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I was a preteen when I first started self-harming. It was infrequent at first, but then it snowballed. I self-harmed to distract from my intense emotions, to avoid emotional pain by inflicting physical pain and to make my body reflect the pain I was feeling. I was self-harming regularly until just a few years ago. A decade of self-harm has left me scarred from head to toe. Many of these scars are faint, but there are also many that catch the attention of anyone looking my way. (Yes, I can tell when you’re staring.)

My scars have created problems in my life, apart from just the itching and pain. I show up to every interview in long sleeves, no matter the season. I get judgmental looks from mothers when I’m around their kids in public places. But I refuse to be ashamed. Now that my skin has healed, I’m wearing shorts and tank-tops this summer for the first time in a long time. I’m finally starting to feel comfortable in my own skin, and I rarely want to tear it open.

Stopping self-harm has been one of the most difficult parts of my recovery. It’s an addiction. For a long time not even the pain on the faces of my loved ones could make me stop. Eventually I made promises that I needed to keep, and these promises, coupled with the threat of behavior chains in DBT helped me slow down. As I learned to use other skills to ride out the intense emotions, I relied on self-harm less and less. As I built a life worth living, the desire for a physical manifestation of my pain subsided. Now I can go months without self-harming.

Do not confuse my lack of shame with pride. I am not proud of what I’ve done. I certainly do not advocate for self-harm as a way to solve your problems. Quite the opposite. But what’s done is done. I can’t undo the damage I’ve caused my body. I must live with the choices I’ve made. But I also refuse to hide. I would, of course, cover up around someone who found my scars triggering, but I will not tailor my appearance to the general public. People need to see that self-harm is not something that makes you “crazy,” a “monster,” or “emo.” It’s something that can enter the life of anyone. My scars tell the tale of where I’ve been. To use the often quoted phrase, “a scar means you survived.”

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