A few weeks ago my friend Austin told me about his favorite passage from John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden.” In this part of the story, the characters discuss the different translations of the Bible story about Cain and Abel. They found that each translation used a different phrase to describe Cain’s relationship with sin. The King James version says “thou shalt” conquer sin, whereas the American Standard one says “do thou rule.” But the Hebrew word used is “timshel,” which translates to “thou mayest.” And that means there is a choice. With “timshel,” Cain would have a choice to either rule over sin or not.
As I sat on the floor listening to Austin speak, my knee shaking with the anxiety of the thoughts in my head, I felt the power of timshel. I knew that while my head was telling me to self-injure, that I needed to self-injure, in reality the words in my head were not “thou shalt” but rather “thou mayest.” I had a choice, and I was able to choose to be safe.
It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since I was an intern at To Write Love on Her Arms, spending my days in Florida living with five of the greatest humans I’ve had the pleasure of sharing life with. It’s also been two years since I had the opportunity to write a blog post in honor of Self-Injury Awareness Month. March serves a reminder of how self-injury impacts so many lives. It means as much to me today as it did back then.
But, in a way, I wish it didn’t.
I wish I were writing this blog today to say, “Look at me, I haven’t self-injured in two years. I’m all better.” Unfortunately, that’s not true. I have self-injured since then, although I do it considerably less often than I used to. I have to remind myself what wonderful progress that is, and that I am healing.
I guess I expected life to be much more black and white than it really is. I thought that one day I would just be cured of all my struggles and everything would be OK. In reality, life doesn’t always work that way. I believe life is composed of many steps; some may be forward and some may be backward, but we only stop healing and growing and changing when we stop taking those steps.
That’s certainly not to say that I will never be free of the desire to self-injure. I believe that I will, and if you are struggling in this moment, I believe that you will, too. But it may take time, and it may take many steps.
I believe there will be many moments when timshel meets us at the crossroads. Sometimes we will choose to be healthy and safe, and sometimes we will choose to give in to our vices. At the end of the day, that’s OK, because we are still trying to move forward. And as we move, we will once again have the chance to respond to the opportunity of “thou mayest.”
After telling me about timshel, Austin turned to me and asked, “I know this will sound like a weird question, but, do you know that you matter?”
I responded, “Sometimes.”
Austin shook his head and replied, “All the time.”
For those of you reading these words, I want you to know there is truth in them. No matter what you struggle with, and no matter the choices you make, you matter all the time.