I have several faint scars on my arm from self-inflicting pain. It’s a dark and lonely place being a cutter. People who cut (or use to cut) have their own reasons. Here is my path and how I overcame.
The first time I ever cut I was 14-years-old, a freshman in high school. Superficially, I remember having boy problems, but deep down I struggled with feeling loved and accepted. I owned this small keychain that had a nail file, knife, and I think a screw driver. I took this keychain and wandered into our pasture. We live on about 30 acres of land and I loved getting lost in our backyard.
I walked past our tall trees further away from our home towards our creek. I remember being confused, sad, and lost. Feeling like I couldn’t breathe, my heart pumping too fast in my ears, and knots tight in my gut. Nothing I knew how to communicate, but needed to release. I reached for the knife part of the keychain and slid it quickly over my arms. The only time I cut both. The cuts were shallow as most of the time they were. Cutting was never about trying to kill myself. It was about dealing with the pain I couldn’t understand.
When I returned home even more upset my Mom noticed. She asked what was wrong and I started crying. Not able to form words, I rolled up my sleeves and showed her. I cannot imagine how she felt seeing the blood everywhere. I just remember how calm she remained while cleaning me up in the bathroom.
I’m not sure if I ever thanked you for that day and being so strong. Thank you for always being my rock, Mom.
I fell deeper into this abyss. The more the issues bubbled up for me the harder it was for me to deal with. It eventually led to what I called being “kicked out” of my parent’s house because I took it out on them in the worst way. I needed professional help and since I was a ward of the state it was hard for my parents to get the resources I required. I moved to another foster home in Salem temporarily while the state tried to admit me into an evaluation center followed by residential treatment. My parents continued to fight for me and visit when possible.
But I didn’t stop cutting. While walking the streets with friends, I’d search for glass on the streets. I shudder now at my pain and the danger I put myself in. Razors and knives were too sharp, too clean of a cut that didn’t cause enough pain to ease my mind. When I say that it’s hard to explain. Cutting never truly hurt, but rather distracted from the pain inside. I broke objects to get glass—candle holders, picture frames, whatever. It was a terrible, terrible spiral.
While it took a lot of time and work to get where I am today, I want to share with you some options that helped me turn away from cutting and create healthy habits to deal with life and my past.
Therapy. I’ve found two therapists that I loved and changed my life. Sandy, who helped me when the abuse first came out. I remember not knowing how to tell her things, but she let me guide my sessions. I distractedly told her things as I colored, played with toys, and board games. My other favorite therapist was Tina. She worked at the residential center I was at for five months during what would have been my sophomore year of high school. She was tough when she needed to be and made me work on things I tried stuffing for years. I loved her so much that when I finished my in-patient work and moved home I continued to see her. Something the center didn’t allow, but since the bond with a good therapist is hard to find, they made an exception. I haven’t found a therapist since Tina, but it is something I’m researching to keep my life balanced now.
Sports. I never played “sports” i.e. anything involving a ball. I did join the equestrian team and participated in horse 4-H. My parents bought me a yearling that I was in charge of training. Don’t think wild Mustang, he was far from that. He was a baby who needed to be taught how to walk on a lead, manners, accept a saddle and bridle-everything. Not only did this give me a sense of purpose and keep me out of trouble, I created a relationship with my horse that gave me a sense of worth. As I saw my hard work pay off, I wanted to do more. When my horse hugged me back and no one else, I felt loved. It’s crazy to think, but having something I did on my own and called mine helped me work through good and bad times. I now have Milo who is seriously my world.
Exercise. I’ve always been a pretty active person. I enjoy being outdoors, exploring, hiking, and swimming, whatever I can do. This is something I struggle with now since I work a 9-6 job, sit in traffic (I’m talking to you Los Angeles) and have other responsibilities. However, being active releases good endorphins and is highly important in regulating how I feel (and the negative thoughts that creep up). I definitely notice how much better I feel when I hike on the weekends, wake up and run, or make a workout class at night. I feel accomplished and ready to take on anything thrown my way. Plus the burn from a good workout is a healthy alternative to cutting or any other bad habit.
Mindfulness. This I’m working on every single day. I’ve said this before; your mind is extraordinarily powerful. What you think DOES affect your life. I know if I’m consistently mad about traffic in LA (sense a pattern here), fixate on somebody not doing their job at work, or complain about the way someone talks to me, I generally cannot enjoy any part of my day. It’s easy to obsess on the bad parts, but I try my hardest to focus on the good. I watched this TED talk a few years ago and the message that really stuck with me that I’d like to give to you is this. Don’t fake it till you make it. Fake it till you become it. It’s not about just being happy during stressful times; it’s about always being happy. Make sense? When you keep practicing something you will eventually become it. Wake up grateful and happy. Be happy throughout the entire day then wake up and repeat.
Good company. There is truth to “you are the company you keep.” When you surround yourself with people who are self-loathing and have a negative outlook on life of course that will bring you down. During my hard year away from school I was surrounded with kids handling their own, similar issues. This makes for comradery in the beginning, but working out these issues is the ultimate goal and everyone realizes that at different times. Some kids were at residential for several months already when I moved in, but with no progress to show. I knew I was leaving in five months because I wanted to change. Having a healthy and happy life is key. Surround yourself with friends (and yes, family) that lift you up, support you, make you laugh, and are there for you always.
Love yourself. It’s important to love yourself and be comfortable with you. I actually spend quite a bit of time alone. I hike with Milo, cook, clean, shop, run errands, whatever. Sometimes I do these things with no music. Just so I can let my mind wander and let go of things that are happening around me or soak them in. This leads me to see what is truly on my mind. If I need a mental pep talk or talk with someone. I cherish time I can spend doing what I want and loving myself. I believe this is a continual process that changes not only week-to-week, but day-to-day. When you love yourself you are able to love and accept others.
I am not a trained mental health professional. While I’m here to share my experience and connect with others, if you need immediate assistance I urge you to dial 911 or try the National Suicide Prevention Life line (1-800-273-8255). TWLOHA also has a great resource page. Asking for help is not weakness, but rather the strongest thing you can do.