After forty-two years I am finally comfortable enough with my life’s experiences to embrace all of my scars. Scars that hurt me to the core of my being to remind me of what has happened or what could have been.
There are two types of scars. Those that are visible and those intangible scars that live within me but are hidden from public view. It is these type of scars that could have mentally crippled me for my lifetime or help me to form who I have become.
My life has been tragic to some or triumphant to those who know my story. It has not been easy but no one ever said it would be! I battle with my feelings and emotions everyday but at the end of each day I know that my scars are my testimony that I am a cancer and rape survivor.
At the age of forty-one, my left breast waged war against me. The same breast that nurtured and nourished my three children planned a coup d’etat to overtake me. An irregular mammogram required me to take a second mammogram, which revealed a calcification and a suspicious mass that required me to have a surgical biopsy. Upon selecting my surgeon and meeting with him, I informed him that I wanted any and all suspected masses removed from my body. On the date of my surgical biopsy, I awoke to discover that a lumpectomy had been performed. I was relieved to have the surgery completed but I truly was not mentally prepared for what that actually meant. I had gone into surgery prepared to have a small circular scar from a needle aspiration and awoke with swelling and a four-inch scar across my breast. Three days later when my test results came in my surgeon called my home at 9 PM to inform me that all of my Stage One cancer had been completely removed. “Whew” I thought, “I’m glad that’s over.” But as I removed my bandages the following morning I realized that healing from this scar had not yet begun.
The visible scar on my breast was unsettling to me, and I couldn’t even imagine if I were to have lost one or both of my breasts. While I was thankful that I was okay, I cried each morning as I put on my bra. I had always loved my rack. It had been my favorite body part and my most treasured asset and now it was scarred. I became self-conscious about my clothing. I avoided all of the v-neck t-shirts and blouses I had with low plunging necklines. My husband being the amazing man that he is, looked at me no differently and loved me even more than before but I became sad and withdrawn as I suffered silently becoming angrier and angrier at my scar.
Around this time my intangible post-rape scars began to resurface. The thing about being raped is all though you learn to cope with the trauma certain things can trigger an emotional response and within seconds the mind can take you right back to that terrible experience. All of the insecurities from my past, my distorted body image, emotional eating, Post-Traumatic Stress, sexual expression and sexual repression resurfaced with a vengeance. I silently grieved my scars and suddenly I mourned for the nineteen year-old girl that I’d lost when I was raped. I mourned for my lost innocence, for my lost security and for my uninhibited desire to truly love someone with my entire being. I’d never known or felt that I lost so much until I stared at the scar on my breast, so I did what I had always been good at — I pressed on.
Faking it until I was making it.
I looked so put together. My work life was successful. My family life was doing well, but inside my scars had reopened into gigantic craters that engulfed me, and the sense of happiness and pride that I had established with therapy over 15 years ago was completely gone. I never looked in the mirror. I pulled back from hugs. Compliments all felt insincere. I couldn’t sleep. I was completely broken by my deep-seeded scars. I became mechanical. Going through the motions functioning on 2 to 3 hours of sleep and the rest of the day I ran on autopilot.
Determined to snap out of my Post Traumatic Stress funk, I pulled my copies of The Courage to Heal by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis and One Day My Soul Just Opened Up by Iyanla Vanzant back off of my bookcase and re-read them. I started journaling about my feelings, writing out my dreams, and creating short stories, blogged about my walking journey to better health and then one night when I was writing I wrote an erotic story that inspired me to reclaim my sexual power. A dear friend read it and said, “This is good.” He submitted the story to a website and within an hour, it was accepted and published as an online story. Talk about being shocked! I went to the site and set up a profile and joined a writer’s community within that site. I met an amazing group of friends. I read stories that were posted and I decided it was time to heal.
How my online life helped me heal
Accepting my scars began with a conversation with a new online friend. There’s something about the anonymity of speaking to someone online that allowed me to voice my deepest fears without self-imposed judgments. He asked me, “What do you like?” Sadly enough, I couldn’t answer! I’d become so disconnected from my own thoughts and desires.
I couldn’t answer that simple question. It wasn’t just about my hobbies; it dawned on me that wasn’t even in touch with what I wanted from my own husband in bed. I had never thought about what I WANTED! I know this sounds strange but most of my sexual “firsts” occurred during my rape. The involuntary nature and violation of it all left me in a less than adventurous state of being. There were and are things that I still do not enjoy, things that still freak me out completely and things that I have learned to love. I had discovered yet another area of my life that needed to heal and I began writing erotica to explore my desires and I began to finally connect with myself sexually.
My husbands love and support helped me to put my desires into physical actions and we made a pledge to make love everyday for ninety days. It might sound crazy but the intimacy and connections that we shared during that time is something that I will always cherish! The unconditional love that I’ve received from my husband and online friends during this difficult reawakening process has been phenomenal and so much more than I could have ever expected! My sexual re-awakening has been both a blessing in my relationship with my husband and at times a curse that required us to look long and hard at our relationship and our expectations of each other. But with the encouragement of close friends and my family, I returned to therapy to help me process some of my unspoken needs and to help mend some of my reopened wounds.
There was only one thing left for me to deal with and that was my scarred breast. So I took a shower and took a long look at myself in the mirror. I didn’t just look at my face as I had done for the last fourteen months. I looked at all of me! I sat in my bathroom and looked at my scar and reminded myself, that I am scarred but not dead and right then and there I embraced my scar! Not just that one, I decided to embrace them all! I cried and celebrated my scars as I looked at the mark on my breast.
Later that week I called my dear friend Chloe Jackman, a professional photographer (www.chloejackman.com) and I decided to reclaim my feminine power, embrace my scars, and celebrate my life by having a professional naughty girl set of portraits done for my husband. The highlight of that shoot was the photo in this article where I am embracing my scar.
I am not healed from my past but I am embarking on a new path towards a happier future, embracing my scars and enjoying who I am right now. Tomorrow is not promised and I have been given the chance to start over again! I acknowledge that everyone does not survive all that I have been through. But whether you have or have not experienced my life circumstances, I ask you to embrace your scars because they are what make you uniquely you. Reach out for help if you feel like you are sinking. You might be surprised at who is ready to help you heal.
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Be brave and be well,