When I was 13, I started cutting myself. My mom had just moved to Florida, and I was living alone with my dad for the first time. I remember trying to use a kitchen knife and completely failing. I would eventually start using scissors, then blades from pencil sharpeners. I continued cutting on and off for three years. The longest I had gone without cutting was 10 months before I quit for good. Or so I thought.
April 15th was to mark my fourth year since I quit cutting. I celebrated the milestone every year, and while I had urges, none were strong enough to get me to relapse. Then January came around. Depression hit me like a truck. The urges came back stronger than ever. I would grab my scissors and play around with the thought of starting again. Four years was so close. I couldn't do that to myself. February came. I started to bully myself. I told myself I was too weak to do it until finally I had pushed myself past my breaking point. It was a single cut. It didn't even feel that good. There was barely any relief. All I was left with was a scar that represented the four years that should have been. I was numb. I was never a huge believer in slip ups when it came to my own addiction to cutting. I didn't think of that cut as a one time thing. If I was going to throw away four years, I was going to make it count. For two months, I cut myself almost compulsively. I have scars up and down my left arm. Scars on my leg and thigh. I'm two months clean today. I should be proud of myself, but all I can think about is how it should be four years instead.
I've tried to help a lot of people recover from their own addiction to self-injury. Even though I still struggle with my own, there are things I have learned from my experiences. If you or someone you know struggles with self-injury, keep the following in mind:
- Recovery is a lifelong process. Self-injury is an addiction. You could go years without cutting, but that doesn't mean you're in the clear. I learned this the hard way. Take it one day at a time.
- Don't let a slip up ruin your recovery. How you count the days is up to you. If you reset back to 0 after a slip up, don't use that as an excuse to cut/burn/etc as much as you can before you quit again. I wish I would have realized this before I ended up with an arm full of scars, some of which might never really go away.
- Get help. Recovering is so much harder when you keep it to yourself. Seek out a therapist who can help talk you through it and find alternatives for when the urges strike.
- Find those alternatives. Have a plan to keep you from hurting yourself when you feel like you need to. Writing sometimes helps me when I feel like cutting. Maybe taking a red felt tip pen and drawing "scars" on your skin helps you by simulating a real cut. Do whatever it takes to keep you from injuring yourself.
Recovery is hard, but it's possible. What experiences do you have with self-injury? Thoughts? Leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.