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What I Learned From Self-Harm

Lessons From the Worst Periods of my Life

By S. A. CrawfordPublished 2 years ago 4 min read
Image: Karolina Grabowska via Pexels

This is an uncomfortable topic for most people, but the truth is that it never has been for me. Self-harm was always the best alternative to suicide, always the choice I made rather than breaking down... and I got very good at it very quickly. If you're starting to get angry, feeling that this is a glamourization of something seriously twisted now might be the time to dip out.

I will never suggest self-harm as an option to anyone else, but I refuse to be ashamed of the mistakes that saved my life as a teenager and young adult. If anyone can learn from my pain while saving themselves from their own, I'll count that a bonus, but the truth is I've already got what I needed from the experience.

1) Pain is Not an Insurmountable Obstacle

This is something I was told often by my ex-military father as a child when he tried to explain how training had impacted him. I was always a fearful child; heights, spiders, moths, deep water, the dark... being laughed at. Gods how I hated to be mocked, and I still do but I've learned to know the difference between people who laugh about you and your actions with affection and those who laugh at you with contempt.

Pain is not an insurmountable obstacle, and it's not a reason to avoid seeking what you want, but this is a lesson most of us have to learn alone. It can be said and heard, but not taught. Well, it can be taught, actually, but shouldn't be - whatever the military claims, I believe it is abuse to teach others that lesson.

Is it abuse to teach yourself that lesson? Perhaps.

2) But it's Harder to Recieve it From Others

Though the understanding that I will need to cause myself pain to get something I want, for example a heavier personal best at the gym, the achievement of scaling a treacherous hill, a tattoo, a new piercing... the thought of someone else causing me pain is. I despise the dentist, for obvious reasons.

This is the cause of self-harm for many, I believe; we hurt ourselves to retake control of the pain that we perceive as being out of our control. If you struggle with self-harm, pay attention to your triggers; pain received from others doesn't need to be outdone by pain from yourself to exert control.

You are already in control of your body. Holding ice in your hand or performing a series of short, intense sprints or planking exercises can have the same re-centering effect and ensure you don't end up with as many scars as me.

3) Care and Destruction Can Co-Exist

Self-soothing is something many people who have prolonged mental health issues learn to do, often before we receive the proper care that is really needed. That's why self-soothing mechanisms can be so badly formed or hamrful.

Drink, drugs, promiscuity, and, yes, active self-harm are often self-soothing mechanisms gone horribly wrong.

The thing that people least like to hear from me, in my experience, is that I learned to love my body as a direct result of my self-harm habit. It's awful, I know, but true. The process of caring for a wound properly was something I learned to avoid detection, but as I undertook that ritual again and again, I found respect for the way my body handles, uncomplaining, the damage I gave it.

My self-harm habit started to resolve itself, which makes me lucky, but the lesson you can take away without ever having to undergo this process is simple; treat your body like a child. Wash it, feed it, care for it as if it is a helpless being dependent upon you, even when you are too tired or sick to care, and you'll find a new respect for it.

The human body is both unbelievably tough and incredibly helpless all at once. It's a wonder we shouldn't take for granted.

4) The Mind and Body Are Mutually Inclusive

We learn as youngsters to put emphasis on particular parts of ourselves above all others. When we are praised for our looks consistently, for example, we may spend more time maintaining the appearance of the body than the health of our mind and soul.

I was praised for being intelligent, creative, inquisitive... and so when my mind started to 'fail' me (as I saw it) I used my body as a tool to make it behave.

Then the scars, stretch marks, pain points, and blemishes became a problem for my mind and I was caught in a trap of my own making. Your mind and body cannot be separated, what you feed one will impact the other.

Do with that thought what you will.

5) Scars Need Special Care

Scars can ache, pucker, ooze, even break long after they have started to form. This is true of emotional and mental scars as much as it is true for physical ones.

The care process I learned to conceal self-harm was surprisingly easy to apply to the internal scars on my psyche and heart. They need special care, and over time they settle, but you should never ignore them. The points at which we are broken and reformed are both the strongest and most troublesome in many ways.

6) There is Always Another Way

Self-harm can feel like the only way to stay in the world that your mind is trying to get out of, at times, and I cannot bring myself to judge those who take that path. I did it myself, and though it might sound sick I'm glad I did.

If I hadn't, I might have done something much, much worse. Much more final. I learned and grew from my choice, and it was a choice, but if I knew then what I knew now, I wouldn't have made it.

If I could do my life over, I would find another way. I suggest you do the same if you can.


About the Creator

S. A. Crawford

Writer, reader, life-long student - being brave and finally taking the plunge by publishing some articles and fiction pieces.

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  • Cheyenne DeBorde2 years ago

    Beautiful, complex, realistic, unapologetic, and incredibly insightful. Really appreciate this one.

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