Note: This piece talks about the author’s experience with and perspective on self-harm in detail. Please use your discretion.
I have an addiction. Not in the way you might think though—I’m addicted to hurting myself. This is a controversial statement though because many people who self-harm don’t like that label. I prefer it because it helps reduce the stigma around the term “addiction,” and for me, self-harm feels like one.
When you hear the word “addiction,” your brain probably thinks of drugs and alcohol. But why? Addiction is defined as “a strong inclination to do, use, or indulge in something repeatedly.” That sums up fairly well my struggle with self-harm. I know I shouldn’t do it because it’s harmful, but I repeatedly get the urge to.
I started self-harming around 15 years old—the same age I was when I came to realize that I had been sexually abused. I used self-harm to cope with the abuse I witnessed and experienced growing up. And while I can go for periods of time without hurting myself, when things get overwhelming I struggle with resorting back to it.
Self-harm is not the same as being suicidal. I am not suicidal and I actually self-harm to “deal with” life and to keep myself alive. That might sound counterintuitive, but that’s how my brain works. I have been suicidal before and the feelings that came with it were very similar to wanting to self-harm. The difference, however, is that self-harm is, for me, a means to keep living.
In those moments, I don’t want to die, but I don’t know how to live either.
I do not like hurting myself. I hate the scars it leaves. I hate my siblings asking me what happened. I hate that my friends want to help but can only do so much. If I could I would just stop—but it’s not that easy. It takes work, hard work, and unless you have been there, it’s difficult to fully comprehend. I have been trying to stop self-harming. I have done so by reaching out to someone before I do it. But it seems like nothing can completely override the urges (yet). That’s why I see it as an addiction. I continue to choose it even when it hurts myself and my loved ones.
The thing is though, it takes time to replace harmful habits with good ones.
I’ve tried various coping methods. None are perfect, but here’s what I’ve found:
- Pushing the urge off by talking to a friend helps curb it.
- Not keeping it a secret when I relapse helps me put a stop to the spiral faster.
- Having emotional support from friends and family is essential.
This might not be the happy ending you are or I am hoping for though. I wish I could say that I am “cured” and don’t struggle. But the truth is the urges are there and one single moment can send me spiraling back into the cycle.
Life turns difficult. Medication stops working and mood swings grow in severity. The PTSD and anxiety return in full swing. And sometimes that’s when I start self-harming again. To stay alive. To cope.
At the present moment, I have strung together a month of days without self-harm. The feeling of freedom is strong, and in the depths of my struggle, I do sometimes forget this feeling. Sometimes I forget about hope.
So in those instances, when the urges “win,” I will readjust and head back toward the place where I can get ahead of the habit of self-harm. I will do my best to change directions, knowing it’s possible and knowing that I am worth the effort it requires. There are kinder ways to cope and as I get better at seeking support—recovery becomes more of a reality.
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].