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When You 'Relapse' Back Into Self-Harm

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Article updated August 12, 2019.

Let me start by saying I’ve been in therapy for four years now. I am not ashamed of that at all. In fact, it’s one of the few things I give myself credit for and I’m proud to talk about it (within the right company of course). I am proud of myself for having the courage to take action to change the things I didn’t like about myself: my thought processes, my reactions and impulses. I am proud to say I have worked hard with myself to dive into the deepest corners of my mind to overcome the challenges that go along with breaking down every past action and thought I’ve ever had that has shaped me into who I am today. I am a completely different person than I was four years ago but, I am by no means “cured.”

I thought I was, as much as a person could be. I still recognized I had things to work on and, demons to fight, some of which I’m still too scared to tackle, but I thought the hardest part was over. I thought I had a handle on how to manage my anger and anxiety; how to control my urges to self-harm and talk myself down and be rational when I could sense old habits coming back.

I’ve been dealing with self-harm since I was 13. For me personally, I see self-harm as an addiction – a quick fix. An easy way to snap out of a “neutral,” unknown void-like feeling and focus on something real. A solution for when I’m so angry and can’t scream and shout, but can subject myself to pain as a distraction. A way to punish myself for feeling guilty, defeated, naive — a way to give myself what I deserve for having been so. A way to have a constant reminder (through my scars) of how I’m not good enough, crazy and most of all – ugly. 

But that’s not true. No matter what any one has done in their life, they do not deserve the pain or the scars; there is no plan etched into the universe that deems someone worthy of self-inflicted pain, but that’s really hard to see when that pain is so deeply engraved as your resolution to a plethora of scenarios. Being able to just simply sit with my feelings of worthlessness or shame while resisting the urge to self-harm is the thing I am most proud of. I see myself as tackling my addiction, sitting with the weight of hating myself for whatever reason, “knowing” or believing I should take it out on myself, but choosing not to — that’s not easy, and I’m proud to say I’m able to do that.

At least, I thought I was. I had resisted the urge before; I hadn’t self-harmed for over a year and I was so excited. I had learned to accept my scars as they were and wasn’t ashamed or embarrassed (which in itself was no cake walk); to expect the stares and questions and side-ways looks. I figured out how to wear my scars proudly. Not as a reminder of how “fucked up” or how ugly I am, but as a testament to my mental strength and how far I’ve come in the journey of learning to love myself.

But I hadn’t come as far as I thought I had. I wasn’t as strong as I thought I was. I wasn’t able to deal with the consistent, yet sudden wave of this heavy feeling I can’t even put into words and, still resist the urge to indulge in old habits and distract myself from the uncomfortable, unknown feeling; and now I’m scared this will trigger a downward spiral and, spark the fuse in me that now sees self-harm as my only solution again.

So what happens when someone relapses? What am I supposed to think when after a year, I slip up and go back to square one, back to hiding my cuts, making excuses, picking at scabs so they’ll scar as a permanent reminder?

I don’t know… but I have a pretty good idea of where to start. Start by telling yourself that it’s OK. Whether you believe it or not, it’s OK. You may have let yourself indulge in old habits, but that doesn’t make you any less of a person or means you deserve it. It doesn’t mean you haven’t made progress or challenged yourself. It doesn’t mean you are ugly or stupid or deserving. It doesn’t mean you are still who you were before you started to work on yourself. Most importantly, it doesn’t mean all of the hard work you put into healing yourself was wasted. You start by tackling the rush of (possibly regressive) thoughts in the way you would have before you “relapsed” – in an insightful, constructive, healthy way. By not picking at the scars and telling yourself you’ve failed; by allowing yourself be scared of the possibility of a downward spiral, but knowing you want to get better enough and that you are strong enough to not let that happen.

Being able to fall down after you’ve climbed so high, scrape off the dirt, bandage up the cuts and bruises and, begin climbing again — that’s true strength. Knowing that even if you fall, you won’t roll all the way to the bottom and, having it in you to get up and try again, is a testament to how strong you are – start by giving yourself credit for standing back up.

I look at how far I’ve come in the past four years and want to pay it forward; to show people it’ll be OK. That it’s really really hard sometimes to get out of bed, fake a smile, play nice and amuse small talk when all you want to do is curl up in a ball and go back to bed. It’s OK to be fed up and let the stress overtake you for a minute; to let yourself cry. It’s OK to show emotion, to let your walls down, to be vulnerable sometimes – that does not make you weak.

I may have taken a few steps back but, I will not hate myself for that. I will not discredit the progress I have made. I will continue to move forward and work on improving myself. I will get back up, I will climb that mountain and I will reach the top; no amount of scraped knees will stop me.

Some days are amazing. Other days are incredibly hard. Reminding yourself that although you may have taken a few steps back, you have miles ahead of you still. You will pave your own way. There will be hard miles, filled with challenges and bad days and rain clouds, but you’ll persevere. The world is a big place, full of new experiences and people who will open your eyes; who will love and welcome you with open arms. Trust yourself and, love yourself – bruises and all – you are not what has happened to you, you are what you choose to become.

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

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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Image via Thinkstock.
Originally published: January 2, 2017
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