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 would like to submit a story to this series, click here. Today’s guest posts is by an anonymous reader.
I am a recovering self-inflicter. Even typing that anonymously in a public forum I hesitate, having to force myself not to go back and erase it lest someone guess my identity and judge my by it. It is one of those secrets you guard because you know that the revelation thereof might have a tangible impact on your life. This isn't a reluctance born only of paranoia. In not revealing it, people don't guard their presumptions from me. I've sat in graduate level social work classes, and heard my peers discuss self-infliction as a byproduct of bipolar disorder, or teenager angst, and swallowed my words. I've listened to someone at my church wonder how our teenagers could do that to themselves, with the implication that they were mentally ill, or the product of poor upbringing, or just didn't trust God enough. There was no malice in her words, just the reality that she did not understand. So I wanted to post here to try and help people understand, just a little bit better.
There is no classification that i've found which applies to all people who s.i., any more than there is a single characteristic which makes people become addicted to drugs or smoking. I'm in my thirties; I was in my twenties before I ever began the practice in earnest. Early in my journey, I joined an online support group specifically for adult self-inflicters. I'm an educated professional, employed full-time, an active member of my church, with a loving family and friends. You might be surprised how many adults who s.i. (or used to) are professionals, some even in the mental health field. It isn't just teenagers seeking attention. It may have nothing to do with seeking attention. Contrary to this belief, many of us would go to significant lengths to hide it.
Not all self-inflicters are being treated for a mental illness. Not all of us were abused. I never was. There are as many different reasons to cut, or burn, or scratch, or bruise as there are to drink, do drugs, fight, or drive fast. Sometimes it may be a symptom of a mental illness. Sometimes it is to feel, sometimes to numb strong feeling, sometimes obsession, sometimes a cry for help. Sometimes it's an attempt to find oneself. Sometimes it's a way to lose oneself.
Hurting oneself might be called nothing more than a maladaptive coping mechanism, the same as smoking or drinking or promiscuity or drugs. It can be an addiction. You may not understand the rush of peace that can come with the act, the craving for which causes you to repeat it despite the self-loathing it brings. It's the odd dichotomy of being disgusted with yourself while being simultaneously compelled to continue.
Not all self-inflicters are suicidal. Some may be desperate, rather, to cling to life.
Please don't misunderstand me; I'm not saying it is right. You'll note I called it a "maladaptive" coping mechanism. I hope those struggling with self-infliction can come through it, with the help of friends, family, professionals, and God. I'm no longer in that frantic point in my life, and I pray others can get away from it too. That doesn't mean there is never temptation. As I said, it's can be an addiction.
What I want you to know, though, is that self-inflicters don't need your shock and judgment, and may not need institutionalization. They need support, acceptance, and either understanding, or at least acknowledgment that you don't understand but are willing to listen and try. When I finally "came out" to one of my best friends, she told me she would have tried getting me put in a mental hospital had she known. That's precisely why I'm glad I never told her, and why, if I ever fell off the wagon so to speak, I would hide it from her again. My other best friend, however, knew early on, and while I knew she hated it I also knew that she loved me. If you think a friend is in serious danger, or suicidal, by all means get them help, and stick with them through it. Please don't just assume though that all who s.i. need to be 302'd, or they may not trust you to tell you if something is ever truly wrong.
If you struggle with s.i. and are reading this, I want you to know that while you may trip along the way you can come through. As I said before, I no longer call myself a self-inflicter, but a recovering self-inflicter. The scars are fading. Though I pray I never go back to that addiction, I call myself recovering for the same reason I've heard that some former alcoholics never claim to be "cured'. To say that is to disempower the addiction, and if you think your enemy is harmless you may let down your guard and become vulnerable. I thank God for bringing me through and giving me more understanding.