As I lay in the hospital, I thought for the first time about my future. Never had I really cared before about what was to come in my life. As I stared at my arm, hurt and fear throbbed in my heart. I then realized the lives I had damaged of the people I loved the most. I needed to say those four words that I had never thought I would say in my lifetime. “Help me, I’m sick.”
As always my mom was by my side in that hospital room. So I turned to her and for the first time broke the silence of all the suffering I had endured. I confided in her that I was scared of dying because secretly I embraced life. “Please find me a place that I can go to get help for my cutting”, I pressed. Being the pillar that she was and is, my mom took my hand and ran her hand through my hair, “I’m on it.”
Because of my cut I was sent to the psychiatric hospital yet again. This time, unlike the others, I had determination with the glimpse of a goal. That first day during visiting hours my mom and dad came in to see me with smiles on their faces. They filled me in on research they had done the night before about a hospital in Chicago called S.A.F.E Alternatives. It was the place for people who wanted to stop self-injuring. At that moment, without any hesitancy I agreed to give the place a call.
A short time after discharge from the hospital, I found myself with my suitcase in hand boarding a plane bound for Chicago. Upon arrival, the totality of what I was taking on built up and my whole being quivered with anxiety, but unlike other times I pressed on. Slowly but surely, I took my first step into recovery. That month in Chicago was some of the hardest work I have ever done in my life. Every day, all day, I sifted through my past, present and future in seven hours of therapy. I worked like I had never worked before helping myself heal, learn and grow. The transformation that happened was life altering.
The year was 2001 when I spent the month at S.A.F.E. and it is with tears in my eyes that I can proudly say I have been injury free ever since. It seems like a lifetime ago, these last 12 years, since I have cut. The remnants from those days of suffering that stick with me the most are the physical scars I see daily running up and down my arms. The difference is today I have learned to see them not as a failure, but as war wounds and signs of triumph. Today I can truly say to myself, “I love you,” and mean it.
I have risen above many obstacles in my life. I have been diagnosed with a serious mental illness since the age of 17. The labels schizoaffective disorder, PTSD and generalized anxiety disorder are just some of the words doctors have used to describe what was happening to me. The most difficult diagnosis for me to come to terms with was Borderline Personality Disorder. I can hardly say the name without feeling sheepish. For me I took that diagnosis to mean that my personality was inherently flawed. I felt I was given that label mostly because of my cutting and eating disorder behaviors. Other factors probably played a part too, but the self-harm was what I saw to meet the criteria in the DSM-IV. I didn’t see any other “defects of character” in who I was that the psychiatrists seemed to agree on.
Cutting never seemed to be concerning for me. I thought that I would be able to keep doing it for the remainder of my life, however long that may be. It helped to cut. The world was so chaotic that harming myself was the only thing I could control. The secrecy also felt safe. I had something that was mine and mine alone, a secret identity. I was a “cutter” and I had found myself, so I thought.
Gradually through the years the cuts became more and more severe. They required stitches and trips to the emergency room. Because I was so removed from myself, the cutting never hurt. I never felt any physical pain. It always played out like this: I would dissociate, then I would complete the act. Following the cut euphoria set in, if only just for a moment. Then coming back to my body I would see what I had done. Finally, overwhelming feelings of shame and disappointment set in and I would crash.This was how it was for so long, I saw it as a life style until one day something changed me forever.
It was in the middle of the night when I awoke my parents because I knew I would need to go to the ER after the harm I had just inflicted. This was not unusual for me to jolt them from their slumber in tears and bleeding. I had yet to see the damage because it was dark in my room when I hurt myself. I got to the ER and I revealed the mess to myself and everyone in the room. Hysterics overtook me and I collapsed into a ball. This time it was bad.
That day was my bottom with my self-harm. I almost loss the use of my left arm. It was that day I realized I could accidentally commit suicide and it was that incident that prompted me into recovery. The allusion of control washed away and cold reality kicked me in the stomach. I needed help!