate that you do. They show up bigger than they were when you were younger. However, keep in mind that they cover the same percentage of your body that they did when they first happened. And while some scars do fade - some don't. The deeper the original injury was, the more permanent the mark (and possibly the crater) it leaves behind. And some injuries (and even some surgeries) will cause degeneration to happen more quickly than normal (hence, early-onset osteoarthritis or degenerative disc disease), while others will leave no residual effects.

I have a theory that emotional injuries work the same way. 

The depth, extent, and frequency of emotional injury will determine the degree and the severity of any lasting effects from those injuries. And ... it will also determine the length of time it takes to heal from those hurts. 

Or to find a way to cope with what can't be changed. 

Having been emotionally damaged by various experiences, and having healed from many of them, I have a few pointers to give someone who is dealing with the after-effects of deep emotional scars. 
  • Healing takes time. The deeper, the more intentional, and the more systematic the hurt, the longer it will take to recover from it.
  • Emotions are NOT BAD. If you feel bad because something bad happened to you, that is a NORMAL response. It's supposed to feel that way. If you feel angry because you were wronged, that's normal too! Anger is a normal response to injustice!
  • Pain is sometimes necessary in order to diagnose ... and to heal. Pain lets you know what area needs work. Seek to know the reasons for your pain, not just to be delivered from it. The former leads to healing; the latter to addiction and dysfunction.
  • Healing happens best from the inside out. If something only scabs over on the outside, it will only be a matter of time before someone or something hits you in that place again - and it will hurt. A LOT. Healing from the inside first will allow the outside to take care of itself, and for the healing to be permanent.
  • Talk about your feelings with someone you trust. Pray, talk through your feelings, get it out of you and don't hide from it.
  • If you can manage it at all, keep a healing journal. Write about how you feel. Be honest with yourself at all times. The ultimate goal is to get better from the hurts of the past, to make restoration to those whom you have hurt as a result, and to free yourself from the killer known as resentment.
  • Finally, to do all this, GET HELP. It's okay to ask for help from someone who is trustworthy and will not break (or who will even joke that they have the power to break) your confidentiality. Move past the shame and go see a counselor, attend a 12-step group, or talk to your pastor or spiritual advisor. Agree to accept his or her counsel and do not settle for activities that will only modify external behaviors or satisfy some desire for revenge.
One more thing about emotional scars. Like physical ones, they are what's left over after the hurt has healed. Emotional scars can be quite noticeable even after you have dealt with the root cause and it's no longer hurting you, but the presence of the scar doesn't mean that you haven't healed. It just means that you survived. 

Don't be ashamed of your scars; they can open conversations and give people hope, and help them to heal from their wounds too. That's the way it was designed to work.

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