A new way to bleed

Editor’s note:

While I will make every attempt to make my writing funny and approachable, please know my content is not for everyone. I am talking about dark, painful issues that you may have no experience with. You may have experience with them, and not want to relive them. I am talking about various forms of self harm today, so if that is not something you want to read about, please go to any of my other posts 🙂

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Hurts so good…

Self-harm has been my primary (shitty) coping skill for as long as I can remember. Sometimes this spills over and hurts the ones around me, but it was never intended. When that does happen, it innately feeds another cycle of guilt, shame, and self-loathing. It furthers the need for more self-harm. If you think about it, anything can be used against yourself, so the options for self-harm are limited only by one’s capacity for self-loathing.

When I started cutting, it was because I needed to feel. I felt relief when I saw the blood bead and spill. It was a relief, but it was also reassurance I could still feel. All this pain, noise, and fear in my mind are real because here’s the blood that proves it. This is my pain, can’t you see my pain? It was not a call for help in the sense I wanted people to see me cutting – I tried my best to hide it. I had always been embarrassed and ashamed by it. It was a scream for help in the sense I clearly have no idea what is wrong with me, and this is what I have to make it stop.

That is what cutting – or any self-harm – does. It makes it stop. I am not sure what is more terrifying: coming to realize you are so numbed you have no sensation in your body or starting to feel yourself vibrate like a Rabbit on a lonely Friday night when you’ve gotten triggered. It’s hard to know if you have been triggered without a physical sensation to go with it. Nausea, shaking, headaches, rapid heartbeat, and so on are all physical symptoms of triggers. If, however, you tend to spend your life in disassociation, you don’t notice. My disassociation is so strong, it actually made it almost impossible for me to breastfeed. I couldn’t feel let down. No sensation whatsoever, so I never had a clue if my kid was eating or not. Sorry, buddy! At that time, I just blamed myself for sucking at life, but in truth, it was because I couldn’t feel my body. I didn’t even know what disassociation was until 2 years ago, and I’m still struggling to catch myself.

The chaotic orchestra triggers create in my mind is when self-harm becomes appealing. I don’t know what to do with this, all I know is I want to make it stop. Cutting, sex, drugs, food, alcohol – it doesn’t matter, you could probably hurt yourself with a tulip with proper motivation. Everything in this life is a tool or a weapon depending on the intention. Triggers happen to everyone, so this is a universal situation for all of us to cope with. Everyone has bad shit happen to them that they don’t want to deal with, and when that happens, we get triggered. This is a mental health issue because mentally healthy people experience being triggered and having a negative response to it.

Between escapism through sex, drugs, rock and roll and outright masochism like eating disorders, smoking, sex (we all know I’m not wrong)… I haven’t cut myself in a few years, but realistically that’s because I have a better way to bleed.

Find the new way to bleed

I write instead of cutting now, and that is why I am a prolific writer. I often write most when I’m suffering most. I either externalize the stimulus, or I internalize and choose to hurt myself. I can also get tattoos, which gives me the exact same feeling and relief as cutting does. It didn’t click with me until a really good convo with the artist who was working on my arm. I was telling him how getting tattoos usually feels good to me, and he said he’s worked on former cutters before and that’s what we say. I will be honest, as I was laying in the bed as he was putting my new tattoo on my arm, I literally felt all the pain and agony I had been drowning in go away. I floated out of the shop.

And that’s the truth: cutting feels amazing. When you are in so much pain that causing yourself pain makes you feel less pain, that is quite the conundrum! How does one stop the pain? The only way is to find new ways to bleed, find new ways to feel, and find a way to heal. Everyone has their own path in this. But step one is to realize it is okay that you hate yourself. It is okay that you want to hurt yourself. There’s nothing wrong with you. You are hurt. By allowing yourself to hate and hurt yourself, you are actually starting to love yourself.

My first tattoos were actually to help change the appearance of the scars that bother me the most. I did not want to cover them because I am not ashamed, but I tend to reminisce about pain when I am in pain. It’s hard to wax nostalgic on torturing yourself when you have a big ass Jack Skellington with Smile Now. I have two spots on my left wrist where I would hyperfocus on the vein and I would cut myself over and over in that spot and that spot alone. I would envision the day I went too deep and sprang a leak with a giddy…almost pining excitement. Simultaneously, I would use it as evidence to hate myself more. My cuts were horizontal, and as we all know, “Up the river, not across the bridge, kids”… convinced me I was pathetic and just trying to get attention.

Should I “cry for attention” or shut up and kill myself?

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This entire notion of “crying for help” somehow negating or making it seem as though people aren’t actually fucked up is literally killing people by the thousands. I could have cut in beautiful floral arrangements or happy faces on my thighs, I am pretty sure I still need help. And yes, we do cry for help. Because some of us are smart enough to realize if they don’t get someone to notice they are going to kill themselves, they are going to kill themselves. If I am suicidal, I am not all that motivated to stop myself from killing myself, am I? The bass-ackwards rationalization is baffling. If I ask for help, I am crying for attention. If I shut up and pull a Tim Gunn, I’m now selfish. #winning

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For a society that wants us to talk about it/not feel stigmatized, we really get negative feedback and stigmatized when we talk about it. I got yelled at for cutting when I was younger, and I got really weird reactions from the school guidance counselor. If I were to go to a professional and have fresh cuts, I could be 302’d. That is to say have my freedom revoked and placed in a mental hospital without my consent. I have never been to jail, but I can tell you that a mental hospital is right there. You get a roommate, you get told when to go to sleep, when to go to groups, when to go to eat. Now, most mental hospitals are doing away with allowing patients to smoke “for our health” which is really helpful. The exact time I want to quit smoking is in the middle of a nervous breakdown, amirite?

Where is the motivation to ask for help or open up?

Let me repeat: if I go into a professional with fresh cuts or admit I am intending to self-harm or kill myself…I run the risk of being 302’d and being forced to quit smoking in the middle of an already bad day. I’m not the only one who has been to the mental hospital a few times, how many of us do you think want to go back? I’ll always go when I need to, I always have. All 5 of my admissions have been voluntary and requested by me. But that is me. Many of us know when we need that level of support, and many of us know when we just need someone to listen without trying to send us to a mental hospital or a shrink or a therapist, we just want to talk….

Moderation is NOT a dirty word. It is a stepping stone to a new life

That was my theme with self-harm – just enough. I’m the Diet Coke of self-harm. I come as close to killing myself without actually killing myself because I like loopholes. I grew up believing if I killed myself I would go to hell, and I would tack on the belief that essentially every facet of my being is going to send me to hell, so it became quite a spectacle. I figured if I didn’t actually kill myself, I couldn’t go totally to hell, right? I’m using present tense purposely. I still hurt myself, just nowhere near as much as I used to. I accept I am not perfect and try to hurt myself as little as possible in the course of a day. If not for couches and corners, I’d be great.

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The irony is, in looking back, I’m only recently coming out of hell – when I stopped trying to stop. I’ve been in hell since I was a kid, because I put myself there. All of this effort to escape hell created the hell I was trying to escape. Irony – stick that in your pipe and smoke it.

Do I have any sage advice? Not really.

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The only way I stopped was by not trying to stop.

The only way I have ever changed anything about myself is by leaving myself alone. I am the one that came up with these great ideas to slice myself up like an Easter ham, so I don’t really think I am the one who will come up with a clever get out of hell free card. All I can really do is accept that I am in so much pain, and see why I am in pain. It took me 20 years to get that type of epiphany.

I personally believe the way we teach and talk about “the yucky stuff” is doing more harm than good. The Buddha taught “any extreme is suffering”. When I try to quit smoking, I fail. When I try to smoke less, I smoke less. Why? I can’t do anything overnight. Who can? When I tried to stop cutting, I cut more. The same goes for smoking, I smoke 2x more when I try to quit. Why? I now have 2x the self-loathing. There’s the me I hate, and then there’s the failure me I hate who can’t stop the shit she hates herself for in the first place. That is a doubling up, not a reduction. Who can stop something so addictive and cathartic with that type of pressure?

I stopped cutting by choosing different ways to cut. Some of them were wise – write in a journal. Some of them are outright dumb – go on Tinder!  Poetry has helped me connect with the emotions I cannot feel. Music is and always will be #1 for me. Music taught me how to feel. I used to find the right song and cut until I felt better. I do the same exact thing, except it’s writing. I had to use the DSM-V to diagnose myself to start describing my emotions because I go so numb, I don’t even know. For the last two weeks, I’ve been shaking and having all the fun trigger stuff, and it’s the first time in 2.5 years that I started feeling the physical trigger effects again. This is highly useful in identifying triggers. Before, I’d go about my days wondering why all the sudden I have lost my mind. “I swear I was having a good day…”

Spirituality, philosophy, and music all teach us this truth if you listen…

What I am getting at is, by focusing on quitting ___, I am always quitting ___. When I redirect my focus, like a mom would redirect the toddler angrily demanding a bottle of arsenic, I can stop what is going on, without even hating myself for it happening in the first place. If now I redirect like a mom with a toddler, my prior strategy would be to take that kid, cover it in tar, feathers, and set it on fire. Annnd that’s been my life. Burning feathery toddlers. (ahh such poetic imagery!)

I have the same mindset with my catalog of addictions. I struggle with alcoholism, so I watch how much I drink. If I feel I’m getting excessive, I stop. I believe the 12 step program and like have its merits for stopping addiction, but at the same time, we all have to get off the steps at some point and live. The 13th step isn’t just banging after a year of sobriety, it is a choice to live your life as a new person that doesn’t identify with their past because they are free and no longer an addict. If you tell the universe you are an addict, she will agree. I struggle with stuff, I have an addictive personality, but you will never hear me identify as an addict, and I will never identify as mentally ill again. I’m just crazy like everyone else.

It is essentially using the law of attraction to heal yourself. If you put out that you are damaged, you will bring more situations to damage you. If you put out that you are in pain, you will receive more pain. Obviously, you can’t just say “woo! I’m fine” and the universe responds

…or can you?

Since I stopped identifying with all of this and look at them as symptoms of a greater problem, change began. I treat myself like a patient and observe, speak to myself like I would my own child, and I accept that I will never be perfect. A setback is just that. I cannot change myself. The American saying “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” is as idiotic as it is impossible. THIS is the intention behind the 12 steps – you can’t heal you. All you can do is get out of your own way and let yourself receive the inspiration necessary to guide you to the steps to heal you. If the constant thought is “I AM AN ADDICT” where is the question on “how do I stop being an addict?” that someone can answer? How can anyone reach you if you aren’t asking and you’re too busy talking to yourself anyway?

We can’t change ourselves, but we can be the change for others

Realistically, if you are my age – 36, and you are in the 30’s – 40’s age range: we have one hell of a mess to handle here, don’t we? We all grew up not knowing what was wrong with us, to raise children that have no end of diagnoses that label the things that were wrong with us, but no one is doing a very good job of telling us how to handle our own problems so that we can break the cycles for our future problems – err..kids. Our parents did not have the access to the information we have, they did not have awareness of any of these labels or symptoms. My parents thought I was being a teenager. It wasn’t until they had other teenagers seven and eight years later that it would become evident I wasn’t your average bear…err kid. Of course, I didn’t go into therapy, therapy wasn’t much of a thing then. Many families struggle with the notion that therapy is bad, something to be avoided. Most of our parents were raised to STFU about your problems. We are raising children in an age where they can push a button and access lifetimes’ worth of knowledge and information, but do we actually have the tools to help them cope? Only if we have them. Thankfully, we have the information too, and we are making huge changes for ourselves and our futures. The biggest thing we can do for ourselves and our children is to be parents that do, speak and live the way we needed as kids.

I have written way more than I want to, but I hope this is helpful – particularly in Mental Health Awareness month – to join the choirs of people echoing: You are NOT alone! You can do this! Talk until you can heal. Feel so you can heal. Whatever your worst is, there’s someone who’s done worse. You are just as crazy as everyone else. I hope this is helpful to someone. Thank you for reading.

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