How To Own Your Scars & Set Them Free

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scarsPost written by Ashley Arcel.

Several years ago, I had just come through a painful breakup and was lying on my bed, arms splayed, staring at the ceiling and generally lamenting the state of my life. It was summer and my windows were thrown open for a breeze. Outside, birds chirped and I heard two women talking as they pushed their babies in strollers through my quiet neighborhood. I heard the whiz of bike tires on pavement and the faraway chiming of the hourly bells on the college campus.

And then, from somewhere between my ears I heard a little voice say “Nobody has ever loved me enough” and I sighed in my self-pity. And then, in some form of quiet miracle, I heard another voice – it was my own voice, but deeper and calmer than I had ever known it to be, with an unsubtle hint of amusement at the edges – and it asked me this question: “Is it really everyone you’ve ever been with, Ashley, or is it you?”

I was floored by that voice and, in fact, I laughed. I laughed at myself right there in the midst of all of that self-pity and self-loathing and, although I didn’t quite know it at the time, I began to change.

I’ve always had a difficult time loving myself

For years, I wasn’t exactly sure where that tendency had come from. I grew up in a stable, loving family with parents who respected each other and worked through their difficulties by talking, not screaming. I was never abandoned or alone or diminished. My formative years were happy, comfortable and absolutely chock-full of reassurance, patience and encouragement. But, life bruises us all a bit, and within the last year I have realized that the tendency to drag myself over the rocks developed later, after that nice, quiet childhood I was blessed with.

When I was 15 a boy sexually assaulted me

That incident left me questioning why I wasn’t entitled to the same treatment as other girls, why I was worth less than them, somehow. I didn’t tell anyone about what had taken place. In fact, I didn’t tell anyone until December one year ago. It took me that long to acknowledge the abuse, to own it and to realize that it had a profound affect on me.  At the time, I was far too young to understand or process the complex mix of embarrassment, shame and pain that comes out of such a trespass, so those things festered and became deeply-rooted feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. As I grew up and began dating, I found myself consistently choosing partners who would – in their own way – reinforce my newfound assertions about my lack of worth, power and intelligence, and this became the foundation upon which I built all other things.

I used bad relationships as a way to reinforce my own damaged idea of myself

And I did it without consciously realizing what I was doing. I think I learned that as long as I continued to find partners that would confirm to me that I wasn’t good enough, through infidelity or negligence or verbal abuse, then I could continue to avoid pushing through the things that I had, so far, avoided dealing with. If I continued to abuse myself through other people, I could avoid learning to love myself. I could continue to live in that familiar but awful cycle of self-fulfilling prophecies and dark, sad nights.

While self-pity is easy, self-love is one of the hardest lessons to learn.  As the years went on, I got better by virtue of maturity or life experience. I learned to recognize red flags in other people and I picked progressively better partners, but I still never felt wholly loved or accepted. I never felt safe and, most of all, I never felt ‘good enough’.

I always felt that there was another woman out there, lurking in the back of my partner’s mind; some great white buffalo of unrequited love that would sweep in some day and trump me with her beauty, her intelligence, her humor, her general grace and skill. Sometimes this woman actually existed, but most of the times she did not and either way, it didn’t matter – she was alive and well in my head, living happily in a carefully cultivated corner reserved for her – be she real or imagined.

I look back now and I am saddened by the love that I have been unable to receive due to the fact that I simply deemed myself unworthy

I look back now and I realize that I never truly had a relationship with another person. I simply had a relationship with my stories about myself, my own twisted truths and painful recollections.

What I felt that day on the bed wasn’t a reflection of my recent relationship, so much as it was a reflection of my mindset regarding myself. The relationship failed, yes, but it needed to fail, and it wasn’t ever about a lack of love. It was, more predominantly, about bad timing and the need for personal growth. It was about the beautiful and intriguing agony of self-discovery, and it was certainly about my own lack of confidence, lack of strength, and lack of respect for myself.

Back during that shiny, beautiful childhood I had – my father used to tell me one thing: “We are always fundamentally alone”

And back then I didn’t get it. We lived in the same house my parents had lived in for ten years before my birth and have lived in for all of the years since. I knew every inch of our ten, forested acres in the mountains of Montana. I knew the sound of the creek in the gully, the soft padding noises of deer outside my bedroom window, the quiet groan my baby brother’s bed made as he turned gently in his sleep. I did not understand how I could possibly be alone in the midst of all of that familiarity, and all of that cohesiveness. But my father kept telling me and I kept listening and, finally, it clicked.

While there are many partners in the world who would, historically, reinforce my feelings of inadequacy and insecurity, there was not one who could love me enough to ‘fix’ them

It wasn’t an issue of never having been ‘loved enough’ externally. It was an issue of feeling unworthy within myself. It was an issue of unresolved pain and confusion and a lack of ideas regarding how to regain my power and autonomy. I don’t tell this story to invite a pity party. I tell it because I think many people are in the midst of this same story, and because I think it is a powerful one. I think there is a potential for immense strength within a story like this.

Many people talk to themselves in ways that we would never dream of talking to our worst enemy, let alone our best friend

We wander around slumped under the weight of our baggage, stopping only to look in fun-house mirrors that distort the truth and make things seem insurmountable. Many people carry bags full of things they didn’t know how to move through and things that hurt so much they are hard to look at. For most of us, those bags have become so familiar that their crushing weight is now normal. When I realized this, I began attempting to focus on what I was good at rather than my perceived ‘faults’. (Try this – I guarantee there is more strength there than you let yourself realize). I’ve learned to say my peace, to own my scars. I’ve learned to set strong boundaries and I’m learning to move past and through and over the things that have previously tripped me up.

Like all things, this is an on-going process, but I share this story to tell you that you are better than you think

That you are worth love and respect and that, if you’re not getting those things, it is because it is nearly impossible to accept love and respect from the outside world if we don’t live it internally.

So, share your story, own your scars and then set them free if you’re ready. Come up with three things you love about yourself, right now, and write them on your palm if you need to. As author A.A. Milne so famously wrote, ” You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think” and although I love Mr. Milne, I would add to that that you are also worthy of intense, blinding, steadfast love – both externally and internally.

Ashley Arcel is a freelance writer and student midwife. She is interested in writing as a way to fully embrace and explore the human experience and to celebrate the unique moments of joy and sorrow that are a part of individual discovery. She lives in Bozeman, Montana. Visit her at

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