My response to the specific challenge to Scars

scarsAs in any community, there will be differing opinions and views of what is right, what is healthy. I understand that. But to try to remove my book SCARS–which is about breaking silence, finding healing and safety–feels wrong to me, on so many levels. If you’re triggered by something, you find a way to deal with that trigger. You go into therapy, you deal with your past. You don’t silence others.

Yesterday, Amy from Kid’s Right to Read Project and ABFFE got detailed information from Boone County Public Library about the challenge to Scars. Apparently, the patron challenged Scars on the content, saying that it could contain triggers for self-harming teens or those who used to harm themselves but no longer do.

I find this response troubling. As most of you probably know, I used self-harm to cope with the effects of sexual and ritual abuse for many years. It is actually my scarred arm on the cover of Scars. When I cut, I did it in secrecy and shame. I hid it for years, never going to the doctor even when I needed stitches, for fear of what they would do. I was afraid not only of how they would treat me–many times people respond with anger and attempts to shame someone who uses self-harm–but also that they would try to stop me. And for many years, I needed self-harm to help me survive. I used self-harm many times as an alternative to killing myself.

One of the things I found the hardest about self-harm was the secrecy (which reminded me of the secrecy I was forced to keep for the sexual and ritual abuse), the shame, and the feeling so alone, as if I was the only one who had such pain, the only one who coped that way. It is so hard to have emotional pain, and then to have that pain increased by feeling like you’re the only one, or like you can’t turn to other people to talk about it and receive a compassionate response.

When my wounds had become scars and I had worked through the shame, I went around with my sleeves rolled up. I didn’t want to carry around the shame any more, and I didn’t want to have to have my past be a secret. I wanted to get people’s reactions over with. Sometimes people responded with anger, criticism, disgust, or by trying to shame me. I wanted to know how people stood with me, without having them suddenly find out and react. I also was hoping that I might someday see another person with their scars visible. The rare few times I met someone else out in the world with scarred limbs, I felt less alone. Once I gained a few survivor friends who also used self-harm, I felt that someone finally understood, and I didn’t have to explain. That was a wonderful feeling.

Over the years, I heard some beliefs in various communities about self-harm that were not true for me. I heard social workers saying that people who used self-harm should hide their scars because it would trigger other people who used self-harm to hurt themselves. As if self-harm is simply something that we do because we see it. My self-harm came out of trauma and deep emotional pain, and the triggers of my own memories and abuse conditioning. Seeing another person’s scars never made me in turn hurt myself. It always made me feel less alone.

But perhaps some people get triggered by seeing others’ scars. I understand triggers. There are SO many of them out there in the world for me, created by the abuse and torture I endured. But I don’t go around telling people they can’t do or say the things that trigger me. If they’re friends, I might explain my trigger, hope that they’d understand.

I’m not talking about something like the recent visually graphic YouTube videos of people cutting themselves. I would find that painful, disturbing, and triggering to watch. But showing healed wounds that are scars feels very different to me. As does talking about it in a way that is healing.

Scars is about finding healing and understanding, and sharing that. I shared the deep emotional pain that people who use self-harm come from. I made it as real as I could, because I know it inside out. It is my experience. I showed the many reasons why we can hurt ourselves. And, instead of glossing over self-harm, I showed how painful it is–physically and emotionally–and how it can not only hurt us, but actually endanger us. I spoke from my own experience. I made it as real as I could, in the hopes that people would get it, and have more compassion for themselves or for people who used self-harm.

There are so many things I wanted from Scars. I wanted people who’ve used self-harm to know that they’re not alone, that they can find healing, that they don’t deserve to hurt themselves and that they can find safety and manage to stop using self-harm. I wanted them to be able to let go of their shame, to be able to have a way to help people important to them in their lives really understand about self-harm, why they might be using it or had used it. And I wanted people who had never been through self-harm, or sexual abuse, or being queer and feeling alone, to really understand and come away with more compassion.

And I believe I succeeded. I get many letters every week from readers telling me how they felt so alone, or never understood, until they read Scars. I get readers telling me that because of Scars, they’ve sought out therapy, been able to talk to family and friends, and even been able to reduce or stop using self-harm altogether. And I’ve had people who have never experienced those things, tell me that they could never understand how someone could hurt themselves–until they read Scars.

There has been SO much support, and so many advocates for Scars not being removed from Boone County Public Library (in light of the recent challenge). Thank you so much each one of you who has spoken out for Scars. I thank you deeply and fully. I am grateful to you all!

About Cheryl Rainfield

I write the books I needed and couldn't find as a teen. I write teen fiction--paranormal fantasy and gritty realistic fiction. I'm the author of SCARS (WestSide Books, 2010) #1 ALA QuickPicks, and Governor General Literary Award Finalist, HUNTED (WestSide Books, Oct 2011), STAINED (Harcourt, 2013), The Last Dragon (HIP Books, Sept 2009), and Walking Both Sides (HIP Books, 2011). I also enjoy drawing, surfing the web, connecting with people I like, doing crafts, and being with my dog.
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42 Responses to My response to the specific challenge to Scars

  1. LizzieFriend says:

    Thanks for this–such a moving argument against this kind of censorship in school libraries.

    “I get readers telling me that because of Scars, they’ve sought out therapy, been able to talk to family and friends, and even been able to reduce or stop using self-harm altogether. And I’ve had people who have never experienced those things, tell me that they could never understand how someone could hurt themselves–until they read Scars.”

    I don’t know how anyone can see evidence like the above and still think they’re justified in trying to deny kids access to books that can help them. Good for you for fighting back.

  2. Very powerful post. I’ll never understand people who want to control what OTHER people read. If it bothers you, don’t read it. Let the rest of us decide for ourselves. This book has the potential to really help kids in pain–why would anybody want to deny them access?

    • Thank you so much, Vicky. And yes–I don’t understand it, either. It feels a bit…oppressive to me, to try to remove or ban books, keep others from them. Remove yourself from something you find hard, yes. Remove it for others? That is their choice. And when something can bring goodness or healing…it should always be the choice of each person, whether they turn to it or not. Whether it works for them or not….

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  4. Cheryl, every time I read your story I want to cry because it hurts me that people do such horrible things to children – and that you had to go through so much pain at different stages of your life. You are so brave to speak out and share your story with others, and for the sole purpose of helping. I think you’ve made your argument beautifully.

  5. Gigi Amateau says:

    Cheryl, thank you for your courage. I think books like yours say to teens, “you are not alone. You may feel alone, but lift your head and hold out your hand. We’ll walk through it with you.”

  6. Jennifer says:

    Scars has checked out regularly and without pause since I added it to our young adult collection last April. I haven’t had a formal challenge, but some people have said things like “why would we need a book like that” etc. We need it because 600 children and teens in our community have been abused – this year. And those are just the ones we know about.

    • Jennifer, I’m really glad to hear that! Thank you for telling me. It’s also interesting to hear what some people have said–and so very heartening that you know teens need it. But also hard–so many children and teens are being abused. I wish no one was ever abused! It leaves such deep emotional scars. But books can be a part of healing. They were–and still are–for me.

  7. Michelle says:

    I think it is important to open the lines of communication with young adults. Often they look to each other and not to adults. Having your child read something that is so different from our own background helps us understand others in a way that we would never have thought of before. I wouldn’t have any trouble with my children reading this book and I’d be open to any discussion they threw out at me about anything. That’s what our jobs are as parents-teaching them to be responsible on their own. One way is to look into other’s lives and think about what it was like for them. It’s called developing empathy, a necessary trait to pass on to the next generation. Try it.

    • Michelle, I think it’s really important to make it easy for teens to talk to us, too. And yes, reading about others’ experiences that aren’t our own help us to understand and empathize with others–and even help others! It’s a bit different, but once I was on the subway where a woman suddenly called out frantically in the car, asking if anyone had any sugar, juice, candy, anything. No one responded to her; everyone looked at her like she was crazy. But I understood why she was asking, understood there was a diabetic thing going on, and I gave her the mints I had–all because I’d read about diabetics in fiction. She said her daughter could have gone into a coma otherwise. I think we get so much good out of books, and like you said, we develop more empathy.

  8. Cheryl–you’re incredibly brave for speaking out (and for writing this book.) I’ve worked with many self-harming adolescents, whose arms looked sadly similar to yours, and topics like these need to be out in the open. Thank you for your courage!

    • Thank you, Kristi; I really appreciate your saying that! It helped to read. I agree with you so much–we need to be able to talk about these issues. Otherwise there’s too much shame and pain, and the desire to hurt ourselves gets worse. It sounds like the teens you work with are very lucky to have you. It helps so much to have people around who have compassion and who don’t judge. Who can see the pain and hear it.

  9. Traci Bell says:

    Hi Cheryl,
    Well written, with great points. The request to remove your book was made out of fear and ignorance. Stay true to YOUR story, so that it continues to touch others facing what you experienced.

  10. Madeline says:

    Triggers are everywhere and in more accessible places than a library – TV, News, Movies, Internet, everyday life. In-your-face type places. In media formats that happen so quick, it’s in your mind, your thoughts, as soon as you view it. Sometimes telling you what you should think rather than letting you come up with an opinion of your own.

    A book is something you need to seek out. Something you need to find and take the time to read. Something you can put down and stop if it becomes too tough to handle. Picking it up later when you are ready. And, just like Scars, a book would be more healing than harmful. Those people who would sign out Scars are people who are looking for help and/or understanding. Not looking for triggers or excuses.

    Your abusers didn’t want you to speak out and ask for help. Your book has the power to help others speak out and ask for help they need. Which makes me wonder, why would someone want a book removed from a library? Are they really afraid of the “triggers,” which are all around us or is there another reason?

    Keep up the great work, Cheryl. All the best.

    • oh, yes, I agree with you–triggers via media can go in there fast and hard, almost without our processing it. And we’re given the visual and the audio, all without trying. But with books, we bring a much bigger part of ourselves into the story, and I think, at least, that that helps us work through more, helps us process more–by bringing our own experiences into the story. And you’re right–we can put it down if it becomes too much (I think easier than TV or a movie, where we may feel trapped, pulled in by the screen). And I think you’re right, that the people reading Scars are the ones who want help, or to be understood, or to understand others.

      I love hearing that some readers have been able to get therapy or talk to people about their painful experiences after reading Scars–it’s incredible! In thinking about your comment…I know that my abuser parents would never want Scars to exist.

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful, supportive comments.

  11. Nancy Jackson says:

    When someone doesn’t speak up – that’s when people feel they’re alone in the world, and I would consider that a trigger on its own. By you writing Scars, you let others know that they aren’t alone.

    As to triggers, I see evidence daily at the grocery store with too-thin models, too-thin celebrities, celebrities having plastic surgery and those are glorified. They aren’t put there to help anyone. Your book has a message!

    It’s obvious you’re very strong, and I believe your strong voice will be heard no matter what!


    • Nancy, I agree! It’s so important to speak up about injustices, pain, our own truths…. It helps not only ourselves, but others. And feeling alone and in pain (or shame) is so very painful. It was definitely one of my drives in getting Scars published–to let others know that they aren’t alone.

      And yes, we each have our own triggers, based on our own experiences. I think, in facing them and dealing with them, we truly help ourselves.

      And thank you for saying that, that I’m strong. I think I am emotionally strong, even though I can also be vulnerable. 🙂 I’ve always spoken out and worked on healing, and Scars is a part of that.

  12. Ashley says:

    Hugs! I think it’s amazing that you’ve been able to write something like this, that was a help for you that in turns allows others to begin the healing process. The only good thing I can see that’s come out of this challenge is that I am now aware of your book, and plan to purchase it next time I buy books. 🙂 <3

    • Ashley, thank you. It really does help to write–that was part of my survival and my healing. And it helps to know that Scars is reaching others, and helping them; that is such a huge thing for me! …I did find the challenge a bit hard, most especially when I found out the specific challenge–but the support has been incredible, and it’s made it so much better than it might have been for me. So thank you for being part of that.

    • Thank you, Ashley! It IS such a cool thing, to have something be healing for oneself AND healing for others. I’m very glad you’re going to read Scars; thank you for telling me.

  13. Kay McGriff says:

    Cheryl, Thank you for your courage and honesty in speaking out. I have not had the honor of reading Scars yet, but I will be getting a copy for me soon. I teach 8th graders who have lived through some horrifying events, usually at the mercy of the parents who should love and protect them. Some of their scars from self harm are visible, some not as much, but they all need to know that they are not alone. OFten, it is reading a book about a character who is “just like me” that gives them the courage to speak out and find help.

    • Kay, thank you so much for your kind, encouraging words. I really appreciate it! And I’m so glad you’ll read Scars. Let me know what you think (if you want to) when you’ve read it. It sounds like it could be a really good fit for your 8th graders. It sounds like you’re doing really good things with your students. That you’re aware of the abuse they’ve endured, and their self-harm–that’s incredible. It helps a lot to just be seen, sometimes. And I agree–reading a book that reflects our own experiences helps SO much.

  14. Liz Czukas says:

    A wonderful, thoughtful response. Thank you for your continued strength. I had no idea your arms were on the cover! This is, unsurprisingly, a trumped up reason for challenging your book. I wish you and your book the best through this process.

    – Liz

  15. Thank you so very, very much, you guys, for your support. It means so much to me!

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  17. Hi Cheryl and Thank you for your wonderful perspective on being the author of a challenged book. I blogged about this again today at SLJ. Best wishes to you. Diane

  18. Dianne–thank you so very much for your thoughtful, intelligent, passionate post about Scars being challenged, and challenged books! I so deeply appreciate it! (And your other post on Scars.) You are such an advocate; thank you!

  19. Whoops–sorry for the typo, Diane. 🙂

  20. What a moving post. I’ve linked to your various posts about the challenge over on Finding Wonderland. We wish you the best!

  21. I should say, I am in the process of linking to them. Still writing up the post! 🙂

  22. Sarah, thank you so very much! I really appreciate that–both that you think it’s a moving post, and that you’re linking to it. Thank you!

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  24. Cheryl,
    What extreme courage you have shown through telling you story. In reading this response, I felt your sincerity and your personal healing. Although I have not experienced the wrongs you have, I sensed the hope you share in exposing your scars and your heart. Thank you for being transparent so others may heal. You are a very special lady.
    See you in a twinkling,
    Brenda K. Hendricks

  25. When my book PURGE came out (novel, but based on my personal experiences being bulimic) there were similar criticisms that it might be “triggering” to people with ED’s. I was absolutely devastated by that criticism, because it was the *last* thing I would ever want to do in writing that book. I talked to my therapist (who specialized in the treatment of eating disorders, and who had read the book in MS form) and she said this: “Someone who *wants* to be triggered will always be able to find something, no matter what you do.”

    Thinking back to my own days of being actively bulimic and then in early recovery, I realized she was right. In early recovery, I thought I wanted to be better, but still wasn’t sure what was going to sustain me without my emotional crutch – so if I could find something something to trigger me back into the old bad habit, I’d use it.

    Now that I’ve been in recovery for over a decade, however, it’s a totally different story.

    It feel it’s so wrong to withhold books like yours, which have the potential to really change lives.

  26. June says:

    It has to be such a tremendous relief and feeling of accomplishment to know that you have been instrumental in reaching people who saw no way out, felt isolated and all alone until YOU provided a way out; you opened a portal toward healing…what a wonderful thing you’ve done. You’re brave and to be commended for reaching out for the good of others. God bless you Cheryl.

  27. Brenda, thank you so much for saying I have courage. I often don’t think of myself that way, though I know that I am emotionally strong (even though also vulnerable). It’s always felt important to me to speak out when I can (and also to listen); it’s part of healing. And healing is so important to me. I used to think…if everyone truly healed from the abuse or traumas they experienced, maybe there would be no more abuse. I think…I still hope for that.

    Sarah–thank you so much for writing, for sharing your experience! I so very much understand your feeling devastated by those comments about your book possibly triggering the very thing you’re working to help stop for others; I felt that way about this challenge to Scars. And Wow, I love what your therapist said! That helps, somehow. I’ll try to hold on to it. And thank you so very much for sharing your experience with me–I appreciate it so much! It sounds like Purge is a book that will help a lot of people with eating disorders.

    June, it is a hugely good feeling, knowing that Scars is helping others. I have always worked on giving good to others, but it is such a lovely thing to have it come from my book. From something that I feel I need to do–write–and to have it reach SO many people is Huge!

  28. And June, thank you so much for your kind words, and your support. I know you’re there for me, and I appreciate it!

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