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Confession Time March 24, 2008

Posted by Jae in The Crazy.
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6 comments

For almost ten years, I have been living with a secret. Though there are people who know it, they never bring it up, never want to talk about it; even when they heard it for the first time, they had very little to say. It is the kind of thing that needs to be talked about, begs for it in fact, but at the same time it seems to stop all conversation. When I told my former best friend she was stunned and said she needed time to think; the next day she asked me never to bring it up again unless I really needed to. Another friend who shared my secret never wanted to talk about it either. Eventually, I stopped trying to talk about it with anyone.

But this month is Tell Someone Month, and so I decided that now might be a good time to break my silence: I am a cutter.

(Note: I don’t intend for this entry to be especially triggering, but if you feel you are very vulnerable, you might want to stop reading here.)

Wow; that was actually harder than I thought it would be. Truth be told, I never found it easy to call myself a cutter, or a self-injurer, or a self-harmer, or any of that; somehow I never thought my problem was real enough to deserve naming. Though I have had occasional relapses (my last was nearly seven months ago), I have been in recovery for the past three or so years. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure I would ever get to a place where that was possible.

I had an accident the summer before my fourteenth birthday that left me with a bum knee and a constant sense of terror. The randomness of what happened terrified me; it might have been the first time I really realized that terrible things could happen that I couldn’t control. Suddenly everything about the world seemed frightening. I had always been shy, but I became crippled by fear of interacting with people (I was also still dealing with a very negative friendship, though I had not yet realized how much it had affected me). I also became terrified of injury and disease for the first time in my life; I was sure every headache was an aneurysm and every occasional flutter of my heart a sign of congestive heart failure. I also hated my body. For awhile, I ate compulsively, but eventually the pendulum swung the other way and I lived on one tiny meal a day.

It was right around Memorial Day that I injured myself for the first time. I don’t remember much about it; the only thing that sticks in my mind was that I had just had a fight with my parents. By the next year though, I was harming myself several times a week; sometimes it was almost daily. To this day, I’m not 100% sure what my reasons were for doing it. My best guess is simply that I was loaded with a lot of destructive feelings and I had no constructive way to release them; I didn’t feel close enough to most people to confide in them. I also was a stereotypical “good girl” type; I didn’t engage in any other after-school-special behavior. I didn’t smoke or drink. I didn’t sneak out to go to parties. I didn’t cut school. I was too insecure to consider sleeping around. I was the girl who got good grades and was home every, single, night of the week. Occasionally I went out with friends, but that was it. And when you’re sixteen and everything about the world frightens you so that you don’t even feel safe in your own mind, when you hate yourself and expect everyone else to hate you too, and you’re carrying a little more baggage than you can handle…something has to break. For me, harming myself was sort of a way to reign in the madness.

I wish I could tell you how I got over it, but I’m not sure exactly how it happened. Things changed. I changed. Just a few years ago, I was convinced that I was mentally ill…and maybe I was. The smart thing for me to do would have probably been to see a therapist, but I was afraid. Though I was more than willing to admit something was wrong with me, indeed I had a list of different diagnoses in my head whose criteria I felt I fit in one way or another, going to therapy was too proactive for me; the only way I could recover was to take it so slowly that I barely noticed it happening.

Often, a person who is totally unfamiliar with the concept of self-harm will look at it as a problem in and of itself, and it is for a number of reasons, but in most every case it is just a symptom of a larger problem. I was lucky; I got away from the dark cloud that followed me everywhere. I am no longer crippled by fears and insecurities. And I learned other ways to cope with stress and emotional pain. In the past three years any time I have given in to the urge to self-injure, it has felt empty and mostly pointless, kind of like calling up an old friend who you don’t really like anymore.

I thought that once self-harm was no longer a part of my everyday life anymore, there would be no need to tell this story to anyone. My scars are hidden from public view, and in fact they have mostly faded; there is no reason the truth can not go with them. Except that my truth may matter to someone else out there.

Self-harm typically goes on in silence, and even when people try to break that silence they might find, as I did, that it isn’t as easy as merely telling someone. The important thing though is to keep talking, keep trying to get the truth out, because creating a space where people can truly be honest about what’s going on in their heads, is the only hope we have of preventing people from harming themselves in the first place.

For anyone out there who would like more information some excellent resources can be found at Secret Shame, Selfinjury.org, and LifeSigns.