This piece mentions self-harm and methods of self-harm in detail. Please use your discretion.
I used to hate doing the dishes, especially when I was a kid. But as an adult, I must admit I don’t mind them at all. Dirty dishes are proof that something was created and enjoyed. I love to cook and bake, and dirty dishes showcase that I spent time doing something I love, doing something that brings me joy. In a way, I am grateful for dirty dishes. I stand at my kitchen sink, listening to a podcast or playlist, and clean up after a delicious meal or a week’s worth of meal prepping, deeply satisfied by what I have created and accomplished. And, it’s a nice break from doing school work—a reminder that there is more to life than reading textbooks and writing papers.
But there are moments when standing in front of that kitchen sink is hard. Sometimes as I clean the cutlery, thoughts creep into my head.
“Just this once. One more time isn’t that bad. Just hurt yourself one more time, it’ll be okay. Won’t it make you feel better? It’s what you want.”
When those moments come, I freeze, clenching the dish scrubber, holding my breath, fighting off the urges. Some days I really do want to go back. Some days those taunts are incredibly tempting. I think about how easy it would be to do it “just this once,” even while knowing in my heart that it wouldn’t be “just this once.”
This coming August marks eight years since I last self-injured. In a way, it feels like that time has flown by. But there have been some truly dark and trying days, weeks, and months within those eight years, too.
My freshman year of college I collected every sharp object I owned and handed them over to my best friend because I didn’t think I could trust myself. My senior year of college I wrapped tape around my scissors, making it impossible to open them without a great deal of effort. Before my final round of class registration, I found myself crying in my advisor’s office worried that if I continued in my minor that the stress and anxiety would lead me to harm myself again. Then, during that awkward transition year following college, I fell back into old thought patterns and reached out to friends asking them to pray for me because I wasn’t sure I could fight it this time. No matter the stage of life, no matter what I was doing, no matter how long I had refrained from self-harm, the thoughts followed me.
Now I’m in seminary. A place where I should easily find Jesus, see the work of the Spirit in my life. A place I should know peace, a place where no dark thoughts should come to mind. And I have seen Jesus more clearly than I have in a long time. I have felt a deep love shift in my heart. But then I find myself standing in front of my kitchen sink, washing dishes, and am reminded that I am still struggling, still hurting. And that’s OK. I do not have to have everything figured out, I do not have to have all my pain resolved and struggles conquered. I am not ashamed to say that I sometimes have to stop washing the dishes and separate myself until the thoughts subside.
I am a human. Life is challenging. And the ways I once used to cope are and may always be tempting. But I also have hope. Hope for tomorrow, for better days. For the reasons to keep fighting. For the reasons to value and respect my body. For the conversations to be had over coffee and the nights waiting to be filled with laughter.
Maybe you’re like me, wondering if the temptation to harm yourself will ever go away. If I’m being honest, I really wish it would. Life would be easier if I didn’t have to fight myself. But knowing that I’m not alone, that you’re not alone, does make this life a little easier.
So we walk away from the dishes, we close the textbooks, we step back and take a deep breath or call a friend, because we’re doing the best we can. And that’s enough.