Trigger warning: This post is going to talk frankly and honestly about self harm, scars, and cutting. If these trigger you, do not continue reading.
It’s #SelfHarmAwarenessDay on Twitter! I want to do my part to break down the stigma surrounding self harm/self injury by sharing my story.
I struggle with thoughts of self harm. The thoughts are obtrusive and obsessive. They occur even though I don’t want them to, but I don’t always act on them. Within the space of a typical day, I think about harming myself at least a dozen times.
I am scarred. I don’t like talking about my scars. Just like my body is not open for discussion or comment – neither are my scars. I used to want to hide them. I would wrap my arm in an ace bandage and tell my coworkers I was struggling with carpal tunnel. It wasn’t a lie, my wrist did hurt. But the ace bandage didn’t need to go up to my elbow.
And I’m not left-handed.
But I have come to a different time in my life. I acknowledge and accept my self harm tendencies. My scars are part of my story – and I can share that story here on this blog.
People who hurt themselves hurt themselves for different reasons. In my case, I hurt myself because I cannot process difficult emotions. I have learned not to label emotions as “bad” or “good.” Emotions simply are. And I don’t like them. I don’t know how to talk about them or feel them. They are something separate from me, yet they affect me.
When I feel angry or hurt, I immediately want to hurt myself. It’s easier to process and care for physical pain and harm than it is to deal with emotional pain and harm. Fortunately, I have found a solution!
I no longer pick up the knife at the slightest emotional disturbance. Instead, I turn to my Dialectical Behavioral Therapy skills.
- I let my emotions rise and fall like waves.
- I watch my emotions come and go without judgment, as though I am watching clouds in the sky.
- I run an ice cube across the back of my neck, or grip it tightly in my hand.
Even with these new skills, I still struggle. The stress of a tough work day will make me want to slam my hand against the corner of a wall. The idea of getting together with family I haven’t seen in months will bring on so much anxiety I’ll scratch the skin off my fingers.
Most people don’t react this way. Most people would talk about their feelings – look for validation or a “gut check” from friends. I force my feet and legs to cramp up into “charlie horses” before I talk to people about what’s bothering me.
I have learned not to hurt myself – but I still find, when time allows, that I fall into contemplation of my scars.
I have scars from cutting, scars from burning, and scars from scraping my skin away with my fingernails. I still remember the bruises I beat into myself and the bones I broke in my hands. Every scar is full of memory and meaning. There were times when I was drunk – the knife brought me back to reality.
I thought getting sober would set me free from this terrible burden of pain and shame. If anything, the desire to self harm is more clear and present than ever before. I do not have the numbing agent alcohol in my system, so my emotions are at full tilt.
Certainly there are times I wish I did not have to bear this pain. Certainly I wish to be
happy, joyous, and free. Normal.
But my new, sober life does not promise perfection. It does not promise “normal.” Being sober means that I get to live life on life’s terms. Being sober means:
- I get to come to terms with my bipolar diagnosis and balance out my brain chemistry with medication.
- I get to come to terms with my alcoholism/addiction, another root cause of my self harm.
- I get to practice patience and loving kindness with myself.
- I get to practice gratitude for the life I have, even when that life is stressful.
- I get to start grasping what it means to be human – feelings and all.
So when I start whining that I’m just not cut out for this emotional human life – I need to check myself. Because I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.
And there will be times when I slip up. Just last night, my husband finally noticed the cut on my arm from last Saturday. I simply told him I had a moment I couldn’t control. The whole truth was I tried – I distracted myself with TV. I pulled my sister-in-law into the kitchen with me. I self-soothed. I focused on just that moment.
And there was still a moment where I was alone with a knife and my feelings.
There will be moments like this when it’s just my Higher Power and me and the knife. Just like there will be moments when it’s just my Higher Power and me and the drink.
Recovery means more to me than just recovery from addiction/alcoholism. Recovery to me means recovery from self harm. Just like the thought of a drink occurs, the thoughts of self harm occur.
Just like I don’t have to drink anymore, I don’t have to hurt myself anymore. I can and will recover.