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“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” — Kahlil Gibran

I am baffled. Why is it that the most beautiful moments in life so often arise in the presence of great human suffering? I have seen it with my own eyes. A weeping homeless man smiles as a stranger hands him a cigarette. A teenage girl in the grips of severe depression performs a graceful dance. A young man laughs, and takes solace as he learns he will survive his suicide attempt. I have met people who have smiled, danced, and laughed, not in spite of their emotional wounds, but because of them. They are the strongest souls, the most massive characters.

And it’s not a cry that you hear at night
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

The deepest emotional wounds always leave unseen scars. And these scars serve as personal reminders. They remind us that we are human. They are what make us real, unique and interesting. And yet so many engage in self-deception, convincing themselves that scars which cannot be seen do not exist.  I’m a glass half full kind of guy. I say, take pride; we carry the marks of true survivors.

Choose to see your scars as proof of strength, resiliency and perseverance.  The coming storms may topple you to your knees.  But if you should be forced to the ground, rise again. There is a line from an Of Monsters and Men song, “Empire” which goes: “Heavy stones fear no weather.” While we may feel worn and weary, we are all heavy stones.

Everybody, I mean everybody, has stumbled, fallen off the beaten path and gotten banged up, cut and bruised. We have all, at some point, taken an emotional shellacking as punishment for a misstep.  And we are all trying to heal. What would life be if we didn’t occasionally stumble? Don’t be afraid to fuck up, because you will learn so much about yourself as you rebound.

Some try to conceal their scars through relentless acts of self-improvement, putting faith in the idea that creating a “better” self can somehow erase a past marred by pain. There is a great line from Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk: “Self improvement is masturbation…”  I believe this is a half-truth.

I have, on many occasions, set out in pursuit of a better me. But my efforts were superficial; I wanted only to drive my most painful memories into oblivion. I have since learned that true self-improvement requires building self-awareness, becoming mindful, and inevitably confronting the skeletons tucked away in my closet. Burning the fat from my soul, it seems, requires exercising a great deal of introspection.

You are who you are. Your past is what it is. Don’t let embarrassment, shame, and regret force you into hiding.  Dare to make yourself visible to the world. Be brave enough to declare that you have been wounded and are marked with scars. Know that you are one of the strongest souls, one of the most massive characters. Like a heavy stone, you can emerge from turbulent weather, scarred but triumphant.

So move forward as you see fit. I bid you well, fellow travelers, as we who travel the road through recovery need to stick together, in good times and in bad. The future will surely bring us moments of pain and moments of pleasure. We need to celebrate both. And with that, perhaps together we can rejoice over our progress thus far, and shout a cold and broken Hallelujah for whatever lies ahead.

And it’s not a cry that you hear at night
It’s not somebody who’s seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

*Written while listening to K.D. Lang sing her version of the Leonard Cohen classic, “Hallelujah”

About Andrew Woods

Having been diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder and OCD at the age of seventeen (while attending the University of Victoria), my struggle with mental illness has been a full spectrum experience. I have made much progress since my last hospitalization (three and a half years ago).

I returned to university, eventually earning a degree in Economics and a diploma in Business Administration. Today, I have aspirations of following a career in writing and communications.

Currently, I spend my time as a mental health volunteer, working as a mental health navigator, exhibitor and communications support volunteer.

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