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When You Almost Relapse Into Self-Harm

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Editor’s note: This post contains language around self-harm and may be triggering. 

Personally, it seems easier to admit to a relapse into self-harm than it is to admit to almost relapsing into self-harm. This probably seems off to those who have not experienced it before, and that’s why we should discuss relapse and almost-relapse when it comes to self-harm.

Before going any further, I’ve accepted that for me, self-harm is an addiction. Meaning, just like with any other addiction, there are triggers and temptations that come with it. Self-harm varies in type, from cutting and burning oneself to pulling out hair and interfering with old wounds healing. When an urge to self-harm takes over your mind, you either have to give in or know you’ll have to fight it until that thought finally decides to leave you at peace. The thought of relapse can be horrifying, though relapse in itself is completely normal and should not be seen as a negative in terms of long-term recovery.

This is where I must admit that I’m writing this from the perspective of someone who is over three years self-harm free. It’s been over three years, and I still have days where the only thing on my mind is to burn myself. You get to a certain point, and you think it’ll be easier. The triggers won’t be so strong. You’ll be able to use better coping mechanisms. In reality, when thoughts of self-harm hit, you’re stuck.

The past week has been covered in the fog of intrusive, self-harm thoughts. I stayed away from old triggers, but each day I woke up and the first thing on my mind was to harm myself, it got more difficult. I spent a few days in my pajamas and bathing with the lights off because the idea of seeing old scars made me want to feel the way I did when I created those wounds. I was spending what little energy I had on trying to distract myself.

I knew if I relapsed, I could go back. I could go back to hiding the wounds and wearing a metaphorical mask so I could leave the house and play the part of being social. Even after all this time, I remember how it felt. I could get my release through self-harm and then continue my life as though nothing had happened at all. I could go back, I had done it before. During the fog days, I wanted to go back. I wanted to go back so badly, but I didn’t.

I could say I didn’t relapse because the right song came on at the right time, my mom came home right on cue, the show I was binge-watching was too exciting, my cat needed attention, the dog needed out, my friend sent me a text, but it was none of these things. Sometimes, there is no reason. I have no reason as to why I did not relapse into self-harm this past week.

One day I woke up, and the first thought I had was about coffee. I was able to breathe a sigh of relief, and a weight was lifted. The fog was gone. The fog was still close, but I was no longer standing in it. But I felt guilty. The guilt I carried for not telling anyone the thoughts I had and for allowing myself to get so bad again. Guilty and angry because when I looked at my thigh for the next few days I believed there should have been a new wound.

I was angry at myself for not giving into the intrusive thoughts of self-harm because it would have been easier. I can’t explain how hard it is to keep fighting and pushing forward when it makes sense to go back to what you know worked for you once. At one time, self-harm was the go-to answer in my life. Now, there are days it’d be real nice to have a go-to answer or a back-up plan.

It’s been over three years, and I don’t tell people when I almost relapse into self-harm because I’m afraid of what they’ll think of me when I admit there’s a piece of me that misses it. For a while I’ve had a plan on what to do if I relapse, but I still don’t have a plan on what I’m supposed to do in case of the almost. This is a reminder that recovery is a constant, ever-changing part of my life.

We need to create an open dialog when it comes to self-harm as an addiction, because I know I’m not the only one afraid of what others will think when this is shared.

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Image by Maksym_Vlasenko

Originally published: October 21, 2016
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