My right eyebrow is split by a scar incurred as a young teen.
One afternoon while my family was participating in a family day at the local YMCA, I took to the gym to play on the uneven parallel bars. I loved gymnastics despite being told repeatedly that I had the less than ideal body for it – too tall, too dense, too curvy; I heard it all, internalized the messages, and learned to believe my body was flawed.
But I loved gymnastics, moving with the equipment, the rhythms and the feeling of accomplishment in properly executing a move. I don’t pretend I was any good at it, but I loved it.
On this particular day, I took to the uneven parallel bars and while attempting a roll on the top bar smacked my head on the bottom one.
Odd. That had never happened before. I made the assumption that I hadn’t properly tucked and tried again.
Frustrated and determined to get it right, I tried the roll again, tucking my body as compactly as I could.
The third smack proved to be too much. I felt a little woozy and decided to take a rest, seating myself on the wooden benches that lined the walls of the YMCA gymnasium.
Someone walked by while I was sitting there attempting to regain my composure; his look of horror made me curious enough to touch my eyebrow.
The blood that had been flowing freely down my face without me being aware rerouted its flow down my fingers, palm, wrist and arm. It was a pretty substantial gush and I hadn’t even realized I was bleeding.
I sought assistance from the YMCA staff, who located my parents in another part of the building. They brought me to the emergency ward where it took three stitches to close the wound.
In reviewing the incident, the YMCA staff let me know that there had been a junior gymnastics class in the gym earlier in the day. The uneven bars had been adjusted to the height of a small child, and had not been returned to their regular configuration before family day hours gave us access to the gym.
It wasn’t my fault. I hadn’t done anything wrong. Except for continuing to try the move two more times. Except for not trusting my body.
The message that I am the problem when something isn’t working, that I am flawed, that I am not enough, that I am deficient in some way, had been internalized and normalized in me to the point that I could not imagine any other possibility than that I had hit my head THREE TIMES because there was something wrong with me, something wrong with my body, something wrong with the way I was moving.
What is it that they say about repeating the same behaviour and expecting different results? Yeah, I know.
And yet there countless ways in which this scenario plays out in our lives on a regular basis, a lot of the time without being conscious that the voice speaking those lies isn’t our own.
I’m pretty sure I wasn’t born that way.
Where and when did I lose the ability to trust myself and my body? What is it about me that learned to rely on no one and nothing outside myself for answers when something isn’t going right? (I have a theory about this that will share with you later in another post)
I could have asked someone to spot me, to check out the equipment, to make sure there wasn’t some outside adjustment that needed to be made in order for the move to work. But I didn’t.
Somewhere along the line, I internalized the messages that I was broken and in need of fixing at the same time as not being able to rely on anyone but myself to meet my needs.
For a long time, my scar was a reminder to me of my stupidity and stubbornness, of my not-enough-ness.
I realized recently that I no longer feel the same way about my scar.
It is now a reminder that when something isn’t working it’s not always my fault, that it’s not just me; in fact that it’s almost never just me.
It’s a reminder that I have learned a lot about myself, and the way I walk in the world, and that I’ve done some good healing, some good connecting with my inner child.
It’s a reminder that I can rely on and return the support, assistance and love of others to grow and learn and thrive; that I can do that without sacrificing or depleting myself, or trying to make myself small enough to do that bar roll.
It’s a reminder that I am a grown-assed woman now and I get to choose the messages and voice I use in self-talk.
It’s a reminder that, as capable and smart and stubborn as I am, I don’t want to do this living thing alone. It’s not who I was born to be, and not where I feel most at home.
My scar is now a reminder that I can cut myself some slack, that I am not broken, flawed or lacking in anything.
And it’s a reminder that everybody has probably felt the way I did at some time or other, that we can be gentler with ourselves and each other in navigating life and that maybe, just maybe, we can thrive together and change things up for the future.
I don’t have to smash my head in the pursuit of perfection. I’m learning that on deeper levels every day.
I have a scar to remind me.