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.
- Self Harm/self Destructive behavior (carlarenee45.wordpress.com)
- Self Harm (frizzychaos.wordpress.com)
- Cover Up – Understanding Self Harm (untreatableonline.com)
- A Silent Killer- my obsession with self-harm (livingaverydifferentlife.wordpress.com)
- Self Harm – Warning Triggering (poetryescape.wordpress.com)
- Why Do You Communicate By Self Harm (femaleimagination.wordpress.com)
- Self Harm (morningstar92fs.wordpress.com)
- Crashed And Burned… (slightlydisordered.wordpress.com)
- Living with Borderline Personality Disorder (expatlogue.wordpress.com)
- Caged birds and self harm