I can remember the feeling so vividly. Being held under that wave, unable to breath. The will of nature pushing me down as pain explodes into my spine.
What seems like a lifetime ago, I decided to go surfing, head-butt the ocean floor, land on my neck and put myself in hospital. Yes, it did hurt but that wasnâ€™t the worst part. There were the weeks of lying in bed staring at the same ceiling. Sipping drinks out of a straw because I couldnâ€™t tilt my head back. The rehab visits seeing only marginal improvements week on week. The wondering whether my neck would ever be the same again. To be honest, it isnâ€™t the same and it never will be.
Looking at me, thereâ€™s no discernible difference between me and the next guy. There is the faintest scar on my head, that when I shave my head, you can see where the hair doesnâ€™t grow fully. It doesnâ€™t tan the same as the rest of me. Iâ€™ve asked people whether they can see the scar. They look at me confused as if I am imagining it. Itâ€™s there and I know itâ€™s there, looking back at me whenever I glance in a mirror.
Itâ€™s something that those closest to me know about. Spend enough time with me and youâ€™ll hear me utter â€œmy neck hurtsâ€ at some point or another. What people donâ€™t know is that it always hurts. Thereâ€™s a constant ache that I gave up taking pain killers for long ago.
Iâ€™ve always been drawn to the ocean. I like being able to see it from wherever I am and try to stick to the coast whenever I travel. However, since the incident, large waves angrily crashing on a beach reminds of that day. Three years on I am in El Salvador. Iâ€™m in a sleepy surf town where there isnâ€™t much to do except eat, sleep and surf. I decided that this was the time to battle that fear. That inner demon thatâ€™s plagued me.
This beach was certainly not a beginner break. The waves crashing on the rocks look murderous, as they should; they have already claimed two lives in the last few weeks. I battle through the waves to paddle out. Again and again I try and fail. The waves are beating me, quite literally. I try again and again, pain is surging through my neck and my willpower is fading. I physically canâ€™t take much more of this.
I finally get out there and my moment comes. â€˜Paddle, Paddle, Paddle!â€™ my mind screams but my neck protests louder. Instinctively, I pop up like Iâ€™d done so many times before. By conventional standards it was barely surfing and by my own it was abysmal. For a fleeting moment I was upâ€¦ before I came crashing down. The wave held me down for what seemed like an eternity. I surface just shy of the beach. I start coughing up sea water as I stand with my hands on my knees trying to suck in air. I look across the ocean with disappointment. A rage comes steals over me. Something I loved has forever been stolen from me. I grab my board and storm the beach like it was Normandy. I race back to my room where I stand under the shower, rinsing off the ocean and my feelings of frustration.
As I am drying myself I glance in the mirror. My eyes stray upwards and I spot that reminder on my forehead. In that moment I smile. Iâ€™m proud of that scar.
The scar is more than just a story to tell, a surfing accident anecdote. It represents a difficult part of my life that I carry with me. It represents a struggle over fear and doubt. It represents a lesson we all learn in some way or another where something or someone tells you canâ€™t, but you can. Iâ€™ll never be a good surfer but I took that board out there and I paddled my heart out. I stood when my body said I couldnâ€™t. Just try and take that away from me.
We all have scars, physical and emotional ones. Cherish them. Own them. They make us who we are. They are a badge of honour that show us that we have fought, hurt and healed. They show us that we have lived.
Be proud of your scars.