You Are So Much More Than Your Pain

By Allison AndersonMarch 1, 2022

This piece talks about self-injury. Please use your discretion.

To anyone who wears a mask but longs to be seen.

I am an artist. I write, draw, paint, sing, play, tattoo, and design. I am a Christian. I believe the God of the universe is reaching out for your hand and mine. I am a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend. I love concerts and coffee, band tees and cats.

I am also a self-injurer. I am depressed, sometimes suicidal. I have good days and bad days. I carry a burden of darkness with me that in moments feels consuming. In those times I feel like everything but the pain is fake. The rest of me is just a facade maintained to keep people from getting to know who I really am.

On rare occasions, with trusted people, I open up about my mental health challenges. Even then though, I don’t generally share about my struggle with self-harm (an issue still heavily stigmatized). I make it sound like a thing of the past, something I tried in high school but grew out of. I make it seem like it’s not a problem anymore. I make it seem like I don’t still carry scars—some that are purple and angry and difficult to look at, and others that have faded to calm, white lines. I make it seem like I don’t carry around a sharp object in my purse “just in case.”

I started when I was 14 and I’m now 22, still pretending that the thought of picking up where I left off after my last relapse on fucking Christmas doesn’t haunt my mind. I’ll smile and you’ll never see the pain behind my eyes. You see, we all wear these masks which at their best allow us to function in normal, casual society, and at their worst, ensure that we will never be fully seen.

Doomed to carry the burden of pain and shame all alone, I made myself into this closed-off, impenetrable fortress by choice because it was easier than the alternative. The alternative where I got hurt when I tried to speak up. It feels safe here but I still secretly wish someone would for once see past the bullshit smile plastered on my face.

The mask is important because it compels me to carry my scars in places only swimsuits won’t hide. I lug this burden around daily. It weighs on my mind like some kind of sick prank I’m playing on the world. The world thinks I’m “normal.” The world thinks I haven’t looked darkness in the eye.

And yet, at times I wish I had scars in places plainly visible so that strangers could wrestle with my secret instead of me. I want this to be someone else’s problem for once. I want to prove that I’m someone who’s seen things, been places no one should go and survived. I want someone to see my scars and tell me, “What you did to yourself looks like it hurt like hell.” I want to tell them it did. I want to prove that I’m strong and tough, that my pain is real and intense. But my scars stay hidden. I carry them alone and I chose this so I really can’t complain.

Maybe you chose this too. Maybe you have regrets about ever hurting your own body. Maybe you have regrets about scars that are visible or hidden, regrets about them being too small or too large. Maybe you’re in the middle of the raging tempest that is self-harm and nothing is ever “bad enough” to expel what you’re feeling inside. 

If I could tell you one thing, as someone who is healing but hasn’t quite made it out the other side, it’s this: You have nothing to prove.

Your feelings are valid because you feel them, not because you went deeper this time.

You are strong because you are alive, not because you can endure self-inflicted pain.

You can reach out for help. You don’t have to wait for someone to notice your scars and be brave enough to ask if you’re OK. You don’t have to wait until you end up in the hospital because you went too far. I promise you there are people out there who want to get to know all the parts of you, light and dark. Comfortable and uncomfortable.

Find a safe space and practice using your voice. It’s powerful, even if people make you believe it’s insignificant. Even if people make you feel like you’re too sensitive, too dramatic, too far gone to ask for help. Using your voice is terrifying, but the darkness we carry feeds off our secrets—which is why we have to bring them into the light.

You are so much more than your pain and you don’t have to prove that it’s real. Find the light—we’ll chase after it together.


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 info@twloha.com.

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Comments (15)

  1. Jules

    Thank you for writing! I had to quit cold-turkey 25 yrs ago just as my spouse had to quit an addiction immediately. It is hard but you can. I still think about it as if it was yesterday. But I can carry something for protection but not consider harm. It is too hard to see the scars now; I don’t want more.

    Reply  |  
  2. Audrey

    I resonated with every single part of this. I loved the line “ Your feelings are valid because you feel them, not because you went deeper this time.” Thank you for sharing your story, it touched a really deep part of me and made me feel so seen.

    Reply  |  
  3. Myra

    Wonderfully written, and yes it takes time to heal just remember each new day is a chance for recovery. It might not happen today but little steps will take you farther in recovery.

    Reply  |  
  4. John

    My 14 year old daughter is going through this now and it’s my fault. She is strong beautiful, feisty, strong willed, lovely and stroppy all at the same time. As her dad I didn’t know how to work with her to help her when she was struggling. In my frustration and anger, and to my shame, I used my strength tried to over power her and hurt her on a number of occasions. This has led her to feel she is not loved by when she is deeply loved. Her pain is written on her arms legs and stomach and in the many times she has run with the intent to end her life.
    My prayer is that this website might help her to realise that others are going through the same stuff and that choosing life is viable and that healing can come and life can get better.
    I’m terrified that she may succeed in ending her life and devastated that my intention of ‘helping’ has damaged her to the point where she feels such deep pain that she she is self harming and is ambivalent at wanting to end her life.
    I wish I had known what my stupidity was doing to her so I could have stopped being such a fool and loved her in a way that affirmed her and supported her through the pain she was experiencing through other areas of her life.

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA

      John,

      We are truly sorry to hear that your daughter, who you seem to love dearly, is struggling with self-harm and suicidal thoughts. These things are so heavy and intense and often a way to cope with pain. We hope you will let your daughter know that TWLOHA exists and that we are a safe space for her to reach out, ask questions, seek support, and find connection. She can email us at info@twloha.com, find local resources by going to twloha.com/find-help, and can also text our friends at Crisis Textline by texting TWLOHA to 741741. It’s free and confidential and available 24/7.

      Thanks for your vulnerability in sharing. And thank you for recognizing how you work to be a safe person for her to share if and when she feels comfortable.

      With Hope,
      TWLOHA

      Reply  |  
  5. Lauren

    I have never resonated with something so much in my entire life. Thank you for making me feel loved, heard, and seen.

    Reply  |  
  6. Jess

    That was beautifully written! To the author..I started self harming at 13 and I’m 29 now. I’ve currently been clean for 3 and a half years. I hear you. I can relate to you so much. Proud of you for chasing that light. Never stop.

    Reply  |  
  7. Jenn

    Thank you for your story. I don’t think I’m quite ready to tell anyone yet. I too carry with me at all times. No one understands the pain I have in my mind. The nightmares that keep me from sleeping, especially in the dark. No one understands that. Ya you have insomnia, I’m afraid to sleep. There is a huge difference, but I can’t explain that to anyone. So I keep it to myself and let the pain go anyway I can.

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA

      Jenn,

      You don’t have to keep this in or to yourself. There are people who can understand your pain and do want to help. Please reach out for support, please give yourself the chance to heal. You deserve to do so.

      You can email or team at info@twloha.com or go to twloha.com/find-help to search for free or reduced-cost resources near you.

      With Hope,
      TWLOHA

      Reply  |  
  8. chloe

    i am crying. i thought i was the only one who felt like they needed to
    prove how much it hurts. thank you so much for sharing…i feel so much less alone.

    Reply  |  
  9. Sarah

    Beautiful, thank you. I needed this tonight.

    Reply  |  
  10. Molly

    I could have written this whole post. Word for word. I was 12 when I started and am now 25. To everyone else I “stopped” many years ago but sometimes, especially lately, the road gets a little dark. It’s all I know and I know without it, it would lead to far worse
    Thank you for making me feel understood

    Reply  |  
  11. Marissa

    This story hit so close to home for me. I too am a christian, I too self harm, I too hide it all with a smile. I too sometimes wish that people could see my scars and know what they put me through. I feel like I am too far gone but you truly have helped me see that I am not. I believe in a God that is so, so good. I believe in a God that will help you and even me out of our struggles. You are not alone, you have a whole community of people who are rooting for you.

    Reply  |  
  12. Kat

    “I make it sound like a thing of the past, something I tried in high school but grew out of.” We’re the same age, 22. It’s so strange how time flies and yet sometimes barely moves, isn’t it? I started self-injuring at 16 and stopped cold turkey at 17 & 1/2 but almost every day since then I’ve thought about it. At 19 I finally told my parents and shared ~parts~ of my story with my new friends at my new church. But I made it sound like something I had struggled with and conquered, a distant past that I had no desire to return to. I don’t think I ever admitted that I thought about it every day, multiple times a day. Then 2 months ago life became too much, I hit a breaking point and I relapsed. I told myself it would just be the one time, but a little over a week later I did it again, and then again. Only 5 friends and my therapist know. They’re all focused on how to support me to get me to not do it again, and I love them so much for it. But I also kind of hate it. Part of me wants them to give up on me too like I’ve given up on myself. I’ve lost sight of why safety in this context matters for me personally. As long as I stay alive, does it really matter how I do it?

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA

      Kat,

      While the biggest accomplishment is oftentimes staying alive and continuing to live, we don’t want to minimize your worthiness of living in a way that doesn’t involve causing yourself pain. We know it can feel like a relief. It’s a way many people cope. We acknowledge that and don’t look down on that for a second. But we do always have hope that you can find other ways to cope, ways that will bring you relief without further pain. Thank you for sharing this with us, thank you for continuing to be a story still going. We are genuinely grateful you’re here.

      With Hope,
      TWLOHA

      Reply  |  
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