Skeletons Out of the Closet

“Hi, my name’s Tom, and I cut myself.” There isn’t an easy way to talk about self-harm. It’s not the best of conversation starters – more of a conversation killer. There isn’t an easy way to write about it either. It’s something very physical, something tangible – raw and messy – so finding the right words to describe it sensitively is hard. I can see the irony in posting on the internet about something that most people, myself included, try so hard to keep hidden. But I think, given the haze and misunderstanding that surrounds this particular skeleton, I think it’s worth letting it out of the closet.
It’s something you find yourself wanting to sugar-coat, to play it down, pretend like it’s no big deal, that it’s the same as scratching yourself on a bramble or a protruding nail. That it’s okay, that it’s normal. But it’s not. It’s really not. You know it, they know it. You can imagine the reaction: the incomprehension, the disgust, the worry, the misunderstanding. They don’t understand, can’t understand. Why do you do it? How can you do it? Why do you want to do it again and again and again? Some say it’s attention seeking, something that will get you noticed. Others say it’s a way to gain you sympathy, or a cry for help. But it’s not. It’s really not. Who cries for help when you feel like you’re inside a concrete box with no door and no windows, buried so far underground you can’t tell which way should be up any more? Who seeks attention when all they want to do is curl up in a ball, shrink back into their shell, and never come out again? Self-harm is something you hide, something you keep in the dark. It’s not something you want people to see, it’s not something you want to see either. Self-harm is messy, it’s painful, it’s not pleasant, and my scars are a permanent reminder of my experiences. It’s not something you do lightly, and quite often it’s not something you even properly think about. The first time isn’t something you consider, plan, think over and write in your diary. It just happens. Like drawing a line on a piece of paper.

Control. That’s what I needed. Control over my feelings, control over my situation, control over me. A way to regain some semblance of myself again. For some people it is a way of releasing pent up emotion; a way of expressing how you feel inside on the outside. For me, it was the opposite – each line putting up another wall between my emotions and me; sealing them away so I didn’t have to deal with them. A barrier to keep the flood waters at bay. It’s not the most effective method, but it worked, and worked quickly. It took me out of my head – out of the chaos and confusion – and numbed me. It stopped me feeling inside and instead let me feel on the outside. It was driven by fear, fear of letting myself go and succumbing to those thoughts and feeling which were clamouring at the door, threatening to break down the walls. Enough to overcome the fear of causing myself pain, so much so that it no longer mattered that it hurt. All that mattered was that it added another lock on the door. But looking back on it now, it doesn’t work. Not in the long term. Yes it might make you feel better for a short while, but it doesn’t fix anything. If anything it makes it worse.

Self-harm isn’t a solution, and if I could go back and do it all again I wouldn’t even consider it. Not only for my sake, but also for those around me who were affected by it, who had to pick me up afterwards. If I can offer some advice from my own limited experience, it would be don’t do it. Don’t take that step, as it’s difficult to step back once you’ve fallen over the edge. And if you already have then don’t feel ashamed, but be accountable to someone, like I was – don’t let it eat away at you inside. It is something you can beat, something you can take control of, and you don’t have to beat it alone. It will be hard, it will take time, but like any addiction it is one that can be overcome. It’s been over a month now since I last self-harmed. I still want to sometimes, but those moments when I feel I need to be in control are fewer. I’m not as scared as I used to be. Not as scared of feeling, or being overwhelmed by thoughts and emotions. I can slowly undo the locks and open the door.

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed. Through suffering, our bodies continue to share in the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be seen in our bodies.” 2 Corinthians 4:8-10

I can trust (and have to trust) that even though I may hurt, even though depression may throw me to the ground, there is someone who will pick me back up again, that will bring me out of the other side. I don’t have to be in control because He is, because Jesus is. He has surrounded me with people who love me and care about me, scars and all, and who will keep me from stumbling when all I want to do is fall. My scars are a reminder, yes, but instead of being a reminder of the hurt and pain that brought them into being, they are a reminder of His scars – Him who came to take away all that hurt and pain. I would like to add, this is my own experience and it’s a privilege to share my experiences with others and I thank God for the chance to speak in this way. But although I might have some experience, I don’t have answers. No two people are the same, and no two situations or circumstances are comparable – God works differently in all of us. I guess I just want anyone living in that darkness to know that you are not alone. Don’t be ashamed of what you might have done or thought – you are still loved, both by those around you, and by Him. I don’t have solutions, just a load of mistakes. I’m not free from depression yet, but I’m making my way out slowly. I don’t write to show how well I’m doing, or for sympathy. I write so that you can look with me to the one who does have solutions, answers and can bring freedom, to Jesus.

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