Note: This piece mentions the topic of self-injury. Please use your discretion.
The first time I hurt myself on purpose, I was in high school. I thought I would always remember that feeling, but now all I remember is standing in my bedroom feeling glassy and dazed.
What I do remember is when it started to feel out of my control. But at that time I had neither the resources nor the capacity to ask for the help that I desperately needed.
By the time someone who loved me noticed and brought the matter up, I had been hurting myself for well over two years. And at that point, I was in too deep to stop on my own. It took several more years and therapy to begin to heal and develop coping strategies. I learned to knit and play the ukulele, I painted and journaled, I used distress tolerance skills, and had worksheets full of emotional regulation techniques. And still, it felt like I would never get the itch under control. I would get stuck in these loops where I would relapse and be so upset about it that I would spiral out and become even more triggered. It was a vicious cycle.
But last year, after a particularly difficult series of events, I realized that I was allowing fear of relapse to stand in my way of really attempting recovery. Something big shifted in me.
Sometimes you need permission to fail in order to keep moving forward. So I decided that it was okay if I failed, as long as I gave myself permission to succeed, too.
Taking the fear out of relapse allowed me to be gentler with myself and motivated me. I downloaded and started tracking my recovery in an app. I wrote a note—a reminder of why I was doing this: “I want to feel things and not let them destroy me.” For the first time, I started sharing my progress on social media. The response I received was overwhelmingly positive and supportive.
On May 18th, 2022, I celebrated one year free of self-harm. My extraordinary support system celebrated with me. It was a milestone I never thought I would be able to reach. After nearly a decade of struggling with self-harm, I finally, thankfully, felt like I had my feet firmly planted in recovery.
I was so incredibly proud of myself.
And then, in June, my feet went out from under me. Suddenly I was back to square one, feeling like I had lost 399 days’ worth of time and effort and hope. I felt like a disappointment. The shame was suffocating. I felt like it didn’t matter anymore how far I had come, and once you feel like you’ve lost traction it’s easy to lose it again and again.
But relapse isn’t something to be ashamed of. Cliche, perhaps, but the truth is that recovery is a journey, not a destination. Sometimes you will stumble but that doesn’t mean you’re not on the path. What’s important is taking the first step.
As I write this, I am celebrating one day free of self-harm.
This milestone is every bit as monumental as the seven-, 100-, or 365-day milestones. Every single day of healing is worth it.
No matter how many times I start over, every chance I take to choose kindness for myself is an achievement; a moment of empowerment over my struggle. Every Day One is significant. And someday, probably without me noticing, the days I choose to be gentle with myself will have outnumbered the “bad” days.
And so, Happy Day One to me. I look forward to Day Two, and not letting the fear of relapse stop me from healing.
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].