The Journey Continues
For over an entire decade, I managed to Self-Harm (SH) and avoid explaining my cuts to anyone. There were a few instances where I received the side eye of disbelief when I tried to explain away certain cuts, but overall, I lived my secret life undetected. It wasn’t until I was about 25 when suppressed trauma resurfaced and the surge of my anxiety reached its pinnacle. I was finding it increasingly difficult to manage emotionally and the cutting occurred more frequently. By then I’d had my daughter, who was around one, and I decided I needed to seek help. In the past, I’d never considered it, as I didn’t want to publicize the mixed bag of emotions I often felt as a result of cutting. The initial euphoria from cutting was great, but the release often left me feeling ashamed and more introverted for resorting to such drastic coping mechanisms. At this point in my life, I had a daughter to worry about and wanted better for her upbringing than what I had, so avoiding intervention was no longer an option for me.
I reached out to a local family services agency and secured an appointment fairly quickly; however, having to explain my absence for therapy sessions to Lil Lady’s father required further deception, but I managed a plausible excuse and off I went. During the sessions I began to understand the causes of the onset and perpetuation of my SH and worked to remove it as a coping mechanism. Treatment lasted about three months and while I can’t say I was ‘cured’, I felt better about things and how to manage my trauma, stress, and anxiety; or at least I thought I did. What counseling didn’t thoroughly teach me was that you’re only as healthy as the environment you’re in and/or the people you associate with, so essentially it was inevitable that I would relapse…and I did.
Fast forward a couple of years where I encountered someone who made a significant impact in my life and I, without preemption, disclosed my entire life’s history to. His ability to receive my history; flaws and all was the beginning of a validation and transformation period that I’d never previously experienced, which led to a stronger ability to refrain from SH and have a safe place where I could go emotionally and physically. For the first time in my life I actually felt like someone ‘got me’. I felt wanted, cared for, and most of all valued. He saw pass the façade of my smile. He looked into my eyes and reached my soul. He dug deep into my psyche to help heal the hurt, broken and traumatized child hiding in the abyss of my being. He knew me. He got me. He embraced me as a whole; not fractured. His very presence in my life was kismet. While he wasn’t always able to preempt a relapse, he never judged me when I did; instead he wanted me to talk it out and find better ways to heal and deal with what caused the relapse. He was truly a Godsend.
The Roller Coaster Period
Without taking you through a play-by-play of the various episodes I went through (I will answer specific questions you ask), I will say this; after experiencing many relapses due to a severely dysfunctional marriage that included various forms of abuse, the Pandora’s Box of repressed trauma exploding, and the many demands of my life, I relapsed far worse than I’d ever had before. SH was complimented with extreme episodes of borderline anorexia, due to my not eating on account of being so stressed. I’d experienced this periodically in the past too. Anxiety attacks became the adherent between SH episodes and not eating, to the point where I was fast tracking on a potential trip to a psych ward. Fortunately, the latter never happened.
Fast forward now; post-divorce and a too soon thereafter relationship, which too had its share of problems and dysfunction, to being pleaded with to get counseling from the few people I’d actually confided with over the years. Here I was in my mid-thirties still nursing an addiction I’d had for over two decades. Finally, I reached out and sought counseling. This counselor was thorough, intense; though with a gentle nature, and insistent that I not only work hard to heal, but be held accountable for any SH I inflicted. She was given written permission early on in our sessions to check me for fresh cuts and as a form of accountability for any acts, I had to likewise cut a favorite soft toy and then stitch is back. I vehemently refused to cut any of them, as they bore sentimental attachments, and my refusal was countered with, “So, you’d rather cut yourself than something that has no feelings?” She told me that I needed to understand that the value I placed on the soft toys was the same value I needed to place upon myself. I had to learn to see myself as whole; as special; as worthy. In essence, I had to validate myself like my friend had done many years prior.
The road to recovery certainly wasn’t an easy one. I had to come clean to my daughter what I’d been doing and why. I had to learn to forgive myself for the damage done and to learn to love myself for myself and not for what others wanted from or for me. I was forced to look at the modeling my parents gave me and learn to want and do better than the dysfunctional foundation they built for me. There was no stone left unturned, a relationship not looked at, a situation not addressed, during the many months of counseling I went through. I was forced to be absolutely honest as I had to give what I expected to get back. My counselor saw me as more than just another patient; I was an investment; a soul worthy of redemption, and certainly worthy of being restored.
A New Beginning
Once the counseling was over, I had to made some monumental life changes, which included forgiving those who’d hurt me, releasing the emotional baggage, and understanding that the bad things that happened to me weren’t because I was a bad person; but instead bad actions by other people. I had to learn better coping mechanisms, learn to trust and confide, and not be ashamed of my past as it was just that…my past. I had to learn to live in the now and hope for a better tomorrow. It wasn’t an easy process, but meeting a man who carried a mini bottle of whisky in his pocket with the date of when he took his last drink gave me the inspiration needed to say I, too, could make it through without cutting again. To date, I carry a box cutter in my wallet as my personal trophy that I can manage without SH.
In 2005, I finally stopped SH; I was 37 years old. A 24 year addiction/habit, whichever you want to call it ended.
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