“Don’t worry, I know what you’re looking at. They’re just scars.”
They weren’t fresh wounds, but they were going to take years to fade and blend in. They were neatly placed, both horizontally and vertically, only on one arm, but they took up that arm in its entirety.
“How long since you last did it, if you don’t mind me asking.”
7 months, 2 weeks, 4 days. She had a countdown on her phone.
I untucked my leggings from inside my tube socks and rolled up to show her the only scar I had left.
“Technically, five years, but I’ve slipped up a couple of times since then.”
She asked me when my last slip up was: 2012. Trying to deal with my assault brought out the absolute worst of this addiction and I carved myself so deep, it scared me straight back into therapy.
It’s very rare that I can have a candid and frank conversation about the ugly facts and experiences of being a self mutilator. This past Christmas Eve was the first time I was able to do this. My flight consisted of shitty movies, the bad breath coming from the Nigerian man seated behind me and my conversation with Shelly, an artist from London, a proclaimed wine consignor, and a former cutter.
In the midst of discussing the resources we both have sought out, and the coping mechanisms she has found to work wonders, she brought up a point about what the world knows.
And that’s nothing.
Everything is sugar coated. Everything is black and white. Everything is basic, flat, with no details and it’s annoying and sometimes destructive. To outsiders the solution is to stop cutting. Stop cutting = Get better, which is so very wrong. It’s so easy to get caught up in this thought of “getting better”. It’s so easy to focus on the end game of no longer cutting. But that isn’t the real end game. It’s a by-product. Simply stopping the act does nothing much at all. You need to stop the thoughts which lead to the cutting.
For me, cutting was second nature. Shelly described it as “another involuntary action, like breathing and shitting.” When shit used to hit the fan, I would search for the nearest sharp object, usually a razor within one of my many bags, coat pockets or underwear draw. It was a brief escape from the mental beat down I was giving myself. It was a distraction, focusing on the physical pain. It was my form of punishing myself for not doing better, or simply taking out my dislike for myself… on myself. It was more than second nature. It was an addiction. Something to do in any scenario I could think of.
When I first stopped cutting, the urge to do it never really left. It was always an option, an option I’d have to fight against, an option I would rarely take, but an option nevertheless. It’s why in 2012 it was so easy for me to lean on my past crutch of a razor, and slip back into my destructive behavior.
Today, I see this option less, it’s not the first thing that comes to mind, and sometimes it doesn’t make the list period and this is because my thought process has changed. It’s the way we think that makes us want to self-mutilate, physically and mentally. It’s our thoughts and belief systems that fuel our actions to work against our greater good and without altering that the self-battering never really stops. It temporarily pauses until something eventually pushes you over the edge you’ve barely had a grip on.
The truth is these addictions do not start and stop with the obvious action. They begin and halt with our minds. They start with our thoughts and our belief system, they dictate our actions and how we eventually live our lives. This is what I think we all need to understand. There’s so much more to these things then what the world is exposed to and what most of us care to share. But we need to continue the conversation, to educate the masses on mental health, and be understanding of those who fight against their addictions, and not just the physicality of them.