My Journey Through Self Injuring
I met Chris when I was 16. He was a friend of a friend. I felt a connection unlike any I had ever felt before. I wanted to know him, to spend time with him, to matter to him.
Don’t confuse the way I felt about Chris with sex or physical desire. I knew from the start that he was gay. It was part of what made him appealing to me. Sex had always been emotionally painful and shameful. The only things I knew to connect with physical desire were anger and fear. An unpleasant mix, to be sure.
Chris and I have a tumultuous relationship for the next seven years. We were best friends. Soulmates, he told me, more together than the sum of our parts. Once, we committed to being exclusive. We would date no one else.
We “broke up” at least five times in those seven years. It was always me to start us back up. Until the last time.
This time, I asked for time apart. When I was ready, he had decided he didn’t want our relationship anymore. He left me in a note left in my mailbox. It said he knew now he had never loved me; being with me was hard, and love should be easy. He said I had been right. Given time, he would never come back.
I believed, in my heart, that if I chased him again, we could get back on our crazy merry-go-round. Surely this was a reaction to our plan to get an apartment together.
I feared this back and forth would forever be a part of my life. So, I impatiently waited for him to come back. I numbed myself out and tried not to think about him, the future, anything.
About six months later, my life finally fell apart.
It started with minor self-injuring. Something I had never done before.
One day I came home, looked around my apartment, full of piles of books, clothes, and dirty dishes. I felt displaced, lost. Just like that, everything collapsed inside of me. I picked up a tack hammer that was lying near me.
Following urges I did not understand, I swung it gently. It landed on my calf. The feeling was so freeing. I did it again. And again. Harder and each time. By late in the night, exhausted and with my arms in legs covered in round, interconnected bruises, I fell into a fitful sleep.
My actions frightened me. I didn’t understand why this made me feel better. It filled me will a sudden fear that, if I continued, I would break a bone.
So, I got dressed and drove myself to church. My insides were jumping, terrified of telling what I had done, yet even more terrified of if I didn’t.
When the service was over, I pulled inside a couple I knew the best. Without saying a word, I showed them the bruises on my arms. What followed was a whirlwind of reaction. They called my therapist and my psychiatrist. In moments, it seemed, I headed home to pack a bag. A warning playing in my head. The police would come looking if I didn’t show up at the Carrier Clinic (a private mental health clinic where my therapist worked) within an hour.
It was the start of years of therapy, medication, and failed attempts to stop self-injuring. I never picked up a hammer again. I found out that cutting relieved the distress even quicker.
It would be a full thirty years before I told my trusty mood moderator (otherwise known as my therapist) the worst of the secrets that held me down. I tried, over and over, to abstain. When stress flared up, it felt like my only option. A day came when I knew I had to make a choice. My self-injuring had become bizarre and dangerous.
Boy, that was hard, though the longer I went without it the easier it became. I learned to talk through my emotions through therapy with a woman I learned to trust over 14 years. I also worked with two other therapists. I spent months doing EMDR (Eye Movement, Desensitization and Reprocessing), which reduced the intensity of the painful memories and pervasive flashbacks that were tearing me apart. It took as much time to learn to name my feelings. I learned I felt ashamed of almost any emotion. Emotion phobic, I called it. So I recalibrated and desensitized so much.
I also joined a support group. For several years I attended every week. I grew to trust. That group taught me so much about being authentic. I learned to connect with others. They were the first (healthy) relationships I had ever had. Two became my dearest, closest friends.
I also relied on journaling. I wrote tens of thousands of words each year. In it, I could explore fears, memories, and shame I could not yet share.
In the Fall of 2020, my therapist took another job. I am grateful we were already working toward termination. I half expected to fall apart at some point.
It didn’t happen. Instead, I found my inner strength. The voices in my head were rational. No more need to destroy myself. My therapist’s voice, to a large extent, had replaced the contradictory demands of my childhood parental voices.
I’m still strong. Even happy, on my best days. My friends, my journal, my job, and even this blog have kept me stable. I have made hard decisions and survived the aftermaths. I even met a man through eHarmony. We hope to meet in person soon now that I’ve had my Covid vaccines.
A bigger deal than it may seem. I have not dated a man since my ex-husband divorced me in 2001. I have never had a healthy, stable, and strong relationship at all. Yet, I have not run away. We talk about real, hard things.
Even two or three years ago, I couldn’t manage these risks.
Today I rarely feel the urge to damage myself. In those times, I rely on self-talk. I remind myself of the hell I end up in. Each time, I find another way.