A few years back, I went through a pretty traumatic and invasive surgery. When I was twenty, I suffered a massive pulmonary embolism. In laymans terms, this means I had tons of blood clots in my lungs that hindered my blood from circulating, which obstructed my ability to breathe properly. Long story short, I was rushed into surgery, told I would probably die, and then flat lined twice on the operating table. Pretty heavy stuff. A great deal of thanks goes to my surgeon who managed to clean out the clots and save my little life.
After this experience, my heart was heavier. My mind was cloudier. I was left with so many questions. I just wanted to know why the hell I survived. What was I supposed to take away from this? I had just survived something that most people do not. I was left wondering how I was going to take this curve-ball and grow from it. The only problem was that, for months, I could not get out of my own head.
During the beginning stages of my recovery, I felt completely defeated. The physical pain became unbearable at times. I felt helpless. I couldn’t shower by myself. I couldn’t lift anything. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t sleep through the night. I had lost all my freedom. My independence vanished. I needed help with everything. My pity party lasted for months. I hated everything–the fact that I had to leave my college, the physical pain, even the constant wake up calls to take medicine. Most of all, I hated my scar. I hated my scar because it represented my recovery—all of this pain and frustration was manifested in this permanent marking on my skin.
Along with being left confused and doing more introspective thinking than any person should ever take on, I was also left with this scar down the middle of my chest. Due to the hastiness of the surgery, my surgical cuts were not clean. They were deep and long and crooked. This scar, still completely visible, serves as a constant reminder of what I went through during that time. Starting at my breastbone, this scar travels all the way down my chest, stopping about four inches above my belly button. It used to be nothing but a burden to me. I was ashamed of it. I thought it was the ugliest part of me. Totally noticeable, totally distracting, but in retrospect, I was totally delusional.
Back then, I couldn’t understand what my scar actually meant. It represents a time in my life when I understood what struggle is—when I knew what it meant to hit rock bottom. It serves as a guidepost for how I am going to live the rest of my life. Though the intense surgery and even more intense recovery are now in my past, I think about those events every single day and allow them to serve as guides while I try to figure out who I am and where I want to go.
Over time, my scar has faded—and so has the resentment. I’ve realized that yes, my scar does remind me of a time in my life when things were hard, but it also reminds me that I survived. I am alive because of that scar. It means that the hurt is over, the cut has healed, and I too have mended. The pain has subsided. I used to hide my scar with my hair, turtlenecks, and scarves because I was so ashamed of it. Not anymore. I am proud of my scar. (As you can see in the photo at the bottom of this post. I’m a-okay with showing it off to you guys.) I am proud of who I am because of my scar. It doesn’t represent a time that I almost died; it represents a time that I became a survivor—a warrior.
We are all warriors.
Throughout our lives, we go through hardship. We collect scars. These scars line our bodies—creating the road map for our lives. We follow these roads, hoping that there’s something worthwhile at the end of this journey. We’re hoping for some sort of final, resolute place of complacency. These scars, while some ugly and representative of bad mistakes and crippling heartache, are the helpers that allow us to piece together who we are.
I know many believe in leaving the past behind and never looking back. I’m not sure I agree. Sometimes the past is okay to remember. I don’t think that former people, places, and experiences should weigh heavily on you, deter you from reaching your goals, or work as obstacles in the process of becoming the person you want to be. I believe they’re important. Yes, it’s true, everyone has a sad story—a story from their past that has somehow played a part in their current makeup. We all have been through the ringer at one point in our lives. For me, it was an emergency surgery that almost took my life. For you, it could be a terrible heartbreak, losing a loved one, or something completely different. It’s totally unique for each and every one of us.
In our twenties, we’re always being hit in the face hard with disappointment, frustration, and a large dose of harsh reality. We’re being tested and challenged and pushed to our limit. We’re banged up from hitting rock bottom. We’re left with bruises and cuts and scars. Do not let the scars of your past define your future. Let them guide you, lift you, help you, and balance you. Let them remind you of how amazing you are. Let them show you how far you’ve come. Embrace them. Wear them proudly like a badge of honor. They mean you’ve lived. They mean you’ve survived. They mean you’re a warrior.
Katie recently finished her undergrad at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois. She enjoys wasting hours on Facebook and tweeting things no one cares about. When asked the question, “Do you do marathons?” She promptly responds, “Of course! Which show?” Follow her @KatieGarrity! Or read her personal blog where she talks incessantly about Ryan Gosling and hummus here!