This piece focuses on the topic of self-injury. Please use your discretion.
I’ve dealt with self-harm for a little over half of my life. My forearms and right thigh are testaments. The first time happened in middle school gym class. I was wracked with undiagnosed depression and knew instinctively as I stood there, losing touch with reality, that I could stop myself from crying in front of everyone if I hurt myself. And so I did, under my black, long-sleeved shirt, until the pain took precedent, until I could distance myself from those agonizing emotions.
A million thoughts have been circling my mind as I approach one year clean. Firstly, I’m terrified. I’m not ready for this kind of commitment; at least once a day during the rough periods, I think back on all of the moments I was ready to harm but didn’t and wish I had. I remember the unfiltered joy I felt when I reached one-year clean last year, only to relapse a few months later. A part of me wonders if I’m on that same path, if my streak won’t last and I’ll be making and breaking “one-year”s for the rest of my life. On top of the fear, there’s the guilt. The guilt of wanting to harm has been just as palpable as the guilt from actually harming. I should want to get better. I should want to stop. But I don’t. And that’s eating at me.
Fighting urges hasn’t gotten much easier. Sleepless nights remain, unimaginable numbness or emotional weight begging to be released, and that all too familiar feeling of my skin burning for the sensation of an injury or ache. There are times when all I can do is watch the two sides of my thought processes—one healthy, one unhealthy—tear each other apart in hopes of gaining the upper hand.
So many pros and cons lists have been made as I grapple with how to proceed. On good days, I can remind myself of why I continue to fight. I can focus on the people in my life who love me and want me to heal, and I can see a glimpse of why pressing on is the right thing. I imagine a future where I’m OK. On bad days, I go through the motions, turning to every positive coping skill in my toolbox until my eyes roll back in my head while I wait for the urges to pass. Like someone who is weather-worn, I’m well acquainted with the storm, but I’m never ready for the damage left in its wake. Apologies for the cliche metaphor, but it’s true. It’s destructive and all-encompassing and painful. Even if I don’t injure, I’m still carrying and enduring the emotional wreckage. Because on both days, I’m withering in my skin, ready to hurt myself at the drop of a hat.
As of late, I’ve been using temporary tattoos to cope. I have a butterfly on my left wrist placed snugly above scars. It’s a vibrant orange mixed with hints of yellow, like a sunset on my skin; music notes adorn both wings. It harkens to The Butterfly Project, where you draw a butterfly on yourself and keep it alive by not self-harming. As simple as it may seem, I don’t want to kill it. I just can’t handle the guilt.
So, over and over, I put these self-harm urges on pause. I write—anything and everything but especially poetry or journaling. I pray fervently and sometimes through tears. I sing like I’m the only one home even though I’m definitely not. I squeeze my weighted stuffed animal, a gray fox I named Melvin. I stay around people, as much as it makes me feel like a child who needs to be supervised.
All to stay safe, from myself.
Even though I despise this friction I’m feeling, of wanting to backslide and to also stay clean, it’s been a reminder of what recovery actually looks like. You don’t always have a spark in your heart to get better. Sometimes, you hate it. You resent it. You cannot fathom letting go of old habits. I hold tightly onto these self-destructing coping mechanisms with a tight, stubborn fist, and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon. It’s a comfort.
Within this chapter, the urges to harm don’t surface every day. Sometimes I go months without feeling their presence. They come and go when they please, or when they’re triggered. Those days where I’m free? That’s where my hope lives, and it’s where yours should, too. Because even though I still struggle, I don’t struggle as much as I used to.
Making or breaking milestones doesn’t have to be everything—it shouldn’t be everything.
Reaching one year doesn’t mean I’ll be a failure if I relapse, nor does it mean that I’m making a lifelong commitment to giving up self-harm. That’s too much pressure for one person to carry, or at least, that’s way too much pressure for me. I’m simply not ready.
So perhaps it’s always going to be baby steps; it’s always going to be taking this one day at a time. That’s how I made it this far.
And if it’s baby steps, I think I can manage.
You are worthy of love and grace, from others and yourself. You are enough, here and now. If you’re dealing with self-injury or self-harm, we encourage you to use TWLOHA’s FIND HELP Tool to locate professional help and to read more stories like this one here. If you reside outside of the US, please browse our growing International Resources database. You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to be connected for free, 24/7 to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor. If it’s encouragement or a listening ear that you need, email our team at [email protected].