Why is it that at the age of 7 years old I turned to harming myself as an outlet for whatever I was feeling at the time? I had suffered nothing traumatic (yet). I lived in a wonderful neighborhood, was very involved in sports/activities, had lots of friends, a great family, did great in school, etc. Everything you expect to be able to give your children, I had. And yet, something inside of me at this age had me turn my feelings into physical punishment.

After my parents divorced and I was abused, I had more feelings than I knew what to do with. Unfortunately, my parents didn't know what to do with them either, so I ended up doing what I learned to do at a young age. I took it out on my body. I would go to my room at night and lie in bed for hours pulling out my own hair. Every night. I have vague memories of beating myself with my fists while sitting on the bathroom floor. The only time I ever felt "safe" with my own feelings was when I was locked in the bathroom with the shower on.

It was really hard to hide the aesthetic aspects of the hair pulling, so my mom attempted to "fix" the situation by making me take medication. I can't really say that it helped all that much. The only thing I learned was how to hide it better.

I was lucky (is that the right word?) to be so far in denial during college that I had a reprieve from any desire to self-harm. I still would pull out my hair, but it was more an obsessive action (evening out eyebrows/eyelashes every night) rather than a soothing mechanism. If I'd get really stressed, then I'd revert back to my nightly sessions, but they'd only last for 5 minutes or so. Much improved.

So to be honest, I was kind of surprised when that desire came back about 15 months ago. I had just started working with A, but was getting a loose grip on my anxiety and panic attacks. I was dancing around verbalizing my abuse for the first time ever. I remember sitting on the floor in my bathroom (a habit that I cannot seem to break), listening to the shower and crying. I was so overwhelmed with my life that I just couldn't internalize any more emotions. I started pounding on myself with my fists. The pain was too widespread, just like the emotional pain I was used to feeling.

I started thinking. What else can I do to get my mind off of that? I need a pain that is more precise. More concentrated. I had heard of cutting before. Mainly on TV and through comments/conversations others had, most of the time making fun of it as an "emo" activity. I didn't care. Whatever worked at that point. I started off using my cuticle scissors just to scratch myself. I had to get an idea as to the pain I would inflict, the proof of the actions and just how far I had to go to get relief. I don't remember when I switched to razor blades, but it wasn't long after. I didn't even know I had them till the scissors no longer did the trick. Something in my brain honed in on the toolbox I keep in the closet and the fact that part of the kit I got had an exacto-knife like contraption. There had to be razors in there too, right?! Jackpot.

The boldness of my own step really helped in keeping the frequency down. I'd venture to say that I cut only once a month, maybe more if there was something extremely triggering for me at the time. There was a time last year where I went almost 4 months without cutting. Things were going well with A and I was on anti-anxiety meds.

Then I opened my big fat mouth. I remember accidentally saying something towards the end of last summer. Part of me was worried. I didn't want anyone to know because I knew they wouldn't understand. Especially A. Her job is to make sure I am using healthy ways to grow. I knew cutting was wrong and detrimental to my healing, but I just didn't care.

The subject would come up from time to time, sometimes initiated by me because I felt I could trust A, sometimes by her to try and get more information. But I was so closed off to an in-depth conversation about it that I always squashed any attempt to delve further into it. I just wasn't ready yet.

So sufficed to say that I was horrified/enraged/crushed when I had a setback in May with my PTSD and I cut myself after signing a contract A presented in an emergency session saying that I wouldn't. In all honesty, I didn't take it seriously. I signed it because my alternative was to go to the hospital... but I didn't feel that I was bound to abide by it. Big mistake on my part.

My world has been hanging on by a thread since then, with the reality that A has presented me. Cutting again will say to her that her ability to treat me is not enough to meet my needs and that I need more intensive therapy. Something that she unfortunately cannot provide me. Which means that I will have to find someone else who can. In essence, start over. The mere thought of that invokes such anxiety and fear that the feeling alone has kept me from cutting since then.

But the desire is still there. I am constantly having to remind myself that if I slip, there is a consequence. And at this point, it's not a consequence that is worth the few minutes of control and power I will feel. But it is getting harder. Over the past couple of weeks I have had a harder time dealing with that compulsion. It is on my mind much more than it has been. And that scares me. I don't know how long I can keep abstaining before it just becomes too much.

So I told A today. I told her how much I'm still struggling with it. That just because I haven't cut because of her "ultimatum" doesn't mean that I don't want to, or won't in the future. I've got to figure out how to fix the compulsion. So for the next 7 weeks I will be seeing her 2x/week to start fighting this demon. This demon that has been a part of my life for close to 20 years.

Uphill battle, anyone?


Just Be Real said...
July 7, 2010 at 6:41 AM

Wish I could hug you IRL Lily. ((((Lily))))

Paula said...
July 7, 2010 at 11:34 AM

Dear Lily, you mnost be terrified. Whilst I never cut I had other compulsions which I learned over YEARS to deal with till the urge grew less. Each time I felt the need I gave myself a treat instead. Menat I first wrote of list of very special treats and then when the need would arise I would go to the list instead and select a treat which I gave myself straight away. Well it took some time till it helped yet the time came and I am poroud of myself, inclduing all the set backs I have had. Yet I am aware it wasnt cutting and hence I dont know if this is of help to you. Your openness with which you share tells me how desperate you feel and how desperately you wanna improve. I believe in you. Love, Paula

Grace said...
July 7, 2010 at 3:17 PM

Dear Lily, I don't think it is unusual at all that your SI urges grew when you began talking about the abuse. It has been my own experience that when I am overwhelmed with emotional "feelings" I have no other outlet but to SI.
What a difficult position you are in with A - and I'm not really sure what to say. What I am wondering, though, is when you signed the *no SI* contract, are there also specific steps you go through when you are overwhelmed and/or have the urge to SI? For example, when I feel like I am going to cut, I will "read this" - "take 10 deep breaths" "phone a friend" "call therapist"...etc?
I sure hope the 2x per week is helpful for you - I understand how difficult this process is...but I also see how strong you, how beautiful you are, and how driven you are.
I have no doubt that you will overcome.
Be strong, yet soft, Grace

Erin Merryn said...
July 7, 2010 at 7:09 PM

Maybe there was something traumatic that happened in your life at that age that just don't remember.

Paola said...
July 8, 2010 at 7:39 AM

I can relate to your post in many ways, although all our experiences are different. Thanks for sharing.

Kathy M. said...
July 8, 2010 at 3:31 PM

Thank you for this post, Lily. My daughter was a cutter for a while. It led to her first hospitalization. I had no idea she was doing it. It came out in a session with her therapist. I remember being alarmed and trying to understand why she did this.

As far as I know, she hasn't done that in years. As far as I know...

Hugs to you.

Anonymous said...
July 9, 2010 at 7:10 AM

Hi Lily,
Here listening.

Sending Hugs of support to you.


Harriet said...
July 10, 2010 at 4:13 PM

How difficult. I don't think I could stop the SI just because I signed something. I hope she is helping you deal with the urges in other ways, because to threaten you with termination doesn't seem to be a therapeutic way to deal with the situation.