I’m an addict of sorts. Addict. The word tastes bitter in my mouth. The term is often thought of as derogatory, but I don't mean to use it in such a way. I use it to describe a pattern of behavior that I couldn't break, a pattern of behavior that felt compulsive. I was launched into a world of obsession with a maladaptive coping mechanism, that for a great period of my life, was the only way I could ease the pain of this vicious illness.
I can pinpoint the day the “switch” was flipped. It was the first time I saw someone self-harm. It wasn't in person, I watched it happen on television at an impressionable age. I watched as Ellie, a character on the show Degrassi, scurried into the school bathroom, in obvious emotional pain. She pulled out a compass and pulled it across her skin. It was that easy, and I was immediately enthralled. The fact that I was so enthralled scared me. But beneath that fear was curiosity. Did her pain fade away? Did it bring relief to her turmoil?
I wasn’t sure, but part of me wanted to find out for myself.
I didn’t actually take a sharp object to my wrist until about six months later. I was hesitant, unsure of what I was doing. The pain was unbearable. Not the pain from the pin I was attempting to use, but the emotional pain that was suffocating my being. This self-harm thing seemed like a viable option. At that point anything was worth trying.
That first night it was hesitant marks, nothing to cause deep concern. Part of me delighted in the idea that I had some control in my life, that the pain could be manifested and viewed. Not by others, but by myself. It made me feel less out of control. In hindsight that statement sounds sickening. It makes me sound sick. And I am.
My obsession with the practice progressed rapidly. I learned how to use more efficient sharps. I learned that if I used a black shirt to stop the bleeding, I wouldn’t leave behind signs of my crime. Bandaids, soap and water, hydrogen peroxide, ointments, and bracelets were my normal. When nighttime fell upon Latimore Way, I turned on my closet light and pushed my headphones deep into my ears. Crack a bottle played on repeat as my mask came off. No longer did I have to feign a smile, no longer did I have to force a happiness I didn't truly feel. Here I could take my painful internal emotions, and externalize them.
Soon it became difficult to contain my nighttime practice just to nighttime. I craved relief from my turmoil during the school day. So I did just as I saw a year prior on Degrassi. I went to the school bathroom and used whatever object I could.
I turned into a liar. People would see the marks and question me. Without hesitation, I’d lie. I didn’t want to let go of something that I felt I could finally use to cope. So I would do anything, and say anything, to ensure other people that it was nothing to worry about.
I have had people take my tools, and I have had my body scoured for marks. I have watched people cry about the cuts on my wrists, and I have had people make insensitive jokes regarding the practice. I have had people beg me to stop, and I have stubbornly held on. I was once told by a therapist that self-harm was a cry for attention, but she really missed the mark. I craved isolation. I wanted to hide in my room and externalize a pain that it felt like nobody understood.
And then, just as it happens with all highs, there came a crash. A period of low. A period where the action no longer made me feel good. Instead, I felt dirty, guilty, and stuck. I was left with significantly more pain then I started with. I realized that I wanted more than this. I wanted more for my life. I wanted someone to help me, to love me, to understand me. The blade was never really a friend. I realized that I enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment that came with every day I could count as clean, more than I enjoyed counting the number of scars I sported on my wrists. I found that when in pain, I would rather be cradled in the arms of those who love me, then be left cradling a cold, lifeless, razor blade in my palm.
So I vowed many years ago that it would never happen again.
But I’ve broken my vow. I’ve slipped up more than once. I’ve ended up in situations and positions I’m not proud of. But here’s what I’ve taken away:
Since that vow, I haven’t self-harmed two days in a row.
Since that vow, I’ve had more days without self-harm then with.
Since April 8th, 2017, I have not self-harmed.
As of today I’m 365 days clean.
I am not ashamed of my scars. I am not ashamed of how I got them. But I am tired of having to start my clean streak over. I am tired of harming my body, a body that affords me the ability to adventure and explore the world. I am tired of watching the pain in the faces of those I love when I have to announce a relapse. And I am absolutely exhausted from the toll it takes on my soul, a soul that so desperately wants to heal.
I am an addict of sorts, but I also am a fighter. So today I’m set on marking another day clean on my calendar. And the next time a sharp touches my wrist, I want it to be a tattoo-needle, displaying how far I’ve come.