Scars usually are the result of a good story – not “good” as in smiley-face emoji’s and fairy tales, but good in the sense of having overcome a fear or a seemingly impossible challenge by facing some physical, mental or emotional demon. Good as in The Heroes Journey.
Each scar that is etched on my body is a permanent reminder of a lesson, and a moment in time. From a fearless first-grader trying to fly, to the countless crashes on my mountain bike, to the most noticeable and most life changing scar–my surgery to remove a Pancreatic tumor. This physical scar is what people notice, but it is the emotional scars that have left a larger mark on my life.
As they rolled me into surgery the doctor said with a smile, I’ll be giving you the “Mercedes Benz Cut.” I imagined the little silver hood adornment atop those sleek cars. Cute. What I got was a giant Peace Sign. Ironic, because up until that moment, I had never felt peace when it came to my stomach–shivering at the thought of being touched, and taking every opportunity to pull a shirt down. Ironic also that my name, Shanti, is Hindi for “Peace.”
My life before surgery, what I now call my “past life,” was a dream. And I do not mean fuzzy memories. I mean, at a very young age I already felt like I was living my dream. I started teaching Taebo (kickboxing aerobics) up in the Bay Area right out of college. Soon after, I was living the fantasy-trainer life, personal training and jetting off to exotic locales with my clients all over the country and also abroad. I taught fitness classes at two major motion film studios in the Bay Area AND was a fitness model in my spare time.
While my outside looked amazing, my inside was a disgusting mess full of low self-esteem and a self-worth-ometer set at zero. I punished my body overtraining for mountain bike races, Muay Thai (kickboxing) and trail running. Even yoga was a platform for self-abuse, beating myself up if I did not perform double chaturangas throughout every vinyasa yoga class. I now realize that I pushed my body to extremes to quiet my inner torment.
And the punishment did not stop at my physical endeavors.
This photo was taken about 5 months before my surgery. Two days before the shoot, I stopped eating anything solid. It was 48 hours of protein shakes and green juices while I logging extra miles running and cycling. I was incredibly self-conscious about every inch of my body, and mostly about my mid-section. I was the product of the “super-model era”, when waifs were the IT-girls and to look like a pre-pubescent boy was a thing of beauty. Every modeling job was a chance to say, “Hey – you ARE pretty, you ARE good enough.” But like fake friends, fake feelings never last. They were temporary band-aids to hide my wounded sense of self.
It’s clear to me now that I did not have a clue who I was, let alone love myself. At 26, clinging to the attention of a very fun and charismatic man, I got married. He would be the last in a string of long-term co-dependent relationships. The old Shanti needed to be with men that felt like they had to “save me.” The price of their love was high, and I paid with my need to please and my need to feel “not good enough.”
My surgery saved my life.
Quite literally, yes, but my emotional rescue was even more profound.
A couple days after surgery, while laying in ICU, I wrote in my journal:
Dear Diary: “I guess this is what people mean by getting a second chance. I am one of the lucky ones… to have all of my anger, frustration, fear and pain, physically removed from my body. I am an emotional clean slate. I am so grateful for this chance to truly start living my life.”
I can’t explain why I had such a clear sense of knowing, but I have never been so sure of anything in my life. Is this what all people experience when faced with their own mortality? My tumor was a self-inflicted wound created by holding in 30 years of emotional pain. Not feeling understood by my family as a child, to feeling tormented by classmates, and hating myself for never fitting in or fitting the mold of how a girl/young lady/woman was supposed to behave.
At first I was shocked by the size of my scar. I bought all the “scar creams” and cover-ups, and imagined I would continue to hide my mid-section with big shirts and tankinis.
What happened was very unexpected.
I just didn’t care anymore.
I finally accepted my body, scars and all, for what it was– Mine. The months of recovery were tough and I was told that without my spleen, I would be sick all of the time. I would also never attain the same level of fitness ever again. They had stitched me up so tight that I walked like a hunch-back and just pushing myself up out of bed left me wincing and breathless. But it is true that time heals. Little by little I began to move, sitting upright on my spin bike and going for long walks. I also vowed that my new life was going to be filled with love and smiles. Doing only the things that brought me joy and spending time with people that truly loved and supported me.
Like the tumor, I removed everything toxic from my life.
I now give my permission to just be myself. Instead of doing, pushing, and forcing – I feel. I have also learned to love my scars. They represent lessons and growth. I do not think I would be physically or emotionally where I am now if it were not for my illness and the surgery. I am grateful for every ugly and uncomfortable moment, for every mean word spoken in my direction, and every physical and emotional ache, for they encouraged me to embrace my inner strength, to rise up and own ME, my true self that loves all of me – every flaw, every scar.
The truth is, we all have scars. Your scars are badges of honor. A reminder that you faced a challenge, walked through the fire, fought your demons, was presented with lessons and survived.
You are your own hero and it is up to you to create your own happily ever after!