Permission to Fail

By Sharleigh ThomsonApril 3, 2023

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]

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Comments (7)

  1. Veronica Gonzalez

    Thank you so much for sharing your journey. Every time I’ve relapsed, I felt so much shame and disappointment in myself, which only makes the urge stronger. I am on Day 4 right now, I really needed to hear this. Thank you again.

    Reply  |  
  2. Heather Gracyalny

    I can relate to this very well. I used to be ashamed of my relapses, thinking I was a failure, until something shifted inside. I decided to be gentler with myself and without realizing it, I had more good days.

    Now, I’m on three months and I’m proud. No matter what reason I give for not giving in to urges, it changes constantly. I feel i handle it better now.

    I wish you all the love and support I can give as you continue to work on it I believe in you and I’m proud of you. I hope you continue to have more gentle days than not. I love you

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  3. Tracey

    Happy Day One to you, and thank you for sharing your journey

    Reply  |  
  4. Leonie

    Thank you for your braveness!
    I compare my relapses (headaches & extremely tired due to being overstimulated by noices and light) to the good days I have. And yes, sometimes I relapse more then once in a week, which can continue several weeks. Sometimes there’s a month where I don’t relapse at all. If I look back to where I came from, I’m so astonishing proud of myself, didn’t ever think I could reach such beautiful days!
    I don’t count the good days, neither the bad. I just compare them to my past and I wonder what the future will bring, ’cause there are always better days ahead :)!
    Thank you for your story.

    Reply  |  
  5. Sylvia

    OMG! I actually feel I’m in the right place. My journey is just starting and this entry Permission to Fail is exactly what I needed to see. Totally motivated, just as I am, and that’s ok. Thank you so much for the inspirational truth you shared. Now, it’s my truth as well….

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  6. Steffen

    This is beautiful… My friend recently told me that she self harms. And I see her struggling with it: the guilt and the shame. And in truth I’ve kinda known deep down about it for a while. I felt awful because I didn’t know what to say, besides that I was there for her. Empty words that we’ve all heard before and are trained to say in difficult situations. I even recommended that she probably shouldn’t do that anymore, obviously. I’ve dabbled briefly in self harm, not that I’m proud of it, but I just mean that when someone self harms, they normally already know its bad for them. They just don’t know what else to do, or how to stop. My sister also used to self harm so I thought that if I ever were in that situation again, even with my brief bouts, that I had been “experienced” on the matter. That the words would just come to me. They don’t. I regret saying some of the things that were most likely unhelpful or unbelievable, or some that could’ve even been harmful. I feel horrible that I said I was there, but wasn’t really present for what she was trying to tell me. Thankfully everyone I’ve mentioned is still with me today, and I’ve stopped self harming as well. Now I just need to muster the words and the courage to help them. This article helps me to articulate what I already knew. And it gives me new perspective as well. Thank you. You are amazing and don’t let yourself or anyone make you believe that you’re not.

    Reply  |  
  7. Emily

    Thank you for sharing your story and this beautiful message of encouragement.

    Reply  |  
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