Every now and then, I’ll see a Facebook status that says something like, “I’ve been sober one year.” We should indeed congratulate those people. But it also occurs to me that no one says, “The scars will always be there, but nine months later, I no longer stare at them each morning or feel compelled to make new ones.”
Because March is Self-Injury Awareness Month, because no one ever talks about self-injury, and because it affects so many people, including those at the University of Dallas, I decided to be that person.
I wished when I was going through ten years of self-injury that someone would have spoken up about the issue, if only in a general way. Instead, it was banished to dark corners of half-whispered gossip or considered unimportant or “just a phase.”
I cannot pretend to speak for other people or describe their situation, but I can speak for myself. This is what happened, why it happened and how to stop.
Unlike what most people will tell you, self-injurers do not necessarily come from broken homes. There is no history of mental disease or substance abuse in my immediate family. I’m well-looked after and well-educated. I cry at a good movie, a few books, a few songs – but I don’t like breakdowns or breakthroughs because that’s what you do to a wall, not how you deal with emotions.
It started when I was ten with two scabs that I wouldn’t let heal. These scabs lasted until I was twenty. At ten, I was teased a lot because I was bigger than most of the other kids and had problems relating to people. When I created an expanding scab and expanding scar tissue, I felt smaller. And if there was less of me, there would be less to hate. This continued on and off for years. Occasionally, I’d cut up my wrists using whatever I could find. I’d try to get help but it wouldn’t stick. The thing that made me despair the most was that I was convinced that these issues would be gone by now. I was twenty years old, well-liked and making the Dean’s List every semester.
Why did this happen to me? Or, another way of phrasing the same question, why did I do this? I cannot know for sure, because I’m still working with counselors and I’m not sure if I have depression or bi-polarism or something else entirely. But I think it has something to do with humor. My cross, my burden, is humor, the urge to create laughter when I should be making sense. Humor can be cheap, humor can be cheating. Unable to grasp concrete reality except by clever turns of phrase, frustrated by having an expected role to fill, I turned inward and drew lines across my wrists instead of between ideas. I was scared of becoming a cream puff: fun and bite-sized, and sweet, but ultimately inconsequential. I wanted to make and to be a monument to something I felt that didn’t have a name but had a clear depiction. I wanted a red badge of courage.
How did I stop? New Year’s Day of 2011, I made a resolution to go a full year without self-injury. I wanted to see if I could do it. And I could, because I told myself I was stronger than this. I don’t know how good of a person I am or if I’ll screw up again. But I do know this: stronger. You are – I am – stronger than this, and nothing will convince me otherwise.
I didn’t will myself out of cutting, however. For one thing, the most important step was realizing I had a problem. I thought I could just get by, despite my secrets. But I don’t want to just “float on,” and neither should you. But the fact is, “getting by” is fundamentally not possible. You start off in control, but soon you won’t be. Secondly, I had to tell someone. To be honest, I got appallingly drunk and told my friend. And he was OK. He was concerned, but he was OK. It’s not a terrible secret; it’s sensitive information about a problem. After that, for me, it was about taking things one step at a time.
“One step at a time” also proved to be an important phrase. Not cutting ever again terrifies me. I tell myself that I won’t cut today, not that I won’t cut ever again, because I’ve told myself that before and it’s led to disappointment. I can promise you this: I won’t cut today, and I challenge others to do the same.