*Warning this post contains triggering content*
As you may have gathered from the title and trigger warning, this post isn’t about fitness. It’s about Self-Injury. When I discovered March 1st is Self-Injury Awareness Day, I knew this was a post I wanted/needed to write. I am or I maybe I should say I was a Self-Injurer for a large part of my adolescence and even into my adult years.
The thing is, like Alcoholism just because you don’t drink anymore doesn’t mean you’re no longer an alcoholic. That temptation should you give into it is still there. Self-Injury I feel is quite the same. While I haven’t hurt myself in over six years, I know the simple act of allowing myself to drift back down that road would mean making the decision easier the next time. Let me be clear, I have no intentions of ever self-injuring again, but to say during really hard times the memories don’t come back would be a lie.
As someone who has Self-Injured, I understand so deeply how misunderstood and even how unaware most people are of what Self-Injury is. Let me clearly state Self-Injury is not an attempt at suicide, though it can happen accidentally. It was a cut that went deeper than I inteded that led me to slowly stop cutting. I was terrified I could have killed myself. I didn’t want to die.
A simple google search will relay you information like “self-injury is the act of deliberately harming one’s body typically by cutting or burning as a way to cope with emotional pain.” But in no way does that simple sentence even begin to describe or unmask how something so seemingly brutal can provide such an overwhelming sense of release and calm.
For someone who doesn’t self-injury it sounds disturbing, but it’s surprising more common than you may realize. According to
healthyplace.com every 1 in 5 females and 1 in 7 males engage in self-injury. Approximately two million cases are reported annually in the United States.
Despite the overwhelming number of people who self-injure it remains a very uncommon phenomenon to many people. It is only by educating people and coming forward with personal accounts that we move towards solving this growing epidemic. Because simply taking away all the sharp objects or saying don’t you see what you’re doing to yourself, isn’t helping.
As a young teenager cutting myself I was not “seeking out pain”, I was already in pain. Full of pain and emotions that I felt I would never be able to escape. Feelings so overwhelming that at times I would pound at my head to try to get rid of them. That was never enough, the only thing that was ever enough was the physical release that wiped away the emotional and mental pain.
In high-school I carried a pocket knife with me every-where I went. It became my safety net. If ever I realized I was without it, that was enough to cause overwhelming anxiety. I recall a day in high-school when a fellow student said or did something cruel to me, enough to make me so angry I wanted to cry. But I wasn’t going to let him make me cry or feel weak.
I hurriedly asked for a pass to the bathroom and as I closed the stall door I sat down and cut myself. Letting any emotional control he had over me for those few moments rush out of my body. That’s exactly what it was, with every cut or burn each overwhelming feeling or frustration poured out of me.
By self-injuring I was in control of how I felt. I couldn’t cope with or understand mental and emotional pain. I needed the physical sensation in order to get back to calm. I’m an overly sensitive person, I always have been but I never knew how to deal with the constant rush of emotions I always had.
I have never felt safe in my emotions, so verbalizing them is truly difficult. To this day I’m still horrible with emotions and trying to talk about them. My partner will tell you that trying to get me to verbalize my feelings is excruciatingly difficult. It mostly consists of long periods of silence where I just stare at him.
These days I never really think about my scars, they are just a part of me at this point. On occasion a few of them are mistaken for white tattoos. But, it is in those moments that I realize other people notice my scars. When I hold the rail on the subway wearing short sleeves and I catch the person next to me looking at my arm. The look of concern cross their face.
I hate them because it’s in these moments, while people survey the railroad tracks of scars and cigarette burns up my arm, most people are associating these scars with suicide attempts. They are wrong. But being wrong about what the cause of the scars are from, is not to say that people who self-injure don’t need help.
Self-injury can become addicting in itself, needing to feel that release again without the emotional overwhelm. It becomes a preventive mechanism rather than a coping one. Once deep into self-injury quitting can be difficult because it becomes part of what you believe makes you better. Your identity. A vicious cycle that is hard to break. That you don’t want to break.
Self-injury isn’t an illness itself but the symptom of an underlying problem. The only true cure is prevention itself. Keeping open lines of communication with teens and young adults even when it is difficult. Working to acknowledge that they have feelings they may not know how to express and being there to help them to understand it’s fine to not be okay.
Should you ever cross someone who self-injures be compassionate and understand that this is them doing their best to cope and survive. Don’t ask questions like, “does that hurt” or “how can you do that”, this will only push them further towards self-injury. Instead tell them you are there to listen and that however they are feeling, it will be okay.
Visit these sites for more information or self-injury support: