*** Warning: This post contains possible triggers for self-injurious behavior. Do not read this if you are not safe. ***
I have a history of self-injurious behavior. Self-injurious behavior is addictive. If you don't/haven't self injured, it won't make sense to you. It doesn't make sense in the logical part of my brain. But my body remembers how good it made me feel and when I read or write about it my body begins to crave it. Those who self injure understand. That's why the warning is there.
This post wasn't meant to be about self-injurious behavior (SI), but I guess it is. I've written about hurting myself on my other blog (here, here, here, and here). Read those if you want to understand it better. What I haven't written is the post that really explains why I do it. How it feels. The high I get. Why it's so compelling. I'll write that some day, but not today.
This post is about revealing it. Especially to my children.
Self-injurious behavior most often starts in the teen years. Looking back, I definitely had some self-injurious behavior as a teen. But nothing like what hit in my mid-thirties.
December 14, 2006. I was thirty-six years old. I was sitting in our white van outside my kids' elementary school. I'd been on my way home from errands and decided just to park and wait there even though it was about an hour before school would be out. And I was having a meltdown. Everything was hitting at once.
I'd been in therapy for almost a year, so I was facing some pretty ugly and dark stuff for the first time. I was five years into my struggle with chronic fatigue and a year into my struggle with my chronic headache -- both with lots of doctors, tests, and medication trials but no answers or improvement. My husband and I were not good; we were discussing separation or divorce. He'd recently chosen to have his name removed from the records of the church. We were having financial problems and Christmas was right around the corner. I'd had a difficult and confrontational conversation with my dad a few days before. And I was on an anti-depressant that was making my depression so much worse.
I was losing it. I saw the broken plastic spoon. And I scratched.
This was the beginning of a long road of self-injurious behavior for me. My arms are covered with scars, mostly very faded. This was also the beginning of long sleeves. In all sorts of weather, even coaching softball in the heat of the summer, I wore long sleeves.
Why? At first it was because I was afraid of the reactions of others. And because I didn't have the answers to the questions I knew would follow. Later it was because I worried what it would do to my children. How would I explain it to them? I didn't want it to rob them of their childhoods because they were constantly worried about me hurting myself. Or worse, killing myself. (It's a common misconception that self-injurious behavior is a precursor to suicide. That's rarely the case. In my case, self-injurious behavior kept me from killing myself.)
But the time came when I was ready to tell them. I was sick of living in long sleeves. I was sick of hiding. I was sick of feeling like I was lying to my kids.
I discussed it with my therapist and my ecclesiastical leader and my husband. I told them I was ready. We discussed possible fallout. But I knew the time had come.
It was spring, 2009. My oldest daughter was graduating high school. We had a week-long graduation trip to California planned. I would do it then. That way they would have time to adjust before having to answer questions of friends who might see my arms. And I could wear short sleeves on our trip.
My kids were 18, 16, 14, 12, and 10. It was the right time. The reveal went okay. I answered questions. I'd chosen to blame it mostly on the medication I was taking (which I think was what pushed me over the edge) and leave out so much of the ugly. They didn't need to know all that. I also told them I was done with it. It had been a long time since I'd hurt myself. I hoped that part was true more than I believed it was true.
Sometimes it comes up in our conversation. I know they've struggled with it at times and had conversations about it I wasn't privy to. I also know it's been used as a cool thing. "Yeah, my mom was a cutter." But it's mostly just part of who I am now.
And that was the end of constant long sleeves. People don't really ask about my scars very often. Medical personnel ask when I'm being seen for something. Children sometimes ask (I usually just tell them my scars are from scratches). Others either don't notice or are too polite or scared to ask.
I've relapsed a few times since then. Each time, I've gone back to the long sleeves. At least while the marks were fresh. Mostly, so my kids don't start worrying again.
But since it's an addiction, it would be wrong to say I used to be a cutter. I am a cutter. I think it will always be a part of me. An itch that occasionally hits me. I work hard to stay in a healthy place so it doesn't happen again. I wish I could say it never will. But I can't.
These scars are me. They are my triumph over something so dark and ugly that most people never experience and will never understand. They saved my life. And, honestly, I like them.