Battle Wounds From a War
“Cutting is not attention seeking. It’s not manipulative. It’s a coping mechanism–a punitive, unpleasant, potentially dangerous one–but it works. It helps me cope with strong emotions that I don’t know how to deal with. Don’t tell me I’m sick, don’t tell me to stop. Don’t try to make me feel guilty, that’s how I feel already. Listen to me, support me, help me.”
—A Bright Red Scream
Big Trigger Warning for those not in a good place to be able to handle the topic of self-injury. This post will be explicit for the topic to be as real as possible. If you are in early recovery from self-injury please use your own judgment carefully before proceeding. You have been warned.
I’ve been in this position before. My heart is pounding. My skin is crawling. My thoughts are racing. The rage is building to a dangerous level that I’m not sure I can contain. “I hate myself for this. Ladies aren’t suppose to have such hateful thoughts. Why must I always get this angry? Am I capable of hurting someone? I think I might be. What would people think if they knew? “You should’ve just had it beaten out of you when you were younger and you wouldn’t be acting like this. You disgust me! You’re flawed and no one ever has or ever will like you. If you had been liked your birth mom she wouldn’t have given you up. You must be psychotic. You’ll never amount to anything just look at you.” These are just some of the things I’ve heard since I started this behavior as a child.
Like bullets from a war zone, the thoughts and feelings hit my heart and mind over and over. I try to shake the feelings of hopelessness, embarrassment, helplessness and intense feelings of being unwanted and the unforgiving loneliness. I try to sit with the feelings as I have done before. This time is different. I haven’t felt this level of intensity. Every time I take in a breath my upper back feels like it’s being pounded by a sledgehammer. I try distracting with music and my head just pounds more. The thoughts become louder and louder. I need relief and I need it NOW! Nothing I know that has helped ward off this is helping at this moment.
I begin to feel my body going numb starting with my face and working its way throughout my body. Soon, I no longer feel or hear, I just see. Someone resembling myself is going through a very familiar ritual of gathering supplies strategically kept close by. I know what is about to happen. I’m out of balance and need to make all of the craziness in my head stop. By now, I feel completely detached from even my own limbs.
The blue tourniquet is tied around my upper arm unsure how tight. My left arm is cradled in a towel. Brand new blades are fully exposed and glistening in the light. My heart is pounding with excitement and anxiety all at one time. My only thoughts are, “I’ve got to have relief NOW!” The other part is knowing that relief is only minutes away. I look at my arm and I’m paralyzed as I watch the blade being picked up and placed against my skin. In one quick swoop the blood begins coming out. This is done another 10-20 times. My body seems to instinctively know when enough is enough and how deep is deep enough. After 27 years, we have had some practice with this.
The endorphins flood my bloodstream with enough force to relax both my mind and body to a point of complete relaxation. I continue to enjoy the relief that I had just experienced and was letting whatever poison that seemed to be occupying my mind with such hatred leave my body.
This is always done privately because, what if someone knew? I didn’t want to die. I just needed to regain balance and this has worked for many years. Deep breaths now and my ‘system’ has seemingly returned to normal. I have all my bandages prepared beforehand so, everything is waiting for the deed to be done. I bandage this wound, still not completely feeling all parts of my body, like it’s something sacred. Soon, I begin to worry about who and how I’m going to cover up this behavior yet again. I make my plans and stick with it. I don’t dare seek medical attention even though I need several stitches because of the fear of being disrespected by being told, “I am just attention seeking. You did it so I don’t feel sorry for you. That was just a sorry attempt at suicide which she obviously didn’t want to do too badly.” So, I take care of it and watch it heal as I have many times before. But, the guilt and the shame of the current episode start to invade my thoughts. And so the cycle continues…..
If you were to see my forearms they might look to some of you like a scene out of a horror movie. When I look at my arms, I think “Damn, look at what all I have survived.” Yes, once again, this behavior began at age 13. My eighth grade school year that would forever change my life. Individuals who engage in this behavior typical have a range of reasons for beginning and continuing the behavior. My initial reasons for beginning this behavior was because of intense anger that I was forced to hold inside. I was in a ‘no win’ situation with the teacher, my predator, so no emotion could be shown. I was so angry that I wasn’t completely sure what I was capable of doing. What we now know and understand is that when feelings get stuffed for so long they manifest in other ways.
“The truth about childhood is stored up in our body and lives in the depth of our soul. Our intellect can be deceived, our feelings can be numbed and manipulated, our perception shamed and confused, our bodies tricked with medication. But our soul never forgets. And because we are one, one whole soul in one body, someday our body will present its bill.”
-Alice Miller, A Bright Red Scream
It never ceases to amaze me how people are about watching trauma shows on television about emergency rooms across the nation with gunshot wounds, stab wounds, car wrecks, etc covered in blood and guts and yet freak out like the thought of cutting oneself means ‘run for the hills.’ I think maybe part of the issue is something that’s accidental versus intentional. Self-harm often gets labeled as some type of pseudo-suicide attempt when in actuality that has absolutely nothing to do with suicide. True self-harm is also not a behavior that is a bandwagon type of behavior. Self-harm is about using what seems to be a last ditch effort to hold on to life without committing suicide. I’m also not saying that everyone who dies by sliced wrists, forearms, legs, stomachs, faces and heads aren’t as a result of suicide vs. self harm. But, self-harm also can become an addiction. The endorphins released at the time of the injury can last for about 30 minutes. Medical professionals seem to think that just because someone states that they were not able to feel at the time of the behavior that they can’t feel when being stitched up. Often times the nurses and doctors have personally given me a feeling of being ‘less than’ or have treated by wound like I had absolutely no feeling by being rough with my arm. After the 30 minutes is up, you can feel every single bit of pain.
I’m not harmful to other people with my instruments. I found a way when I was much younger to deal with my anger. As maladaptive as it might be, it worked to help me survive what my mind thought I needed help with. I realize that this is a behavior that must change for long term recovery and to encourage a healthy ‘system.’ Trauma and PTSD can have you fine one minute and not the next. This behavior I continue to struggle with from time to time. Self-harm does not consist of just cutting, there’s also burning, breaking bones, exposing skin to extreme temperatures, eating disorders, hair pulling (trichotillamania), etc.
I’m no longer really embarrassed but just accepting that cutting is also a part of where I’m at in my process right now. I had gone several years previous without cutting but jumping into trauma therapy and the effects of PTSD can make it very difficult to deal with. I’ve made much progress over the years in trying to recover from cutting. It’s definitely a slow process for us even with a very supportive and understanding wife.
I’m not ashamed nor do I flaunt my scars. Our only difference is that our tears are red. I’ve been in a war my whole life and kind of see them as “Battle Wounds from a War.” Please think and educate before you judge.