Walking down the aisle of a toy store in the children’s clothing section, I was stopped in my tracks. On an outfit intended for a baby boy (my colored-pencil rendition to the left) who would be dressed to look like a football was a set of stitches that was almost a mirror image of my pyloric stenosis scar from my babyhood! It was as if my secret were on display for all the world to see. My heart rate quickened and I felt disoriented and confused. I literally held onto the clothes rack as I processed my feelings.
When I was a girl, my scar from my surgery at 26 days old was my dirty secret. It’s what made me different, weird, and shamed. Only my family knew what was on my belly and for that I was relieved. I lived in fear that others would see it and judge me. I was damaged goods, so-to-speak. Marked for life. Worthless. Unlovable.
Summers, my black tank bathing suit was my friend in all this (see below). It knew my secret and was my buddy in keeping it. My scar was almost directly beneath the three round, white, clown-like buttons placed vertically on the front of the suit. It was like a magic trick: The buttons marked the location of my scar but only the suit, my family, and I knew the scar was there. Together, the suit and I fooled everyone–a kid’s way of coping with trauma.
I felt protected by this bathing suit, for it had no straps that could come loose and expose my secret. It was stretchy and dependable. In this way, the suit was my armor. I felt safe. Perhaps most importantly, I felt not so alone. I had a friend who shared my troubles.
Many times in my tomboy childhood, the stitches on a football reminded me of my scar. As a sick baby, I had been a deflated football, four pounds down from 6 pounds 7 ounces at the time of the surgery. In surgery, I was pumped up again and stitched. Other images I related to my scar were trussed turkeys at Thanksgiving, centipedes, crooked antennas on roofs, and the wires at the tops of telephone poles.
In the toy store aisle, I felt again what I had as a child–terror over the possibility of being outed, my scar revealed. Fortunately as I held onto the clothes rack, I understood that the old trauma was being triggered. I knew the connection between my immobility and my early feelings about my surgery. I gathered myself, allowing breath to calmly fill my belly, legs, and feet. I regained my presence, promising to write about my experience later, and went on to buy the baby outfits that I had come for.
Though triggers are frightening, they are teachers. Through them, we understand ourselves. We discover where we still need to heal. And we go where we are led to find more freedom from trauma–to become more of who we are, and have always been, at our core.