Painting Away The Pain

By Jacque McLeanJune 12, 2023

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

In a moment of fear and hopelessness, you’re presented with two choices: To give into fear or to honor your strength. In the moment, two minutes often feels like two years, and you find it hard to identify the choices; you may not even realize that you have choices. You feel detached from the room around you: it’s familiar but distant and dull as though you’re watching through a TV screen. The cars speeding by and the children playing next door become drowned out by the thumping of your own heartbeat. You’re unattuned by the vastness of the world because this dreadful feeling is your world. You are four walls, muffled noise, a beating heart, and sharp cool steel. You’re in a toxic trance. You don’t know if you have the strength to break free of it because there’s a reminder pressed up against your skin of every fuck up, every bad grade, every argument with your parents, and when you glance at the mirror, you don’t see your reflection. You see a stranger staring back at you. In that moment, you’re consumed by anger, anxiety, sadness, and frustration with no hope of escaping the hurricane of emotions cluttering your mind.

In that moment, no one can begin to make you believe that honoring your strength means seeing 4,077 more sunsets, traveling over 15,000 miles, experiencing countless moments of laughter and bliss, finding love, and most importantly, finding yourself.

In that moment, you can’t fathom that honoring your strength means forgiving yourself for the past and looking forward to the future. You’d never know you could be strong enough to stand up and say, “I am worthy of every breath and although it may feel like the end, the bravest thing I can do in this moment is just breathe. I can feel all the fear and the pain, and yet be strong enough to notice how beautiful it is that I have the capability to feel.”

A bitter, salty tear rolls across your lips, and a gasp of relief snaps the trance. You tremble and panic as you throw down the object and find yourself pausing. You try to regain a sense of self as you wipe your soggy eyes and catch your breath. You reach down to your right, slowly and hesitantly picking up what would lead to your salvation. A paintbrush. A faint glimmer of hope and healing. You pick up the brush and nervously dip the crusty bristles in nearly dried-out, deep red paint. When the first stroke of acrylic swipes against your wrist you’re struck with a familiar and comforting cold. You’re reminded of the coolness of the steel but now you don’t feel relief with every mark of self-injury but freedom with every paint stroke.

You paint away the pain that has been weighing you down for so many years. You paint away the memory of your father’s tears as he rolled your sleeping body over to check for a pulse. You paint away every pill you swallowed and the sounds of your mother’s cries as she leaves you in the hospital bed. You paint away every horrible name you’ve called yourself and every meal you didn’t eat. You paint away the rough pavement beneath your feet as you run from a broken home. You paint away the damage caused, the flickering fluorescent hospital lights, the hard mattress, and the bland food. You paint away the isolation, heartache, and humility.

You paint and your pain becomes a masterpiece displayed across your skin. You look down at your work of art. “Strength.” You repeat it back to yourself as you hold it close to your heart. A liberating new freedom is found, and forgiveness grows clearer through a blurry lens.

As the years pass by, you look back and remember this day fondly. One moment of strength that led to 11 more years of life. 11 years dedicated to creating an existence that reminds you you are worthy of another day, worthy of another breath. 11 years full of traveling the world, achieving your goals, getting your heart broken, celebrating another birthday, making mistakes, making memories, falling in love, and finding normalcy and comfort in the calm. These days always serve as reminders of how far you’ve come and the beauty found in experiencing the ebb and flow of life.

The hurricane in your mind became just a storm, then a drizzle followed by gray clouds and finally clear blue skies. While we can never predict the forecast, we will continue to have the strength to weather it. And on the days that the clouds won’t let up and we close the shutters to retreat to the safeness of our four walls, we will grab a paintbrush, a blank canvas, and honor our strength while we paint a mural of a better tomorrow.

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]


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Comments (2)

  1. Hindy

    This hit hard. This hit home. I believe this should be required reading for everyone. Thank you to the author for your beautiful words, though they describe an intensely painful experience. You inspired me, and may you be able to inspire many more people.

    Reply  |  
  2. Kim Stodder

    Thank you.
    Just wanted to say that beautiful written, resonates with me.
    I’ve struggled with self-harm all my life I’m a 50 yr old woman still fighting this fight… As I currently have marks on my body.
    I do see a therapist. Which she has literally been a lifesaver, but she’s all I have.. no support here from my husband or adult children…. It’s sad, but it’s comforting for me to read things like this because.. well, I feel understood, and maybe not so lonely….. Thank you again

    Reply  |  
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