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I've Cut – but I Don't Feel Ashamed

I cut.

There it is, no preamble, no apology.

Four letters contain a world of hurt and a legacy of neglect. I am amazed that so much feeling can be compressed into the span of four letters. Even “I love you” requires eight.

Cutting is a fact of my life, as much as my love for dogs and the beach. The fact that ragweed gives me a stuffed head and that there are some phrases that will echo through my head forever.

There is a lot written on cutting, or self-mutilation if you prefer the more inclusive term. Sure, let’s be inclusive and clinical and sanitary. Wouldn’t want anyone to be upset. Heaven forbid anyone should be uncomfortable. An astonishing amount of that writing is about the shame surrounding the act of self-mutilation.

I don’t feel shame. I wear my scars uncovered. They are just another part of me.

Some people self-medicate. I self-mutilate. Some people take uppers, some downers, some heroin, some cocaine, some alcohol, some ecstasy. I cut. We are all chasing relief. The same reasoning drives us to pick up the bottle or the can or the lighter or the razor, to smother the pain, dull the screaming, to hide the holes or fill the voids.

I don’t know why I chose cutting. Wait, I do. I was too young to drive, so I couldn’t escape. The smell of alcohol brought far too much baggage with it. Besides, drinking, that was Dad’s thing. My brother, he stank of weed and while he could get away with it, Mom would have killed me.

So some time in seventh grade I came home from school. I went to the bathroom and locked the door. I held a blade and turned it in my hands and thought of all the things I could do with it. I considered the mess. Mom would kill me. It was seventh grade logic, and at the time I didn’t question it.

The knife didn’t slip and cause me to accidentally discover that I felt better. There was no miracle or serendipity involved. I wanted to discover how much pressure it would take to actually cut. More than the first slice of a tomato?

I was already pretty numb inside so I was wondering if I just wasn’t feeling anything at all. So I tried again, harder. There was the briefest moment of sensation. I was having a hard time sorting out what I was feeling. Was it pain?

Editor’s note: If you self-harm, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. Check out the stories below for some kinder alternatives to consider when you’re struggling:

But, what I do remember clearly is that as I watched the cut, the tightness in my chest began to unwind. And the more I did it, the more I could feel. I turned on the cold water and let it just trickle over. Cold water. And a moment of calm.

I was hooked.

And so I cut again and again. I became adept at choosing places on my body that I wouldn’t have to explain. I was never caught, but, to be honest, no one was looking. I have had therapists tell me that it was a cry for attention, a plea for interaction, to end the invisible place that I occupied in the family. I don’t think they’re right. They’re not entirely wrong either, but for me it was more.

I wanted proof. I wanted the pain to tell me that I was alive and still capable of feeling, anything. I wanted the emotional pain to have some concrete reason behind it. I wanted a cause that I could see. Something I could understand and bind up and watch heal. And, I wanted that scar.

I wanted that scar so that I had proof that I had hurt, and survived it. A physical reminder, indelible, that whatever was thrown at me, whatever my family dished out — or didn’t as was more often the case, I could survive it. That while being chronically forgotten and erased hurt, I was still real.

And somewhere along the line I discovered that for me cutting isn’t about being hopeless. If anything, for me, it was hoping that by bleeding out my demons I could get past them. Cutting, messy, bloody, scarring though it was, at least I was still here. If I was cutting at least I wasn’t killing myself. I could heal.

I’ve been thinking about getting a tattoo, a semicolon. They seem to be all the rage among the suicide survivors I know. It’s a way to symbolize that the bearer came to that dark final place and instead of taking their own life made the conscious and very painful choice to continue. I’ve been there. I’ve earned one, or two, myself.

But, I look at my arms, my legs, and I see my story written there. All the battles I’ve fought that didn’t bring me to the brink. Every time I didn’t lose hope of one day healing. Those are my triumphs, those are my message.

Follow this journey on Thinking Too Loud.

Getty image via Bogdan Kurylo