As 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!