Self-Injury: Do You Know the Facts?

Twelve and half years, at this point, half of my life. That’s how many years self-injury was a focal point in my life.

I remember the first time. Clawing my arms with my nails seemed like nothing, it was just how I dealt with the emotions and thoughts I didn’t know how else to express. Just like it seemed like nothing, it quickly became to amount to nothing; scratching myself lost its strength and I quickly moved on. The thin pink lines began to transform into emergency hospital visits as I hoarded medical supplies in an attempt to mend my wounds on my own. Long sleeves covered a story untold and my life began to look exactly like an addicts. I didn’t dare to go anywhere without the safety of razor blades that I had strategically hidden. I didn’t only want to self-harm, I needed to self-harm; sometimes multiple times a day. My thoughts told me no one cared, no one understood, and life would always be painful. I was desperate for healing of the gaping holes of hurt in my life; I was desperate for control.

No matter how many people begged me to stop, no matter how many tears loved ones cried, I couldn’t stop because I didn’t want to stop. Something was finally working to “fix me”, or so I made myself believe. I told myself I had control, when in reality I was completely out of control. I wanted help, but I didn’t want to make myself vulnerable. I feared being judged, thought as weak or be seen as a bother, or even worse, be hospitalized.

As I left my teenage years I swung back and forth between trying to stop but not wanting to let the safety of self-injury go. I’d quit for a day and occasionally a week. Within a year I went from quitting for a month, to quitting for three, to quitting for six months. I came to a point where I knew the timing was right, I was finally ready.

A year into being self-harm free I despised the remaining scars that no amount of scar cream, oils, or vitamins could fade. I hid them with make-up, jewelry and long sleeves. I didn’t want to be reminded of all the years of pain.

Now, I wear my remaining scars with pride. They tell a story of healing, even more, they tell a story of survival.


 

March 1st is National Self-Injury Awareness Day – Do you know the facts?

* Research shows that self-injurer’s do so for emotional regulation

* A person that self-harms does not have to have a mental illness

* Males and females self-harm

* Self-mutilation is not necessarily a suicide attempt

* Self-harm is not “just attention seeking”

For more information including on recovery and support, visit:

Self-Harm MythBusters

Self-Injury Outreach and Support

Why I Stayed

A while back ago #whyistayed was trending across the media in regards to domestic violence. It’s easy to throw around “why”, but understanding why is a completely different level. One of the reasons I’m not very transparent with the world I’m in contact with everyday about my abuse is because I fear the “why” questions.

Why did you stay?

Why didn’t you do anything?

Why did you believe them?

Why didn’t you know better?

Where I am in life now I don’t blame myself, nor do I think I would if I had these questions thrown at me, but it does take vulnerability to a new level. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with my abusers, both as a coping mechanism and because of their way of twisting the world around to fit their goals. By the time I was an adult, my time away from them, my education, or “common sense” had zero power over what all of the years with them had told me. The trauma bond between myself and my abusers were alive and well.

Traumatic bonding is a powerful emotional attachment that is seen to develop from two specific features of abusive relationships: power imbalances and intermittent good-bad treatment (as cited in Dutton & Painter, 1993).

March will make four years of what I like to call, sober of abuse. I use the word sober because in many ways I needed my abusers in my life like I needed air; I couldn’t live without them. And just like someone being sober from alcohol may have urges to drink, there have been a number of times that I have stayed in bed having withdrawals, wanting to contact the very people that nearly took my life from me. As time has passed, I’ve learned time really does heal. The aches and pains of wanting to return became shorter in length, decreased in how often they showed up, and created in me a sense that I can do this. When I’m in my pit of despair I can’t guarantee this surging urge to run back will not return, but I can guarantee, in the words of Taylor Swifts “Clean” –

I won’t give in, now that I’m clean, I’m never gonna risk it.

The Last Bandage: Finding Healing

Less than a year passed when I fled from Hayley and David and I transferred from community college to one of the most diverse universities in the country. I was desperate to be accepted back into the safety of God, but ashamed to ask for acceptance, terrified of being cast aside. I’d sit outside of my school’s chapel, the benches a safe distance away from the clean students that walked through the doors. Rather it was raining, breezy, cold, or blazing hot, I glued myself to the dedicated benches near the chapel. Sitting there and staring at the white building covered in arched windows that was home to the dozens of religions that flooded the campus, I didn’t have it in me to walk through the doors. How could I possibly walk in with such evilness attached to me? There was too much darkness in my life that couldn’t dare be brought into what I saw as a sacred place. I was terrified to dirty up something that I saw as clean.

But that feeling wouldn’t go away.

After a year of contemplating, sitting around and walking by the building day after day, I finally heard that confident, reassuring voice.

“Go in Sarah, it will be ok.”

My heart raced and thoughts inundated me as I opened the door for the first time. Making my way up the stairs, I sank into a sofa where I found myself sitting and studying through the rest of the semester. I refused to go into the sanctuary, but the fear of walking in faded.

As time passed I eventually found myself walking into churches around the city. I was still hesitant, and very much “testing the waters”; I was sure one of them would see through me and throw me out. I showed up at churches in the heart of the city, out in the suburbs; Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, and everything in-between. I wasn’t stared at, people didn’t look at me and see my problems, and I didn’t get struck by lightning because I wasn’t holy enough to be there. The peace I got years ago that I hid under my rebellious attitude flooded back.  I started to realize my problems didn’t define me nor dictate my life. There was one reason I survived, and it wasn’t because of luck. It was much deeper than that. I came to learn the only bandage that would truly heal my wounds, was God, when the world turned its back; He never left and never gave up on me.


I look back and sometimes find it hard to believe how I was never one of the girls that was found in the ditch after being missing for days. I also can’t explain how seemingly out of nowhere while I was in line to get my passport to leave the country with my abusers, that I walked out and knew I had to get away – life was not “okay”. For all of the negative forces that had their hands around my throat, the real power was always in the part that I continuously pushed away, but never left.

The temporary feel good of ____________ (fill in the blank) is great, until the adrenaline rush, numbing effect, or whatever other feeling (or lack of feeling) it brings, runs out. Not to mention the lasting effects quickly begin to decrease in potentness.  I’m not saying that turning to God suddenly made everything better. In fact, it was more than difficult at times because of the preconceived ideas I had, and the schema’s I had developed over the years.

Trust no one.

Stay quiet.

No one cares.

No one will protect you.

Give, but don’t receive.

People will always fail you.

These had done absolutely nothing for me through the years but create more suffering. But the fact of the matter is, people will always fail me, and intentionally or not, people will hurt me just for the fact that they’re human. That’s where the difference lies between people and God. There have been many times where things happened that I didn’t want to happen, and the phrase “God never gives you more than you can handle” boiled my blood. Instead of our problems just disappearing, we are instead promised that in our sufferings, we will not suffer alone. God does not allow us to suffer things we cannot bear ALONE.

I don’t know about anyone else, but every time I used something else to bandage myself up, it always fell off, and I was always going through the battles alone, regardless of how many people were around me. I was trying to “fix” myself, until I let myself open up just enough to let the only One who could begin to heal me do the healing.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”                                                                                                                                  Matthew 11:28-30 NIV

 

Just Stop

“Dying to be thin,
wanting to see the bones under her skin,
trying to be perfect,
she’s filled with sin.”

(undated)

Ignorance is bliss. Or so that’s what I chose to believe. What I couldn’t ignore, I kept pushing aside. Even so, I struggled to stay above water; I didn’t know how to deal with being away from something that consumed so many years of my life. I struggled to not go running back to Hayley and David, and became obsessed with trying to find what they were doing and where they were.

Old letters and messages that I failed to let go of from Hayley painted the picture of someone that cared. The disturbing sense of remorse and care that I held on to for so long stared back at me. Recognition of the good in me despite the constant waves of contradicting messages by her dad kept me going. The confusion of opposing views being yelled at me played through my head.

Trying to run from my past, hurting myself wasn’t enough. Memories from the abuse from my cousin started to play in my head. I couldn’t put it together and I was still in denial. I didn’t want to face it; I wanted everything to go away. Old bad habits came back to try to fade out the memories; I resorted back to controlling what I could: food. When weakness crept through my bones I’d momentarily stop, only to start again. It was yet another never-ending cycle, a temporary bandage that was doing more harm than healing. Hearing all of the bad associated with eating disorders meant absolutely nothing to me. I was well aware of the risks, but didn’t care. I didn’t care about myself, but guilt still flooded me over my destructive actions. I’d tell myself 10 more pounds, just another 20 minutes of running. I was lying to myself once again to make it all okay.


When I hear someone telling another person to “just stop” it makes my skin crawl. Rather it be “just stop” drinking, self-harming, taking drugs, over eating, not eating, or any of the other millions of things that are possible – it’s never as easy as just stopping. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but it definitely won’t just happen overnight. It’s been a little over 2 years since I’ve self-harmed or intentionally engaged in any self-destructive eating patterns or behaviors for that matter. A little over 2 years and there are still times when I struggle, and I still have to be mindful of my actions and thoughts so as to not slip. Trust me, there were plenty of times where I attempted to stop in the past and slipped, over and over again. It didn’t matter how many people said they wanted me to stop, it didn’t matter how much they cared or cried about it, and it didn’t matter how dangerous I knew my actions were – none of it mattered. What it came down to was I had to want to stop. Why stop when something “worked” for so long? I look at myself now and can easily say it’s a lot harder dealing with my emotions and life as opposed to self-harming and being numb to the world. Why change?

As much as all of my self-destructive behaviors seemed to help, I eventually got to the point where it wasn’t enough. Even away from abuse, hurt remained the number one thing in my life, not only because of my experiences, but because I was continuously hurting myself in an attempt to heal myself. I’m not here to change anyone’s coping, or to even say anyone’s means of coping is “bad”. In fact, even if your coping is self-destructive, it’s probably helped you in some way at some point or another. Instead, I’m simply saying, rather you’ve entertained the thought or not, overcoming your addiction, self-destructive behavior; your struggle – isn’t impossible.