When You're Struggling to Stop Self-Harming

Editor's Note

If you struggle with self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, visit this resource.

90 days.

I have not self-harmed in 90 days.

To some, that may sound like nothing at all, but to me it is a huge deal. It is the longest I have gone without self-harming in the last year. It means I have gone three months without a relapse. This isn’t the first time I’ve gone months without engaging, though. In fact, before last year I had gone over a decade without succumbing to the blade; it was a habit I thought I’d long given up in my youth.

Given that, 90 days might sound like child’s play. It hasn’t been that easy, though. There have been days filled with urges, tears and temptation. I can look at my scars, some of which are still very visible, and start to feel the desire build up inside me. When I start feeling overwhelmed, frazzled, anxious or ashamed, it takes extreme brain power to resist the temptation. Just yesterday, I was walking down the aisle of the grocery store to get cat food, saw the box cutters and X-Acto knives, and could feel myself wanting to reach for one.

What people don’t always realize about self-harm is how addictive it can become. It becomes a coping mechanism, a grounding technique, a form of self-punishment, a way to regain control when your life and your brain seem to be spinning into constant chaos. Not everyone who engages in self-harm is a teenager, nor is it simply a ploy for attention. It is, however, something that often becomes etched into your brain that you can recall even after years (or over a decade in my case) of abstaining.

I’ve made a promise to myself, though: I am going to keep looking forward, but I am also going to remember in moments of weakness to be gentle with myself. My husband said if I can continue to abstain that I can get a tattoo to commemorate my one-year anniversary of entering treatment. My dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) therapist has also offered encouragement to keep me going and support to keep me accountable to myself.

I would like to offer this advice if you struggle with self-harm or any form of self-destructive behaviors: don’t give up the fight for freedom from your demons. Find distraction or destress tolerance techniques that work for you (meditation and splashing cold water on my face are my go-to aids). Do not be afraid to acknowledge and label your emotions. If you are helping someone else who struggles with self-harm, be kind to them. Do not scold or belittle them if they have a relapse or even just a moment of weakness. Encourage them, listen to them, love them. Most of all, as my former “favorite person” used to say constantly: Be good to yourself.

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Unsplash image via Riccardo Fissore

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