by Lindsay Holmes
Trigger Warning: This article contains graphic descriptions of suicide and self-harm.
In his song “Hurts So Good,” John Mellencamp had it almost right. Sure, love may sometimes hurt good, but not in the way I’m talking about. I’m referring to the sweet burning release from pressing and running a knife along my skin or holding a flame to my wrist. Such a release, such a blissful sweet pain to be lost in.
Most people come home from a rough day and will have a smoke or down a pint of beer to help them relax. Not I though. I go reach for my razor or a lighter, or if I can’t find one of those, my fist works pretty well also.
Contrary to what most may think, this is not a cry for help or attention, but a way to express myself, display emotions, or lack thereof.
Since I was young, probably around nine years old, I have been a self-harmer, smacking myself as hard as I could at my eye socket, or pinching or scratching the skin until I’d bleed, just to feel more connected to life and to express myself. I didn’t know what I was doing. I was nine and as clueless about these things as the next kid, but what I did know is that I felt like I was able to express what I couldn’t express through words. I never told anyone; no one asked. I had an excuse without having to say anything. I was a klutzy child that was always falling, walking into things, or tripping over my own feet.
As I got older, I knew that this was more of a taboo thing, something that not everyone did and I felt I should hide it. My tools for destruction were kept under my mattress. When I did these things, I’d make sure no one was around or lock myself in the bathroom or my bedroom. I’d mark myself where clothing usually covered me.
This has carried on, well it’s still going on I admit. I’m addicted to self-harming; my doctors have told me. I cannot stop. Sometimes I want to stop, and other times I don’t want to, not even a little bit. For about the past five or so months you could say I’ve been clean, but the urge will always be there, something I’ll always be fighting against, the way a heroin addict fights each day to stay clean. The urges and drive to hurt myself will always be there.
As a child, this was something that felt right. It gave me something to feel other than the child that always disconnected from the other kids, always on the outside edge of all social engagements. It gave me something new to focus on, but it didn’t have much of a purpose or meaning. Not until I was raped and lost the baby that was a result of the rape. When this happened, I had shut off all of my emotions. It was too hard to feel anything, to pretend nothing was wrong. So, I just shut everything off. Little by little it became harder and harder to just keep going without feeling. Then I found my escape.
It was one of those times I was up super late, 4 AM was a usual time for me to still be awake back then. I had a brand-new utility knife, bought for art project purposes, but I knew it would work just as well. I took it and sliced along my arm and gasped. My god this was amazing. I felt as if I found the meaning of life. To try and explain it, it’s like the biggest mind-blowing rush possible, followed by a calm that just washed over me. I could fucking feel again. I made myself feel. I took control. It was like taking the biggest hit of pot you could or taking a hit of some other drug and feeling alive. That’s how I felt.
I was able to take control of one aspect of my life when everything was falling apart around me over this rape. I could control my emotions and feelings. I said when I felt something. I was in fucking control of what I felt and when I felt it, and it wasn’t about to be taken away from me.
I would cut myself, burn myself, sometimes hit myself as often as I needed that release. It was a lot. Hell, I was a dying person that just found life again. I found my oxygen. I got to the point that I didn’t care if people knew and was cutting my lower arms. I cut the tops and bottoms of my arms and the top of my thighs. I burned my arms and legs. I punched my face. It didn’t matter. I was alive, taking in this sweet, agonizingly beautiful release I had found.
While this was going on, I was also in therapy for depression, anxiety, social anxiety, and borderline OCD. (This list has since changed, but it’s what my first doctor told me I had. I wish they’d make up their minds and just help me get better, but that’s another story for later.) This therapist saw my wrist that had cuts on it at the time. She immediately told me I would be going into Intensive Outpatient Therapy, which was 3 days a week for 4 hours a day. Oh lord what fun, group therapy hell. This is where I learned that I have an addictive personality and am an addict. In fact, I become addicted to things quite easily, but right now I’m addicted to self-harming. Just like the guy on the corner in my neighborhood who is most likely a heroin addict, I’m an addict as well. That was a fun conversation with the parents, actually it wasn’t because I never told them.
Therapy did help as I lessened how much I was harming myself. It wasn’t that I was stopping, it was just more infrequent than it had been before. I was still seeking that dragon of sunshine and bliss. I knew he had to be right around the corner, but less and less was needing him all the time. I was finding ways to cope. At the time, I had dogs that were always with me. They never required anything from me, not demanding, but would just lay there with me and chill. Whereas previously I was robbed of the joy of reading, now I could sit longer and read and pretend I was right there with the main characters. I lost myself into Star Wars Galaxy Online, Guild Wars, and Warhammer Online. Spoiler alert, I’m also addicted to Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMOs), but I’m so much better than I used to be. I could lose myself in those worlds all day and find that I went an entire day without reaching for the knife or lighter. Art, which I went to school for, became a much-welcomed distraction too. Pretty soon I was so well distracted that I was down to harming myself only a few days a week.
I stayed that way for a long time, then went down to once a week, to once every other week, to once a month. I stayed at once a month for a while. I felt like I had reached the top of Mount Everest. I defeated that dragon, but the world is not perfect, and neither am I. I would slip up. My medications stopped working, I was going through PTSD, my anxiety was sky high. I started to relapse and was harming myself much more frequently.
At first it was just a little bit here and there, but it got to the point that it was back to almost every day of the week. I’d be cleaning and see the movement of a guy out of the corner of my eye and freak out. (Turns out it’s just my shadow and the cats moving.) I’d calm myself the only way I knew how: by harming myself. Feeling that sweetness all over again. It makes you wonder why you even quit. How could I have given that up? I was in a full-on relapse.
It took a lot, but I was finally able to wean off again. Mostly it was due to my amazing boyfriend who was always there for me, even though I was driving him crazy. He was there to remind me that he was there for me, telling me I can scream it all out if I have to, but just reminding me that he loves me. Having him around would distract me from wanting to harm myself. He knows, as well I do, that I’m going to slip up, but he’s here for me. I have a support system of him and my cats that help me. I’m going to make it, with a few mistakes along the way. Hey, I’m not perfect.
I also have a safe way to replace self-harming. Tattoos and piercings. I get my pain, but either a beautiful picture or a piercing in it’s place. I’m not leaving behind scars, but instead I have pictures now that depict a lot of what has been going on in my life. It’s like how a heroin addict has Suboxone—a safe substitute—I have a safe substitute to self-harming that my psychiatrist approves of.
How am I doing now? There will be a tattoo or a piercing soon. My anxiety has been getting worse and the medication for it hasn’t been working. The call to harm myself is so strong that I feel I will fail and prove how weak I can be; however, I am fighting it each and every minute of the day and working with my doctors to get the medications corrected. Each day is a battle, and each day I don’t is a small victory won. Right now I’m winning, and I’m hoping to stay that way.
Lindsay Holmes is an artist and a writer as well as a geek and a mommy to 5 furbabies. She enjoys painting, reading, or writing, though more likely she’s hanging out with her boyfriend. She has the beginnings of a tattoo and piercing collection she has acquired through dealing with Self-Harming. She loves Gummi Bears and Double Snakes along with Crunch Bars and 3 Musketeers. She enjoys blogging as a way of dealing with the aftermath of rape, PTSD, a miscarriage, abuse, depression, and a suicide attempt; as well as dealing with all her other mental illnesses: bipolar type 2, anxiety, social anxiety.