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The Behavior I Didn't Realize Was Actually Self-Harm

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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.

Article updated July 15, 2019

If a friend confided they were in an abusive relationship, I would tell them to run far away from danger, as quickly as possible. What do you say when the person they are most at risk from is themselves? Whether it’s self-mutilation with a sharp object, drinking to the point of unconsciousness or gorging to the point of sickness — self-harm comes in many forms. I am no mental health expert, but being an absolute dick to yourself? I could have a Ph.D. in that.

The realization that I am my own worst enemy came late in life. It was summer 2014, and I found myself in floods of tears in a stranger’s bed. I wasn’t drunk. I had engaged in consensual sex. So why was I crying? Because I had put myself in a position of extreme vulnerability without care for my safety. I had spent the summer indulging in a string of Tinder dalliances. I flirted aggressively, encouraging filthy chat and exchanging pictures. I always wanted to meet. Looks weren’t important. I just needed the physical contact.

On this occasion, I jumped on a train straight after work to meet a relative stranger at his home. He was the tenth guy I met from Tinder. We had previously met for a fairly tame hookup but in following weeks, the kinky messages kicked up a notch. When I arrived on his doorstep that day, I put myself completely at his mercy. There were no boundaries, and he could do anything he wanted. I wouldn’t utter a word of complaint.

Trapped in a numb fog of depression and grief, I craved any feeling to bring me back to reality — especially pain. What followed was so filthy it would make Christian Grey blush. When the sex was over, I felt an overwhelming wave of emotion, tears stinging my eyes immediately. I jumped out of bed quickly so he wouldn’t see me cry but catching sight of my pained expression, he asked what was wrong. Cue four hours of sobbing and incoherent chatter. I was lucky he turned out to be a good guy, who held me gently while I cried. When the tears stopped, he drove me home and told me to be careful because the next guy might not be so understanding. I would love to say offering myself up as some kind of sex toy stopped right there and then, but it’s never as simple as that.

My self-destructive streak has been rife since my teenage years. I was always after obliteration — moderation and I were not acquainted. Whether it was alcohol which was consumed to the point of sickness or comfort eating my way up a few sizes in three months, I gave little care to my body, my mental health or the consequences of my exploits. Friends and family talked about my actions amongst themselves, but they never spoke to me directly. The general consensus was, I “would grow out of it.”

After breaking down again, this time in front of my GP, I spoke to a counselor and discovered my behavior wasn’t uncommon. Self-harm isn’t always about causing physical pain. It’s continually tugging at that thread that will cause you to unravel. Sadly, what can start as fairly innocuous behavior can lead to more serious harm and even attempts at suicide.

Thankfully, there’s help available. If you can identify what triggers your harmful behavior, that’s a great place to start. Keep a diary. Chart your moods. If you find yourself in a situation where the only comfort appears to be drowning your sorrows, slicing flesh or dropping your knickers, distract yourself. Life is hard. And it’s even tougher when you spend most of your time and energy disliking yourself.

Unsplash photo via Freestocks org

Originally published: July 2, 2018
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