My Scars – A Brief History of Self Harm
I’m going to try and be brave today. I’m going to talk about something I’ve never spoken of publicly. In fact, it’s something that only those closest to me in my life have been privy to, and even then, only bits and pieces of the whole story. It’s not something that is easy for me to talk about because the emotions surrounding it are very complex and difficult to put into words. It’s something I’ve been ashamed of; a deep, dark secret I’ve kept from the world: I used to self harm; a recovered cutter.
Now… you might be wondering what would cause me to bring self harm up now. A few months ago, a friend of mine disclosed to me that he would occasionally hurt himself physically when he was upset. It was something difficult for him to talk about. He felt scared, confused, angry and alone. When I asked him why he’d never talked about this with anyone else, he explained that it was because he didn’t want people to know he was ‘fucked up’. He was ashamed, and so had kept his feelings and his behavior to himself. As a person who believes that emotions are best talked about, I was forced to examine my own reasons for keeping my history of self harm a shameful secret.
I felt compelled to tell my story because I want my friend (and others like him) to know that not only are you not alone, but that it’s okay to talk about it. Self harm is something frequently joked about, but it isn’t funny. There are so many misconceptions surrounding self-harm that are doing nothing to help those suffering through it. I’ve seen it treated as a fad, with websites glorifying it. I’ve seen it treated as a joke and something ‘only emo kids’ do. I’ve seen people chastised for it and accused of trying to get attention. Today, dear readers, I’m going to share my own story and experiences with self harm to give a realistic view of what it’s been like for at least one girl to have lived with it.
When it Began
The first time I remember hurting myself was when I was 8 years old. I remember being upset to the point of crying quite hard, then grabbing a Lego and jamming a corner of it into the top of my thigh. On some level, the pain acted as a sort of emotional release.
Things got much more severe once I entered adolescence. The first time I remembered actually ‘cutting’ was when I was 12 or 13. I was emotionally distraught and in the heat of the moment, grabbed a piece of broken glass from a jar that had broken in my room earlier that day and made a series of small cuts on the back of my forearm. This was the first time there was ‘evidence’ of my self-harm, and once I calmed down, I felt scared but I was also comforted by the cuts. If I was at school and some kids were bullying me, I’d press my fingers against the cuts through my shirt and the pain would somehow center me and drown out the taunting and name-calling. I wore long sleeved shirts until they were healed, but it didn’t stop there.
A Worsening Problem
My episodes of self-harm got worse when I entered high school. The cutting became more extreme and more frequent. I would do it when I was angry. I would do it when I was sad. I would do it when I was feeling any extreme negative emotion. Most of the cutting would be done either on the backs of my forearms, or on my thighs. For a while, I would do it on the insides of my calves. The cuts became deeper and the bleeding took increasing amounts of time to stop. I started collecting some of the blood and mixing it in with my oil paints and then painting with them. Cutting became the way that I handled my increasingly turbulent emotions and developing mental illness. I was a dark, demented kid from the beginning and this was just one more layer of who I was. I told a few friends about it, and kept my cuts (at various stages of healing) hidden under layers of baggy clothing and long sleeves.
I continued cutting when I was upset/stressed out/angry well into my adult years. However, I didn’t do it as frequently. It was always a very personal and intimate thing for me and never felt self-destructive. I always felt somehow liberated by it all. In my deepest, darkest moments, it gave me some control over what I was feeling; like a shore I could swim to.
Motivation to Stop
The last time I cut myself was a week before I found out I was pregnant with Darwin. Dave had just had 3 seizures over the course of the night and I’d been up all night researching to see what could be causing them. I was overwhelmed, scared, and frustrated that doctors didn’t seem to care. I cut myself on the leg and went to sleep shortly afterward. I told Dave about it the next day and we had a long talk about it. He said some things to me that made me realize that hurting myself was hurting him. When I found out a week later that I was pregnant, I felt that my body was no longer mine and so it didn’t seem right (on multiple levels) to do anything negative to my body. When Dave died, I was incredibly tempted and came close to cutting a few times, but it just didn’t seem right to hurt the body that was nourishing Darwin, as silly as that may sound. I think by the point when breastfeeding ended, I’d already had to develop other methods for coping with pain and didn’t have the urge any longer. I had kept away from it long enough that I became somewhat cured.
It’s now officially been over 5 years since I last cut myself, which is the longest I’ve gone since I was 8 years old. All that are left now are some faded scars, most of which are barely visible on my pale skin. I believe that having a good enough reason to stop cutting myself in the first place forced me to learn how to handle my emotions in a healthier way. I’m still tempted sometimes, when life feels like too much to bear, but I remind myself that I made it through the most difficult time in my life without cutting. After that, everything else seems too trivial to warrant it.
Truth be told, I haven’t known many other people who self harm. Given the intimate nature of cutting and the attitude society tends to have towards it, I’m not surprised that most people hide it. I know that you’re out there, though, and if you’re reading these words, maybe you want to talk to someone about it. I want you to know that I am a safe person to talk to, and whoever you are and however you see yourself, you have a friend in me. If you want to vent or just need someone to talk to, send me a message on Facebook or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I debated showing the following photos for a while, but then I figured in the spirit of this post, I’d just go for it. So here they are, folks: the most visible of my scars, and I am not ashamed of them.