Author’s note: This article discusses self-harm.
I started self-harming when I was 11 years old. I would bite my knuckles, pick at my arms with sewing needles, and even scratch my thighs until they bled, leaving the skin pink and raw. At the time and even years later, after I had graduated from needles to X-Acto knives and shaving blades, I didn’t actually recognize the damage I was doing to myself, physically or emotionally.
I self-harmed because I needed a distraction, something that would keep me from lashing out in other ways. It was a way to process my emotions without anyone having to know that I was struggling at all. It wasn’t until people started to comment on my scars that I realized it wasn’t exactly working the way I thought it was. The cuts and scrapes on my body began to cause me more shame than comfort, and I knew that I had to find a way out.
At 16, I started my battle with recovery, and began to see a therapist who helped me through the process. By 19, I was self-harm free, and I have been for two years now. However, even though I am proud of my recovery, I still find myself lying about the scars on my wrists and thighs, or using makeup to cover up their existence altogether.
Two years in recovery has taught me a lot of things. I’ve learned a lot of big truths; like that I am more than my scars, more than what I see in the mirror, and more than what others think of me. Or that even my worst moments have silver linings, and that tomorrow is always a new day. I have also learned a lot of small truths, like chewing on ice cubes can help you fight the urge to self-harm when you’re feeling triggered and that counting to ten doesn’t always help, but screaming to ten usually does.
The most important thing I’ve learned in my recovery however is the one thing that I struggle the most to remember ‑ if you have people in your life who make fun of your scars, you need to get rid of them.
Not a lot of people, inside or outside of the mental health community, talk about self-harm and even worse, no one talks about the fact that no one talks about it. It gets downplayed as something that only angry teenagers do, and even if it was just teenagers, it is still a serious enough mental health issue that deserves to be addressed.
When I was younger I would get teased for the cuts on my arms. People would call me “emo,” a name for kids that were deemed overly emotional or dramatic, or they would say I was just doing it for the attention. Even if I tried to cover up the scars with hoodie sleeves or wristbands, it only seemed to make their presence more obvious and the name-calling worse. The constant teasing I received kept me from asking for help for many years, and though self-harm is a difficult addiction to beat; it’s even harder to beat when you feel like you’re alone.
Cutting negative or harmful people out of your life is never an easy thing to do. However, you should never feel like you have to sacrifice your own recovery or self-care in order to please someone else. You should not have to hide, defend, or feel ashamed of your recovery, and if you find that the people you are surrounding yourself with are forcing you to do these things, you need to take a step back and reevaluate those relationships. You should not be forced to surround yourself with people who make you feel like you’re alone.
Recovery has not only allowed the scars on my body to heal, but it has also given me the power to put my life back together, and to feel things again, whether they’re good or bad. There is no one way to recover from self-harm, and I’m still fighting everyday to discover what works best for me. Some days are better than others, but having people in my life who understand and accept me for what I am going through is the thing that keeps me going. Self-harm is like any other addiction or mental illness — it will not go away on its own.
Recovery takes a lot of time and dedication, and it’s one of the hardest things you will ever do because it’s a battle you will have to fight for the rest of your life. It’s difficult, scary and sometimes it seems impossible, however if you find a support system that can remind you of how much you deserve to get better, it makes the journey a hell of a lot easier.