Featured Submission for the Future Is Mine: Adult Burn Survivor Program
Originally posted in 2004.
You don’t grow up dreaming to be a burn survivor, rather you may have dreamed of being a teacher, fire fighter or police officer. You don’t grow up dreaming of it, it just happens. I have been a burn survivor for almost 16 years. When I wake up and run through my regular daily routine I have a tendency to forget about all the trauma and grief that I’ve gone through. It has taken a long time to cope with my burn scars and disfigurement and well as physical incapability’s.
I grew up a normal teen doing everyday teen things; I hung out with friends, was on the high school wrestling team and had lots of friends. I was a typical teen enjoying life and everything life had to offer. Coming from a small town there wasn’t a lot to do on the weekends as a teenager so we would find a way to get alcohol and then find somewhere to consume it; this was a regular weekend occurrence. We were typical teens who never got into too much mischief.
It was a typical Friday night in my senior year of high school when my life was turned upside down, inside out and stomped on. This Friday night started out like no other, we all met up at the local pool hall where we’d play pool and figure out our plans for the weekend. We decided to venture to another pool hall in small town about 45 minutes away from where we lived. We had never been there so we thought we’d go check it out. Being regular teens and not old enough to buy alcohol we managed to find a way to get us alcohol. Now our golden rule was we never drank and drove as we were always told not to. The driver was sober and me and two of my other friends were drinking. Well, we were all having fun at the pool hall and it was getting late so we decided to head back home. Now this is the part where my life was changed forever and I lost those three close friends, one being my best friend. Halfway back the driver lost control of the car on a sharp corner and the car ended up in the ditch with 3 dead teen boys and one on fire.
Now this is the part when people like to play the blame game. Yes, the driver was speeding and in control of the car, but we were the ones in the car drinking with the tunes cranked thinking nothing would ever happen. As a teen you are influenced highly by your peers hence the term ‘peer pressure’. If we were not drinking and acting like foolish teens while in the car I like to think this would have never happened. We are all responsible for what happened that night in one way or another and that is important to understand and deal with.
When I awoke in that hospital bed with burns to 75% of my body and a broken arm, I desperately wanted to blame someone other than myself. I was lucky though because I had my family there with me and my dad was a key role in my recovery, as he is the one that helped me cope with what had happened the most. He helped me understand that the driver didn’t mean for this to happen. Yes he was the one driving but he lost his life too. When I was able to digest this and take responsibility I was able to start to heal.
I had a long road to recover in my future. I underwent numerous surgeries and countless hours of therapy. The physical pain from the surgery was a daily occurrence for me with the strongest pain killers only slightly numbing the pain. The pain from the physical therapy was almost unbearable and as you are going through it seems almost pointless. Pointless till you are able to get the mobility back, whether it is in your legs or arms or hands. I used to cry because it was so painful to stretch my scar filled hands. I now am very thankful now for the pain they put me through as it gave me mobility where if I never would have done it I would never have the mobility I have today.
Now the physical burn scars are hard to cope with physically but they are much harder to cope with on a mental wellbeing basis. I was a typical teen and dressed a certain way and was used to the way I looked. I used to sit in front of the mirror for what my father said was forever doing my hair. Hey, I had to make sure it looked great. As a teen you struggle to fit in and be a part of the group and try not to standout. We all know how hard life is as a teen with all the life changes you go through with the development of your body and all the crazy rushing hormones. Now throw into that mixture the reality of being a burn victim, I say a burn victim because at this stage I was. I had to cope with the reality that I would never look the same again and I had to get used to my newly disfigured face. How fair was this to me I thought. I had a hard time coping with this and with the support of my family and friends and lots and lots of time I was able to cope. I look different for sure and don’t deny it. It has taken a long time but I now can say I love the way I look. It may sound strange but it’s true, I love my scars as they are a part of who I am and what I am. I am a burn survivor and I am proud to be one. Without my scars I would never be the man I am today. My life is filled with lots of people that love me and who I love. I am not rich in a financial sense but I am rich in the sense of who I have in my life and for that I am thankful to be a burn survivor.
How I See My Scars
Originally posted on November 8, 2014.
Today I am present to the impacts of when someone calls us ugly or hideous or gross or a monster because of how we look.
I can remember what it’s like when someone would say this to me or when they would stare at me. Times like this are definitely tough and I have had times like this when I just wanted to crawl under a rock and hide. Not a good feeling at all.
I understand that some people might be activated by my scars. That is not my problem. They may see my scars as ugly(or what negative word they choose) and those are their thoughts, not my thoughts and I don’t have to own them. When people get triggered by what they interpret as ugly, this has nothing to do with me at all. It has everything to do with them. They may be so caught up in looks that they can’t be with someone that has scars or is disfigured. This is something that they are struggling with.
If someone can’t be with how I look or my scars, this is OK with me. I don’t have the right to make them wrong for their thoughts or feelings. I can though, be curious with them and wonder what it is about my scars that they can’t be with. I can give them space and and not push myself on them.
Now I was not always like this and I would get activated and angry(a lot) when someone would stare at me and my scars. I was activated because I thought of my scars as ugly. I thought that I was broken, destroyed and worthless. I was very ashamed of my scars and hated it when people would stare at me. I was ashamed of my scars, when someone would look at me or stare, I would be extremely embarrassed and ashamed. I was ashamed of the scars and this was because what I was saying about my own scars. It had nothing to do with anyone but me. I seen my scars as a defect. I was telling myself that I was ugly, destroyed, worthless and unlovable.
Over time I have learned to accept my scars and am now able to be with my scars. I actually love my scars. It has taken a long time to get here and it’s been a struggle but man I love the way I look. I look different and that’s OK with me. Now when someone stares, I smile and introduce myself and share why I look different. I get the greatest joy when someone is able to look me in the eyes. People tell me all the time that after meeting me and being with me my scars disappear.
I understand that they are only staring because I look different and they are curiosity and I’m OK with that. If they don’t like the way I look, that’s OK too because that has nothing to do with me. I encourage you if you are struggling with how your scars look, then look at what you are saying about your scars. What negative talk are you saying about the scars or about yourself. I invite you to give that negative talk or view point. Don’t be ashamed of your scars, they are just scars, just skin cells. I encourage you to embrace your scars and learn to love them. When you are able to to just be with your scars then your life will be enriched. You will find yourself happier and you may even discover that people are more accepting of you and may even want to spend more time getting to know you.
If you are interested in learning how to accept your scars email me at johnwesthaver @gmail.com.
Thank you for taking the time to read my post. Please share it with everyone.