[This post may be triggering and includes content relating to self-harm.]
We’ve been through a lot together, you and I. Well, mostly you. Let’s get real, Arms – I treated you like shit for a long time. When I was a little girl, I threw you around every adult I met, clinging desperately for love. When that didn’t work out, I wondered what else you might help me do. I hoped you’d break, so someone would scoop me up and make it all better. I fantasised about the sound of your bones cracking, the sound of my voice crying out – you would have been the perfect alibi. They would never know the reason I was really crying. Hell, I even tried to break you myself a couple of times, half-heartedly, spraining your wrists – “I fell down the stairs at Sarah’s house.” You were always very good accomplices.
When I was thirteen I started hurting you for real. A little bit at first, just surface wounds, nothing serious. I made you speak for me when I had no words. It was so easy and it felt so good. Soon I had etched quite the epic poem of self-destruction up and down you. I got really good at hurting you, and really good at hiding you. Soon I didn’t need you to speak for me any more, I was all grown, a big girl now. You and I were in this together, we were bound by blood. When people saw you, they were sad. Or scared. There was a time when you were my only friend.
In all that time I abused you and damaged you, I never thought about how important you are. I thought you were a canvas. I never considered you were a tool. The many tendons you house, running into my hands and fingers, are essential for the most important thing in my life: writing. Your incredible preciousness didn’t hit me for a long time. You endured close to twenty-five years of pain before I finally learned who you really are. I was sitting at my laptop, working frantically to finish the most important academic work of my life, and you had been wound up tight in bandages by disapproving nurses. It was a struggle to type, you were so raw, and I finally knew – every time I hurt you, I risk your power, I risk being silenced for real.
I wish I could say I left you alone from that day forward, but you know me. It was a long road, with several stops at the Relapse Motel. It was my new respect for you, though, that helped me re-frame what I was doing. I was destroying something beautiful. Remember Buffy the Vampire Slayer, my obsession throughout those dark years? Faith, the rogue vampire slayer, the tough, crazy girl in a leather jacket, she had a catchphrase – “five by five.” In the analog radio communications used by pilots and other military personal in the mid-20th century, a signal that was “5×5” was the best signal, in both quality and strength. After a while, the phrase had taken on a metaphorical meaning, had come to be used in place of “good” or “okay,” or even “as good as can be expected.” When Faith said she was “five by five,” she was usually lying to cover up insecurity, but somehow in that phrase I found self-acceptance. It said, I am good and I am strong and I am resilient. It also said, sometimes I am not okay, but I am a bad-ass who totally pulls off ox-blood lipstick. So, dearest Arms, I had the phrase etched onto you – with ink this time. Right next to the evidence of all the times I hurt you, the story of all the years I believed I was not good or strong or resilient. I did this to honour you and to remind myself how awesome I am.
I want you to know how grateful I am for your help in recent years. I no longer think of you as a place to dump my sadness, or as something I can use to destroy myself, an accomplice, alibi or excuse. You are the strong arms that propel me through water as I swim, that reach up to the sky during my yoga practice, that carry laundry and groceries as I look after myself every day. You help me hold and play my ukulele. You help me practice giving love, comfort, kindness. You make this, what I am doing right now, possible.
I love you, Arms. You’re five by five.
T.H.E. is participating in the Love Warrior Community’s May Writing Prompt: Body Gratitude. Stay tuned for more contributions from our team members!