Often viewed as one of the most tell tale signs of a true “junkie”, there is no doubt about the stigma that comes with track marks.
It has been three great years since the last time a needle punctured my skin in a desperate search for a functioning vein. Some scars still remain, lightly tracing along the outlines of the now damaged veins of my inner forearms. Varying in length and thickness, my scars show a twisted story of what once were my favourite spots to shoot. They serve as a very permanent and visible reminder which mark my time spent in the darkness and hell of intravenous drug addiction.
Depending on the person, scars can hold a vast variety of meanings. Just as every person is unique, so are their individual scars and their interpretation of them. There are those who believe these marks show strength, while others see them as a mark of our weaknesses. Some see the painful reminder of the event(s) surrounding them, while others view their scars as a reminder of perseverance and healing. Not unlike a tattoo, they mark an event and tell a story, preserving it in time right on our skin.
As my own scarring from intravenous drug use physically heals, slowly fading with the passing years, so too does the emotional pain and guilt that once went hand in hand with it. I have come to a place where I’ve managed to accept them, but I didn’t always feel this way.
There was a time when I would consistently go to great lengths to ensure my scars were always hidden from the curious wandering eyes of strangers or friends whenever I left the house. From expensive makeup to long sleeves and hoodies in the dead heat of summer, I was resigned to always keeping them covered. I mean always. Almost 40 degrees celsius with the humidity? The temperature was irrelevant to me. They had to be covered. I would rather be an uncomfortable sweaty mess than openly show those scars. I felt as though having them exposed somehow immediately made it known to everyone around me that I was a recovering addict and all around shitty person. In my mind, it might as well have been etched across my forehead. At the time, openly identifying as a recovering IV drug user was a huge source of shame. It wasn’t just the scars that were fresh. So too was the emotional pain and damage from everything I had done and experienced. I didn’t even want to see these marks, let alone allow strangers to.
Whether it was guilting hundreds of dollars out of a pregnant colleague, manipulating the feelings of amazingly supportive friends and family for monetary gain, or misleading those who were kind enough to give me money as I begged on the street; I had become all too good at lying and playing on the feelings of others. In order to feed and finance my habit, I did whatever needed to be done at the given time. Going without my fix felt like going without air. Once in recovery and no longer using or lying to fund a habit, I still carried all that fresh guilt. It was all the guilt I simply didn’t allow myself to feel at the time it originally occurred.
As time passed, I began to sift through and deal with my experiences, and how I viewed my scars began to change. I went from seeing them as a terrible brand on my skin publicly advertising my past struggles, to something completely different. For me, scars hold a powerful double meaning. They represent both the strengths and the weaknesses of us as people. It doesn’t take much to leave behind a permanent mark, forever branding the human body. Whether it be a small imperfection, blemish, discolouration, or disfigurement; a scar remains. However, those same marks also remind me of our strength.
We have the amazing ability to heal from events that cause damage to us. The remaining scars are symbols of our perseverance, tenacity, healing, and growth. The power the body has to heal from and overcome truly traumatic physical harms is extraordinary. We can heal. My scars are a visible mark on my body that remind me of exactly that; I can heal. I have healed, and I am still and always will be healing. However, this healing extends far beyond just the physical. We so often treat the physical injury yet fail to even acknowledge there is an emotional/mental one as well, let alone treat it properly.
The psychological and emotional toll taken after years of addiction can be huge. It isn’t something that just magically disappears once you hit 90 days sober. Many of us carry this pain around with us for years after we made the choice to pursue recovery. I spent years high as a kite attempting to numb away the emotional hurt and pain from events prior, and never actually dealing with it. It can be a huge kick in the ass once you are suddenly clear headed and without your once favourite pastime to distract and numb your mind.
For a long time, simply catching a glimpse of my own scars immediately reminded me of the many bad choices, hurtful decisions, and lies. But to an outside eye, these emotional aspects of our scars are not so obvious. No matter how hard you look, the deepest scars are the ones you won’t see in these photos. You won’t see the shame and guilt that they once held. You can’t spot the progress that has taken place mentally, and you can’t point out the emotional and spiritual healing that has occurred.
All that remains for the eye to see is the lightly coloured scar tissue that traces along my damaged veins. But I am healing, and have gotten to a place where I no longer feel the need to hide or cover my scars. They are me.