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Starrunner

'Have you ever done any self-injury?'

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I speak to classes several times a year about working in the non-profit sector as an advocate for vulnerable and marginalized people. I was recently asked by a teacher to share my story about surviving suicide and depression and how it shaped my life's journey.

There's never been a problem in admitting I have suffered severely from depression, and spent years dealing with alcoholism, isolation and self-pity before I began finding my way.

"Were you a cutter?" a young woman asked me.

Well, no... I've never cut myself or engaged in physical self-harm on a regular basis.

Silence.

I felt like I had just missed an important question, and I knew there must be a better answer.

So I continued, not sure where I was going with it.

I told her that I believe that cutting and self injury are forms of coping. It's using pain to minimize pain. And like other ways of escaping our pain, it can be addictive. People are trying to find release and relief when they do it. The heart of the matter is not the behaviour, it's the reason for the behaviour. It's the pain, and what we do with the pain. We do it in different ways. We cope.
Alcohol and drugs
Anger and violence
Overeating or not eating
Counselling and treatment
Friends, family and community
Long distance running

So, no, I've never taken a razor blade to my wrist. I've never burned myself. I've never cut myself, and although each situation is unique, I may not be so different from someone who has. We are all looking to escape the pain. We are all looking for relief.

Maybe it's not a simple issue of whether a person engages in self-injury. The issue is really that we're all human and we experience loss and pain, and hopefully recovery. We get lost in the abyss and cannot find our way back to safety. So maybe a better question is 'what do we do with that?'

I've been struggling with an answer for that for decades. Maybe it starts with a recognition that each pain is unique yet each one can cut like a knife. We need to attune our senses to see and hear all of them and not to put one person's pain over that of another. Sometimes the loudest cries for help are the ones who bear their pain in silence and have the quietest voices Maybe it gets easier when we see it that way, without focussing on tragic details of ending a life or living in pain, but looking at how they got there. Perhaps that can be the starting point to relating and understanding each other.

The classroom mood had shifted as one young woman spoke about her attempt at suicide several years ago and how she wanted to go into social services and work with people suffering from depression. She had tears in her eyes as she spoke of her experience,, as did others in the class. Students began to speak, willing to be vulnerable and share stories of their broken selves. At the end of the class, it reaffirmed to me that the most instructive methods are the ones that move beyond simple questions, since the moments that mean the most are the ones without answers. They come from listening, sharing... and feeling.
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Comments

  1. MarchinBunny's Avatar
    I would say I have never done cutting, but it's not entirely true as I had a few times before, but it was quite minor and just grazes not deep at all. As for other forms of self-harm, it's tough to say. I have hit myself on my head, or my head against a wall. I assume that counts as self-harm.

    Then, of course, I have drunk my sorrows into nothingness to the point of blacking out on several occasions. Things just always felt so much better while I was drinking. I suppose I should consider myself lucky, I never had the money to actually become an alcoholic. My sister was often afraid I would become an alcoholic.

    Cigarettes where also I form of self-harm for me. In a sense, just the thought I was killing myself slowly seemed quite appealing to me.

    There were also times I would self-harm in a none physical way. Such as, telling myself how worthless I am, and how I am not even human. I ruin everyone's lives and no one cares about me because no one could care about someone as screwed up as me. I would keep my distance from people and keep myself alone.

    It sounds pretty great to be able to share one's own experiences with one another and to bring to light that we all have different ways of coping. It's not always the form of cutting, and it's not always obvious either.

    Thanks for sharing your experience Starrunner.
  2. Tommycombs's Avatar
    As you now know, I suffer from self harm urges from time as part of my disorders. What I can add is that when the mania hits me, it's intense. I get super hyped up and usually mean and angry at everything, but usually ultimately aimed right back at me. I have trouble controlling my emotions and when I get worked up I can feel that 'snap' around the corner. That snap is the instinct for violence. But since I am sensitive too, with low self image issues, I usually turn that back on myself instead of victimizing others. I have an automatic kill switch for that behavior it would seem. That's good. I've never intentionally physically hurt someone.

    But when things get too intense and I have no other outlets for the stress, I cut. It's scary because in my mania I'm not very careful. I don't immediately feel pain because of the endorphins. But, boy, does it hurt later! For a while it was really bad and I've literally had bloodbaths, although to be fair they were more like blood showers because I could slash myself in private and wash away the mess. I've scared myself becoming lightheaded from blood loss. Another time I had done some serious damage to my left foot, bandaged it up, and later, saw a movie. When I was driving home I noticed my sock felt wet. When I got home it was drenched! So those experiences can show how bad it can get. I used to answer similar questions on Yahoo Answers but due to the high level of trolls I have stopped, but I've tried to talk people out of starting, because once you start, your brain accepts that as a go-to stress reliever. And to think, at least for me, that had I been accepting of my weirdness (ABDL and otherwise) and had the proper self image, I probably would never have started.
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