We've all heard the familiar saying, "Easier said than done," and yesterday I experienced this in a very personal way. Over the winter I had been planning away for the summer of 2022 to be my summer where I shed the cardigans, long sleeves, and rash guards to wear clothing that would be more seasonally correct. I mean, after all, how can I possibly move along on my Burn Survivor journey if I'm still hiding away despite the heat and humidity of a Southwest Missouri summer? In my estimation, it wasn't moving on. It was letting my fear get the best of me.
Most of my scarring has been on my arms, hips, and feet. This would make short sleeves, swimsuits, and sandals a complete "no-no" in my general rule of "putting your best foot forward." To say I'm embarrassed about my appearance is an understatement. I have felt shame and anguish over my body image for almost 3 years. It's like looking into a mirror and not recognizing who you are. It's grief. It hits me time and time again just when I think I'm doing better.
I had finally reached my 40s where I was getting comfortable in my own skin but that rug has been pulled out from under me. Many times since, I have wished I could share with women my age in the Over 40 Club, how incredibly blessed they are that their biggest concern is that they have a few wrinkles, a little gray hair, or some stubborn weight around the middle. How I wish that was me again! It's so much more difficult to belong to the Burn Survivor Club I'm in and feel as if the very sight of my scars would turn heads, invite uncomfortable questions, or might even scare some small children. It's a difficult reality to face.
Anyway, I had decided that I had had enough of wishing and wanting things to be different and I would just accept things the way they are. I deserve to wear what I want just like everyone else. The best way to do it must be to just push forward and just get out there and wear whatever I feel like wearing...But, as the saying goes, "easier said than done."
So, I booked a trip to Gulf Shores Alabama for our family's first-ever beach vacation. I went swimsuit shopping and picked something that was just perfect for my body type. It was just the sort of thing I would love. Black. Leopard print. Strapless. Elegant and conservative. Then I went to the beach with my husband and three teenage daughters. On the first day, I wore my rash guard and black bottoms. The next day was no different.
It didn't matter that I didn't know a single soul on the beach except for my family who accepted me just the way I am. It didn't matter that I had put sunless tanning lotion all over my body so that I would at least look like I had a normal skin tone and that I'd been out in the sun. It didn't matter that I was slathered with SPF 3000 (ok, a little exaggeration, there a bit) and wouldn't need to worry about my skin burning. It was because that little voice in my head was screaming that I didn't belong in a swimsuit on this beautiful beach in Gulf Shores Alabama beside my beautiful daughters and my very handsome husband. So, I couldn't do it.
I don't know what made me angrier. Was it that I used to feel good about myself in a swimsuit and now I just feel so ashamed? Or was it that I feel this need to be ashamed when I've done nothing wrong? Or that I'll never be able to get a deep dark tan again? Or that I'll never be able to enjoy a beach vacation with my family without tormenting myself? In the end, I think what got me was that I just didn't feel deserving and that's just messed up!
What was wrong with me? I thought I had made some real progress after my second-year burnaversary, But no, here I was grieving yet again the loss of who I was. Will this ever end? Will I ever be able to accept things as they are? Will I ever stop wishing and wanting things to be different? Why does how I look even really matter to me so much? Am I really that vain? What kind of message does this send to my daughters? These are all questions that would run continuously through my mind on a restless loop. I was sick of listening to myself and unable to make it stop, but I knew if I didn't figure out a way to make it stop, I would plummet further into this ridiculous pit of self-pity for the duration of my trip!
So, I made 3 very good decisions. First, I looked at what God said in His word what he considered beautiful. I found 3 verses that brought me His perspective:
1. But the Lord said unto Samuel, “Look not on his countenance or on the height of his stature, because I have refused him; for the Lord seeth not as man seeth. For man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart." 1 Samuel 16:7
2. Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised." Proverbs 31:30
3. Your beauty should not come from outward adornments, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight." 1 Peter 3:3-4
Next, I prayed about it. I understood that God looks at the condition of our hearts and not our outward beauty. My focus should be on fearing the Lord and cultivating a gentle and quiet spirit.
Then, I asked for help from my fellow Burn Survivors who have been where I am now. There's a Facebook group called the "Burn Survivor's Peer Support" group. I've often read posts and have made comments when I felt I could be of assistance or encouragement. I hoped it helped in some small way. Although I'm pretty early in this journey, there are so many that join all the time that are just beginning theirs.
So many times I have thought to myself that being burned is the worst thing that can happen to a person. I remember laying in bed when I got home from the hospital thinking that no one deserved to ever be burned. It's like being dropped into hell with no hope of anyone to rescue you. And once you get out, you are never the same again. The trauma has been done. You will always live with a feeling that hell is at your back for the rest of your life.
So, once you find a caring group of people who can relate, it helps. And for me, it was just what I needed to push me out of the condo that morning and onto the beach with my swimsuit under my clothes. I brought along with me a shell that had a "scar" on it. I used it as my anchor as I repeated an affirmation, "This is me now. No regrets."
I laid my stuff down. I set my phone up to record the moment and began shedding clothes. I quickly walked to the water and kept my eyes on the waves and my breaths deep. So there I stood...all alone in my swimsuit with people all around me.
Pretty soon I began doing some yoga to calm me down. It helped. Yoga always helps me feel centered. Soon, my anxiety dissolved and I began to feel exhilarated! I made my way into the water with sand pulling away at my feet and waves crashing around me. It was rather dizzyingly and apparently unsafe; a guy came to tell me it was a double red flag day. Oops! I caught the guy glancing at one of my arms and then back up to my face. To my delight, I was more embarrassed about getting into trouble than I was about the scars on that arm. I quickly gathered my things and spotted another seashell with "scars" on it and snatched it up to remember all the great advice from my fellow burn survivors that helped me get done what I desperately needed to do!
I wish I could say I am cured. I'm not. But I am one step closer to finding acceptance. This was a giant step for me and I am so grateful I was able to do what I set out to do. It's definitely easier to say you're going to do something than it is to actually do it. I think the reason is that thinking about doing it can really psych you out, which is what one of my fellow burn survivor friends said! I want to leave you all with many of the comments I received when I sent out my HELP post in that Facebook group. Perhaps their words of encouragement can help someone else.
Tips From REAL Burn Survivors on Accepting Your Scars
There's no time for regrets.
This is who you are now.
Sometimes you just have to get out and do it. Go for it!
Just remember you are beautiful.
You've got to be able to live your best life.
You deserve a second chance at life.
You deserve to be treated like everyone else, scars and all.
You are surrounded by people who love and accept you.
Don't make eye contact with anyone other than your loved ones when you feel self-conscious.
Keep in mind that anyone who would stare at you could never fight through what you've had to fight through.
Humans just stare at things that look different.
You are God's artwork.
Just enjoy your life.
Just be glad you are alive.
Share your story.
Sometimes we are our own worst enemies.
Feel the fear and do it anyway...it helps you to grow as a person.
It's a "Rip the bandaid" moment.
Embrace your imperfections.
It doesn't matter what you look like on the outside as long as you have a kind heart.
We are supposed to learn through our traumas.
Take advantage of each and every moment.
"I waited 40 years. I so regret not doing it sooner. I missed out on so much because I focused on what others would think. Put on that swimsuit and enjoy yourself!"
Very few people are offended by scars, they're just curious.
Take lessons from the sorrows life gives you but hold tight to the joys.
I just strut in my bikini like a Boss. It's empowering!
Thinking about unveiling scars is way worse than actually doing it.
Remember to breathe down that anxiety and walk on through to the other side of it.
Remember the story The Velveteen Rabbit..."You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand."
As always, Read Your Bible & Pray Every Day.
1 Thessalonians 5:18 "In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." Bible KJV
Burn Survivors Peer Support https://www.facebook.com/groups/BurnSurvivorPeerSupport