Healing From Self-Harm
Published: Wednesday, November 14, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, November 14, 2012 14:11
I have wanted to write this article for a long time, but fear has rendered me silent. Yet with only a few weeks left before I graduate, I decided to write this article to shatter my fear and hopefully illuminate something about a little-spoken of subject.
I struggled with self-harm on and off for about eleven years. Self-harm has a few different names - self-mutilation, self-injury, cutting. According to NPR, nearly 2 million Americans have struggled with self-harm. Despite the fact that we self-harmers carry our skin like canvases- lined with scars and burns, the subject itself is one that society buries deeply, beneath the subcutaneous layer of consciousness. We hide behind long sleeves and bracelets, behind secrets, shame, and myths. Many myths remain - myths I hope to dispel.
Last night, I was playing bass when I clumsily knocked my laptop off my bed. It gouged my skin fairly deep, rivulets of crimson danced down my skin and left deep nick in its wake. It’s odd how as a former self-harmer, an accidental nick in the shower or slip of a knife when cutting vegetables evokes a vivid, red searing pain in the crevices of the mind. Cutting and burning was a ritual of self-hatred. The lacerations upon my skin are echoes of the past, of the trenches of my depression, and what I deemed as crippling failures at perfection.
My romance with the razor blade began when I was 13. I was captivated and magnetized at the possibility of punishing myself. This is where myth one enters: self-harmers are just crying for attention, such as ‘emo kids’ who cut themselves in some sort of ‘trendy’ solidarity to suffering. The reality is that my self-harm was an island - painfully private and lonely. I hid beneath long sleeves and a constellation of lies to cover up the truth. It was always a friend’s cat, a soccer game gone bad, a kiss to the pavement.
Another myth: all cutters are suicidal. No, I was not suicidal. Mostly I needed to translate the hieroglyphs of my emotional anguish to physical anguish. Inga Muscio poignantly describes her bout with cutting in her essay “Slash an’ Burn” saying: “My cut up body was a secret, sacred garden of grief. It kept me alive and filled with a kind of wonder… so I slashed and burned and watched myself heal.”
It may sound crazy to those who do not understand the allure of the blade, but it is really exists as part of a continuum of ways people deal with painful events. Like other self-harmers, I simply did not possess the ‘coping skills’ to deal with my cataclysmic rift of pain. I did not know how to talk about it or deal in healthy ways. I definitely wish I could have just been one of those people who gravitated towards exercise or music or some other outlet, any outlet but my skin.
Yet the allure of the blade or the flicker of the lighter to my skin was always floating as a haunting specter in the back of my mind. I reluctantly went to counseling at 18 after my family and friends encouraged me to get help, but the romance with suffering was still there, the specter lingered. I was grateful for their help and caring, yet I was not ready to quit.
For a few years later I vacillated between cutting, burning, and hiding. I cannot honestly pinpoint one specific event when I decided to quit. I think I finally started listening to my family, my friends, my therapists. Finally, I no longer see my body as a canvas for inflicting harm and punishment. My scars still web across my upper arms, my wrists, my thighs, but no longer do they define my identity.
I would like to end with a few bits of advice, because I feel like it is my responsibility writing on this subject to do so. If you know someone who is struggling with cutting: offer to listen, ask questions, but do not probe or make the person feel ashamed. I will always remember when one nurse at the Emergency Room literally said, “shame on you” as she frowned while bandaging my wrists.
Please don’t do this. We live with enough shame as it is. If you are struggling with self-harm, I encourage you that recovery is possible. Reach out, because there are so many wonderful resources, such as the NDSU Counseling Center which offers free services to students.
Tessa is a senior majoring in English.