This is her story:
i haven’t engaged in self-injury since april 8, 2004.
six months before my wedding years after i started dating my husband. just over three months after my stepfather died.
my soon-to-be husband and i were about to move in with my mom and younger brother to help fix up the house and pay the bills. it was a good arrangement – i was living with my dad for the first time since my parent’s divorce, and it was not an ideal situation.
he didn’t know how to deal with my craziness. he didn’t know what to do with a grown daughter who had trouble holding a job, was a recovering addict, was clinically depressed.
he didn’t know what to do when i would bang my head into the wall, lock myself into a closet, have to walk out of a room in the middle of a sentence. just because i haven’t cut, i don’t think that means i haven’t been involved in self injury, or si, self-harm, self-injurious behavior, as it is also referred to.
self-injury includes many types of injury or mutilation – cutting, burning, picking, biting. some people consider trichotillomania (self-pulling of hair) in the scope of si, even though it has it’s own diagnosis.
there is no fancy word for cutters. we cut. we burn. we bite. we scratch. we self injure. that’s it. i first identified myself as a cutter when i was 12.
i realized that physical pain of the cut almost released the emotional pain i felt. as i got older, i could look back and see even more instances of it. i remembered biting my fingers and hands until they bled when i was only 5. i can’t remember what made me want to do that, but i remember feelings of emptiness, even then. i remember pulling out my hair around the age of 7 or 8. i remember digging my fingernails into my palm hard enough to break skin. at those ages,
i do not consciously remember why i did what i was doing.
i only remember doing it, and that some how it made me feel better.
i don’t know where i got the idea. i hadn’t seen a television special, i didn’t have any friends cutting. many people think it’s a goth or emo thing, that girls do it to seem cool or special or mysterious. that they do it because their friends do, because it makes them hard or whatever the
fuck stupid people think. i didn’t know anyone who cut or self-harmed in any way.
i do remember taking a pen cap and scraping it back and forth across my arm hard enough and long enough that i drew scraggly lines of blood.
there was this initial release, like the darkness escaping, and then this delicious numbness spread through my body.
before the blood had even dried, i methodically started to clean up with tissues. this would become a ritualistic experience for me.
i stole a paring knife from the kitchen, hid it in a drawer, and knew i had an option at all times. i can’t explain why, but the ritual became almost as important as the cutting.
i would get my secret stash of hydrogen peroxide and gauze. i’d cut, i’d bleed, i’d revel in the numbness. then i’d clean up the blood, clean out the cut, wrap up in bandages. by the time i was around 15, it got worse.
i would enter almost a trancelike state, methodically cutting and bloodletting for hours at a time. i’d make small cuts, long cuts, perpendicular cuts.
instead of using the paper towels to clean up, i’d press them to my cuts so the blood would seep into it, then save them in my notebook. i know, it sounds horrifying. then i decided it would make more sense to do that on the actual paper – i would be able to keep them forever.
i still have them. i cannot get rid of them.
i was always afraid of being discovered.
my scars and cuts were not a badge to show my friends, they did not make me cool. i cut almost everywhere, and had ways to hide everything. i did not want to have to explain how it made me feel.
i cut my forearms rarely, although that is the only place i now have scars. i cut my thighs, my calves, my shoulders, my hips, my stomach, my breasts. i would cut, bleed, mark, clean, wrap. constantly.
i finally got caught out at 16. i had a fight with my boyfriend, went home, got high, and put on hole’s ‘live through this’. i don’t even remember getting my paring knife or other tools.
i do know that i spent almost five hours smoking pot and carving the lyrics from two songs into my legs. i didn’t do my own laundry at the time, and ended up throwing out the sheet i had on my bed at the time because of the blood. i didn’t want anyone to know. i was ashamed and afraid and addicted.
my boyfriend found out.
we were talking about our fight, sitting on his couch. i pulled my leg up under me, and my jeans leg rode up. he saw my calf and made me take off my pants. he then told me he wouldn’t see me anymore unless i told my mother.
i told my mother, she got me counseling. he did stay with me for a few more months. he tried. i continued cutting on a near-daily basis for years, until i was 20. i moved in with my dad after his second divorce. i still had my knife; i needed to have it. i went almost four years without cutting. i was helping my soon-to-be husband move into my mother’s house. i don’t know what set me off, but i needed my knife and couldn’t find it. this made it worse.
i took out my keychain-sized swiss army knife and dug into my upper arm until i bled.
i haven’t cut since then. but i haven’t stopped self injuring.
i have scratched my face until it bled. i have banged my head on a tile floor hard enough to concuss myself. i have pulled hunks of hair out in frustration. i bite my tongue until it is raw and bleeding at times. i pick and pinch at myself more than i care to admit. i have gone to get a tattoo in desperation to feel something (incidentally, not the right reason for ink).
the worst part is, and i think any cutter will agree with this. the worst part is that we do what we do TO FEEL SOMETHING. but the problem is we already feel too much. we have so much (fill in the emotion) inside us, that we need to feel something else.
is it that we need to feel something we can control?
like eating disorders, is it about having control over something in our lives when it feels like everything else is out of control?
do i cut or self harm so that I AM IN CHARGE OF MY PAIN… at least for a few minutes?
We all have letters we can’t send for a zillion different reasons. Maybe the person is no longer around, maybe you can’t actually speak your mind to them, maybe you’re just not ready to admit it.
Band Back Together encourages you to share your letters with us. You never do know how soothing someone else’s words can be. Click here to write your own letter.
Dear Littlest Sister,
I wish, for so many reasons, that we were closer. It seems that all your life I’ve watched you hurting, and I’ve never been able to help you. Either it was out of my hands or you wouldn’t let me close enough to be any good.
I know I’m a disappointment to you, and that there are times you wish we didn’t share a name. I’m sorry. As difficult as our relationship has been, I have always been proud to call you my sister.
When you were five and our parents were divorcing, I should have been more sensitive. I should have seen the Little Sister who needed reassurance. Looking back, I don’t know why I minded it when you followed me around – you were so darn cute!
When you were playing softball, I wish I hadn’t been so wrapped up in my teenage-self. I wish I’d praised you for all your hard work, told you how great you were. Had I praised you, would you have felt shadowed by our middle sister’s spotlight? Would you still have given up sports?
Maybe it would have changed your future to hear how proud I was of you.
When you were experiencing your own teen depression, I wish I hadn’t been thousands of miles away. I’d have held you as you cried. Maybe then you wouldn’t have tried to overdose. If I’d been there to listen, would you have started cutting?
When you enlisted in the military, did I tell you how my heart swelled with pride? When you came back from your basic training and tech school, I was, once again, wrapped up in my own stuff. Did I tell you that I loved you? Did I tell you that I missed you each day you were gone?
And now, when you’re hurting – when your life is spinning – the distance between us is more than the five-hour drive. I want to call you and listen to your tears. I want to tell you that broken hearts hurt worse than childbirth, but that you’ll heal and be stronger.
I want to comfort you and give you the compassion and support that I know you won’t get from our mother or our middle sister.
It’s silly, really. We’re so much alike, you’d think we’d be closer. But, as I look back, I can see all the wedges I drove between us.
And so, I’ll write this letter to you, a letter you’ll never see. I’ll keep you in my thoughts as I wait to hear news of you. And I’ll pray that this isn’t the thing that causes you to hurt yourself again.
You are such a beautiful person.
You give so much of yourself to everyone. You, who never wanted children, are my son’s favorite aunt. He glows when he talks of his time with you and he tells anyone who will listen that he wants to join the military, just like his heroes. Do you know you’re one of his heroes?
Do you know you’re one of mine?
I love you to the depths of my soul. And no matter what, you will always be a part of me.
I am so infinitely proud of you.
Your Big Sister
It’s taken so long to realize some things about myself – things I thought were normal. There are certain emotions, thoughts, and feelings that I am just so used to thinking and feeling that they’ve become part of me.
My self-esteem is being whittled away, piece by piece – the marks invisible to an untrained eye.
“You’re stupid.” Slice.
“Look at everyone else, they’re way ahead of you.” Nick.
“Ugh, why do you even bother looking in the mirror?” Cut.
“Cripes woman, why the hell are you even trying? It’s not like it’s gonna get you anywhere.” Slash.
It’s just a small sample of the things I’ve told myself over the years. In twenty-three years of life, I have never once seriously congratulated myself for anything I’ve done.
Doesn’t matter that I was in the gifted program or was constantly told what big, pretty eyes I had or if someone told me I was cute: I still felt black, inky, sticky, dirty, utterly filthy, and undeserving of anything even remotely complimentary.
I am my own biggest critic.
It’s never been a fair critic; it’s always been like this wave of self-loathing and mental self-injury being thrown at me like arrows to blot out the sun.
So why do I do this? How did I learn it? Did I learn it from someone?
To those questions, I have no answer.
Two days ago, I had a panic attack so severe it left me passed out for several hours. I literally blacked out from my own fears and anxieties.
The next morning (yesterday) when I woke up, I knew something had to change. I started making a list of all the positives and negatives about myself. To my surprise, the positives outweighed the negatives. I was happy about that; it made me cry, but it felt good.
This morning, I was attacked – beaten and bitten. My brother and our parents saved me; they chased away the fucker. If it hadn’t been for them, I probably wouldn’t be here. More than likely, I’d still be baking in an unusually warm winter sun, waiting for a fridge in the morgue.
It makes me think, “If I’m so horrible, why did these wonderful people come riding in like the white knights to slay the dragon”?
The answer: They love me more than I love myself.
And that was a hard pill to swallow. I accept so much, yet give myself so little. When you hate yourself, you starve yourself of love, and a human cannot be without love – not a thing on this Earth can be without love.
So here I sit, beaten, battered, bitten, and bloody, telling each and every one of you who cares to read this, do NOT hate yourself.
Do not wake up and realize that someone loves you more than you love yourself because all you’re doing is killing yourself. It’s not the same as taking a bottle of pills or loading up a gun, but the effect is much slower and so much more painful.
It’s a battle, learning to love anyone. It’s so much harder to love yourself: you know each and every aspect of yourself (God willing), strengths and weaknesses, virtues and vices.
Please don’t let a near-death experience be your wake up call. Please don’t let it get so bad that you think it might not be too bad, because it is.
Learn to love yourself, because you are the only person that can’t leave or be taken away. Have the faith in yourself to love and be loved.
Wherever that faith may take you.
It was with a loud crash that she hit the floor, her knees gone weak with fear. “Help,” she cried, to no one in particular, a sort of mangled prayer to a god she never once believed in.
“Help me,” she whispered, hoping to see someone there, yet there was nothing but vast darkness, her hands clenched tightly.
There was a hollowness in her soul, an icy chill that ran through her veins when she hit this point. The bottom, again, a place she promised to stay away from, spun so quickly up to greet her. “Help me,” again she whispered, desperate.
The cold steel seemed to awaken in her hand. It was so strong, so faithful, and so delicate. She closed her eyes, tears falling hot and fast, such opposition to the cold running through her heart. One line, then another, cutting across her flesh.
“Help,” she whispered, partially to her ever trusty blade, partially to the blood now trickling down. It was warm like her tears, and safe, a reminder that she was real.
Exhausted, she wept.
This was never how it was supposed to be.
I haven’t told many people about this. Very few know any details. My husband knows the gist of it, but not all of it.
I was around 15 years old and I’d already spent time battling my personal demon. It was named Self-Harm and it came armed with a blade and a lighter.
I swallowed a bottle of… something. I can’t remember what. They had me on so many different medications. They wanted to “fix” me. The mutilation scared my parents. Not, of course, enough to try anything beyond anonymous prayer requests to the church group and a random assortment of pills. That, along with attempts, pleading with me to just stop and shaming me for my behavior, was supposed to be my “miracle cure.”
I don’t remember what finally tripped the trigger and pushed me to that point. Was it an argument? A particularly bad day? I don’t know. I can’t remember.
I remember being rushed to the ER. I remember the staff being unable to get a tube down into my stomach. I remember vomiting, repeatedly, every time they tried. Eventually they stopped trying and handed me a big mug of some charcoal mixture and told me to drink it.
Afterward, I had to stay in the ICU for 24 hours. I should have been sent to the local Psych unit for 72 hours. But I wasn’t. The doctor came in and talked to me.
He made me promise not to do this again, patted me on my head, handed me another prescription, and sent me off.
And that was it.
I went home.
I saw a “Christian Counselor” (despite religion being one of the major things my parents and I fought about) a handful of times over the next six months. My medication was changed a few more times. I can’t even remember everything we tried.
And that was it.
I stopped taking the medication when it was “mutually decided” I should move out.
I struggled with depression and other issues off and on for the next three or four years. It wasn’t until after the birth of my son and my second bout of Paranoid Personality Disorder that I started taking medication regularly or seeing a counselor on a regular basis.
I wonder how things would have turned out if they’d been handled differently way back then?
Between 2 and 3 million people in the US alone self-injure.
This is her experience.
I just want to start out by telling you about the gift God has so graciously provided me: I have an awesome, incredible, beautiful, rambunctious three-year old named Libby. She is my everything. Her smile, laugh, voice, everything about her makes me wake up in the morning with a smile on my face. She is my best friend, my ally, my stepping stone to true happiness.
We were sitting on the couch watching TV, and she was holding my arm with her hand.
She asked, “What happened, Mama?” when she saw my scars. I was in shock. I quickly changed the subject because she has the attention span of, well, a three-year old.
But I couldn’t get it off my mind. I know if you’re my friend or have ever been around me, you must have seen them. They are pretty noticeable. I’ve never tried to hide them; there’s no point.
I started cutting myself for the first time when I was 18 and a senior in high school. I was in a bad spell. This was before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder.
I lost almost 20 pounds in three weeks, I cut all my hair off, I spent hours locked up in my room, and I felt so… numb. Lost. Hurting so badly inside. I felt stupid that I was so upset and depressed. I thought I was crying for no reason, that I was being a dramatic girl.
So, I tried self-injury one night. It felt like a world full of black and white suddenly went colorful. I finally felt the pain on the outside that I was so desperately feeling on the inside.
I continued cutting.
It felt good and I loved doing it to myself, as narcissistic as that sounds. I didn’t do it for attention, necessarily. Maybe sub-consciously I did; I can’t really be sure. I didn’t do it to try and kill myself, either. It gave me reason for hurting. It gave me actual scars instead of the ones on my brain and on my heart. Real battle wounds instead of the ones I could only speak of. I used to hide in my closet for hours and self-injure a little at a time.
The closet is my safe haven in my brain. Whenever I’m super upset about something – when it’s really bad – I hide in my closest, most of the time with no lights on, and I cry. I try not to, but the reason I go to the closet is that is where I used to hide when my father would beat the hell out of my mom. I would go in there, ears plugged, eyes closed, and cry.
I stopped cutting after I found out I was pregnant with Libby. I didn’t do it for over three years, until July of this year.
I’d called my then-boyfriend one night, freaking out. I was so lost, in such a dark place, so afraid of myself. I collapsed mentally. He had to carry me out of the closet because I was shaking so hard.
I don’t know how to answer the question to Libs when she asks me again. Honestly, I’m afraid: I’m not supposed to be weak. I’m supposed to be her mom. Her protector. I’m supposed to be her knight in shining armor. How do you explain that to a child? I don’t want to lie to her, but I don’t want her to look at me differently when she’s finally old enough to understand.
Are they battle wounds or are they just a crazy girl’s self-inflicted scars?