March 1, 2013 ~ National Self-Injury Awareness Day
[Trigger warning: Conversation about suicide, self injury, depression.]
The first time it happened, I was 13 years old. The last time it happened, I was 25.
Twelve years of scars. Clean, six and a half years.
I sometimes find it hard to talk about this part of my life. It’s not pretty. I’ve thought about this post for nearly two weeks now, and every time I start typing, I wander off to Facebook or blog reading. Anything but to face this part of the story. Sometimes, I think to myself, “But it was six and a half years ago. Why should I talk about it?”
No one wants to know the reasons, or the methods, or whatever it is I think I need to say about it. I know that’s not what compels me to push off Weekend Treats for a day and post about this today.
What compels me is storytelling. Sharing that there are people everywhere who do not look like self-injurers who are carrying something heavy. Not being able to talk about it killed a piece of me, every single day. I was worried that someone would tell and this way of dealing with the world would be taken from me, too soon. I was ashamed. I was worried someone would think I was trying to kill myself. (I wasn’t. Self-injury isn’t necessarily about suicide. While it is a risk factor for later suicide attempts, it is not necessarily a suicide attempt itself.)
The moment I found out that I wasn’t alone or crazy, regardless of what others thought or understood about me and my behavior – that was freeing. It was a long road to get to six and a half years. Before that were twelve years of back and forth “I’m going to stop/I can’t stop”, of self-loathing, of self-hating. Twelve years of hiding.
It’s been a long way to get here – where I’m writing lists of things I’m good at, where I’m owning self-care practices and actively trying to celebrate everything, actively trying to learn from everything (including painful salon experiences). Lots of therapy, lots of learning, lots of support, and lots of testing what I can and cannot do. Each day, I keep learning.
If there’s anything I’ve learned from the 200+ posts here at Visible and Real, it’s that there is freedom in storytelling. There is freedom in sharing what has come before. Especially because so much of what happens in these posts is cheerleading, happy, joyful stuff. (Not always, but a good portion of the time.)
Perhaps part of me wants to see it as sharing hope to those who may be feeling as though it will never get better.
This is not a facade. This cheerleading and excitement is something I actively and intentionally work on, to remember all that is good in this world. Because I remember the days when I didn’t have much to get me going, inside. On the outside, everything looked wonderful.
Maybe that’s why it’s always been so hard to put this in such public space. That the inside and outside did not match, and when I tried to be honest about it with people I was close to at the time – “You’re a fucking freak!” was the response I got. (That one had me hiding a desk for a bit, unwilling to come out.)
I’m not willing to hide under the desk anymore. While I don’t wear a name tag, “Hello, My name is Stephanie and I was a self-injurer,” I also don’t reach out into the community like I used to. It became too much of a trigger for me. And yet, I realize that that’s changing, especially as I go further in my program. And the two inches plus of research I talked about in Things I’m Good At? An academic paper about self-injury and the American Psychological Association’s consideration of including it as a diagnostic code in the upcoming DSM-5 (the diagnosis authority in the US).
As I’m looking forward toward my clinical experience, I know I can’t tell clients, “I used to self-injure, too,” if I have a client who does. But, I can’t forget my story. I can’t wipe out that part of my story, simply because it’s not the here and now story. It has shaped who I have become and the fervor with which I struggle to understand.
All of this to say… if you are struggling with self-injury, if you feel alone, know that I recognize and I see you. You are not crazy and you are not alone.
I send love, courage, and self-care to you.
We need you. We need your story.
There are a number of resources available if needed. Please, use them if you are feeling like hurting yourself or thinking about suicide. The ones listed below are for the United States.
- National Hopeline Network 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK
Subject line from the song Silent Legacy by Melissa Etheridge.