This is a very difficult post not only to write but to publish. I am publishing this to give voice to what I know isn’t just my struggle. This blog is not only Willie’s blog but also a vehicle for dialogue about mental health. This is part of that. I have carried a lifetime of shame over my feelings addressed here and part of me healing is letting go of the shame and the guilt for how I feel and my way of dealing with those feelings.
Self-harm is, for me, the epitome of complicated. It’s not as simple as I want to hurt myself. If only it were, then it might be believable to myself that I’ll be able to end it. I am no stranger to this and it’s something that has been a part of my life since as far back as my pre-teen years; really kicking into habitual behaviour in my very early teens and continuing in some form or another in varying degrees even now. Speaking only for myself and my experiences…
Self-harm is something that happens essentially one of two ways for me. The most obvious and the way most people relate to it, is by actually physically hurting myself. The other way which has been the predominant way for years is a purposeful and conscious refusal to do what is “good” or what will benefit me, either physically or emotionally. This is different from choosing to be not well… it is calculatingly choosing to harm myself by denying myself something I need to be “better”.
I know how this sounds; when I write it out I have so much shame and guilt and disgust for myself and what I do that I don’t want to let anyone read it or know what goes on inside of me. I have written this out in so many forms over the last couple of years and every time I have destroyed/deleted it. I may still with this version; I’m not sure yet.
Breaking this down even further; physically hurting myself falls into a couple of different slots as well. When I first started doing it, it was actually therapeutic – or at least that was how I saw it. I would exercise or run whenever I would get overwhelmed emotionally. If I was stressed and needed to “blow off steam” I would throw on my shoes and run – fast and as far as I could go. I would run until I was exhausted. Or I would go to the studio after work and put on loud music and turn the lights off and dance until I was sweating and panting and couldn’t move. I would do Yoga strenuously after that until my body ached and my muscles were shaking. All the while telling myself that it was healthy… this was a healthy choice to release stress. And for a while it was. Until I started to hurt when I ran.. my knees or hips would scream and I would feel that and then I would push harder. The pain was nothing more than a sensation. To me, it became a way of physically feeling what was inside of me that hurt so much. A way of transferring the emotional pain into something tangible that I could feel, process and release. I started to run seeking that pain and not stopping until I found it. And it worked for a long time… years in fact. Until it stopped working. The last year and a half the pain has been too much and injuries had sidelined me from running for a while. Cutting became something that took me by surprise. Done one night when I was in so much pain that I had no idea what to do. The cutting, for me, was a way to pull myself back to the present from where my mind had gone it its turmoil. It was the vessel for the emotions that were swirling inside and threatening worse. Again, seemingly destructive but in actuality, a safer release. I know how “crazy” that may sound but it is just that. The scars I have now a testament that during those times that I couldn’t take it anymore, I got through it. Every cut followed by the mantra that I wouldn’t do it again – and the shame. Fresh cuts again now on my arms tell a different story though. Still doing what I need to when it gets too much. Providing release but also fueling the other side of the self-harming…
The side that isn’t a “healthy” way of dealing with internal struggles. The side that is intentionally hurtful and destructive and hateful. The side that has been here the longest. Starting with control and eventually growing into a way to punish and inflict hurt on someone who doesn’t deserve anything better – me. Anorexia and bulimia in my early teen years morphing into a lifetime of disordered eating that has at its roots the belief that I am fundamentally broken and flawed. The body dysmorphia that I logically know is there but that I can’t control or alter. It skews my vision of myself and my ability to embrace behaviours and habits that will bring my body pleasure and enjoyment. Decades of self-hatred that can’t be accurately described no matter how hard I try. A self-image that isn’t dissuaded by anyone elses opinion.
This has now become an almost debilitating condition with the result that I am terrified at the idea of anyone seeing or touching me. Physical, sexual contact is horrifying to me as I can’t stand the concept of being naked in front of someone and having them explore my body. My own grotesqueness, in my mind, repulsive to me… so it must be to them. No matter what anyone tells me, I can’t believe otherwise. My sexual desires dwindling as I recoil from the chance of ever having to be in that situation again. The frustration over my physical loneliness and wanting coupled with the internal distaste for contact right now.
I see this inside of me and I see my inability to change it… regardless of how aware I am or how many times I’ve tried it never goes away. The result is that it fuels the self-hatred even more… I can’t control myself and because of that I hate myself. My weakness, my disgusting lack of ability to make myself better. I see friends who try to make me see what they do and I see their frustration and eventual annoyance at me and I hate myself more. Or worse yet, the friends who believe that it’s all an act to garner compliments. Nothing could be further from the truth. I want to be different, I want to be free of the thoughts in my mind and the way that my eyes see my shape and how my body feels to my hands. And as the years go by I lose faith that I will ever be free of this.
How many times can you start over and believe that THIS time it will be different… that this time, I’ll be able to change what needs to change and learn to love myself? What is inside of me that has that base belief that I am not deserving of love and nurturing? It’s been there so long that it was hidden… it took me a long time – and some professional help – to discover that this is one of the reason for these behaviours.
It’s not anything that anyone else can convince me of. It began inside me and that’s where it has to be resolved.