Reflecting On 22 Years of Self-Harm
My story comes in bits and pieces. I'll try to start from the beginning.
As I write, I an image of myself reading an article in some " teeny-bopper" type magazine about a girl telling her story of self-harm pops in my head. I don't remember all of the details of the story,just that I think she lived in South Africa and she used a broken piece of glass her first time. I remember I was about ten or eleven years old. The word " coping" from the article comes to mind.
I don't want to blame that article because that girl was courageous to tell her story. But, it did place the idea in my young mind. I think that is why the word " coping" stands out to me, it gave me the idea that I could try cutting to cope with the feelings I had no idea I was feeling or why I was feeling them.
I don't remember all of the details of the first time. I know I remember it was before we moved at the end of fifth grade. I don't even remember what triggered me.
I first felt picked on and hurt by girls in the fourth grade.
I remember being called big and made fun of because I had bigger rolls than other girls when I sat down. I remember this happening as early as nine years old. I've had girls write nasty things about my body on a bathroom stall in junior high. Seems petty to me now, but these things affected me well into my adult years until I was able to work through them.
Cutting became a more frequent thing by sixth or seventh grade.
I didn't feel good about the way I looked especially in certain clothes. Especially in comparison to other girls. I felt I did not fit in materially with other kids.
I confessed to a friend what the scratches on my arm really were in sixth or seventh grade. Some kids in gym class had just said something about them. I blamed it on the cats. When we left class, she pressed me for the truth. I told her. She drug me to the school counselor.
I had to leave school until I was evaluated and deemed not a harm to myself or others to be able to return to school. I ended up staying at that behavioral health clinic in the adolescent unit for about ten days.
I can still remember how it smelled and my room at the very end of the hall. I remember the sad look on the nurse's face the day she asked the daily question, " On a scale of one to ten what are your feelings of wanting to self-harm?" and I answered, "Ten." I felt bad for making her feel sad. I remember that stay being pointless and doing nothing to help me. I still had no idea why I was doing this to myself.
I can remember the angst I felt before cutting. It was either angst or despair from feeling misunderstood, unloved, invalidated, or made fun of. I was an incredibly sensitive person.
As I got into my twenties and early thirties the cutting and the impulse to cut slowed down, as these types of things can do as you get older. I thought I was okay now. But at 33 I was still cutting myself even if it was just " here and there". I would spend spurts of time looking into myself and the reasons behind my self-harm but I feel I was too busy living on autopilot for much of my life to really process it.
The last time was October 2020. I was making an attempt at a relationship and started wondering why this guy did not seem genuinely interested in anything I had to say. Why did this always happen? I felt small and invalidated again. I gave in to the feelings of unworthiness and I cut. It was shortly after I learned the lesson. It's not me, this just isn't the right guy. None of them have been the right guy. I stopped talking to him. I became more discerning. Best of all I stopped cutting.
Looking back most of the times that I hurt myself was when I felt disgusted by my own body. Or when I internalized things and felt unloved. Especially in a romantic relationship. I did not see that the issue was not that there was ever something wrong with me but that these people were not compatible with me. There was not something wrong with me that I had to fix to get someone to love me " right". I did not need to punish myself.
I have regrets, of course. How could I waste so many years thinking and feeling so negatively about myself and hurting myself?
But, I am writing this hoping that I save someone else from 22 years of this or from any more time if they are currently struggling with self-harm. Plus, I want to give myself credit and celebrate that I have not cut in over a year and a half!
If you're currently self-harming I can only tell you the things that worked for me: Identifying the triggers and letting yourself feel the urge without acting. This helps me blunt the impulse because yes, it does still come at times. Talking to yourself in the voice that wants the best for you may help as well when you feel the impulse, but does take persistence and practice to be able to turn that voice on as needed. And, if you need an ear, I don't charge to talk.