This is a follow-up to an opinion paper I wrote on Self-injury, which was a very challenging piece to write. I’m hoping I can share a little more of a personal perspective on my own struggle with self-injury which was in the form of cutting. As I begin, I have no set timeline for when I plan on finishing this, not because I don’t want to finish it, but because I want to ensure my own safety and not send myself into a relapse where I cause myself to feel I need to cut again. I hope that as others read this, who may struggle with self-injury that steps will be taken to ensure the safety of each person reading this. It is important for each person to know when they have reached a point where they need to take a break rather then risk relapse. If self-injury is triggered, please consider getting some help whether it be from a mental health hotline, local emergency room, a therapist, or even a friend who can help divert your focus from self-injury to something safer. I want safety for my readers, just as much as I want safety for myself.
As you read this, keep in mind that I’m not a professional, I don’t have any degrees or training that would indicate that I’m an expert on any level. I write from my own life experiences and plan on sharing what worked for me and offer these tactics as suggestions of things that might help others, but keeping in mind that what works for me may not work for others since no two people think or behave exactly the same or for that matter benefit from the exact same things. I am an individual who has been through a lot and because of these experiences wants to share what helped me overcome some of my struggles.
Many have asked me why it was that I chose to cut. To this I have no solid answer, other then at the time it felt like it was the only thing that I had control over and allowed me to feel something other then emotional pain. I think on some level, it was also a way for me to *show* people a glimpse of what the internal emotional pain looked like. I always knew it wasn’t a good choice, but during the time I was doing it I didn’t know of anything else that gave me any kind of release.
Over the years, I had been given many suggestions on how to deal with my cutting. One suggestion was to wear a rubber band and snap it against my skin. Others suggested drawing on my skin with red markers or pens. Another suggestion was to hold an ice cube in my hand until it hurt. For me, none of these really seemed to be adequate substitutes for cutting. What I did find that helped more then anything was working with my therapist and figuring out what might be the root cause of my cutting. While my therapist didn’t by any means approve of my cutting, she also didn’t feel that focusing on it would solve the problem. My therapist had compared helping me stop cutting to pulling weeds in a garden. If you clip the weeds down leaving the roots, the weeds will be guaranteed to grow back. If you dug up the weeds roots and all, the weeds will take a lot longer to return if they return at all. With cutting she said it was like cutting was a symptom of a deeper issue … the act of cutting was like the part of the weed that is above ground. Where the reason behind the cutting is like the roots. This made more sense to me then anything I had ever been told about why I cut, most people thought that having me contract for safety or promise that I wouldn’t cut again would solve the problem, but until I dealt with the underlying issues there was no way for me to stop cutting. For me, cutting was a symptom of the abuse issues I hadn’t dealt with, and once I worked through them, the cutting dissipated over time as there was no longer a need to use cutting to cope with the inner turmoil. It took a lot of hard work that at times felt like I was going backwards instead of forwards, but ultimately resulted in the horrors of my past becoming nothing more then what it’s like if I tried to remember what it felt like when I stubbed my toe a year ago. The memories are still there, they just don’t hurt like they did before.
So, what did I do? A combination of things actually, I talked with my therapist about things that bothered me, things that seemed like I was searching for answers to, but not finding any. I often asked “why?” this is a question I still don’t have the answer to in some ways, but the things I do know give me a peace of mind and allow me to process things better since I’m not straining to bury the past any more. This isn’t to say I’m perfect, because I make my share of mistakes, but it does say I found what worked for me. Among the treatment I received was something called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), which you can read about at http://www.emdr.com this was a highly useful tool for me. I also found that journaling and doing research helped me. The research helped me begin to answer some of my questions and in a sense enhanced my therapy sessions because I not only would raise questions about what I was thinking or feeling, but I gained insight into myself and was able to build on what my therapist was offering me in the way of guidance.
There were many days when I wanted to give up and quit, but from somewhere deep within me, I somehow knew there had to be more to life then what I was currently seeing, and with that thought in mind I was able to press on. The cutting did get worse before it got better, I ended up having to have surgery on both arms to check for and correct nerve damage to this day my pinky and ring fingers on my left hand don’t work quite right, and they may never will. The poorly functioning fingers are a constant reminder to me of where I once was, and why I need to do everything I can to strive to reach even further beyond those days then I already have. I’m also reminded that there are people who still struggle with cutting and it is those people who I want to encourage to figure out what the underlying issue is that causes you to cut. If you don’t figure that out, the chances of being able to quit cutting are drastically smaller.
When I was at my worst, I saw my therapist 3 times a week for several months until I was able to decrease my sessions down to twice a week then once a week, then every other week and on down to where I see my therapist on an as needed basis. It was a process where I had to go through the garbage and trauma of my past to get to the way out of it that lead to better things.
Don’t give up on yourself, what they say about us being our own worst enemy is true, but it is possible to take the energy that goes into destructive behavior and gradually turn it into something positive that can not only benefit you, but everyone around you.
Some of the things I’ve done over the years to help take steps towards a healthier mindset include, but I’m sure are not limited to the following ….
- Journaling – I rarely started out with “Dear diary” for an entry, sometimes what I wrote was several pages of rambling, other times it might be a single word written so big it covered an entire page. Other times I might doodle or draw something I was seeing in my mind’s eye during a flashback so I could try to convey it to my therapist. I still have the journal I started during the time before I found out I had Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) when my cutting was at its worst. My only rule when journaling was that whatever I wrote had to come from within me and that proper punctuation wasn’t required.
- Research – I looked up information online about the things I had been diagnosed with, I looked for answers to why I cut or how others had stopped, what I found was that there were many people hurting just as I was and we all seemed to be searching for answers. Because of this revelation, I decided I would try and find a way to help others once I reached a point where I felt I was able to discuss my struggle with cutting without relapsing in the first paragraph. I found also that some felt that self-injury was a sort of addiction in the sense that when I would cut endorphins would be released causing a sort of euphoria the more this happened, the more I wanted the release of the endorphins and it was a viscious cirle. Others felt that it was attention seeking behavior, maybe on some level it was in my case since I viewed cutting as a way to display to others what I felt like inside. If you spend time looking for answers to the question of “Why?” there’s a good chance you’ll begin to see things in other people that you see in yourself and realize your not as alone as you thought you were. I know that’s what happened for me.
- Learning Safety Skills – safety skills can be anything that helps you when the urge to cut or self-injure hits you. I found that keeping my hands and mind busy was one of the best ways to combat the urges I didn’t always succeed in not cutting, but with each attempt at fighting the urge I built up a sort of endurance that allowed me to lengthen the time I was able to hold out and not act on the urge. I learned that sometimes something as simple as calling someone or sending an email, or putting in a favorite movie (comedies worked best for me) could divert my attention long enough for the urge to pass. Something I did was to give the items I preferred to use or felt were most effective for cutting myself with and I gave them to my therapist and asked her to dispose of them without telling me where they were going to be. There are certain items I don’t keep in the house because they were what I use to cut with. If I need those items for a project I’ll borrow them from someone else and use them for my project as quickly as I can and get the item returned to whoever I borrowed it from. For me simply holding certain items is in some ways very much like what it would be like for a recoverying addict to hold their drug of choice in their hand and try not to use it. Even though I haven’t cut in years, I still am cautious when it comes to having my tools of destruction in my possession, because the urges do creep up and I want to do what I can to keep going in a positive direction.
- Exercise – Sometimes something as simple as going for a walk outside can help or doing some kind of physical activity. Shooting baskets, running, swimming, anything that you both enjoy and can take your feelings and convert them into motion which in turn releases endorphins that can offer a substitute to cutting.
- Seek professional help – This is probably one of the most important well equal to learning safety skills. I feel strongly that I couldn’t have stopped cutting had I been left to my own devices. Without a therapist I was a clear danger to myself and the risks I was taking with my cutting were bordering on life threatening … having a therapist who could help me look at things from a better perspective and learn things I could do instead of cutting while at the same time working through the underlying issues that were driving me to cut this was a huge key to my success.
It was and at times still isn’t an easy battle, but it was one that I believe has saved my life. It can be thamong the most difficult things you may try to overcome, but it can be done and with time, healing, practice, determination, and a good dose of creativity, cutting or any other form of self-injury can be overcome. Be forgiving of yourself don’t let the relapses translate into failure …. Look at them as lessons on what to avoid in the future in the way of pitfalls. With time you’ll make it and will be able to look back and be in awe of what you accomplished. I know for myself I’m always awestruck at how much I’ve been through and yet I’ve managed to recover to a point to where I lead a fairly normal life instead of one filled with fear it is a life filled with hope … even when it gets frustrating and things are going wrong, I know that it won’t last that’s one thing I learned through my battle to overcome cutting.
Be kind to yourself and above all be safe … you deserve it!