I have always considered myself to be a smart person.
Not going to work at NASA smart, but relatively intelligent in most aspects. I read. I did well in school. I said no to drugs.
That’s why it’s so confusing for me to understand why I began cutting.
I was 15 years old at the time, a shy girl with a few close friends and a loving home. I went to church every Sunday, had what I thought was a wonderful relationship with God, and even taught Jr. Church on occasion. My parents provided for me, gave me endless hugs, and were willing to listen to every word I was willing to say.
That last part was the problem.
It’s normal for teenagers to not want to talk to their parents. The problem was, I didn’t talk to anyone. It wasn’t as if I didn’t try. I may not have been open with my parents, but I tried to open up to our youth pastor and even to my friends. I just couldn’t find the words. They wouldn’t come out. I felt ashamed of how I felt, how depressed I was. My mind was tormented on a daily basis with horrible and anxious thoughts. And every time I opened my mouth to tell someone, my embarrassment stopped me.
I can’t quite remember the reasoning behind that first cut. I remember holding the scissors, feeling the rush of release, watching the blood form little drops on my skin. I remember tearing a small hole in the side of my mattress and hiding the scissors there, out of sight, for next time. Because I knew there would be a next time.
At this point in my life, I’d never heard of cutting or of self-injury. I didn’t see it online because our internet was dial-up and our only computer in the living room. I hadn’t heard about it from any of my friends. If they did it, they kept as quiet about it as I did. When I woke up the next morning, I felt anxious and scared at what I’d done. I wanted to tell someone, anyone, but felt like I was alone in it. People would think I was crazy, wouldn’t they?
I decided right then to stop, but I couldn’t. No matter how much I willed it, I gave in each and every time. Cutting gave me release. It took me away for a moment, away from the emotional pain cluttering my brain and instead allowed me to feel a different type of pain —physical. My intelligent brain understood that physical pain was short-lived. It could be healed easily. By turning to it, I was allowed to escape, if only for a short time. I needed it. I couldn’t cope without it.
Fast-forward three years.
After three years of cutting my arms, stomach, and legs almost every single day, I’d become something of an expert at it. Because the shallow cuts of the past no longer provided the relief I needed, I had to make deeper ones, and that meant taking care of them after I was done. This may seem strange, but I didn’t want to kill myself. My cutting wasn’t the act before suicide. And I couldn’t get an infection. That would require a trip to the doctor or hospital, and my secret would be revealed. Everything I did was a balance, a balance between finding that release and hiding my addiction from others.
That included a little DIY work. I attempted once to purchase a package of straight razors from the local store. My paranoia got the best of me at checkout, though. I was sure the cashier knew exactly what I was doing and was shaming me with her eyes. From then on, I purchased regular disposable razors. After a few attempts, I managed to figure out exactly how to free the blades.
While living with my aunt after high school, I finally gathered up enough courage to reveal to my cousin what I was going through. To my surprise, she’d heard of cutting before. Some of the kids at her school did it. With her help, I spoke to my aunt, my parents, and our youth pastor. Soon almost everyone in the family knew of my troubles. I felt ashamed, and the cutting didn’t stop. I was simply more secretive. I had to be.
I was taken to the doctor, who prescribed me a drug for depression. It didn’t help. In fact, two weeks later I was on the brink of suicide and checked myself into the psychiatric unit of a hospital. Turns out that particular drug isn’t prescribed to teenagers for a reason. I spent eight days in the hospital while they evaluated me and changed my meds. The screams from other patients at night were the worst part, though closely followed by the daily visits from family. I couldn’t stand looking them in the eyes. I felt ashamed, embarrassed. How did I get to this point? I was a smart person. I should know better. I shouldn’t need to rely on a razor blade to get through the day. I should know how to deal with my emotions.
But I didn’t, so they tried to teach me. We talked about opening up during group therapy. I was given coping skills that I was sorely lacking.
And when I left, I was all better.
I made it a month before I slipped back into my old ways. From there, things got progressively worse. At my darkest time, I remember coming into my sister’s house at night and hiding a razor blade in the small opening above her doorway. Her husband found it later. While my sister defended my behavior and tried to explain to her husband that I was sick, the argument that followed was awful. He demanded that I leave, and when my sister refused, he left for two days.
Even though I had almost broken up a marriage, it still hadn’t hit me. And it wouldn’t, until four years later, when I met my future husband. He was a man that I immediately trusted, immediately loved, —he was my soul mate. I opened myself up to him in a way that I couldn’t with anyone else. I knew he was the one that I was going to spend the rest of my life with.
That’s why, when I told him my horrible secret, I was completely shocked by his response. To this day, I will remember it always.
“I love you. You know I do. But I love you too much to sit back and watch you hurt yourself like this. If you continue to do this, you do it without me. It’s your choice.” While to some this may seem harsh, the ultimatum was exactly what I needed to hear. This was my rock bottom. I was about to lose the love of my life for those brief moments of pleasure, of release.
It wasn’t worth it.
Some say cutting isn’t an addiction, but more of a compulsion. I believe it’s both. I still struggle. Every time I feel depressed, scared, or anxious, my first thoughts drift to the razor blade. It isn’t something I did simply because I felt an intense need to though. It’s something I believed I truly needed in order to cope with what was going on in my head and my life.
Today, I still feel the pull. It’s only because of God, my wonderful husband, my family, and my supportive friends that I have been able to remain free for seven years. The scars on my body still remind of where I was and what I want my future to hold.
Editor’s Note: TWLOHA is a beacon of hope to all who are currently struggling with, or have found their way out of depression, addiction, self-injury, & suicide. Check out their new movie To Write Love On Her Arms, now available on iTunes.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, give us a call today. 239-440-6856