( here are some of the injuries I have done to myself to the left AT THE TOP)
I had a disease which in the psychological world really does not have a "firm" label. However, it is very serious and should NEVER be taken lightly. Back in 2002 when I wrote this article for a college assignment I was deeply affected by my self-injury, however now I am happy to say that I only "hurt myself" now periodically; whenever things seem too out of control for me to handle.
Back then, self-mutilation was spreading so fast that movies, support groups nor medications could keep up. According to a study conducted by Armando Favazza of the University of Missouri, self mutilation was extremely widespread. The survey found that 1,400 people out of every 100,000 or 2 million Americans purposely hurt themselves.
I wrote this article from a first person perspective because I wanted to tell others about the horrors that I experienced. I also sincerely hoped that anyone who read it might change their mind about the stigma surrounding the disease.
The typical profile of a self-abuser is a teenager or young woman, however men do engage in this behavior also. Self abuse means that a person purposely cuts or burns their skin. It can also involve hitting themselves or breaking bones. All this is done in order to relieve any inner pain that the person is suffering or unable to release any other way.
The traits of most self-abusers are the same. They are normally shy, lonely, ignored and have suffered from some type of post traumatic stress. They have no one to listen.
I, myself was 22 years old when my battle with this began. My father had passed away from a rare liver cancer when I was 17. According to Marilee Strong's book, "A Bright Red Scream" many cutters start because of a severe loss.
"Cutters almost uniformly report the same sequence of events and emotional states before and after episodes of self-injury. Cutting bouts are generally precipitated by an experience-real or perceived-of loss or abandonment"
I know that I was angry and afraid. I could not find a healthy way to express that anger or fear. In high school, I was never involved with drugs or alcohol so that was not an option for me. However, one night in November of 1998 I was watching an episode of "Dateline NBC." The episode was about a girl who hurt herself. Finally, I seemed to have found a way to release my anger and fear. I became a "cutter" too.
Although, I do not remember my first actual cut. I know that I did it with a box-cutter. Most likely, inside my fathers old Toyota Camry. I do know that once I began to "bleed" out my self-loathing I was hooked. According to a boy who was quoted in Marilee Strong's book he felt the same way.
"I hate myself," the boy said. "Its almost an insult for people to refer to it as a self-esteem problem. I am talking about active, passionate hatred."
At first, I tried to keep my "dirty little secret" away from my mother. Whenever, I knew that I was going to cut I brought along a red plaid shirt. I affectionately dubbed it my "blood shirt." Sadly, not to long afterward a friend that I had confided in told my mother what was happening.
My mother immediately started to hide all the kitchen knives and scissors. She was convinced that I wanted to commit suicide. This, in itself, is the biggest misconception about this disease. Suicide was never an option for me. The cutting was keeping me alive.
According to another girl that was quoted from Marilee Strong's book, she felt the same.
"There is no hazy line, the girl said." "If I'm suicidal I want to die. I have lost all hope. When I am self-injuring, I want to relieve my emotional pain and keep on living. Suicide is a permanent exit. Self-injury helps me get through the moment."
All hell broke lose one spring day when I came home to my mother encased in blood. We had just engaged in a massive shouting match and I sped away in my car, I didn't quite know exactly where I was going. Finally, I stopped at a local park. Nature had a certain calming effect on my nerves sometimes, but this was not one of those times. Sitting down on a swing-set I noticed a family grilling and I became depressed.
As I swung, I took out my box-cutter and began to slice my arms. I kept swinging and slicing for a long time. I watched as the blood began to drip down from my arms onto my clothes and legs. When I came home to my mother I decided just to see how she would react to the situation. I did not wash the blood off of my legs, nor did I hide it with my shirt.
My mother suddenly became absolutely infuriated. She threatened to call the police. I was terrified of being arrested and thrown back into the mental hospital. Here now in 2007 I still wonder why she failed to comfort me or try to understand the pain that I was experiencing.
My sincere hope is for parents to please help your child if you find yourself in this type of unfortunate situation. Threatening your child with the police, therapy or involuntary hospitalization is simply not the answer. The only thing this will do is drive your already fragile relationship much further apart.
Here is a quote from a boy named "Steven" that proves love not punishment or threats is the best way.
"No one was there to help me. No one was there to say 'Hey I understand.' And even if they did I don't think they would have listened."
Marilee Strong's book expresses some important information on the subject of parents and their misunderstandings.
"Emotional attachment from the parent makes a child feel connected and supported, not alone and helpless. Abused and neglected children never learn from their parents how to soothe themselves and cannot trust others to help them do so. So they may turn to cutting and other forms of self-injury as a means of self-soothing"
In late August of 1999 my self-soothing abilities would be put to the ultimate test. The unthinkable happened; my mother was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Mother was 58 and I was 23. Early in the year 2000, she was taken out of the hospital and put into a nursing home. I became more and more paralyzed by my own demons during this time. We all knew that both of her "attempted" brain surgeries had been futile. At first, mother was able to speak and talk normally, however I don't think that either of us understood that her mind would be going soon.
I desperately wanted to talk to her about what was going to happen after she died. I had so many questions:How do I manage by myself because I am an only child with no close relatives? Was mother scared of going to heaven? Would she be looking down on me when I graduated from college or got married?
Unfortunately, no conversations like that ever transpired. We both swept the inevitable under the carpet. As her mind got worse I became extremely depressed. I basically slept all day and stayed up all night. I didn't go to work or school, all i did was self-abuse.
After about six months mother became completely incapacitated. Whenever, I came to visit she didn't recognize me. It didn't matter how many black eyes that I had given myself or how badly my arms were scarred, she just didn't know who I was. It hurt so much. I couldn't handle the horror she was going through or the terror I felt inside. Soon, I would be completely alone.
Mother finally passed away on Thanksgiving morning in 2000. At the funeral, I proudly showed off my scarred and burned arms. I showed them to my cruel and ignorant relatives. I chose not to hide them because having them was the only way I could handle the pain. Now, I was an immature 23-year old adult orphan, I was stuck, I had no where to turn, so I turned it all against myself.
Two years after mothers death my self abuse seemed to reach its peak. It seemed that I wasn't in control of my actions anymore. It felt like the devil himself had taken over my body. The abuse became much more violent and psychotic. I decided that I was going to hurt no matter how unbearable the pain. It was normal for me, during that time to smash walls, shatter glass, throw knives with my bare hands, punch myself in the face, carve letters and numbers into my arm, hit my arm with a crowbar, slam fingers into the car door and to take chances with my new vice (prescription antidepressants) Some of these things I would do in public, such as at my college or at the mall.
Looking back at the five years where I would do these things everyday, I am not quite sure where I got the strength to handle such tremendous physical pain. However, since my last cutting and burning session was only about over a month ago, I certainly realize that I am not completely cured and that I may never be. These days, Borderline Personality Disorder is becoming a way for therapists to help patients put a "label" on what seems to be just out of control at times. I was finally diagnosed with BPD a few years ago, sadly even with all my medications I still have not gotten much relief.
Please, for all the self abusers out there, Please do not give up because there is help. You can get better. Here is one resource that I found, its called "THE S.A.F.E. treatment center and its number is 1-800-Don't-Cut. Especially if you are a teenager or a young woman who is facing these feelings for the first time tell your pastor anyone, if you cannot talk to your parents.
I would like to dedicate this article to the walking wounded. "May they no longer suffer in silence," Marilee Strong.