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5 Things to Know When You're Recovering From Self-Harm

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Article updated August 5, 2019.

Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

The first time I resorted to self-harm I was in high school. Or maybe it was middle school. To be honest, I don’t remember and I don’t really try to remember. I guess it’s because, like most people who self-harm, I don’t exactly beam with pride over the thought of having done it.

I have no pride in my past of self-harm because it was done out of desperation. Desperation to feel something other than emotional pain; desperation to feel in control amidst the chaos I was experiencing externally and internally.

And let me tell you, my life was definitely in chaos, but I think there might be a common misconception that only people with depression self-harm. I think there is also a misconception that people only self-harm because they are suicidal. Neither of those were true for me. 

No, despite all the wrong in my life and the struggles I endured in my high school years, I never once felt as if I was truly depressed or ever considered taking my own life. I guess that’s because deep down I must have known I’d make it out the other side almost unscathed. And now, seven years later, I’m self-harm free and I’m ready to share my story with the world.

For those of you who have just started your recovery journey, here are some things you should know:

1. Be aware of your triggers.

Know what your body feels like when an urge hits, be mindful of items, sounds or pictures that make you feel a certain way or take you back to when you would self-harm. For me, I always knew when my body wanted to self-harm because my wrists would burn. Without fail, the feeling to cut was always preceded by my wrists burning, almost like it was simulating the act of cutting to get me by until I actually could self-harm.

2. Forgive yourself if you relapse.

There will be relapses, but that’s OK. Why? Because chances are it’s been a week, three weeks, a month, six months since you last did it. Pick yourself up, remind yourself why you decided to stop and keep pushing forward. Remember what worked and what didn’t, and tell yourself next time you’ll go a day, a week, a month longer. Power through, and remember that you stopped before, so you can stop again.

3. It’s important to find support.

Support is vital. It doesn’t have to come in the form of a significant other or a family member, or even a friend. Support can come from within, it can come from a support group on Facebook or it can come from the favorite poetry verse you have hanging on your wall. Support can come from playing your guitar when you feel the urge, or going out for a walk with your dog. Support doesn’t have to be a physical person; support is anything you use to help you through the urges and make you feel whole again, even for just a moment.

4. Trust in your ability to recover.

It’s important to trust yourself, your strength, your courage. Trust your ability to persevere in the face of a relapse. Trust that you will one day be able to forgive yourself, to look at those scars and realize that despite all that you’ve been through, you healed. You put one foot in front of the other, you climbed that wall, you emerged the other side and then destroyed it piece by piece until you could clearly see the road you came from.

5. If your body can heal, so can your mind.

There was a quote I heard the other day from comedian Tig Notaro on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” that really spoke to me. She had a double mastectomy due to breast cancer, and they were discussing a time when she removed her shirt and proudly displayed her scars. Ellen asked Notaro why, and she replied: “It hit me that I have scars because my body healed, and it’s really not a big deal…The scars are evidence of healing.” If your body can heal from the trauma, so can your mind. It will be a long road, but recovery is possible; healing is possible. I have dealt with a lot of negative emotions towards myself. I feel a lot of shame, a lot of regret and it never gets easier to talk about. But not telling someone makes the burden you feel, whether consciously or subconsciously, heavier.

Sitting down to write this was very, very hard. These are memories I buried deep, purposefully trying to forget them. I had never even gone as far as writing about it, but I decided I wanted to do this.

I wanted to do this because my battle with self-harm was real. The pain I felt was real; the trauma that caused it was real and the scars on my wrist are real. I wanted to do this because like so many others, those scars are a constant reminder of what I’ve been through and how I struggled.

But you know what else? My recovery was real, too. I may not have struggled with depression or thought about taking my life, but overcoming self-harm is a huge feat. I buried those feelings and sometimes that secret is harder to carry than the actual self-harm. Don’t do that to yourself; don’t wait to get the help you rightfully deserve because while there may be no pride in self-harm, I’ve learned there shouldn’t be any shame either.

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

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Follow this journey on You, Me & Emetophobia.

Originally published: April 1, 2016
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