Samuel Moore-Sobel is 26. He has a great job and owns a home at an age when many of us are still figuring things out. He’s getting married next month, and now he’s a published author. Life is looking pretty good, but it took a lot to get here.
Moore-Sobel’s new memoir “Can You See My Scars?” describes his decade-long journey of healing after an accident left him with severe burns to his face just before his sophomore year of high school. Perseverance, support from family and the ability to find humor in dark situations helped him to survive and thrive. Now, Moore-Sobel wants to help others deal with their own scars—seen and unseen.
“The cultural connotation of scars has been negative,” Moore-Sobel said. “Part of the goal with this [book] is to change the cultural perspective on scars. We live in this culture where we’re encouraged to only post the highlights on social media. We post the perfect pictures; we post the achievements. I think it’s natural that people want to do that, but the goal with this book is to offer the world my scars. I want the world to see them. I don’t want to hide them. … True authentic connection can only occur when we’re sharing scars with each other. We all have scars: some are visible and some are invisible”
Moore-Sobel was burned in an accident involving sulfuric acid at age 15, the summer before his sophomore year at Stone Bridge High School in Ashburn. It was a traumatic experience at a delicate age.
“I was in that crucial time of forging an identity and asking those questions of who am I and what kind of adult do I want to be,” Moore-Sobel said. “It’s that sense of not only am I trying to figure out who I am, I also now have to navigate losing my identity in how I look and how I feel and how I experience the world.”
Moore-Sobel started school late that year as he dealt with the immediate medical aftermath of the accident. His memoir describes returning to school with severe physical scarring. Outright bullying wasn’t a big problem, he said, but watching friends drift away or distance themselves was painful. And his teenage self couldn’t find the words to address the situation.
“I think so many of my friends didn’t know how to respond. They didn’t know what to say. So many people were afraid of saying the wrong thing, so they didn’t say anything. I felt really alone in that,” Moore-Sobel said. “I barely knew what to do or what to say either. It was such a horrific experience, and there wasn’t really a roadmap.”
In his memoir, Moore-Sobel tackles the nightmares and suicidal ideations he struggled with after the accident. But two things kept him going: love and support from his tight-knit family and a desire to use his experience to help others.
“I think what got me through was the love and support of my parents and my brother and sister. They were there for me even when it felt like few were. I felt their love through it,” he said. “I wasn’t going to do anything to hurt them. Part of my recovering and being able to thrive was out of love for them and appreciation for all they did for me.”
Focusing on others rather than his own suffering also helped Moore-Sobel push through his pain and move forward with life. As a teen, Moore-Sobel mentored younger kids through Loudoun County Public Schools’ PEER program. As a young adult, he turned his focus to sharing his story.
“I didn’t want this to happen in vain. I didn’t want this to be a terrible accident that occurred and nothing good came of it,” he said. “Writing this book was a way to ensure that it could be shared with the world and something good could come of it.”
Despite physical and emotional setbacks, Moore-Sobel hit the usual teen and young adult milestones. He graduated from high school on time, remained a student leader and earned a degree from George Mason University. He’s now a program manager for Amazon Web Services and owns a home in Leesburg. A series of surgeries has reduced the appearance of his scars, and he doesn’t get as many questions as he used to about the accident, he said.
But the path to adulthood wasn’t always easy. Dating and relationships were challenging and impacted by the weight of his emotional scars. In his memoir, Moore-Sobel discusses a pattern of staying in the wrong relationships because of a sense of inadequacy.
“We bonded over the trauma that we both experienced,” he said describing one relationship he tackles in the memoir. “I felt so inadequate I was willing to stay in a really unhealthy relationship.”
But thanks to therapy, family support and the writing process, Moore-Sobel has let go of that emotional baggage. He met his fiancée Megan through a mutual friend, and the couple are getting married next month.
Moore-Sobel kept journals throughout his 10-year recovery and went back to those memories as he began working on the book several years ago. The project finally gelled last year, and he started working with a publisher. “Can You See My Scars?” is available through Mascot Books, and sales launch on Amazon on Sept. 1.
Revisiting the pain of the early days following the accident for the book wasn’t easy, he said, but was worth it on several levels.
“It was a really hard process, and it would come back in these waves. But it was also very cathartic. It really did help me make sense of what I felt and what I experienced. There’s so much that happened during those years and I had to go back and unpack those things and understand them more clearly. It really helped me come to peace with it and work through the emotions I felt and really come through that grieving process.”
Humor has also been an important survival mechanism, and there are plenty of funny moments in the book. Moore-Sobel and his mom Kate Moore have shared the funny side of the experience through a series of speaking engagements, including Loudoun’s Tales & Ales storytelling series.
“There are moments in the book where it’s either you’re going to laugh or you’re going to cry and you choose to laugh,” Moore-Sobel said. “I’m not happy that this happened, but I am at peace with what happened. I achieved growth. There’s some solace in that.”
“Can You See My Scars?” is available through Mascot Books at mascotbooks.com. It launches on Amazon Sept. 1 and is available for preorder on that platform. For more information on Samuel Moore-Sobel, go to samuelmoore-sobel.com.