what I want you to know: self-injury is an addiction

What I Want You to Know is a series of reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. (If you are new to this blog, regularly schedule programming will resume after the holidays, but you can check out the “Best Of” section in the meantime). If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. This guest post is by Caryn..Photobucket

Through high school and college I appeared to be a well adjusted, happy young woman.  I had everything I could ever ask for:  a great family, great friends, and excellent grades.  On the outside it appeared that the world was at my fingertips.  From the outside looking in, I had a perfect life.  What people didn't know and couldn't see was that I felt like my life was spiraling out of control.  I tend to be a perfectionist and a control freak.  I didn't like that the happenings of my life were out of my control and it really hurt me.  Things were going horribly wrong and I couldn't deal with it.  I didn't want to deal with the pain of being out of control anymore, so I took matters into my own hands to control how I felt pain:  I started cutting.

Self injury and mental illness has a stigma about it.  When people found out I was a self-injurer they never really treated me the same.  There's a common misconception that those who self injure are suicidal or don't want to live anymore.  That's just not true.  Self injury isn't about ending one's life.  It's about finding some kind of control or finding a way to end the pain one may be feeling.  Every self injurer has a different reason for starting, but for me, I wanted to take control of my life and I did it the only way I knew how. 

Self injury is an addiction.  It can be just as dangerous as drugs or alcohol, but may not always be as visible.  Self injury can be cutting, hitting, scratching, burning, or even emotional or psychological self injury.  It's not just teenage girls who self injure to get attention, but college aged men and women as well as adults of all ages.  There's been a rise in people in their twenties self-injuring because of the pressure they may feel to be successful.

If you or someone you know self injures, don't ostracize or stigmatize them.  Support them.  Encourage them to get help.  There are a number of excellent organizations out there that can help direct people to the resources they need to get help for self injury.  I sought help.  A friend recognized that I was cutting and directed me to my campus's counseling center so I could get professional help.  Today I've gone two years without self harming and now I really am the happy well-adjusted young woman people used to think I am.

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