Ride the Wave.

By Emily Van EttenMarch 1, 2013

I never expected my self-injury to be a real problem. I mean, it was my choice to hurt myself, it wasn’t illegal, and it wasn’t hurting anyone else, so what was the big deal? Turns out, it’s actually a huge deal.

I’ve struggled with a few mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts, but nothing made me quite as ashamed as self-injury. It was something I hated about myself, something I thought wasn’t OK to struggle with. I hid in bathroom stalls, fighting my demons behind closed doors and tired eyes.

Self-injury means different things to different people; it serves different purposes. For me, it was something to calm the emotional hurricanes in my head. I couldn’t escape my head, but I thought I could at least stop the storm temporarily.

Self-injury can be an addictive habit, and I eventually felt trapped in it. Simple things like songs on the radio and phrases said in passing were triggering and brought the desire to self-injure back. Some still do. I would draw graphic pictures in my notebooks and plan my social life around when I could self-injure again. I thought I would never come back from that, from all the mistakes I had made in my life.

But I did.

Recovery from anything is a process, which for me personally involved years of therapy and psychiatric medication. And it’s not as if I am never tempted to go back to old habits or struggle with those same triggers. I still struggle—but I am stronger. I am living, and I am staying safe.

This recovery is possible for everyone. It’ll look different for each person, but it is possible. I promise that.

During high school, I went into a self-injury recovery program at my local psychiatric hospital. One of the many coping mechanisms they taught me was called “Ride the Wave,” which was basically the idea that emotional storms come, but we can ride the waves and eventually the storm will calm. There were a lot of days when I thought that was one of the stupidest things I had ever heard—just complete garbage. But once again, I was wrong. As hard is it can be to believe, the storm does calm. Hope is on that horizon.

I write to you now as a spring 2013 intern here at TWLOHA. I recently got the chance to go to HEAVY AND LIGHT in Orlando, and one of the most touching moments was the introductory video. It featured the simple phrases that make up the core of TWLOHA: “We’re glad you’re alive, and we’re glad you’re in this room.” “Your story is important. Your life matters.” That video, those few sentences, reminded me that my recovery is real and happening, and it’s worth fighting to stay alive—because I matter. We all matter. That’s something I’ve known for a while now, but that reminder brought tears to my eyes. Now, I want to remind you of the same thing.

If you struggle, you are not alone. Self-injury does not define you. No struggle will ever define you; your story is more than that. You deserve freedom from this pain. You are beautiful, wonderful, incredible, and inspiring. Lovely and lovable. I was graced with wonderful parents and caring friends who walked with me on this path to recovery. I know there are people who want to do that with you, too.

Today, March 1, is Self-Injury Awareness Day, and the entire month of March is designated as Self-Injury Awareness Month. I encourage everyone to take this opportunity to talk about self-injury and mental health. Ask the questions everyone else is afraid to ask. Talk about it in a way that is accurate and respectful.

Self-Injury Awareness Day is about remembering that we all have different pains in our lives—there’s simply no way to avoid that. But in our hearts we are the same, and we have been given the gift of going through life with others. We are human, and we exist in this human family. We are not alone in this life.

You are not alone.


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Comments (18)

  1. Kenzie Schlaegel

    I just got the chance to read this tonight. This blog was amazing! I can personally say this has touched me! I am thankful I am still alive today!

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  2. Katie

    I used to have the same problem. I used to hurt myself all the time. I was always hiding, wearing long sleeves in the summer and pretending to everyone that it was all fine but it wasn’t. It’s okay now, I am married and I have a 7 month old baby girl but i think about it all the time. I get so scared because someday my daughter is going to see my scars and ask me questions and I don’t know what I am supposed to tell her. I can’t lie but what if when I tell her she hates me for it. I wish I knew what to say or what to do…

    Reply  |  
    1. Amber

      There’s nothing shameful about having scars. Scars are proof that you faced something awful and came out on top. They mean that you’re brave, that you’re better, that you have a story to tell. Battle wounds, in a way. Focus on what matters: that you’re here now and you love her and you’re stronger than either of you know. And things will be okay. You’re incredibly courageous for having done what you’ve done, for choosing life and health and recovery. I am still working on my own recovery, learning what sorts of things I’ve taken away from myself in the struggle to hide my scars. Figuring out how to have relationships with people who don’t know. Your story is an inspiration. You are a victory. Please don’t forget that.

      Reply  |  
    2. Carla

      My daughter is 2 years old and when she sees my scars, she gives them a kiss to cure them, just like I do when she gets hurt.
      I hope I can tell her one day what I went through, and I hope she is proud of me. I hope she can learn something from this: no matter how hard things get, there’s always hope. There’s always someone who’s gonna do their best to make you smile, there’s always happiness waiting for us.
      I’m still in recovery, but now I know, even in my worst moments, that there’s so much beauty and kindness around us. We just have to open our eyes and see it.
      I know your girl will be proud of you, of how strong and brave her mom is 🙂

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    3. bluerazz90

      I don’t think you have to worry about telling your daughter. we all have our struggles. it’s something that can’t be undone, but it has been overcome, and I really believe you will know when the time comes and you will have the words to say, to be compassionate, straight forward, and honest about your personal struggles. I believe our struggles are not only for us to strengthen us, but to help others overcome, and inspire others. let your story of victory be one of inspiration to your daughter of how much your overcame, rather than one of shame and hiddenness. bless you!

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  3. Jennae Nicole

    Reading your post I feel better, not so self conscious of hiding my scars. Building relationships with people is a hard thing to do; personal experience. But thank you for assuring me that I’m brave for choosing life and heath. Great hope to you an your recovery ❤

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  4. Anonymous

    It seems as though you have truly progressed through your own healing so now you are able to help others in a very important and unique way. Thank you for your dedication to the fight to create more awareness for mental illness and most of all, to keep yourself safe and strong. We need people like you. Much love.

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  5. Emily

    this gives confidence to those who read it and it is reassuring to know someone has been through it too. it surprised me to see you share the same name and a similar story to me

    Reply  |  
  6. Rachel

    This posting was perfect, love the Ride the Wave idea.

    Reply  |  
  7. Anonymous

    Thank you for sharing your story. You’re a true inspiration to all who are suffering or who have suffered and fear going back to that place emotionally.

    Reply  |  
  8. Pingback: Timshel « TWLOHA

  9. agustina

    So… I’m writting all the way from south america… I saw the movie and loved this website. It gives me hope to read these stories. I’m currently struggling with this kind of problems and it’s been really hard to control the emotional storms.. hurting myself has become a terrible and secret habit that is very difficult to leave behind. Hope to tell my recovery story someday. Thanks for the inspiration.

    Reply  |  
  10. Mathew Smythe

    A lot of the things you mention happens to be supprisingly precise and it makes me wonder the reason why I hadn’t looked at this in this light previously. This piece truly did turn the light on for me personally as far as this subject goes. However there is actually 1 factor I am not necessarily too cozy with and while I make an effort to reconcile that with the actual central idea of your point, permit me observe exactly what all the rest of your subscribers have to point out.Well done.

    Reply  |  
  11. Tim

    My beautiful, amazing 12 year old daughter is cutting herself. I feel like I’ve failed her. She is shutting us out. I don’t know what to do. How do you even start getting her better?

    Reply  |  
    1. Becky Ebert

      Hi Tim. Thank you for reaching out. Your daughter is lucky to have someone who cares so much about her wellbeing in her corner. We encourage you to send us an email at [email protected], if you would like to share more with us. Seeking out professional help may be in your daughter’s best interest; our help and resources page can be found here: https://twloha.com/find-help/local-resources/ Again, please do not feel as though you have failed her or that this is anyone’s fault. Continue to provide her with love, support, and a safe space to share how she is feeling. We are sending hope your way.

      Reply  |  
  12. Maddie

    I am currently struggling with self -harm like you did and I’m wondering how do you find happiness or something to look forward to when you’re empty and depressed? If I could find something exciting I feel like that would help me stop self-harming but school and life in general are just too boring and repetitive for me, it makes me feel completely empty. How do I fix that?

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA

      Hi Maddie,

      We are SO glad you commented. The fact that you’re looking for ways to recover and heal from self-harm is truly inspiring. We often times hear that having a person to confide in (counselor/close friend) or engaging in an activity that brings us joy can be a great outlet.

      Would you email our team at [email protected] so we can learn more about your story and offer you some support and encouragement?

      With Hope,

      Reply  |  
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