[If you like this IHTM contest entry, comment to that effect below and that will help the writer win the big money. Feel free to critique below too, so we can weigh that in our decision. --Jane]
I cut myself.
I'd like to say that in the past tense, to say that I used to cut myself. That's what I tell people who ask. That's what I'd like to write. But it's a lie. Self-harm is something that I think about almost daily, and I'm always having to re-affirm my decision not to do it anymore.
The really terrible thing is that I can't seem to think of a good reason not to. There's something that draws me to act on impulses that I know are bad for me. It's a particularly warped part of my mind and it's followed me since as long as I can remember.
I quit on New Year's Eve this time. A gathering at my house ended poorly and left me in a sick mood. Perhaps I could have said no, but I wanted it. I decided for the millionth time that this would be the last time, and it was almost true. I've only had two slip-ups since then. I consider that a victory.
No one really knew about my cutting until fairly recently. At least, not openly. It's not a secret to anybody that I am mentally ill. I've spent the majority of my life fluctuating between fine-and-functional and messy-and-destructive. My family looked on with a practiced obliviousness until I was finally able to tell them flat-out.
It didn't come that easily at first. It took a lot of time to convince myself they'd hear me. But in the meantime it started to come out anyway. I've never thought of myself as a good liar. I never went very far to hide what I was doing. But nobody had ever said a word to me. Ever.
I'd mentioned it to my best friend in a sort-of way. Not entirely honest but not entirely dishonest. But I always kept it vague, not wanting to lose the comfort of knowing I could do it if I needed to. I lied because i didn't want anybody to take it away from me.
But then there was that time in late December when she caught me in the act. Like the drunk asshole I was, I just sat and stared. I didn't have the presence of mind to try and cover up or even say anything for a few moments. It was embarrassing. It was a relief.
After that, I just stopped hiding it. What the hell. It felt good to be honest.
And now I've got a fantastic support system of people I can talk about it with. There are also plenty of exclamations of "OH MY GOD THAT'S SICK" OR "awwww that makes me too sad:( let's not talk about it."
But fuck that.
I guess I started young. I was in ninth grade the first time I (tried to) intentionally hurt myself. It was around then that my high stress level really started to mess up my ability to function as a student. If one bad thing happened, then every negative thought I had ever had would come rushing in to crowd out my rationality. I was too-full of emotions I didn't understand. Rage, stress, guilt, shame, disappointment. I can identify them now, but at the time i was at a loss to explain.It was almost a physical sensation. It hurt. I felt helpless.
I could not avoid the things that set me off. My daily life was almost completely composed of triggers -- school, home, everywhere. But I didn't know what to do. I didn't even know the word "trigger," and high schools and parents don't tend to take teenagers' emotions very seriously. I was trapped in a cycle that kept hurting me, and I didn't know a way out.
So I took up cutting as a way to release that horrible feeling from my body. I thought I was, literally, letting it out. And afterward, I would feel relief. Well-being. As if nothing at all had even happened. It was just like rebooting a computer. Give a shock to the system, and everything starts running smoothly again.
But here's the thing about self-harm. That feeling doesn't last. It gives you expectations, it becomes your only crutch. And suddenly, it stops working. You can't depend on that release anymore, unless you hurt yourself more severely the next time. Inevitably, it escalates.
And oh, hell, did it escalate for me. I won't get graphic, but in the seven years of my off-and-on affair with cutting, I've crossed several lines I promised I wouldn't.
We do not deserve to be hurt. And that is why we should not hurt ourselves.
That's it. Nothing more complicated than that. There's a perception that blame needs to be placed -- either on the victim or the parents or on anything else. There are plenty of campaigns out there to help victims of self-harm, but most of them use negativity or shame to get people to stop hurting themselves.
The "butterfly project", which attempts to guilt people into quitting by drawing butterflies on themselves, is a prime example. Every time you cut yourself, or burn or pinch or bruise yourself, you have killed a butterfly.
While this at first seems like a good idea, it sends the message "You have made a mistake. You should feel terrible." when what we really need to hear is "I know you're stuggling, but you can beat this. We're proud of you for trying." I'm fully convinced that the shame-based attitude toward cutting and other forms of self-injury is the reason it is so difficult to stop.
Self-harm has nothing to do with blame. It has nothing to do with fault, or personal flaws.
It is absolutely an addiction. But it is not immoral or damning. It's just another sickness.
And it's 100% beatable.