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The Biggest Obstacle In My Recovery From Self-Harm

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Although I have always felt safe writing down my thoughts and journaling about my self-harm urges, for a long time, I couldn’t imagine speaking up and telling another person about my cuts. The thought of sharing these kinds of private details with someone else made me uncomfortable and even increased my self-harm urges. The catch-22 was this: I knew that in order to stop or reduce my self-harming behavior, I would need to be open about it in the first place.

I told myself that this was an important issue to bring up in therapy, because how else were things going to change? I wanted to solve this problem on my own, but one day I had to admit defeat. The truth was, the only way I’d ever stop cutting was if I reached out to someone else for help.

For months, I was too afraid to take that first step. Then one day, something clicked. I was ready. I made the conscious decision of not wanting to engage in self-harm anymore. I decided to recover and I wanted my visible scars to fade. Mostly, I remember thinking that I’d had enough and that I couldn’t go around the rest of my life self-harming every day, wearing short sleeved shirts and making up lame excuses. The thought of carrying packets of razor blades in my backpack suddenly seemed ridiculous and for a brief moment, this whole predicament appeared absurd to me.

Still, I hesitated. I was ambivalent about my choice, and although I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life using unhealthy coping mechanisms, the idea of telling my therapist about my behavior didn’t appeal to me, either.

For me, the biggest obstacle to my recovery was learning how to be comfortable talking about self-harm with another human being. For weeks, I sat in my therapist’s office, opened my mouth, but no sound came out. Every time I tried, my body tensed up and my mind shut down.

After some time, I discovered that my self-talk was getting in the way. I thought:

“If I talk about it, won’t people think I’m seeking attention?”

“I can’t talk about it with my loved ones because surely they’ll get concerned. I don’t want them to worry.”

“Nobody wants to hear about this stuff. It’s not anyone’s responsibility to hear me out, either. I don’t want to be a burden.”

“If I tell people, they’ll want me to stop and I don’t know if I want to do that yet.”

“I want to confide in my best friend, but it would be unfair for her to hear about this. She already has enough on her plate and I don’t want to trigger her with stories of my own dysregulated behavior.”

“I wish I could talk about it in my mental health support group, but I’m scared that people will get triggered or see me differently.”

“If I talk about self-harm, does that mean I’m giving the topic too much attention, enabling it and encouraging myself to continue?”

“I don’t want to tell my therapist because I’m scared she’ll think I’m not trying hard enough, and I don’t think I could stand anybody’s look of disapproval right now.”

So how did I manage to overcome or block these thoughts that were getting in the way?

One by one, I examined each thought and learned how to talk back to the negative voice inside my head. It took a lot of time, effort and journaling, but I eventually came to the conclusion that it was OK to open up about self-harm and there was nothing to be ashamed of.

I told myself that even if other people thought I was seeking attention, what mattered most was knowing I had valid intentions and motivations and no one could take that truth away from me.

I told myself that my loved ones would most likely be proud of me. Surely, they would want me to take responsibility for my actions and hold myself accountable. And I was certain they’d worry more if they learned I was struggling in silence.

I told myself that yes, it wasn’t everyone and anyone’s responsibility to hear about my self-harming tendency. But I also remembered that my therapist was someone who had been trained to hold that kind of space, so I felt relatively safe broaching the topic with her.

I also remembered that in the past, no one had ever forced me to stop self-harming. Friends, family members and mental health professionals had always let me go at my own pace. Surely, they would once again do the same.

I felt bad confiding in my best friend who also had a history of physical injury. But what helped me was knowing that we’d always been good at setting boundaries. We’d always had an open line of communication. And she had told me, over and over, that, “If there’s ever a time I’m not available and can’t be there to support you, I will tell you.”

Next, I told myself there was no way around it. If I wanted to stop my self-harm behavior, I’d have no choice but to talk about it. I told myself that there was a fine balance between ignoring the issue and over addressing it.

When it came to my fear of sharing during my peer support group, I looked back and realized that every single time another attendee had spoken up about self-harm, it had never changed my view of them. I hoped that others would feel the same way about me.

Lastly, I came to realize that I wouldn’t know my therapist’s reaction until I took the leap and started sharing. I weighed the pros and cons and decided to be brave. I opened up to her, even though I didn’t want to. Her reaction didn’t let me down.

There is so much stigma associated with the act of deliberate self-harm, and such a lack of understanding in our community. I hope that one day, we’ll be able to talk openly about self-harm, without feelings of shame or guilt.

For me, opening up and allowing myself to be vulnerable was the first step toward healing.

First and foremost, I needed to talk about it.

You can too.

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

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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Thinkstock photo via SergeyNivens

Originally published: November 10, 2017
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