What Stories Do Your Scars Tell?

This is my “disgusting” knee. I have 12 surgical scars on my left knee, 4 on my right. I remember one time I was wearing shorts and a guy pointed at me and said, “OH MY GOD, YOUR KNEES ARE DISGUSTING.” Everyone turned and looked. Blood rushed to my head. I was so humiliated. I was a young single girl at the time. I stopped wearing shorts or skirts unless I absolutely had to. I felt unlovable.

This is the story of my scars.

When I was 12, I had my first major surgeries.

See, I knew when I was young, all I wanted to be was a professional athlete. As a child of the 80s, there weren’t a lot of opportunities for female professional athletes, but it didn’t matter to me. I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to sports, and I trained from a young age — both mentally and physically — for an opportunity I hoped would appear by the time I came of age.

I lifted weights diligently before I should have, and from the minute I got home from school until the sun went down, I was working on windsprints, throwing a softball against our garage door, shooting baskets, practice practice practice. I thought, as long as I was willing to put in the work, success would inevitability come. I put my trust in sheer power of will.

At 12, I tore my left ACL and meniscus chasing a fly ball in a softball game. It was a no contact injury — my knee just blew out. It threw my whole world upside down. It had never occurred to me my body could not be trusted.

Shortly after, I had 2 surgeries to reconstruct the ACL and repair my meniscus. My surgeon said I was the youngest person he’d ever operated on. Over the years, I would tear my meniscus 2 more times and they removed it when I was 17. When I was 19, I played in a women’s 3on3 tournament at the University of Michigan, and took a charge that blew out my right ACL. I missed a semester of school, and spent the months recovering at home, lost in a deep mental funk. My body was my weakness.

Years later, my body had all kinds of issues. Chronic back spasms, early onset arthritis. Some days my body hurt so much I could barely walk from the bed to the bathroom and couldn’t go to work. Doctors wanted to perform more surgery, put me on a regiment of prescription anti-inflammatories with dubious long term side effects, or “at least” two Advils a day for the rest of my life. They talked to me constantly about surgery and pills, pills and surgery. Was life even worth living anymore?

I admit it, there were times I questioned if I wanted to live. I was in my 20s, in constant pain, and I went from dreams of being a professional athlete to being barely able to walk to the bathroom. I had no hope. Then one day, my coworker slipped me a little baggie and said, smoke this, it’ll help. I looked and it was cannabis. At first I didn’t want it. “Pot” was what the bad kids did in high school in the parking lot. I was an athlete and did everything I could to take care of my body. I didn’t do drugs. But the more I researched, and the more frustrated I became with the treatment plans my doctors were offering, I decided to try it.

The thing was, it wasn’t just pain relief. It opened up my mind, and helped me reconnect with my body. In those mental states, I would stay in my room, put on some music, light some candles, and stretch. I did what I call improvisational yoga, in that I have no yoga background or training, but it seemed that I just knew what to do to heal my own body, and my body became stronger. I also thought about life and who I wanted to be, and realized I was letting what I couldn’t do define me so much more than what I COULD do.

See, I think sometimes we think ourselves into corners. We get frustrated with our lives and we only think about the problems. We feel overwhelmed, we feel like victims. We start seeing problems as a permanent state, rather than temporary obstacles that if you can’t solve today, you may be able to solve tomorrow, or sometimes they resolve on their own.

I realized so many people put themselves in cages, but these cages are mental, built out of negative perceptions, and they stay in these cages even though there are no locks. They can walk out at any time. Sometimes people build their entire identities being locked in these cages, so even when you try to coax them out, they are scared.

I realized, I didn’t want to be a victim of my own negative thinking anymore.

I think of that time in my life as a turning point. I stopped seeing myself as a victim of things that happened to me, but focused on what I wanted in life. I spent less time moody about where I was, and more time planning how to get where I wanted. I wanted to be healthy. I wanted to be strong. I wanted to have good friends around me who were positive, so I got rid of negative people in my life. I didn’t like my job so I changed it. I tried to accept my family for who they are, not who I wish they were, and let go of baggage from the past.

And here’s the thing. It was like the new mental perspective lifted a weight off my shoulders, and my body started healing. The stretches got my body strong enough to get back into the gym and train, to keep it strong. When things started going well and I put myself in the driver’s seat of life, obstacles felt less overwhelming, and good things, even lucky things, seemed to happen. I still had setbacks, but they were easier to handle, and I had a strong support system around me to help me through tough times. In terms of my health, I also listened to doctors, but rather than following them blindly, I try to be informed. Through my own research, I’ve found alternative and more natural methods of healing that have had great benefits, avoiding the surgery and pills they’ve recommended. Let me tell you, so many plants in nature have healing properties, and so much of medicine is synthesizing what already naturally occurs in nature. We MUST take care of this planet, because this planet produces so much that heals us.

Today I am 40 and in the best shape of my life. I look at those times in my 20s when I was in so much pain as my rock bottom — I was so overwhelmed with pain and negativity that my mental state did as much damage to my body as my injuries did.

Today, I wear whatever I want. I don’t care what people think of the scars on my knees.

When I go to basketball tournaments, I see so many girls have the same ACL scars. I call it the female basketball player’s tattoo. Those scars tell me they have had set backs, they have had dark moments of fear and doubt, but they learned how to heal their bodies, how to trust their bodies again, and they have returned to the court as gladiators.

I see their scars and I instantly know the steel resolve their hearts are made of.

So that’s the story of my scars. What stories do your scars tell?