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.