By Laura Green
Scars show where we were opened, then came closed. This is true for most things that cycle regeneratively. Bees, for example, don’t scar – they degrade and then die. Almost everything that heals, scars.
All humans are scarred. Egg hatched creatures show up singular and whole but every mammal gets cut loose, straight away, from what used to be part of its body. Belly buttons = umbilical scars. I love that.
I do yoga outside these days; in the yard when it’s sunny, on the front porch if it’s raining. Last Saturday it was raining and I was on the front porch. My yoga teacher, Alison, was talking about balance.
She talked about it as the place between too much freedom and too much rigidity, about how finding it is a process of refinement. I was struggling. Maybe because it was cold-ish and I was holding myself tight, maybe because it was windy and there are so many trees near my front porch, all swaying. Alison talked about how balance is a practice of falling over and over. Every time you fall through balance you learn something new about it.
It made me think of scars. Scars are inflexible. They’re secure. They’re reinforcement. In the place where you were too loose you are now extra rigid.
It made me think of now. How much I want to stay safe, how much I want to be free. How much I want to find balance.
I have an old surgical scar on my right hip. I was 7 when that opening happened. My scar is many layers deep; as is almost always the case, the cut at the skin was just the beginning.
I use the muscles under my scar differently. That hip is less strong, more stiff. My body there felt threatened – it was, it was vulnerable - so I found ways to move without moving it. We are adaptable and resourceful. I found new ways to do everything I needed to do. I found new ways to balance.
I balance differently, now, because of my scar.
Neither I nor anyone touched my scar until I was 28. I couldn’t allow it. It made me feel physically sick, nauseated and squirmy, even when I touched it myself. It was easy to make it off -limits. It felt like a good, safe choice.
Scars, unhandled, get bigger. This is something I forget over and over. It’s something I want to remember. Always and especially right now.
The collagen fibers in scars are lined up like soldiers, sentinels; straight, tightly linked lines. In unbreached skin, collagen fibers lay in random criss-cross patterns, like twigs under trees, the footprints of hundreds of sand pipers on the beach. This freeform cross-hatching is springy and flexible. It doesn’t resist movement. It has give. It is, ultimately, a safer pattern. It’s more resilient. But it’s impossible for the body to re-create it once it’s been opened. Bodies always close in alert, back to back lines. These rigid places chaff the healthy, easy tissue lying next to them, which becomes injured and heals with a scar.
Scar tissue has such good intentions, but left untended scars become the injury.
Handling them is the solution. As soon as possible, thoughtfully, slowly, respectfully. Tenderly. Often.
This is something I forget over and over. It’s so easy to forget. Scars, untouched, get bigger. All scars. I let someone touch my scar for the first time when I was in massage school in 2003, 21 years after the surgery. Many parts of me opposed the choice. It felt dangerous and reckless and also, superfluous. Why bother? I’d been fine not touching it for 21 years. But I don’t like being kept from things. I didn’t like that there was a part of my own body I was required to ignore. So I started working on my scar.
Bodies remake themselves constantly. They fine tune each recreation to fit the particular environment they’re in in that moment. Everything is always changing. Our bodies use millions of cues to sort out what they need and don’t need, right now, to be safe and well.
My scar has been remaking itself since the day it showed up. When I started touching it, started letting safe people whom I trusted touch it, it let itself believe that it could be less vigilant, softer. I started feeling things in places where I’d been numb for years.
Even now, 17 years after I let someone touch this scar, I have first moments with it. Things turn on for the first time, or connect for the first time. Things come back. Over and over, I find new kinds of balance.
In regular times I like to swim at the Dishman pool. One of my favorite parts is showering after. If you swim at the Dishman pool, this is the moment when you learn that, in the shower after, I’m looking at your scars.
I love them so much. I wish we could all see them, just for one day. I think it might make us feel proud. I think it might make us feel brave.
I like remembering about our scars right now, in particular, because: look! We’ve already done this. This is what we do. We only need to be held tenderly. We only need to be encouraged to heal strong and loose.
We’re scarred. Every single one of us. Like some kind of symphony or the cycle of seasons, we re-create ourselves over and over. We close and we open. We open and heal.