This is an uncomfortable subject for me to write about. I don’t like talking about my scars. I don’t like admitting that I hurt myself. But I have found hope in my story, and I want to share that hope.
I should state up front that self harm is not physically addictive. LifeSIGNS, the Self Injury Guidance and Network Support, states, “As self-injury is a behaviour, it can’t be physically addictive. Physical addiction occurs when the body becomes tolerant of a substance, and reacts negatively when that substance is withdrawn. Physical addiction occurs with substances such as nicotine and heroin. Behaviours are not physically addictive.”
There is a psychological attraction to the behavior, however, that is undeniable to those of us who self harm. For myself, it became a habit which helped me cope. Sometimes it helped me cope with feeling too many feelings. Sometimes it helped me cope with feeling nothing at all.
Psychology Today defines self harm as “the deliberate infliction of damage to your own body [including] cutting, burning, and other forms of injury.” While self harm is not a mental illness, those of us with mental illnesses are more likely to engage in self harm.
I swing between two extremes – manic highs and depressive lows. In each extreme I have turned to self injury to cope with emotions or numbness that I didn’t know how to deal with. There’s nothing romantic about it. It’s a brutal, lonely existence.
I am grateful today to be learning healthier coping skills, and that is what I want to share in this blog. Here are the things I have done to cope with my urge to self injure.
- Make the choice to stop.
Like it or not, self injury is a choice – each and every time. Once I recognized that I could make the choice to stop myself, I was able to choose to do different things. But I had to choose not to self injure first.
- Get to know yourself.
It’s taken me a while to learn that I enjoy tea. A tall glass of ice cold mint tea can be incredibly soothing to me. The entire process of making the tea (boiling the water, steeping the tea, squeezing out the hot tea bags, and so on) puts me into a serene state of mind. Now that I know this about myself, I can use the sensations of making and drinking tea to overcome my desire for self harm.
Take the time to learn what you like and dislike. Maybe you find peace in lighting a scented candle and writing. Maybe it’s getting outside for a few minutes of fresh air. Or maybe it’s a piece or two of chocolate. Take time to get to know yourself like you would get to know a new friend. You might be surprised what you learn!
- Confide in someone.
This has been the hardest thing for me to do. Talking about what I’m thinking and feeling is not easy, but if I keep all the emotions inside, buried deep down where no one can see, they eventually erupt uncontrollably. And that’s when I get in trouble.
- Learn how to scream.
Sometimes you just need to scream. For the longest time I was scared of my own voice. Then I picked up a pillow, clamped it to my face, and screamed. I screamed and screamed into that pillow. And when I was finally done, I was exhausted. That scream had been pent up inside me for so long, I just hadn’t known how to let it out.It doesn’t matter what kind of noise you make. Throw your whole body into it. Make that noise until there’s nothing left inside of you but a whisper.
- Engage in alternate sensations.
I like ice. Sometimes I’ll grip an ice cube in my fist until it’s completely melted. Other times, a long steaming hot shower is what I need. When I’m feeling numb, I look for sensation that doesn’t involve self harm. Instead of burning myself, I’ll hold on to a cup of hot tea or coffee. Instead of cutting myself, I’ll snap a rubber band against my wrist.(HelpGuide.org has a fantastic, longer list of suggestions for how to stop self harming.)
One common theme behind all my scars is shame. I try to hide them. I try to make them disappear. I assume that people judge me for the scars that I can’t hide. But I recognize now that they are part of my story, and I find hope in them.
There is hope for recovery. Just like there is hope for recovery from alcoholism, addiction, and disordered eating, there is hope for recovery from self injury. In spite of the shame I feel, I am learning to love myself – scars and all. It is possible to recover!