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The Unexpected Ways Self-Harm Continues to Affect Me

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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.

I never realized that after my first time self-harming, I would never be the same again. I too fell into the trap of thinking it was just a phase — that it was a “here and now” thing that I could stop and leave behind. That what was done in the night would stay there forever. I thought I was different than the self-harm “addicts” I saw on the internet; I never did anything to myself as often as they did. That fact did not matter because it was still a part of my life. Soon months, then years passed. As I later battled to choose to heal, I realized how wrong I was. Even when wound after wound healed, the fingers of self-harm continued to reach into my life.

Since the beginning of this journey, there were certain effects I understood to be true and I accepted. I quickly came to expect the scars to stay, engrained in my skin to become a new part of who I am. I came to expect the trouble with hiding them, to create excuse after excuse and to weave stories when they became uncovered. I came to expect adverse reactions and the shame I would feel when people found out. I eventually came to expect the cravings as the cycle started to repeat. I even came to expect the battles every once in a while, late at night, where my body trembled as it craved it.

However, I never expected how long it would continue on, far after that lowly night. How each new season of life would end up being chocked with a splotch of crimson red. Oh, there are times of victory — times where red is few and far between — but it still comes to rear its ugly head. Stains blotch every new season I have entered.

I never expected the tingling. That my body would start physically reacting to my cravings for pain. That the nerves in my wrist and thigh would fire, feeling as if a phantom was breaking through my skin at that very moment. In these times, the cravings became real and harder to harder to resist. During these moments, I questioned my sanity.

I never expected the nightmares. That after months and months of recovery, when I thought I was at peace, that I had reached shalom, my unconscious mind was still somehow fixated on self-harm. Until then, I never experienced how real nightmares could feel. I would wake in a panic, certain I would find new wounds on my body. Relief that there was not would last only for a second as an overwhelming need to create some would crash over me.

I never expected the debilitating triggers a paper cut could bring — that this everyday occurrence of a small bite of pain and perhaps a drop of blood could unlock a torrent of memories and feelings and emotions that threaten to drown me. My mind and body freezes as it desperately tries to protect itself from spiraling down and down into a pit of memories I will spend the rest of my day and night attempting to climb out of. There is no explanation to offer my co-workers for this reaction to a simple paper cut.

I never expected the identity crises the fading of my scars would bring. I thought I would be relieved to bury that part of my past behind me as the physical scars melted away into my body and new skin and a pure slate took their place. I never expected the panic I felt when they started to fade, that as each new set healed over and the red faded away, I would compulsively find myself adding more because I felt lost without them. I hated every moment I saw a glimpse of my abused skin, hated the board shorts I hid in at the pool, hated the panic that arose every time I found myself in a situation needing to change around other people and yet… I could not let my wounds go.

But most of all, I never expected not being able to listen to and support my friends. I am the friend who listens, the one who will sit and hold you as you cry and talk through your struggles. But sometimes, I couldn’t. Sometimes, I had to stop the conversation early and let them flounder in hurt and shame and guilt because the pain they shared hit a little too close to home and I was nowhere near strong enough to deal with that right now. Sometimes, I couldn’t pick up the phone when they called even though I know they would do it for me and that endless ringing echoing in my ear still haunts me.

Photo by Nathaniel Flowers on Unsplash

Originally published: November 22, 2018
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