Inspired by Mario’s story, who at one years old, had an accident that left a burned scar all over his chest and left arm, I thought I’d share his journey in accepting his scars and finally be able to be “real”.
For so long, all I wanted to do was hide my scars. I wore long sleeve shirts on hot, humid summer days. Looking at them was a constant reminder of the pain and sorrow I endured for years. Not the physical pain, but, the agony of being an outcast while growing up.
“You don’t belong in school with us, you’re a freak, you should be locked up in a hospital”.
Although, my mom and four sisters did everything to comfort me by saying that I was very “special”, I was still the only kid who had these scars. I felt different.
As the insults continued, I became more attached to my mom, clinging to her every time we were in public.
This is how my life would be. If I didn’t let anyone in my world, I would not have to endure that pain again. Besides, I had my mom and sisters who did everything for me. I would never have a girlfriend; “No girl would ever find me attractive with these scars.”
At 18 years old, as I was standing in line waiting to show my registration papers to do the mandatory military service, I kept thinking, “I don’t want to do this, I can’t go through the humiliation again.” Without giving it a second thought, I pulled up my sleeve and folded my left arm as if curled to my chest.
“What’s wrong with your arm?”
“I had an accident. I’m no longer able to stretch it.”
He took one look at my scars and I was dismissed!
For the first time in my life, I looked at my scars and saw them in a different perspective. I couldn’t stop smiling. Not only because I got out of doing the military, but for the first time I accepted that my scars were a part of me. I remembered my mom’s words, “you’re special”. I kept on smiling.
For two years, I struggled with the thought of leaving the comfort of my home in Santiago. A place where I had everything I wanted. I was tired of hiding and wanted to know the real me. But how do you let go of everything you have?
One night, my dad was telling me about a friend of his from University. He did not have a degree, did not own a car and did not have a country house. For my dad, it meant that his friend did not succeed in life. He went on to say, “he says he’s happy, how can anyone be happy with nothing?” I looked at him, I couldn’t remember the last time we actually spend time together. Being a lawyer, his life revolved around working and having the best of everything. We rarely got to see him.
The words just came out, “dad, you have a degree, worked all your life and have all these things that most people are not able to afford. Can you really say that you’re happy?”
My dad looked at me, put his head down, stared at the floor, looked at me again and said, “no, I was never really happy.”
“Dad, I have decided to leave Santiago and go to University in Valparaiso.”
“Son, you don’t have to run off to start over. There is an operation now that can be performed to get rid of your scars.”
“No, dad, they are a part of me, it is who I am. I don’t want to get rid of my scars. I want to live my own life.”
I moved in my apartment in Valparaiso. Between working, studying, laundry and groceries, getting four hours of sleep was a good night.
After two years, I failed my courses and was dismissed from the University. I had no idea what to do, but, I didn’t want to go back to my family. The worst part was telling my dad that I failed.
“I’m so proud of you! Don’t give up” he said. “You can register in another university. You need to be more realistic with your expectations. Take one step at a time.”
My most unexpected awakening moment was when I told my good friend that I would be attending a different University.
“We will still hang out together, we…”
Suddenly he paused. He looked at my scars and said, “What happened to your arm?”
In the two years we hang out together he had never noticed my scars!
All those years, my negative response to people’s reaction caused my grief. I thought that every person I met, saw my scars as a weakness. I wanted to be perfect and prove them wrong. I learned that being real does not mean being perfect. Sometimes “being real” means going through a pile of dirt. The cleaning up is what made me grow.
Surrendering to myself, I gained strength and confidence to keep going. Sometimes along the way, asking others for help would only make me stronger. This time, I took one step at a time by reflecting on my mistakes.
I am 2 months away from getting my degree. It has been an amazing 7 years. I have been in a relationship for over 2 years now. We are actually talking about starting a family together. It feels so good to finally be real, the real me!
I hope Mario’s story inspires you in believing that whatever happens, humiliations, misfortunes, imperfections or scars (whether visible or invisible), is an opportunity to build your identity. Hiding behind them and trying to be perfect is exhausting! Are you ready? Have the courage to embrace those scars, they are part of the REAL you.
I leave you with this quote from Jorge Luis Borges:
“Any life is made up of a single moment, the moment in which a man finds out, once and for all, who he is.”