When Self-Injury Shames You Into Silence

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Actions speak louder than words, or at least that’s what I used to think.

Growing up wasn’t always easy. I experienced several painful events at different points of my life. One particularly difficult period stemmed from being bullied as a young adolescent. I can vividly recall the throbbing in my arms from being hit so hard it hurt to raise them over my head. Worse than any punch, however, were the words spewed to me on a daily basis: you’re worthless… pathetic… you should just kill yourself. The more I heard these messages, the more they became deeply entrenched in my mind. Eventually, I began looking at myself in the mirror and loathing the person staring back at me. Unsurprisingly, this culminated into repeated bouts with depression.

In a desperate attempt to feel anything but the unbearable pain I felt inside, I began to self-injure. As irrational as it may sound, self-injury gave voice to what I could not. It communicated the agony I felt each day. Self-injury screamed the hatred I harbored toward myself; it validated the anguish I thought I deserved. Beyond what it expressed, self-injury also provided needed yet temporary relief from the despair that marred so many of my days.

Ironically, as much as it seemed to say, self-injury silenced me. As a young man who self-injured and who was severely depressed, I felt incredibly ashamed and utterly alone. I became accustomed to masking my emotional pain and covering my scars. I hid behind the veil of long-sleeves and fake smiles. Becoming adept at secrecy, I conveyed a sense that I was “OK” when below the surface a storm was brewing. As each day dragged on, my sense of hope waned. I became acutely suicidal and made plans and even took actions to end my life.

As bad as things became, my story ends well.

It started by asking for help and not just asking it, accepting it. This was by no means easy. At the time I saw help seeking as a sign of weakness; just another flaw in what I already deemed an awful character. What changed was a realization that perhaps it was OK to seek help. This didn’t happen overnight. It took time. It took encouragement and support from others, especially my parents and close friends.

What also helped was hearing about others’ experiences — others who had been down a similar path. I read people’s stories in books and interacted with countless people online, who shared experiences with self-injury and depression. Some were young men, just like me. The more stories I heard, the more I recognized I was not alone. It was a simple yet powerful realization. I began to think that maybe — just maybe — there was a chance to climb out of the gulf of misery I inhabited. It was a small glimmer of hope but to was one I so desperately needed. It was a chance to get out of hell.

Over the course of recovery I developed new ways to cope with the pain to which I had become accustomed. I found a voice for what I thought could not be expressed without self-injury. This took time and patience. Recovery is a process. It is not quick nor is it easy. And, it is definitely not straightforward. It had its ups and downs and I had moments of relapse during which I self-injured again. However, these incidents became less frequent. I found myself increasingly more able to resist the urges to self-injure. Soon the urges were just that — urges. I developed what I never thought was possible: a voice over self-injury.

Actions do not necessarily speak louder than words. Self-injury is shrouded in myths, misconceptions, stigma and undue shame. In my experience, self-injury muted my voice while depression took away my vitality. Hence, I believe we need to foster open conversations about self-injury and related mental health difficulties — especially for the sake of those who remain silent.

Sharing one’s experience is a deeply personal decision. It’s certainly easier said than done. It has to come at a time of readiness. At least this was the case for me. Not everyone’s circumstances are identical. There may be concerns about how partners, friends, family or co-workers may respond or react. Accordingly, there is a dual need to increase society’s awareness and understanding of self-injury. With more awareness comes more understanding. With more understanding comes greater acceptance.

There is nothing wrong with you if you have self-injured or if you struggle. It’s OK to talk about it. It’s okay to ask for help and accept it. You deserve that. Recovery is possible.

When you’re ready, let your voice be heard. Make your words louder than your actions.

Until then, remember this simple message: You are not alone.

For more resources about self-injury, visit Self-injury Outreach and Support.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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To the Teenage Girl Who Self-Harms Because She Doesn't Think She's Worthy

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Dear 13-year-old self, 

I know you’re struggling right now. I know you don’t find yourself worthy of love, or support, or even kindness, but I’m writing you today to tell you one thing and one thing only. 

It does get better.

A lot happened to you, and I need you to realize you didn’t deserve it. I also need you to realize the things that have happened to you and the people who have hurt you, do not and never will define you. You are so beautiful, you are so strong and you are a survivor. 

I want you to know we did rise from the ashes, and my name is Phoenix because of it. I want you to know the move you are so unsure of was exactly what we needed to begin healing. I want you to know that as I write this to you, we are over 3,000 days clean of self-harm. All the tears and all the pain was worth it. I promise. 

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Now, to the real point of this letter. 

I want to you to know you are worthy of everything you think you aren’t. You are worthy of love, support, kindness, friendship and understanding. You are worthy of having a group of people surround you with love always, and let me tell you, the people I have in my life were well worth the wait. You are worthy of life; you always were and you always will be. You are worthy of recovery, and you will recover. I can’t promise there won’t be bad days, but I love being alive and every day is another step towards recovery, for both of us. You are worthy of coming out, being able to be who you are and being accepted for who you are. Coming out was just as scary as you thought, but no one freaked out on you. Everyone in our life now accepted us with open arms. You are worthy of having good friendships and relationships. You are so worthy of everything, and you will realize that one day. 

I don’t blame you for feeling the way you do. What we survived was extraordinarily hard to cope with and recover from, but we did do it. We have an amazing support system from friends to family, and I know they would have loved 13-year-old you.

But for now, please just know that what while what you’re feeling is valid, it doesn’t last forever. I did find happiness within myself and I did eventually gain this large amount of self-love and self-acceptance. Cutting all our hair off definitely helped. 

Please know I love you, and I’m not mad at you for feeling the way you feel. 

Please also know you are always going to worthy.

Sincerely,

Your 21-year-old self

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to your teenaged self when you were struggling to accept your differences. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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5 Things to Know When You're Recovering From Self-Harm

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

The first time I resorted to self-harm I was in high school. Or maybe it was middle school. To be honest, I don’t remember and I don’t really try to remember. I guess it’s because, like most people who self-harm, I don’t exactly beam with pride over the thought of having done it.

I have no pride in my past of self-harm because it was done out of desperation. Desperation to feel something other than emotional pain; desperation to feel in control amidst the chaos I was experiencing externally and internally.

And let me tell you, my life was definitely in chaos, but I think there might be a common misconception that only people with depression self-harm. I think there is also a misconception that people only self-harm because they are suicidal. Neither of those were true for me. 

No, despite all the wrong in my life and the struggles I endured in my high school years, I never once felt as if I was truly depressed or ever considered taking my own life. I guess that’s because deep down I must have known I’d make it out the other side almost unscathed. And now, seven years later, I’m self-harm free and I’m ready to share my story with the world.

For those of you who have just started your recovery journey, here are some things you should know:

1. Be aware of your triggers.

Know what your body feels like when an urge hits, be mindful of items, sounds or pictures that make you feel a certain way or take you back to when you would self-harm. For me, I always knew when my body wanted to self-harm because my wrists would burn. Without fail, the feeling to cut was always preceded by my wrists burning, almost like it was simulating the act of cutting to get me by until I actually could self-harm.

2. Forgive yourself if you relapse.

There will be relapses, but that’s OK. Why? Because chances are it’s been a week, three weeks, a month, six months since you last did it. Pick yourself up, remind yourself why you decided to stop and keep pushing forward. Remember what worked and what didn’t, and tell yourself next time you’ll go a day, a week, a month longer. Power through, and remember that you stopped before, so you can stop again.

3. It’s important to find support.

Support is vital. It doesn’t have to come in the form of a significant other or a family member, or even a friend. Support can come from within, it can come from a support group on Facebook or it can come from the favorite poetry verse you have hanging on your wall. Support can come from playing your guitar when you feel the urge, or going out for a walk with your dog. Support doesn’t have to be a physical person; support is anything you use to help you through the urges and make you feel whole again, even for just a moment.

4. Trust in your ability to recover.

It’s important to trust yourself, your strength, your courage. Trust your ability to persevere in the face of a relapse. Trust that you will one day be able to forgive yourself, to look at those scars and realize that despite all that you’ve been through, you healed. You put one foot in front of the other, you climbed that wall, you emerged the other side and then destroyed it piece by piece until you could clearly see the road you came from.

5. If your body can heal, so can your mind.

There was a quote I heard the other day from comedian Tig Notaro on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” that really spoke to me. She had a double mastectomy due to breast cancer, and they were discussing a time when she removed her shirt and proudly displayed her scars. Ellen asked Notaro why, and she replied: “It hit me that I have scars because my body healed, and it’s really not a big deal…The scars are evidence of healing.” If your body can heal from the trauma, so can your mind. It will be a long road, but recovery is possible; healing is possible. I have dealt with a lot of negative emotions towards myself. I feel a lot of shame, a lot of regret and it never gets easier to talk about. But not telling someone makes the burden you feel, whether consciously or subconsciously, heavier.

Sitting down to write this was very, very hard. These are memories I buried deep, purposefully trying to forget them. I had never even gone as far as writing about it, but I decided I wanted to do this.

I wanted to do this because my battle with self-harm was real. The pain I felt was real; the trauma that caused it was real and the scars on my wrist are real. I wanted to do this because like so many others, those scars are a constant reminder of what I’ve been through and how I struggled.

But you know what else? My recovery was real, too. I may not have struggled with depression or thought about taking my life, but overcoming self-harm is a huge feat. I buried those feelings and sometimes that secret is harder to carry than the actual self-harm. Don’t do that to yourself; don’t wait to get the help you rightfully deserve because while there may be no pride in self-harm, I’ve learned there shouldn’t be any shame either.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Follow this journey on You, Me & Emetophobia.

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How This Tattoo Artist Is Helping People Move on From Self-Harm

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Although some get tattoos to remember, Brian Finn, from Toledo, Ohio, is giving people tattoos as an opportunity to begin again.

In a small blurb in the Toledo City Paper , he made a call for people who have scars inflicted by domestic violence, human trafficking or self-injury, offering to give them a tattoo as a chance to “reclaim that painful space on their body.”

He’s doing it for free.

“It was simply something I could do that would affect people in a positive way,” Finn told The Mighty in an email. “A lot of people I talked to couldn’t afford a coverup, so I figured I would take up some time on a day off to help.”

Maddie Keating, 20-year-old who has scars from self-harm, reached out to Finn after seeing his blurb in the paper, NPR reported. Although she hadn’t hurt herself in years and wasn’t ashamed of her scars, they were a reminder of a dark time in her life.

Now, those scars are covered with a rose. 

Maddie Keating's arms before and after her tattoo. On the left shows an arm with scars. On the right the scars are covered with a rose.
Maddie Keating’s arms before and after her tattoo. Photo courtesy of Brian Finn.

It’s gorgeous. And to think that I used to look at my arm and think, ‘Wow, that’s so sad that I was so sad,’ and now I get to have this beautiful rose,” Keating told NPR. “It felt almost like coming full circle. Out of emotional pain, I brought myself physical pain. And now, I took a little bit of physical pain for something really beautiful.”

If you’re in the Toledo area and want to get a tattoo of your own, you can reach [email protected]

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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39 Messages to People Who Self-Harm, From People Who've Been There

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

In honor of Self-Injury Awareness Day, we teamed up with To Write Love on Her Arms to ask people who consider themselves in “recovery” from self-harm one question: What’s one message you want to send someone who self-harms and isn’t as far along on their journey?

Their answers bust self-harm out of the shadows, and prove if you do self-harm, you are not alone. There is hope, and people are ready to support you.

But don’t take our word for it. Here are messages from people who’ve been there:

1. “You are worth more than the harm you do to yourself. Learning to love yourself is the start.”

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2. “Find other ways to satisfy the urge. Call a friend. Color paper. Take a shower. Take a walk. Listen to music. Do whatever you need to do to make the urge go away. You are loved, and it will be OK.”

3. “I’m almost three years self-harm free. I never thought I would live to be 20, let alone happy and healthy. It’s hard, and recovery isn’t pretty. It comes with relapses, nights alone crying and fighting the urge, feeling utterly alone. But the most beautiful thing happens when you realize it’s been a week since you hurt yourself. Then a month, and eventually a year. It’s all worth it.”

4. “Forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for feeling upset, depressed or angry — or whatever it is that’s driving you to self-harm. Self-harm does not make you weak or shameful; it is a symptom of something more. You can recover, although it might not be easy. Learn to be patient with yourself and others throughout the process, and always forgive, so that you can move on. None of these things will be easy, but they will all be worth it.”

5. “Don’t be afraid to talk to people. I promise there are so many human beings who have such a deep love for you; they want to listen to your pain… they want to listen. Conversation is key towards healing, towards recovery. We rarely talk about relapse, yet it is part of reality. And each relapse is a building block to self love. But you are strong and you are resilient. We are all rooting for you.”

6. “Your recovery is your recovery, but it can be a collective experience. Be gracious with your story and your journey.”

7. “Recovery will not happen by telling yourself you need to stop. You’ve known that all along. Recovery happens as we learn to trust this life to hold us through what we cannot stand.”

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8. “You’re strong enough to be enough for yourself. There is an inner beauty you will discover within. Look at your wrist and kiss your arm with your mouth, gently. There is love and hope left for you yet, I swear it.”

9. “Relapses or backslides can happen, and through it all, you have to be kind to yourself. Shutting everyone out, living with the guilt and shame… this only hurts you more. You have to let people in.”

10. “Give yourself 15 minutes before you react. During that time, talk it out either with yourself or someone you trust. After 15 minutes, try responding instead of reacting. Do something to improve the situation that triggered the urge, whether that’s leaving the location you are in, writing down your feelings or staring at yourself in the mirror telling yourself you matter and can choose something better in this moment.”

11. “So many people say the word ‘never.’ Never give up. Never be afraid. Never feel shame. That’s so negative, the word ‘never.’ I say tryTry to love yourself. Try to forgive yourself. Try to talk to someone about it, if you can. And you know what? If you just can’t do any of that right now, that’s OK, too. You’re going to be OK.”

12.You are a warrior, fighter and you are strong.”

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13.A relapse does not determine your future. The urges will go away even if you don’t act on them. It can be grueling and difficult to wait them out, but they will go away. You are not alone in this. Never forget that.”

14. “Realize you need people. Hiding and recoiling seems to be the gut reaction, however don’t let it take over. Find people you trust and share with them. No matter how silly you might think you sound, share it! Let others in so they can hold you up when you can’t yourself. We need other people.”

15. “It’s OK to ask for help. You don’t have to handle it on your own.”

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16. “I’ve discovered the best way to avoid relapse is to keep your hands busy during rough times. Create, color, write… whatever you can do to keep your thoughts busy. I know this can be easier said than done, but it has helped me.”

17. “Your scars are not a prison sentence. Yes, they may physically remain part of you, but they do not define who you are. You will get there. I know, because I am in recovery myself.”

18. “Remember the flame you have inside, deep deep deep between your chest and stomach. It might be tiny, but it is there for you to take care of it. Stick to it because it will give you its power, show you that nothing is over.”

19. “Your body is your own, and it is not worth destroying.”

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20. “Recovery is a process, and you cannot expect to get better overnight. It’s all about the little victories, and each day without self-harm is a celebration!”

21. “Appreciate your beautiful skin and its ability to heal.”

22. “You. You are amazing and you are embarking on a long journey. No. It won’t be easy, it will be hard. You will find yourself stuck in a canyon every now and then, and you will make your way past these canyons.”

23. “You will have days that are harder than others. You will always think about your history, and you will always have days where relapse comes into your mind. But you will learn how to deal with those days. You will look those days in the eye and you will rise above. Why? Because you are strong. You are a fighter. And you will make it through this.”

24. “There’s a different story than the one that’s been written on your body for too long. The hurt and pain etched out in those moments of grappling to stay alive — it isn’t the only story. There’s this different narrative — one where you look in the mirror and speak love over your life; where you put down the self-punishing speak; where you choose not to harm, but to heal. And day by day you make choices. And before you know it, you learn what self-care looks like and you whisper compassion into your broken pieces. There can be forgiveness and hope and there can even be light — lots of light!”

25. “You’re not alone in this. We were never meant to face our pain alone. Even when you feel alone, there’s always someone waiting to help. It’s so hard to reach out your hand. I know. But it will change your life. And you will be glad that you did. Your story is so incredibly important. You can do this.”

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26. “I believe in you. We believe in you. The world is ready to take you on. Show the world you can beat this illness. It doesn’t define you.”

27. “It may make the pain better momentarily, but it doesn’t take away the pain on the inside. It only masks it for a little while, and covers our beauty in shame.”

28. “If you hurt yourself today, don’t be ashamed. Forgive yourself, tell someone you trust and let them in next time you have urges. Forgive yourself and look ahead, because even if you can’t see it now, eventually you’ll realize your life is so bright. You’re worth this fight. And you have warriors all around you ready to fight right along side you.”

29. “Always be honest with yourself. Let yourself feel the emotions you’re feeling at all times, and don’t try to push them away. Be honest with the people who love you. Reach out to them when you’re feelings become too much.”

30. “Write a love letter to yourself, write down all the you love about your life and why recovery is worth it. Keep it in a special place and when you feel like you’ve lost control, read it. Read it when you have an urge to relapse. Give yourself a few moments to breathe. This is only temporary, and it will get easier. I promise.”

31. “Eventually there will come a day when you will not want to hurt yourself, but nurture yourself instead. You will realize you are worth more and deserve more. As time goes by, the urge will be less and less. And as time goes by, you’ll gain the courage and confidence to not hide the scars and to not hide your story.”

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32. “I know the pain seems unbearable right now, and I know it seems to feel better when you’re cutting, but you will get through this. There are so many beautiful things coming to you.”

33. “I’ve been sober from self-harm for about three months now. It’s a hard struggle, but I learned that while I can’t control my thoughts, I can control my actions.”

34. “It’s important to believe in yourself. Just be patient. One day the darkness will go away and you’ll catch a glimpse of a better future. When this happens, go for it. You are strong enough to stop self-harming and you are good enough to love yourself.”

35. “Even if you don’t believe it, you are strong enough to weather the storm in your head. Those first few steps into recovery don’t make you weak, because you are so strong for wanting to fight for yourself. Recovery can be scary and wonderful and difficult and beautiful, and talking about it will help you heal the scars on your heart, too.”

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36. “You’re allowed to hurt, to feel without knowing what you’re feeling. You’re allowed to cry and to feel weak; but you are strong and you are enough. People need you and to hear your story because your story is important.”

37. “Even going one day without self-harming is a step in the right direction. It may be a little step, but sometimes the little steps are what take us the furthest. Aim for one day, then two, then three — until you reach many days, and eventually, with enough perseverance and self-love, those many days can become years.”

38. “Surround yourself with people who will celebrate your little victories just as much as they do the big ones. Every step is a step in the right direction, no matter how small.”

39. “Be honest. Don’t hide. Healing is possible, and there is a way to feel real and alive without self-harming.”

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*Answers have been edited and shortened.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Related: 17 Secrets of People Who Have Self-Harmed

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Why I Stopped Self-Harming

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Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

I honestly don’t know why I cut myself the first time. I know I didn’t want to die, and I’m not sure why my brain would come up with the twisted idea that hurting myself would somehow make me feel better. I didn’t know anybody who self-harmed, and at the time I didn’t even know that it had a name. I just knew I couldn’t stand how I felt. My insides were balled up in a knot, screaming to be let out.

I didn’t know why I cut the first time, but once I started, I couldn’t stop.

It sounds stupid, I know. Inflicting pain in order to release pain seems illogical. Self-harm is illogical, but I continued to do it because I needed a release. I needed to get the emotional pain out. I needed for it to have somewhere to go. And at the time, nothing else seemed to provide that.

People have asked me to identify the emotion I felt right before I cut. If I had to pick just one emotion, the most painful emotion that pushed me over the edge and caused me to pick up the blade, what would it be? Is it fear? Anxiety? Anger? Sadness? Hopelessness?

The answer is all of them, and none of them.

Everyone self-harms for different reasons, and I’m not claiming to be an expert on self-harm. But for me, there were two nameless emotional experiences that pushed me over the edge. It has been nearly impossible for me to describe these emotional experiences adequately with words, but here is my attempt:

Imagine your feelings are little bugs crawling around inside your body. The bugs are pretty chill, they hibernate most of the time. When you feel an emotion, such as sadness, you feel a couple of the bugs crawling around inside you, usually around your throat, stomach and face. It’s uncomfortable but you can tolerate them for a little while.

The bugs aren’t always bad, sometimes they make you feel good. When you are happy, the bugs tickle you in a way that makes you feel alive. You feel peace and serenity when the bugs are asleep. Joy feels like the bugs are doing a funny dance inside of you. You get the idea.

But sometimes, the bugs get out of control. The two experiences that caused me to seek immediate release were:

1. All of the bugs that live inside of you, in every crevice of your body, came to the surface and were simultaneously scratching right beneath your skin. The scratching keeps getting harder and louder.

2. The bugs got hungry and ate away all of your organs and then they all died. You are left feeling like an empty shell. Nothing is moving or breathing inside of you. Hollow space is all that exists.

Both are terrifying experiences. Both led me to self-harm.

That’s why I cut. But here’s why I stopped.

There were also bugs living in my head. The bugs in my head clouded my vision and made it hard for me to see things clearly. They convinced me what I was feeling was permanent, that I had to fix how I was feeling because those feelings would never go away. The bugs in my head ate at my brain, the part that houses self-control and rational thought. Without that part of my brain, I couldn’t remember that cutting actually didn’t make me feel better at all. It made me feel worse.

The release I talked about earlier never came back. I’m not so sure that release was even real. I think it was an illusion I created to help make sense of what I had done. But what my brain failed to recall after the first time I cut was the guilt, shame and remorse that followed. The embarrassment of lying about my Band-Aids and scars. Knowing that people didn’t buy the lies. The physical pain that haunted me in the following days. None of that was worth the illusion of a quick fix.

I stopped self-harming because it didn’t work and because I learned that feelings won’t kill me. Feelings eventually pass. All of them. And feelings aren’t facts. Just because I feel like there are bugs scratching below the surface of my skin doesn’t mean there are actually bugs living inside of me. Just because I feel like a shell of a person, doesn’t mean I am hollow on the inside.

I learned healthy coping mechanisms that helped me deal with how I was feeling. Things that provided a substantial release without having negative consequences. These included going for a walk, calling a friend, reading, painting, baking, dancing, writing, shopping, etc. Anything that gets me out of my head and engaged in life.

I will never know why I cut for the first time, but I will never forget why I stopped.

My life is worth cherishing.

My body is worth taking care of.

So is yours.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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