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!
My life was slipping into a slow suicide. Because my brain was literally being starved, I could no longer function in school. My thoughts scattered and depression ruled my being. Things began to happen that I viewed as tragedy but later realized they were the life preservers I had to have tossed to me for survival.
I remember snapshots, like a slideshow of events. I see myself working out to the point of pure exhaustion, blacking out at the gym after my 3 hours run on the treadmill. There was the manic shopping trips, buy package after package of utility knife razors gradually increasing in the size and sharpness of each blade. I fainted downtown when I was with all of my friends and played it off that I had the flu. The incidents and sloppiness of my secrecy lead to poor explanations of my self-destruction. I neglected to conceal things like drops of blood on my shirt sleeve, vomit splatters on the toilet seat and forgetting to toss out the napkin that I quickly spit my food into when no one was looking at the dinner table.
I could not keep up with my lies. My memory was compromised, forgetting what I said when to explain away my secret life. Then one day, out of love and worry, my mom broke the silence. What I did not see through my denial was that my sickness became transparent. She saw the dark side that I coveted of a dual life and intervened with what at first I viewed as interrogation Later I see she did it to save my life.
The day I caved into my secrets and let the world into my truth was a turning point in my struggle with the self-harm in its entirety. I slowly left my comfort zone and began to talk about the plague that had been ailing me. Gradually conversations of hope and healing took place. I bravely began taking baby steps into recovery. It was then that life had possibilities once more.
I was 28 years old when I finally moved out of my parents home and burst out into the world with vigor and fear. I had spent 10 years in and out of psychiatric hospitals with my emotions blunted by medications. My time was spent mostly doing arts and crafts and partaking in group therapy where I would process my goal for the day. Life was… dull. How did I find myself housed in the walls of institutions? Let’s look back to high school at the young age of 17.
I had many wonderful friends and a great family. I was to graduate soon and then off to college. My life looked promising and exciting on the outside. Internally, though, was a rage so volcanic and an anxiety that never let up. There was so much pain contained in a body that was without a voice. The truth was I had never developed a voice to express anger because to me it was an unacceptable emotion that I did not possess. Little did I know my “bad” emotions were seeping out in ways that were far more destructive than words.
My rage turned inward and I was repulsed by my existence. I found things so wrong with myself that facing each day in my body was unfathomable. So I self-destructed by taking razor blades to my arms and keeping food from my lips. I spoke with my actions of self-harm and an eating disorder. In my delusional world, everything was under control and I could live with myself.
I wore long sleeves and baggy clothes to hide my secrets. My arms were never exposed to the outside world because I knew they would not understand. I wept, but with my own blood instead of tears. My weight-loss I concealed with bulky outfits. I was undercover as a happy young woman, though inside I was a mess. This is how I lived for a year, until the day the silence broke…(to be continued).