Every Scar Has A Story: Self Injury, Coping, Healing

Every Scar Has A Story: Self Injury, Coping, Healing

By Amanda Fox

Trigger Warning: this blog post contains information about self-harm.

Recently, we were asked if we would cover a rather difficult topic, that of suicide and suicide prevention. As often happens, our discussion of the topic meandered off to that of Self-Harm or Self-Injury to some. While both merit coverage, it is that of self-harm that strikes a particular chord within me, because as much as I hate to say it, I have to sadly say  I am a self-injurer. More accurately, an active self-injurer.

Self-injury, for me, began a bit over 30 years ago. My reasons, on the surface, were isolation and depression, but it was so much deeper than that. Control was definitely an issue, specifically controlling pain. It all started, however, from what could have been a suicide attempt. I wanted to kill myself, or at least thought I did, but I wasn’t sure I could follow through. I’d recently seen a hanged body of a neighbor in the woods near our home; a kindly old Japanese man who felt he’d become a burden to his daughter and her husband. I didn’t like that method. I didn’t have a handgun to use which I saw as being too messy and pills were around but I wasn’t sure what to do with them really or what would bring a peaceful end versus horrifying pain or if I’d even do it right. Cutting, I thought I could do.

tumblr_lzepkhMV2h1rpxd8go1_500It was my intention to slit my wrists, but I had no idea what I was doing really. Looking back, I’d have done it all wrong and created a terrible mess. I feared pain. I didn’t fully understand the how and why of it. I didn’t know if I could finish the job making what I figured would be several incisions. I decided to do a test run on my thigh. It did hurt, but there was also something I didn’t expect – relief. For a brief moment, I controlled pain, but I also released endorphins and oxytocin and oddly, I felt better. Maybe a month later, I did it again, and so began the cycle.

Like many young people, my early teens were tough. Puberty was horrifying. I already hated  my body and here it was changing on me, but not the way I wanted it to.  I couldn’t control it or my emotions. I always felt as though I was on the outside of life looking in, but there was no rational reason for that. Many things were not what I wanted or expected, and I full well knew cutting myself was wrong which complicated it all. I hid it and the ritual it had become which clearly told me that I did harbor shame over it, but it was my escape. My “safe” place. My solution to all that was wrong. It was a situation where emotion overrode logic.

For all of three years I cut myself, with sometime in my second year it being the worst. By then, it was nearly three times a month. Eventually, times changed. I changed. I stopped for several months. Not a conscious effort mind you. It just stopped until it began again. College admissions, my final season of high school sports, dating, body image issues, being a closeted LGBT person at the height of the AIDS epidemic in a very unforgiving community and so many other things built and built and built . . . And so I did it just one more time. Several times. And then it stopped – except for those random moments that visited a couple dozen times over the next few years. Then finally, after intense cognitive behavioral and aversion therapy coupled with everything science and medicine could offer under the sun, I stopped for better than a decade.

tumblr_mb7sch7NFI1rzihc3o1_500Then I found myself talking to a friend. Not just a friend really, one of those friends that is closer than close like some hybrid of family, friend, desired lover that never happened and soulmate wrapped up in one package. She too had her period of self-harm which is something we rarely discussed but that bonded us along with so many other things. She was hurting. More so than I had ever seen and I couldn’t do a thing but offer what felt like hollow words such as “hang in there”, “it will get better” and all of that nonsense, so I said nothing but “I’m here.” Anything else would have been a lie and we’d both know that.

What I wanted more than anything in that moment was to take her pain and make it my own. Just give her a moment of relief and I couldn’t. I can’t. None-the-less, I still in some way felt it. I’m not one of those people that feels the pain of the world or everyone I come in contact with, but in the case of a few very specific people I am very empathic. I felt her pain over having no control of what was happening mixed with mine of being so damn useless to do anything and before I even knew what was happening I was doing it again.

My reason for sharing this is not to garner some form of pity – I neither want it or need it. My reason is much simpler. Here I am a 40-something year old woman that has dealt with this issue for some thirty years and knows every single reason under the sun why it is bad and why it should never, ever, be done . . . and yet I did it. Not more than a few days removed from explaining how wrong it is and how it doesn’t solve our problems, but rather just masks the pain of the underlying issue.

I share this because I know that statistically, about 1% of the overall population is actively involved in self-injurous behavior. You can almost triple the number if you extend it to people that are no longer involved in self harm. That may seem like a small number, but this is something that is or has been done by an estimated 200 million+ people on the planet – not counting those that are denying it and all the people connected to those people who suffer in one way or another because of the self-harm being done by those they care about.

Always fight! (Image from http://solacetiger.wordpress.com)

Always fight! (Image from http://solacetiger.wordpress.com)

I am a cutter. It may sound hypocritical to stand here right now in this moment after doing it  to myself and say “Don’t you do it . . .”, but I beg anyone that is involved in self-harm to please stop. Get help. Talk to someone you trust. At least acknowledge it is nothing more than a masking agent for a much deeper problem and understand that no matter how much cutting or whatever it is you do may seem to work in the moment, the problem always returns and the cycle of pain caused by your actions only leads to more problems.
I do understand how hard it is to stop. I understand that you are likely reading this thinking  you and I are so different that my experience doesn’t apply to you. Different things may have compelled us, but we walk down the same road. I know how good the release feels and how you need the ability to control and feel . . . anything, but you have to know, I know how this plays out. I know it isn’t the answer to your problems. I know the dangers of what happens when you make a mistake one day and go too deep or get an infection. I know the shame of the scars. I know that you, like me, want better than this.

There are answers, but you have to ask for help finding them. If you are a self-injurer, please, seek help. if you know someone that is involved in self-injury, please, encourage them to seek help. Show them compassion, not scorn or harsh judgments. Be the friend they need. If you would like to get help or want more information, please avail yourself to these resources.

One Million Scars
Self-Harm / Self-Injury hotline – 1-800-DONT-CUT
Help Guide

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  1. Lisa says:

    Hi Amanda, this is a topic very brave to blog about. I am not sure if I would have had the courage. Through out my late childhood and late teens I was a cutter. I used to steal my fathers razers and cut my fingers and the top of my hands. I was really quite depressed but my parents ignored it mostly. I am not sure how or why I stopped but I am sad to remember it. The last significant time I found a swiss knife and cut through my little finger so deeply that today I have a deep scar and have lost half the nerves feelings in my finger. A small reminder when I type. I do pass my sincere hope to access help out there to other readers.

  2. amidiabetic says:

    I hope that many people will read this article. I worked for 9 years at my local college and worked with people who were self-harmers. It got to a stage that I could tell who the self-harmers were and long sleeves during a hot summers day were a dead giveaway. I remember thinking “Thank god that none of my kids were self-harmers.

    25th September 2006 changed all of that. My son was in a hit and run accident and was in a critical condition and actually died before being brought back. He was in a coma for 6 weeks and had to learn to eat, talk and walk again. Anyway, we learned the effects of self-harming first hand, although, these were injuries that could be seen such as cuts to the forehead, hands and knuckles bruised, battered and swollen with visits to the local A&E dept. there was even an eyebrow ring pulled out in frustration with blood pouring down his face.

    People are all too quick to judge others, especially if in the way that they dress. Add self harming to the mix and they just don’t want to know or understand. They seem to think “what a weirdo!” but the truth is, they are just like you and me.

  3. Again it boils down to education…. Thanks for your post Amanda!

  4. Your story is so moving that I am unclear about how to respond. We need to find more compassion and better support systems out there for folks dealing with that pain.

    I have a friend who was a counselor for kids in trouble. It took less than 5 years for her to get burned out and quit. She spent longer getting educated & certified than actually working in the field. I think I big reason that she gave up was her frustration with the support systems that are available to help.

  5. “relief. For a brief moment” I vividly remember existing outside of everything until one summer day I drank alcohol and immediately my whole world shifted and the pain melted away. It was a revelation to be able to pull the fuse on the current of not belonging if only for a moment. It took decades and lost loves before I stopped.

    Amanda thanks for sharing such a deeply personal part of your story, I smiled a bit behind my watery eyes. Thank you for your courage to look at the moments that most would rather ignore and pretend do not exist.

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