"To be nobody-but-myself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make me everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight, and never stop fighting." -- ee cummings
“As much as we'd like it to be, self-injury isn't something that can be tucked away in a little corner of your life where it doesn't touch anything else. Even after you've stopped, it continues to affect who you are and how you interact with people. Scars fade but never disappear entirely. Feelings of alienation may subside but still lurk in the background. If you're still actively hurting yourself, life gets even more complicated.”
Even on my good days when I don’t actively think about self-harm, it is forever present in my life.
First, I don’t exactly know how to stop the intrusive thoughts of self-harm. The thing that has worked best for me, is to identify the triggers that make me want to self-harm and work on those issues in therapy until they no longer have such control over my mind and my emotions. It hasn’t destroyed all thoughts of self-harm forever for me, but something that I never thought would happen… has. I have days, weeks, even months where I no longer think about injuring myself for purposes of self-injury. Some people might argue tattoos, piercing, sky diving, whatever could put me in harms way, but I don’t go into any of that stuff because I’ve been triggered or need to control some aspect of my life. It’s amazing to me. I’ve been self-harming, in some way, since I was 12/13 years old. I think about it, Every. Single. Day. of my life. These thoughts are intrusive, invasive, pervasive, and sometimes they seem to come out of nowhere! It’s maddening. Other days they are small thoughts, like a voice whispering in the back of my mind that those scissors are over there if I need them. Others I want to grab my favorite pocket knife and pull it across my flesh as hard as I can. I’m very used to these thoughts. They’re like the annoying neighbor child that you don’t really want to hang out with because he always gets you in trouble but you can’t avoid because he’s right there. It’s an odd thing to think about hurting yourself every day. I know it’s difficult for people that don’t do it to really wrap their head around it too. For me, I never thought I’d be rid of these thoughts. Even though I am currently rid of the self-harming behavior. Miraculously. I was wrong. Not that they don’t come back or pop into the fore of my thoughts from time to time, but I’ve gone months without having self-injurious thoughts! Months! It was kind of a shock to realize that I wasn’t thinking about it all the time. I didn’t even notice. Which is good. It means I’m healing.
When I first noticed it was many, many months after my last cut. I’m here today, 17 months SI free, and still I think about it sometimes. It’s important to remember that this is a deeply ingrained probably. Like alcoholism. Just because you have stopped the behavior, doesn’t mean it doesn’t still affect your life. It can be a constant struggle to not pick up the knife. Even when it’s not a struggle, it can still be present. Looming. Waiting. Ready to sneak into your consciousness when you’re defenses are down. It’s something that I/we are constantly aware of and have to constantly ward against.
Hell. I’ll be honest, because that’s what I do here. I’m writing about this stuff because it’s an important issue, but at the same time it is very triggering for me. I can’t write about this topic and not think about what it means to me, has meant to me, and there are parts of me that miss it.
I think this is normal for people like me. Keeping in mind that “normal” is relative and does not mean healthy.
Having these thoughts is an indication that something is wrong. It’s important to acknowledge them, but not to let them take over. Give them their voice and try to understand where they are coming from. Acting on these thoughts in a self-injurious way doesn’t solve the problem (though it may feel better in the moment), it just delays the issue, but allows for it to come back. These thoughts and feelings tend to keep coming back until you figure out what these thoughts are really trying to express and you take action to deal with the heart of the problem. Band-aids on a bullet wound don’t do so much, yanno?
Fortunately I’ve reached this point. And even when there are days that I don’t think about it, as I mentioned before, there’s no escaping the impact that self-harm has had on my life. When I cut, or burn, I go deep. I scar. I’m reminded of it all the time. You can’t tell yourself that it’s just a temporary problem, well, you can, but the reality is that it doesn’t disappear so easily. You can tell yourself that in the future you won’t ever have this as part of your life anymore. You may not have the active coping mechanism, but it’s very likely that you’ll always have a few reminders. Those reminders might make it hard to move on. Make it hard to forget when you no longer need to hold on.
It’s something to keep in mind.
It’s not something to be ashamed of though. I love my scars. It’s very, very rare that they cause me uncomfortable feelings in some situation. They’re a reminder that I have the strength to make it through things that I didn’t think I’d be able to. They mean a lot to me. I appreciate them. Therapist doesn’t really understand why I like my scars, but they mean something to me. It’s okay. They mean I’m okay. That I can remain okay.
They’re always there to remind me.
However! And this is important. They are no longer my first impulse. They are no longer difficult to dismiss. They no longer have control of me.
There are a lot of things that people living with self-injury and mental health issues have to deal with that others do not. Over the next few days I want to talk those things; about telling others, how to handle intrusive questions, wound healing and hiding, reactions, and whatever else pops into my head.