Catharsis

26 09 2010

I do not want to be afraid
I do not want to die inside just to breathe in
I’m tired of feeling so numb
Relief exists I find it when
I am cut
~ Plumb

I was 18 the first time I intentionally cut myself. I was “dating” a guy five years older than I, and he ended our “relationship.” (That’s in quotes, because we didn’t really have any kind of relationship. He wouldn’t take me out in public or introduce me to his friends. We just made out a lot.)

Troy was an ass. I’m not even going to change his name, because he doesn’t deserve it. He gave me the ultimate “It’s not you, it’s me” speech: “It’s like I’m on a diet, but I love chocolate, and someone is dangling a big piece of chocolate in front of my face.” Yeah. He broke up with me for being too tempting. I suppose I should’ve been flattered or something, but I was heartbroken. Also, I felt like a slut, which was confusing since we’d only kissed.

It hurt terribly, and hurting was bad, and I had no idea what to do. My feelings were too intense for a teenager with no coping skills, so I shut down. I took those emotions and stuffed them deep down inside where I wouldn’t have to look at them or—most important—feel them.

I dissociated.

Dissociation isn’t a common term, so a brief explanation from Psyke.org, a website dedicated to self-injury healing and support:

Dissociation is “a psychological state in which the indivual experiences an alteration in consciousness, memory, and sometimes identity.” People who experience it may feel detached from their bodies, a floating sensation, or a sense that they are separated from their bodies, watching themselves. Everybody has experienced mild dissociation — for example tuning out when someone is talking to you. But some people use dissociation as a coping mechanism. The dissociative states they may experience sometimes become overwhelming because of how long they last or their intensity. Self-injury is way to reduce, prevent, or stop a dissociative state.

To put in it personal terms, I distanced myself from my emotions so well that I had to find a way to feel again. I didn’t want to actually experience my emotions, because they were uncontrollable and awful, so I chose to feel physical pain instead.

The first time I cut, I locked myself in the bathroom with a safety pin and scratched Troy’s initials in my forearm. I watched the blood bead along the jagged lines and felt…relief.

There are those who believe self-injury is an attention-seeking behavior. That may be true for some, but certainly not for me. After my first episode (it’s hard to tell people that clearly-defined initials are a cat scratch), I cut in ways that could be hidden or disguised as accidents. I didn’t want attention—I just wanted to feel better.

I was sure I must be insane. I’d never heard of someone cutting herself on purpose. What kind of nutjob would do something like that?

I felt ashamed and alone.

I’m 34 now. I’m not alone, and I’m not ashamed. I feel things fully instead of avoiding uncomfortable emotions.

But every once in a while (shhh…don’t tell) I miss the easy release.

Being an adult is hard.

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8 responses

28 09 2010
steff

i feel like i will always struggle with self-harm. it’s usually the first thought that pops into my head when i’m facing a lack of control in my life. the rush of calm that comes after i do it is, initially, so welcoming but the wave of shame that washes over me afterwards is the memory that i try to go back to when i feel the need to cut. it’s a hard subject to talk about because a lot of people just don’t understand. people think it’s all for attention but they just don’t realize the chemical release that occurs is almost like getting relief by taking drugs. it’s an illness and addiction just like anything else.
thank you for sharing your story.

27 09 2010
Libby

I hate to say it, but I miss it too sometimes. Dealing with problems in a rational way is so much harder.

27 09 2010
hairyshoefairy

It’s interesting to hear your experience with cutting. I’ve had a couple of friends (that I know of) who cut. One I’ve lost touch with over the years but the other got counseling and was able to find other ways to deal. I don’t completely understand it but I do know it isn’t about attention-seeking. Reading your thoughts helped make it more clear to me so thanks for sharing.

27 09 2010
andygirl

yes. adulthood is hard. I never cut, but I certainly understand it. love you.

but you know (dork Andy is coming out), anthropologically speaking, people have been trying to control their bodies in similar ways for centuries. self flaggelation, hermeticism, asceticism, celibacy, extreme fasting, even exercise. people seek to control the unknown or what is painful by finding some control with the body. it’s a perfectly human response.

27 09 2010
Sue

One of my best friends in high school used to cut themselves. His father was an abusive alcoholic and it was my friend’s only way to cope. His father was in the Vietnam war and came back extremely different compared to the way he left. I felt bad because all I could do was listen as I didn’t know how to help him. Apparently listening helped because we’ve maintained a good relationship for many years.

27 09 2010
talesofmy30s

I don’t care what anyone says, it’s good to speak up about these things, show others they are not alone.

27 09 2010
Mimi

Back during my nervous breakdown of 2007 this was one of the ways I could keep myself from feeling totally out of control. I only did it once where it left marks and only with my fingernails, but it made me feel so much better (for a few minutes anyway). I never did it for the attention, it just helped me cope. Meh.

I haven’t seen you in a while, Jennnnnny… come play with me at Rach’s this week! 😀

27 09 2010
Stefani

coming from working in Psych, a lot of people cut, but most often when sexual abuse has occurred, you are not alone and I really admire your courage in writing about it.

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