One side of my scarred arms
Most people find my blog through searching about hurting themselves and it’s time I spoke more about my self-injury history. Although I dislike the terms “cutting” and “cutter,” I use them in this post for clarification and because those are such big terms used in internet searches and the media. Please stay safe and take care of yourself while reading this post.
When I first started self-injuring through cutting my arms, I knew that I was damaging my skin permanently. Believe it or not, I wanted scars for the rest of my life. I was in so much pain that I felt like I was pain. Head-to-toe, I was in agony and I fucking wanted it to show so people couldn’t deny it any longer.
I felt so alone and voiceless that I thought the only way I could express my pain fully was through cutting.
I remember reading a book about self-injurers shortly after I’d started cutting. In this one book a woman interviewed had been a “cutter” (I hate that word) for ten years. Ten years! I couldn’t believe it. I told myself I’d never ever be like that; this was only temporary. I didn’t want to stop self-injuring yet but I’d stop soon because I didn’t want to be that crazy.
The short term effects of my new habit changed everything. My parents got upset when they saw evidence of my injuries, and my friends visibly recoiled from me. One friend literally used to faint at the sight of blood and so our friendship began to fall apart. I started feeling really really ashamed about my scars, and that shame made me hate myself even more than before.
So what did I do to deal with that self-hatred? I cut myself again. What’s one more scar? I asked myself. I wore long sleeves or arm warmers even on the hottest days of the year. And because I hid my scars, I kept cutting since no one could see it. People knew I was hurting myself but new injuries remained hidden under the guise of “hiding my scars.” Yet shame still fueled my self-destruction; it was an endless cycle.
I’ve self-injured my whole life, hurting myself in subtler ways when I was younger. The cutting started when I was fifteen. I’m now twenty-eight and the last time I self-injured was almost four months ago. Since I was about twenty-two, I only hurt myself once or twice a year, typically, but it has become such a habit that it’s my first impulse every time I feel emotionally overwhelmed. Every single time!
My biggest advice to you: if you’ve thought about self-injuring but haven’t done it yet, don’t start. Not even one scratch. It accelerates so fast.
What do I mean by “accelerating?” I mean that I started by scratching myself a teeny tiny bit, injuries that initially didn’t leave scars. Over time, each injury became slightly worse, slightly deeper to the point of threatening my life. I am honestly very very lucky that I haven’t bled to death by accident, or gotten an infection that killed me. I could have injured muscles or tendons and lost feeling and movement in my hands. Imagine me without being able write or do crafts!
More advice: If you have injured yourself before, STOP NOW. I swear, I didn’t plan on self-injuring this much. I thought that woman in the book who self-injured for ten years was completely insane when I first thought of a decade of self-harm. But I kept saying, “What’s one more scar?” until I had over two hundred. And how long have I been cutting? Thirteen years.
Here are the Top Reasons I Regret Self-Injuring
1. My scars are a permanent reminder of pain
I stopped hiding my scars about four or five years ago. In the summer, a lot of strangers see my scars and sometimes I’m having a fairly good day until I see someone staring at my arms. Sometimes they ask me what happened, other times they look at me like I’m possessed. When I’m having a good day, I can’t see my body without being reminded of all my bad days. I want to grow as a person and change, and my scars remind me of my painful past every time I see them. Last weekend I was out shopping and two girls who looked to be about eleven stared at me, completely dumbfounded. They looked horrified and terrified and I just felt so awful.
2. My sister started cutting more because of me
Unknowingly, my younger sister and I were self-injuring in secret for years before our parents found out about our cutting. After my sister learned I was cutting frequently, however, she hurt herself more and more often, deeper than before. We triggered each other; eventually my parents locked all the sharp objects in the whole house away in a drawer. My sister is three years younger than me, and I feel like I was a really bad role model, a bad example, like I hurt my sister every time I hurt myself. We’re now both in our twenties, wearing our histories on our bodies, histories that we’d both like to leave behind us.
3. My scars made me so ashamed of myself
I’ve always felt ashamed for being depressed, but after I started self-injuring, I became ashamed of my depression and my habit of self-injury. I was ashamed of my lack of ability to cope and I was ashamed of my scars. I felt like this freak, someone who should be locked up because she was so wild and broken. I felt repulsive, and I punished myself for it by self-injuring more. Now I can see how cutting made me feel SO MUCH WORSE overall. It derailed my life more than depression would have on its own.
4. In fear of others knowing about my self-injury, I quit everything I enjoyed
As a by-product of my shame, I withdrew from the world. I quit playing basketball because I’d have to wear a t-shirt. I quit dancing five times a week so no one would see my scars. I stopped going to summer camp, my most favourite place on earth, because it was a church camp. Once someone told me that the devil was making me cut myself and then I abandoned my faith and my friends and my dream of being a camp counselor. I avoided dating, I avoided making new friends, I avoided life. Good times, chances to change and grow, everything that can come in a span of years, I missed it all because I was hiding my scars. I’ll never get those years back.
5. It’s a bad habit that’s extra hard to shake
Every day I have the urge to hurt myself and every day I talk myself out of it. But in times of complete crisis, I go back to my old habits and the result, after all this time, is extra horrible. I want to be a good role model and yet I self-injure, and that isn’t a message I want to give the world.
6. It kept me from remembering my abuse
For ten years, whenever I felt intense feelings I’d cut myself, detaching myself from all feelings. I thought I had no reason to be depressed, and I punished myself for it with self-injury. In doing that, I lost the opportunity to understand what my feelings were trying to tell me. When I finally learned to stay safe, tolerate uncomfortable feelings, and listen to my instincts did my memories of abuse float to the surface. Yes, the memories of abuse were horrible to remember, but I’m so glad I remembered. Everything makes sense now. If I’d stopped cutting sooner, I would have remembered my abuse sooner. I could have felt better sooner. Now I know it’s not me who should be punished, it’s my abuser. He deserves the pain, not me! It’s not my fault. Punishing myself delayed the punishment of my abuser. Maybe the police could have arrested him if I’d remembered my abuse sooner. The consequences of my cutting seem to never end.
7. If I ever have children they will see my scars and maybe try cutting because of me
My mom has a scar on her neck from having surgery as a teenager, and when I was a kid I thought everyone had a scar like my mom’s. If I ever have children, they are going to look up to me as a role model. And when they’re old enough to be taught about self-injury in school or in the media, they will know that I used to self-injure A LOT. They will probably try cutting themselves at least once just to see if it helped because after all, their mom did it.
8. Hiding my scars will never work completely
Unless I get plastic surgery, my scars will always show. I have a big tattoo over most of my scars on my left arm, but the tattoo looks shaky and unfinished. Some people think I have Saran wrap over a fresh tattoo and that’s why my arm looks like it does. My tattoos will never look as great as they would have on smooth skin. Plus, I don’t know if I would’ve wanted tattoos in the first place if it wasn’t about hiding my scars. I’ve given up so much money and sacrifice and freedom to afford these tattoos. If I stopped cutting earlier, I would have more freedom of expression with tattoos or have had the choice to leave my skin free of tattoos.
9. Even my biggest literary crush seemed scared by my scars
This consequence might sound silly, but when I met Joyce Carol Oates, she noticed my scars and stared. It was so awkward! I comfort myself in knowing that she understands pain very well because she writes about it so eloquently, but I’d much rather be remembered for something other than scar tissue. Seriously.
10. I worry that my scars trigger you
I want to be a good role model, and in writing this post I really hope I can help some of you avoid self-injury or quit doing it soon. I had plans to volunteer lots with mindyourmind this summer, and shame around my new scars made me stay home. I’ve hidden all summer because I don’t want to trigger anyone! A lot of things ruined this summer for me, but one big factor was my new scars.
11. Some people will never understand
People with scars from accidents undoubtedly receive a lot of stares, but when you’ve scarred yourself, there is extra stigma involved. I don’t want to be remembered for scarring myself, but to some people, that’s all they’ll remember about me. I am so much more than my scars, but I’ll never be free of them or the stigma they carry.
I feel so emotional about this because I really really want to help everyone avoid self-injury. It is such a trap, it ruins everything. Please don’t hurt yourself.
If you can’t stop hurting yourself just for you, do it for your younger siblings, do it for your someday children, do it for me. And then one day you’ll see how stopping self-injury helped you the very most. I promise.
I will post next about the things I do to keep myself safe. Everyone needs to learn to cope in their own ways, but maybe some of what works for me will work for you.
Every time we hurt ourselves, we go backward in our recovery, not forward. Self-injury can come in all different forms than just cutting, and whether these methods leave scars or not, hurting ourselves to cope damages our road to feeling better, one-hundred percent.
Expressing pain through healthy outlets actually HELPS. Self-injury doesn’t. Trust me, I’ve learned the hardest way.