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What to Know If You’re Struggling With a Self-Harm Relapse

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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.

For me, the next few days after a self-harm episode are the hardest. All the guilt sets in and you are left to deal with the repercussions. From my personal experience of about 100 times, that guilt can either fester into shame and spiral you down the depression slide, or we can examine the facts, learn from the mistake and move on in a healthy manner.

In the past, I used to think that a self-harm relapse meant you had to start over. From the beginning. Back to square one, psych ward, partial hospitalization and residential treatments. It has taken me to today years old to realize I can pick up where I left off. Relapse does not erase progress and just because you harmed yourself again, does not mean you have to go down the slide. Relapse is not an action. Relapse is a state of mind. Do I stay stuck in this mindset that I’m not worth it, I’m a failure, I suck at life? Or, do I sit myself down and soothe myself? Understand where I was coming from and identifying the thoughts that led me there. If I can figure out my trigger then I may be able to avoid taking the slide the next time I want to cross the park.

Avoidance comes with much more than abstinence though. If I flat-out avoid my problems, then they are going to build up into a giant anger fireball and attack my own brain. I will blow up. I have to be able to understand the process as to why I am avoiding a behavior in the first place and face those feelings it comes wrapped in head-on. I allow myself to feel the unsteadiness of the urge, or the shaking of my bones under my flesh, the absurdity of the ideas I am creating, the need to engage in and the yearn for my naughty habit. It is OK to feel those things. It is uncomfortable as fuck and what do we do as humans? Try to make ourselves feel better.

Sometimes what feels better is not good for us, though. I’m sure you all can relate to that in some way. Those feelings are painful but they are necessary. They are telling your body, something is going on and you better take a look at it.

I’m good at catching myself and observing what I am feeling. I am good at giving those emotions a name and I am good and figuring out what thoughts are causing my feelings to shift. I am good at recognizing urges and I am good at doing the opposite of what my head tell me to do. It is hard as hell but I am good at it. Am I perfect at it? Hell no. Sometimes it feels like the urge is being pushed in my face like a good ol’ chocolate cake your mom made for dinner the next day. I can’t resist.

I can resist it though. And I am getting better. A slip-up does not define me as “crazy” or “fucked up.” I don’t even want to call it a problem anymore; no, the word “struggle” would suffice. I am upset with myself for giving into peer pressure from myself again but I will not let that guilt define me as a whole. I made a mistake; I am not the mistake. It does not excuse my behavior in the slightest but if I can learn from each mistake, eventually I can create a whole new pathway. Instead of taking the slide and falling on my butt, I might decide to be resilient and swing instead. At least my momentum would keep going.

If you are struggling with “sober time” right now from self-harm, hug yourself. Even if it is five days or five years. You have to start somewhere, and why not start with this moment.

Love and rage,


Getty Images illustration via Olga Strelnikova

Originally published: July 15, 2021
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