You can’t cure self harm. I sat recently and listened to someone say that people who self harm might stop self harming if they understood the damage they were doing to others around them. Learn about how your actions affect others, feel remorse for that and cease the actions. How little did they understand?
I can obviously only speak from my own experience. I think that’s very important to say. Everyone has their own coping mechanisms, some may appear similar or the same from the outside but each person has their individual reasons for doing it and reasons why it makes things ‘better’. I just hope this might help someone, somewhere, understand better…
I understand how hard it is for someone who has not self-harmed to understand but self-harming is a way of stopping pain…
There are a very wide range of things classed as self-harm so I should start by explaining that I was a ‘cutter’. My first time was with a pair of scissors. They were pretty blunt so the first time I didnt do much damage but to even graze the skin I sat there sawing at my wrist (outside, palm of my hand down) for quite a while. The feeling was interesting, not so painful to start off with but something to concentrate on. Watching what it was doing to my skin, seeing how hard I could press before it started to hurt. It was a kind of experiment, see what happened, I didn’t want to sit and explore what was going on in my head, it gave me something else to think about.
Another thing that is really important to understand is that in my case, and I would imagine a lot of others, self harm is not linked to a desire for suicide. It was negative, it was about pain that I didn’t want any more but I wasnt doing it because I wanted to die and it wasn’t about building up to that at all. I can’t say I never wanted to die but the self-harm wasnt linked to that. On the occasions when I considered death, the methods I considered were not linked to the cutting at all.
I would even go as far as to say cutting was a method of keeping myself alive, I wanted to live, I wanted to go on but this was the only way I knew to cope with that.
I tried a few more times with scissors and the edge of a ruler but it wasn’t long before the pain was not enough and I craved more. I felt my painful thoughts were interrupting and I needed to make sure that the pain took that away.
I needed to escape.
It wasn’t long before I started using a razor. I was about 15. I started by putting the razor on to the back of my wrist and just pressing, a tiny bit at first, just til I felt a bit of pain and then stopping. Then pressing a little harder… and stopping… That was enough the first time. The intense concentration on pressing with just the right amount of force was enough to block out anything else. That tiny little pain, the stopping, the wait until I was ready to go again…
Next time I started in the same way but I needed more… After I had pressed down the third or fourth time, I pressed slightly harder just on one side of the razor and very slightly moved it… I tensed. The pain surged. Initial shock moved to almost excitement. I felt so free, so much in control!
I held the razor there for what felt like hours but was probably not very long, savouring the sensations, the pain, the control…
Eventually I gave in to the curiosity to see what I had done. I lifted the razor slowly from my skin. It was a double bladed razor, there were two tiny cuts, side by side at the end of two long grazes. Once the razor was removed two small beads of blood formed where the skin was cut. I stared, fascinated.
Ok, for those don’t understand I sound crazy, I understand that! But it was such a release, seeing the blood, the feeling of letting out the pain. A sting that I could feel, could concentrate on, that was just enough to take the edge off the emotional pain. I pressed down on my skin, next to the cut to encourage more bleeding. The pain again, slightly less but still stinging, enough for me to catch my breath and the wonder of watching the blood…
The first time I cut fully it wasn’t very deep but it hurt! With a fresh razor blade it’s not hard to cut, anyone who shaves will know that! Just sliding the blade gently across my wrist without any pressure gave a shallow cut and pain…
My body tensed, I screwed my eyes tight shut and let the pain take over my mind. The feeling was indescribable – how could pain be this much of a release, relief, a feeling of losing the hurt, the emotional pain?
It was like a high. Such an escape. Definitely addictive.
Each time after that it became more. I started by just running the razor over, no pressure but a number of times…
Then harder… it’s really hard to describe as your body reacts in the way it would if you hurt yourself, tensing, pain, the urge to stop but this is coupled with the positive feelings, the knowledge that the emotional pain hurts more, is worse, this takes away from it and once I had accepted that the pain met almost with a positive feeling, I don’t think pleasure or happiness, more getting away from hurt, escaping sadness…
I would press the razor down hard and slide it across the back of my wrist, keeping the pressure, tensing, forcing myself to press hard, slide slowly. I would hold the razor there, savouring the moment. Then take it off and watch the pain flow out through my blood… watching it form, drip gently off my wrist, encouraging the bleed with pressure, even touching the wounds to get another surge of pain. I started by doing parallel cuts but as the need for pain developed I cut across the cuts, criss crossing…
I got ‘found out’ once. Well, I guess actually I decided to tell someone. I really don’t know why.
I used to hide it under a watch. I would fold tissue into a patch large enough to cover the cutting area and then put my watch on over the top to hold it in place. One day we were waiting outside of our class, the teacher was late. I was standing with a friend and was bored so decided to show her.
A lot of people would like to label that as a cry for help. I guess what you have to understand here is that I didn’t see it as something that was ‘wrong’. I knew nothing of self harm, no one who did it, nothing about whether it was wrong or right. It helped me, this was my body, why shouldn’t I? I didn’t expect much reaction from my friend I guess I just thought she might be interested! I suppose I must have had some knowledge that people might not approve as I covered it up but I think a lot of that was a fear of my parents who didn’t approve of a lot of things that I didn’t necessarily think were wrong!
My friend was naturally horrified! She didn’t say much at the time and promised not to tell anyone. Later that day I was called to the head of upper school office.
I was so angry. It was my body, she promised not to tell! I couldn’t understand what it had to do with her, why she would tell anyone?
They wanted to call my parents. I begged them not to. I gave them the name of another adult to call, someone else who I was close to. Fortunately they did. I think less through an understanding of why and more through acknowledgement of the fact that I was not a problem child, that they didn’t see a need to get me into trouble.
I gave the answers they wanted to hear.
I have only done it once. I won’t do it again. I promise. I’m fine. I talk to someone, I don’t need help here.
They never checked.
I continued to do it.
They never asked what the problems were. The problems continued. I did talk to someone but not about the self-harm. I now knew it wasn’t acceptable. They thought they had stopped me doing it.
You couldn’t stop my self harming as a coping mechanism unless you either replaced it with another coping mechanism or dealt with the problem that is causing the hurt that caused me to self harm.
Self harm was not the problem it was the solution.