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The Mixed Feelings of Saying Goodbye to Self-Harm

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.

Each year, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men engage in self-harm. For me, self-harm has been one of the main ways of coping with overwhelming emotions for nearly half of my life. For the past two years specifically, I constantly kept at least one item easily accessible “just in case” I needed it. Even after spending months in an intensive outpatient program and over a year in dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)-informed treatment, I clung to the last self-harm tools I possessed, unable to let go even after months of complete abstinence.

But recently, I took that final small step: I surrendered my last self-harm tool to my therapist.

That may sound like something seemingly insignificant to most people, and I’m sure even the few friends I shared it with thought I was acting a bit dramatic. However, that one small step for most was a giant leap for me. And, just like any other step towards progress in my recovery, this moment came with mixed emotions.

As I pulled it out of my purse pocket and set it on the table, I could hear the sirens sounding in my head. My wise, committed-to-recovery mind knew this moment needed to happen and I could successfully navigate through with skillful means. I hadn’t harmed myself once in over six months, so why was I even still holding on to an item that no longer served me or sparked joy in my life? My brain was now filled with countless distress tolerance and emotion regulation skills, which meant the tool for harm was completely obsolete.

Yet, my emotional mind kept telling me that letting go of this tool meant letting go of so much more.

There would be no turning back once I handed it over, meaning I was completely turning my back on an entire part of my identity, a whole chapter of my story. In a way, I was also saying goodbye to an old friend. After all, this single tool rode with me daily for over a year of my life. It mostly remained hidden in a secret compartment in my car, but some days it made appearances when I willfully contemplated giving up on my new, skillful life. Heck, I even carried it with me when I traveled across the country, just in case I “needed” it in a moment of desperation.

But, here’s the thing about my life of self-injury: It never really helped me.

I think that’s true for any of us who struggle with something, whether it’s physical self-harm, substance abuse, or even disordered eating. We somehow convince ourselves it’s somehow beneficial and we need these behaviors to live our lives how we want. We get so wrapped up in our own self-destruction that we start to see it as our entire being instead of the dark cloud that hangs over us and complicates our lives.

The fact of the matter is that I don’t need self-harm to continue living, and I definitely don’t need it to live my best life. And despite the fact that part of me wishes I could use that tool and experience the “thrill” of just one more moment of self-harm, I know that, eventually, I’ll feel a sense of pride regarding the day I decided to tell that final tool for self-harm goodbye.

Photo by Benjamin Combs on Unsplash