She never mentions the word addiction in certain company / Self harming behaviour

What is self-harm?

Self-harm is a way of expressing very deep distress. Often, people don’t know why they self-harm. It’s a means of communicating what can’t be put into words or even into thoughts and has been described as an inner scream. Afterwards, people feel better able to cope with life again, for a while.

Self-harm is a broad term. People may injure or poison themselves by scratching, cutting or burning their skin, by hitting themselves against objects, taking a drug overdose, or swallowing or putting other things inside themselves. It may also take less obvious forms, including unnecessary risks, staying in an abusive relationship, developing an eating problem (such as anorexia or bulimia), being addicted to alcohol or drugs, or someone simply not looking after their own emotional or physical needs… READ MORE (from mind.co.uk)

I chose not to include trigger warnings on Halfway Between The Gutter for no reason other than it would be ridiculous to label every single post as possibly triggering. Most entries contain something which could trigger certain behaviours and feelings, and I hope that readers are able to see that, and have the sense to stop reading if they feel something I’ve written is damaging to them.

However, since this post will be dealing with self harm and addictive behaviours (such as binging, purging and drug reliance) in quite a lot of detail (although there are no photos; I find it incredibly distressing when somebody posts a self-harm photo), if you feel at all triggered, please consider your safety. I don’t want to feel responsible for pushing somebody.

I speak openly about my experiences with self harm, yet I’m still struggling to put down in words just how much it affects every aspect of my life. Regular readers will have seen a pattern by now; I’m content for a little while, then something flicks a switch and I start harming myself. Usually, it isn’t a big statement; I reach for the antihistamines in cough medicine, give myself a slap across the face if I’m angry, binge-eating, taking more painkillers than I should on a regular basis, or just forcing myself down to a level of self-loathing which damages my relationships and causes me to make stupid decisions.

This is my story.

Self-harm, to me, will always be about control. There are many reasons and causes of self-damaging behaviour, such as releasing stress or dampening an emotional trauma, but my reason is quite simple; if I can’t control a situation, I have to damage myself in some way, be it physically or mentally.

When most people hear ‘self-harm’, they likely think of the oft-repeated stereotype; a teenage girl with cuts on her arms. For me though, it’s a lifelong addiction, something I never grew out of, and which became more of an issue than ever when I grew up and had easy access to alcohol, drugs, painkillers and destructive relationships. I firmly believe that I will still have the urge to harm myself in twenty, thirty, forty years. That’s not to say you can’t recover – many people do – but personally, it’s become such a large part of my personality that I can’t imagine ever being without it. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not pleased that I act this way – but it’s who I am. Some people, I believe, are simply set to self-destruct.

Cutting became a part of my life when I was twelve years old. Before that, I had displayed some self-destructive tendencies (banging my head against the wall, taking a handful of pills ‘just to see what would happen’, biting myself) before, but I didn’t actually know what self-harming was. I’d never heard of it. The day I took a cheap plastic razor to school, locked myself in the toilets and hacked away at my arm, I had no idea what I was doing, or why I was doing it. I don’t know what possessed me to carry a razor in my schoolbag, nor why I knew it was the right thing to do if I was ever going to feel okay.

I made no real effort to hide the blood on my white school shirt. By now, I was already so far down on the social scale that I could have cut my own leg off in class and nobody would have been surprised; I’d broken down in geography, walked out of assembly, cried in the P.E changing rooms… I was officially crazy, and I felt that gave me a reason to sit in the next class with my sleeves speckled with blood. It wasn’t about attention -  I hated being whispered about and stared at, and didn’t really want anybody to care – I was just too far gone to notice if  my behaviour was inappropriate.

Now, at the age of twenty-seven, I don’t hide the scars on my arms with long sleeves; not even the cigarette burns. However, the only place I can talk about my addiction to codeine and other painkillers is here, in this blog. I wouldn’t even know where to begin trying to explain about the binge-eating to people I know. As for trying to describe why I purposely put myself in dangerous situations… nobody’s ever going to understand that. I don’t understand it myself.

As a teenager, I could never have imagined that I’d want to stop the cycle one day. It’s hard to explain; when you’re obsessed with causing yourself pain and problems, you think that the only way you’ll ever be able to cope is by self-harm. As an adult, I still suspect it’s the only coping mechanism I’ll truly be able to employ, but I don’t want my life to be that way. It’s more difficult now – now I’m wanting to be on the other side – to ever see a way out of this. I can’t help but think I created a rod for my own back, though; I had so many chances to stop when I was younger, but I let it get out of hand.

The methods I’ve used have grown since my teenage years. First, there was only cutting; then, when that stopped having the effect I needed, I turned to burning myself with heated-up metal – usually a hairclip or the blades from a pair of scissors – for the increase in pain and longer healing time. Back then, hurting myself was a long, drawn out affair where I’d rip off any healing scabs and purposely irritate the wound to create the biggest scars. It sounds like a cliché, but I believed that if I made myself as repulsive as I felt inside, everybody would stay away from me. Over the years, burning and picking has left a series of raised, white scars on my arms, and pinker, flatter ones on my belly and thighs. The scars from burns on my forearms hide a lot of the cutting damage.

Self-harm and depression have never gone hand-in-hand for me; at least not the physical sort. There’s no denying that I use other forms for coping when I’m depressed. The most popular one is drugs with knock-out or calming effects, such as codeine, weed (although I also smoke when I’m not depressed; it just feels different when I am), antihistamines, Naproxen, natural sleeping pills; anything which will produce even more of a numbing effect than depression already does.

When I physically harm myself, it’s through a loss of control which sets something off in my brain – an irrational fear – and the only way I can find to calm that fear and gain perspective is to hurt myself in some way. Physical pain brings clarity in a way hurting emotionally never can.

It seems strange to me that there are millions of people around the world who find the idea of self-harm unnatural. I understand them just as poorly as they understand me. It’s been a part of my life for so long now that sometimes I forget it isn’t normal.

Since meeting S, I’ve become determined to at least try other coping mechanisms. I’m trying to stop shoving codeine down my throat (it’s been around two weeks since my last tablet binge) and getting the overeating under control has become a priority. It’s not like I want to keep my habits a secret from him or get better just for his sake; I suppose now that I have someone in my life who makes me happy, the idea of hurting myself appeals less. The cravings are very much still there – I don’t think they’ll ever go away – but there’s a sort of light at the end of the tunnel now; my relationship with S is still going amazingly well, and I’m starting to allow myself some hope for the future.

Very few people know the extents I’ve gone to in my life to cause myself damage. I’m not one of those crazies (said with affection) who tells everyone what’s wrong with them; not in real life, anyway. I used to, but soon learned that unless you happen to bump into a person who’s experienced it themselves, they inevitably shy away. Even if it’s unconscious behaviour, they still get that look in their eyes, the one which says “what, are you dangerous or something?”.

This is the biggest misconception surrounding self-harm, of all kinds – and there are a lot of myths out there – because hurting yourself has nothing to do with wanting to be violent. At least not towards others. It’s about you, and the moment, and the brief release. I’m not an expert so I can only speak personally, but I hate violence. Violent films? I can cope, to an extent. Violent video games? Bring them on. Violence in real life? It does nothing for me, and actually scares me. I don’t like seeing wounds on other people, but opening up my own skin or picking at a scab until it bleeds is something entirely different.

Perhaps I’m trying to find myself; somewhere deeper than normal means can reach.

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36 Comments

  1. I should have interviewed you before I wrote about self harm. I didn’t even realize that was something that I struggled with until I researched it and found out it is so much more than just the cutting. Thanks for sharing and linking to me.

  2. As usual, your honesty impresses me. It’s so refreshing. One feels they could tell you anything – and you would understand. The stigma of this illness, probably more than anything else, drives me bonkers.

    I could add that I have used self-harm as a way to get someone’s attention. When I felt my mother would not listen to what I was trying so desperately to tell her, as an example. I could not handle my step-dad, he made me insane with his obnoxiously loud ways. Well what better way to get through to someone than to smash a glass on the floor and pick up the shards and dig away at your arms? Of course, it just got me put in the hospital and didn’t make my step-dad go away.

    For me self-harm has usually been about controlling others, not myself, but I thoroughly agree with you, it is about control.

  3. I am, again, blown away by your honesty, and your courage to write so openly about the sadness and fear in your life. I know that people will read this and be inspired to express their own self-harming behaviors to others — hopefully to someone who can understand and help. You are a blessing to so many people. Sending you all kinds of love!

  4. Thank you for your candid accounts of your struggle. It’s not easy to reveal such matters but it does happen. For some people it’s just a phase…but for others its a long long struggle. Hopefully you will recover from it and I hope you don’t mind me sharing this with others because I feel that some people are closet self-harmers and they need to express the truth of what it is and realise that they are not alone in this struggle. Stay blessed hun.

  5. I think people shy away from others that self harm is because they don’t know how to react or know what to say because they don’t understand. You’ve banged out a great post here! Cleared up misconceptions, myths and stated the truth. It’s funny, we both share a problem with communicating, but act on it in two totally different ways. I think you’re awesome!

  6. Thank you for this post. It makes me feel a little less lonely. I feel so crazy lately. There is so much depth and complexity involved in my head and I have no one close who remotely can relate. I’m so much deeper than normal means can reach…..

  7. Pingback: The drugs REALLY don’t work « Halfway Between The Gutter And The Stars

  8. I never understood self harm until this last month. I was in so much pain, I burned my hands, and somehow I could cope better. I want you to look up studies on a drug called riluzole. It looks a lot more promising than anything currently on the market. I truly believe there is something in our brains, a crossed wire, a mixed up signal that causes behavior like this. I hope that you can control it better. Look into the Emotional Freedom Technique. It really works, and may help. I appreciate your honesty on this blog. It helps me.

  9. I still have scars as well. I posted about it on my blog and it was like I had said nothing. I burned and cut and after it lost it’s appeal, I dranked and popped pills. My relationship helped me stop. I also took myself out of the environment that was making me feel the need to harm myself. By doing so, I was able to stop. The urge never came back until recently but I was able to resist. Did not want to go there again. Thanks for an awesome and very important post. This is the only place where I could say this and not feel uncomfortable.

  10. There are so many components to self harm. Most of which I spoke about in Why Self-Injurious Behavior?. Self-harm is an extremely complex behavior. You described some of it as “addictive”. It is. It is a form of addiction that goes untreated by a lot of mental health professionals. It’s easy to say, “Stop hurting yourself.” But, what behaviors do you turn to when the impulse turns compulsive?

    Unless a person has learned other, more healthy, coping mechanisms for self-harm triggers, and find a practical, generalized application in their life, a person will revert back to the self-harm behavior.

    I have also been self-harming since around the same age. And like you, I didn’t get the idea from friends or pop culture. It just occurred to me somehow, and became a practice. Although I have been able to get it down in frequency, I cannot seem to rid myself of it entirely. I don’t know the answers, honestly. But, do know that coming to understand it brings a little more peace to it.

    All of my best to you. I do hope that one day you can conquer it.

  11. I can relate to so much that was said here. In fact, I found it so inspirational and important that I shared it on my Facebook page. I actually use self harm as a means to control a situation I have no control over. I eat out of emotion that way. I scratch that way. I scald myself in the shower that way. I have cut in that way, but I find scratching more convenient because I always have the tools with me to do it. (SICK, I KNOW!) Anyway, thank you for sharing such an inspiring story.

    • It’s not sick; not to me, anyway. I never got on with scratching because I have very short nails and the feel of skin under them made me retch. It’s weird how I can damage myself, but little things like that make me feel sick. Control… it’s such a complicated issue. I just hope we both work it out one day.

      Thanks for the share :) I just wish I felt comfortable enough to join your page, without giving away my identity.

  12. Brutal honesty, I love it. I am catching up on reading blogs today. And a few have been about self harm. I’ve been doing it since I was 13 and am now 37 and it hasn’t stopped. I’ve cut, burned, scratched and even found something new to do. It doesn’t actually physically hurt me, but it is still a form of self harm. I don’t want to mention exactly what it is, because it may give some a new idea. I dunno… I stopped hiding my scars also. They show what I’ve been through. I used to be ashamed of them, but not anymore. You mentioned binge eating as a form of self harm. I never thought of it that way. I only recently started doing that, and I am disgusted with myself. I never struggled with weight until about 10 years ago. I hate it! I finally lost some weight and felt good with myself. Then all of a sudden a couple of weeks ago I started eating and eating. I’ve gained 10 pounds, in a couple of weeks, and it took much longer than that to lose it. Anyway, I keep saying to myself, I have already gained this much, so who cares. Not sure if my hunger is psychological or something else.

    • Yeah, it’s difficult to work out what’s causing the hunger, and whether it’s ‘real’ or not. I’ve figured out that 90% of my urge to eat is entirely psychological. It’s just beating that binge cycle which I’m finding difficult; I’ve done really well on a diet for a month, and I’m starting to binge again.

      I’m glad you’re not ashamed; it’s a part of who you are, and something you went/are going through. Some wear their hearts on their sleeves… we wear our scars.

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